HC Deb 09 December 1987 vol 124 cc535-55 10.17 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the un-numbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 30th November and 3rd December 1987 on total allowable catches and quotas for 1988 and on 2nd December 1987 on the European Community — Norway Fisheries Agreement, European Community Documents Nos. 6388/87 on the common organisation of the market in fishery products and 9585/87 on fish guide prices for 1988, and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1988 consistent with the requirements of conservation of stocks. I am grateful to the Select Committee on European Legislation both for its recommendation that the House should debate the documents referred to in the motion and for carrying out its scrutiny without access to the full set of Community documents, which has only just become available. That enables us to have a timely debate because it will enable my right hon. Friend and me to take full account of the views of the House when we consider these matters at the Fisheries Council next week.

It is a short debate so I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak briefly on the key issues, giving sufficient time for hon. Members on both sides of the House to raise their own points in the debate, to which my right hon. Friend will respond in the winding-up speech.

This has been the fifth year of the common fisheries policy and has been an excellent one for the United Kingdom industry. The value of landings for the first three quarters of this year was £55 million up on last year, an increase of 22 per cent. that reflected a 9 per cent. increase in the overall tonnage landed and an average increase in prices of 11 per cent. as a result of the continuing buoyant demand for fish.

Although there have been some problems of management in certain fisheries, fishermen all over the country will have seen a substantial increase in real earnings and, thanks to the common fisheries policy, will be looking forward with confidence to a future of stability and continuing prosperity.

Let me refer first to the proposals relating to the total allowable catches and quotas for 1988, which will determine the level of opportunities available to our fishermen. I recognise that some of the quota management decisions that had to be taken in 1987 created temporary problems for certain sectors of the industry. But the whole purpose of TACs and quotas is to keep catches within safe biological limits and when fisheries have been overexploited, as some of our main fisheries regrettably have, quota restrictions will inevitably bite. It must be in the long-term interests of the industry to recognise this—I think that that is understood by hon. Members—and to manage its affairs so as to operate profitably within the inevitable constraints.

The Government are firmly committed to the conservation and efficient management of all the fish stocks on which our industry depends.

Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacGregor

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I think that it will be better if I set the scene and give the Government's position on the proposals so that as many hon. Members as possible can contribute. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond to the points made.

We believe that it is right to take the long view of the benefits of a conservation policy and not to sacrifice these for short-term gains. In general, therefore, we welcome the Commission's proposals where these are based on firm scientific advice by the responsible international scientific bodies. But where TACs are set on a precautionary basis only, in the absence of adequate scientific information we believe that it is right to be more flexible and to avoid unduly restrictive quota levels.

The TACs for the main white fish stocks in the North sea have, as usual, been provisionally agreed with Norway by the Commission following the annual consultations. The proposed TAC for North sea cod is 160,000 tonnes. This will be a disappointment to the industry which, following revision of the 1987 TAC from 125,000 tonnes to 175,000 tonnes, had been hoping for a further increase. In 1988 this stock will be heavily dependent on the 1985 year class, which, on the basis of further survey data, the scientists now believe to be less strong than they did earlier this year. The proposed TAC, although within the range of safe biological limits, is none the less somewhat above what the scientists would have liked to see.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacGregor

It will be better if I do not. If I give way to one hon. Member, I shall have to give way to others.

It is therefore important to note that the Commission has proposed retaining the box in the south-eastern corner of the North sea in which a higher mesh size is required, to protect the young cod. Last year, against a great deal of opposition, the Commission's proposal on this was adopted, largely at our insistence, and we shall be pressing for its continuation, preferably with the increased minimum mesh size of 120 mm now proposed.

Finally, on cod, during 1987 we achieved a mid-year adjustment to the TAC, in the light of revised scientific advice and we shall press for a similar review during 1988 should the latest scientific assessments for this or any other stock of importance to the United Kingdom suggest that an upward revision of the TAC would be appropriate.

On North sea haddock, the prospects are more encouraging with the proposed TAC increased to 185,000 tonnes from 140,000 tonnes this year. The proposed North sea plaice TAC is up to 175,000 tonnes from 150,000 tonnes, reflecting the signs of continued healthy recruitment to the stock. For North sea sole, which is not a stock jointly managed with Norway, the Commission is proposing a further decrease in the TAC to 11,000 tonnes from 14,000 tonnes, in line with the scientific advice I shall be exploring the possibility of increasing our quota through a swap with another member state.

Turning to the west coast of Scotland, area VI, the Commission is proposing no changes in the TACs for haddock, whiting, plaice, megrim and anglerfish, a very welcome increase in the TAC for saithe to 35,000 tonnes from 27,800 tonnes, but a decrease for cod to 18,430 tonnes from 22,000 tonnes. I know that the latter will be a disappointment, especially to Scottish fishermen, but the proposal represents the most favourable interpretation of the scientific advice.

In area VII, covering the Irish sea, the south-west and the English Channel, plaice and sole are of particular concern. For plaice, the total proposed availability of the various stocks for the United Kingdom is 5,430 tonnes, compared with 5,530 tonnes in the 1987 regulation. There may be scope for upward adjustment of some of the figures without damage to stocks. We shall explore that as well as the possibility of increasing our availabilities by swaps, as we have done before.

The position with sole in area VII is rather similar, with the United Kingdom availability proposed for 1988 at 2,130 tonnes, compared with 2,430 tonnes in 1987 before swaps. We shall endeavour to seek some improvement on that.

On area VII cod, the Commission's proposal retains the increased TAC of 19,000 tonnes, which we obtained during the course of 1987. An increase is also proposed for area VII saithe, on which we had problems this year.

The pelagic stocks are of particular, but not exclusive concern to the Scottish industry. The pelagic sector, which has had a particularly successful year in 1987, will face a small measure of restraint in 1988 along with the white fish sector. In the North sea, the TAC for herring agreed with Norway totals 530,000 tonnes. That is a reduction from 600,000 tonnes this year, and reflects scientific advice. I should emphasise that that results from a reassessment by the scientists of the absolute size of the stock. They are still confident that the stock is growing and will continue to grow, given prudent management.

Norway will receive a zonal attachment share of 153,700 tonnes and it is proposed, as in 1987, to transfer an additional 50,000 tonnes to Norway to balance the important transfers of whitefish from Norway. Although the United Kingdom quota will be correspondingly lower than this year, we have some hopes of obtaining additional quantities through swaps.

The Commission is proposing that off the west coast of Scotland, the herring TAC should be reduced to 46,000 tonnes from 49,700 tonnes. The Commission, in agreeing with Norway a slight increase in Norway's availability of herring in that area, seemed to be taking a rather different view of the fishery from that reflected in its proposal for the TAC. We will be exploring that point further at the Council.

For Clyde herring, the proposal is for a TAC of 3,200 tonnes, down from 3,500 tonnes, and the science is quite clear on that. In the Irish sea, the proposed TAC is going up to 8,000 tonnes from 4,500 tonnes. That will be very welcome, especially to fishermen in Northern Ireland.

On the Commission's proposals on western mackerel, many hon. Members will know that the Scottish pelagic fleet has faced difficulty in taking its western mackerel quota in some recent years, mainly because the migratory pattern of the stock has changed and the shoals have been slow to cross the 4 deg line that divides the western area from the North sea. The solution proposed by my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office was to permit a measure of flexibility to take western mackerel east of the 4 deg W line.

We were therefore pleased to note that the recent agreement between the Commission and Norway for 1988 accepted the principle of flexibility around that line. For 1988, the agreement provides that a quantity of 62,000 tonnes of the Community's western mackerel quota could be taken in the northern part of the North sea—that is east of 4 deg W—should the Community decide that it wished to do so. The Government regard that as an important step forward. We therefore regret that the Commission's proposals on western mackerel do not include the exercise of this flexibility.

We shall be pressing hard for such an element of flexibility to be included in any compromise package presented to the Council next week, though this will not be easy, given the strongly held view of some other member states that to tamper with the 4 deg W line amounts to unpicking the 1983 settlement. The Commission's proposals for this stock envisages a TAC of 360,000 tonnes, a reduction from the 1987 level of 400,000 tonnes. However, there is room for a range of view as to the exact biological state of this stock and the Council will be looking at this closely.

I have already referred to the most important aspects of the EC-Norway agreement for 1988. If hon. Members wish to raise other aspects my right hon. Friend will deal with them in his response. But let me add just one general point. I am glad to say that the negotiations under this agreement are now much more satisfactory both in the procedures and the outcome.

I turn now to the Commission's proposals for changes in the guide prices for the 1988 marketing year. The proposals are broadly neutral as far as the United Kingdom species are concerned, suggesting either no change or an increase of only 1 per cent. for cod, haddock and plaice. But there would be reductions for herring and mackerel of 10 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively to take account of the current market position. After preliminary discussions, the Commission has produced a revised proposal which would involve a 9 per cent. reduction in the herring guide price.

The proposed price changes achieve a reasonable balance between the needs of processors, consumers and producers, and take account of the need for budgetary restraint. They should also be seen in the context of green currency changes, which will take effect on 1 January, under which United Kingdom producers will benefit from an additional 4.7 per cent. increase in guide prices.

I have attempted to be brief in setting the scene and stating the Government's position on the proposals to enable the House to express a view. To summarise. The common fisheries policy continues to serve us well, and, despite problems in one area or another at various times of the year, our industry has had an excellent year. The prospects for next year are for reductions in some quotas and increases in others, with a sizeable number unchanged. We will do our best at the Council next week to improve upon the Commission proposals where it would be safe to do so, but we need to ensure that stocks are conserved in the interest of maintaining the industry's present prosperity. I hope that this approach will have the support of the House.

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

I welcome the Minister's speech. Hon. Members have a jumble of documents, some of which are unnumbered memoranda. I agree with that part of the Government's motion which states that it is the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1988 consistent with the requirements of conservation of stocks. No hon. Member can disagree with such an object, but I am deeply concerned that we should deal with next year's guide prices, total allowable catches and quotas so late in the year. Similar dissatisfaction was expressed by the Select Committee on European Legislation under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). Given the importance of the proposals to the United Kingdom fishing industry—I do not say that the blame rests with the Minister—it is a disgraceful state of affairs. Will the Minister be in a position to make a statement on the negotiations to the House next week?

I shall offer a comment on the Government's explanatory memoranda and the EEC documents. With regard to document No. 9585/87, on fish guide prices for 1988, I shall briefly mention the reform of the Community aid system for tuna fishing. I said "briefly" because not many British fishermen catch tuna. The Commissioners and the Community deserve our praise for their insistence upon fisheries agreements vis-a-vis that species with Lomé coastal nations. It is right and proper that the fisheries agreements should stipulate that part of the tuna catch must be landed in the littoral states near where it is caught. The fish, when canned, is often sold to the Community and, as Commissioner Sutherland pointed out in a letter to the President of the Council, the proceeds of the sales form a very important source of export income for those countries along the west African and Caribbean coasts.

It is rare for me to compliment the European Commissioners, but they deserve a word of praise for the establishment of the fisheries agreement. Regrettably, I now move from praise to criticism. I have some questions for the Minister on guide prices. I am concerned about the 10 per cent. reduction in the guide price for herring. I would like to know how this will be affected by the change in the United Kingdom green rate, as mentioned by the Minister. The change in the rate will lead to an automatic increase of 4.75 per cent. in the sterling equivalent of guide prices, but how will it affect the reduction in the guide price for herring? It is desirable for the gaps between the guide price, withdrawal price and the average market price to be kept to a realistic level. I believe that the change in the United Kingdom representative rate is important.

As everyone knows, the over-fishing of herring in the North Sea in the 1970s led to that fishery's closure for about a decade. During that closure, the United Kingdom herring market almost disappeared. However, the Danes continue to fish for herring in the Baltic sea and this, among other things, enabled them to secure a dominant position in supplying the West German market, which is the biggest herring market in the EEC.

The United Kingdom herring producers are placed at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis the Danes. The geographical location of the major herring ports in the United Kingdom — Fraserburgh and Ullapool — means that the producers have to meet major transport costs to send herring and herring products to the major consumer centres in West Germany, whereas the Danes can transport their herring catches to Germany within 24 hours of the fish being landed in Esbjerg and elsewhere.

The prices structure should provide some compensation for those producers who exist on the periphery of the United Kingdom. We must have regional withdrawal price schemes for herring. The United Kingdom herring industry can be re-established in West German markets only if the current disadvantage of the equal withdrawal price scheme in the European Community is set aside. United Kingdom producers should he allowed this intervention. It is essential that this be achieved, as the United Kingdom herring fishermen are seriously handicapped. That formidable handicap means that our fishermen are almost wholly dependent on Eastern bloc markets to sell their herring. We know that from the experience of Cornwall, Ullapool and Peterhead. Our fishermen must regain access to the Community markets. That can be done if exorbitant transport costs are partially met by implementation of the regional withdrawal price scheme.

The same could perhaps be achieved by a carry-over premium scheme which would enable producers to freeze herring which would otherwise be sold below the minimum price. There is nothing worse than seeing fine herring being sent to fishmeal plants. Such steps would allow our producers to compete more effectively in the frozen product market.

As for mackerel, is it necessary to maintain price differentials between the east and west coasts of Britain? The floating Eastern bloc market — it floats in large ships — follows the fish. The klondikers follow the fishing vessels from coast to coast. Perhaps the time has come to eliminate the regional variations. I ask the Minister to give that proposal serious consideration, although I know that it cannot be achieved next week in Brussels.

Will the Minister give an assurance that imported fish sells at prices which correspond to the appropriate reference price? Reference price schemes must be updated more efficiently and effectively if United Kingdom fishermen are not to suffer. Ideally, the scheme should be replaced by a minimum import price scheme. Is it not the case that such a scheme operates for the majority of imported agricultural products? If so, why should one not apply to fisheries?

The unnumbered explanatory memoranda deal with the division of TACs between the EEC and Norway and the share-out of species among the EEC's fishing nations. I should like to ask for the Minister's help in this respect. It would be helpful if his officials attached to the explanatory memoranda on quotas and the rest lists of figures for the past two or three years. The Minister may think that I am a lazy researcher, but I am sure that it would be much easier, when reading these dreadful documents—if the officials will forgive that description —to check what has happened recently, if the figures were attached. Such a change would surely not be very costly, and it would greatly help lazy researchers such as me.

I accept the need to strike a sensible balance between the amount of fish caught and the retention or conservation of stocks. I come from a fishing family, and I support the Minister in that respect. Moreover, I have just dined with the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, Mr. Willie Hay. I might add that I picked up the bill. He will not mind my saying that.

United Kingdom fishermen have a good record on conservation. They appear to stick to the rules much better than some of their continental colleagues. I am not being chauvinistic. When fishing in Norwegian waters, they have no choice but to obey the rules, as failure to do so leads to harsh penalties. The skipper of a German stern trawler has recently been fined £200,000 by a Norwegian court. Our enforcement policy should be as tough as that of the Norwegians.

Talking of Norway, I am deeply concerned about the proposed EEC-Norway agreement. The North sea herring TAC, as the Minister has pointed out, is to be reduced from 600,000 tonnes to approximately 530,000 tonnes. The United Kingdom share will go down from approximately 78,000 tonnes to 69,000 tonnes, yet the Norwegians, as the Minister pointed out, on a reduced TAC, have contrived to retain the transfer of 50,000 tonnes of herring. In addition, Norway has managed to hold on to the right to harvest the same amount of fish from the EEC sector of the North sea, where the quality is superior, in 1988 as in 1987, approximately 55,000 tonnes. Surely these should have been reduced in line with the overall TAC reductions.

Of considerable concern to many fishermen in England — from ports such as Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington, and even the Channel fishing ports, as well as Lowestoft, Grimsby and elsewhere—is the reduction in the TAC for North sea cod. That is a matter for regret. The United Kingdom fishermen will be allowed to catch approximately 71,000 tonnes. I know that in the explanatory memorandum there is some comment on the inadequacy of scientific data. Perhaps I can quote from one of the unnumbered memoranda: In making its proposals, the Commission has been hampered by the increasing deterioration in the adequacy of the scientific advice resulting from lack of data and inaccurate statistics". Why is that?

Fishermen, too, are deeply concerned about the scientific advice relating to this stock. I mean by this that the TAC came down, as the Minister said, from 176,000 tonnes in 1986 to 125,000 tonnes at the beginning of 1987; and then the latter figure was increased in the middle of the year to 175,000 tonnes. Not surprisingly, this increase encouraged the hope among fishermen that the TAC for cod would be increased in 1988. It is absolutely essential that much more stability be applied to the fixing of total allowable catches. I told the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, who is to reply, some time ago that I look forward to the day when the TACs are set for two or three years: the fishing industry needs that kind of stability.

So, curiously enough, we have a reduction in cod and an increase in haddock; yet fishermen claim that this year the former have been plentiful and the latter scarce. It is a curious business. Many of our small fishing boats on the east coasts of England and Scotland — and North sea cod is more important to England than to Scotland—work close to the land, where only cod is to be found in adequate quantities. Some of these vessels do not have the capability to sail to and fish the haddock grounds; so it is a very important quota change in cod. I am sure that the Minister agrees.

English fishermen this year, right down the coast, from the border to the Channel, found such an abundance of cod that they quickly fished out their quotas. That presented them with a formidable problem, given this lack of capability to go elsewhere. So it is a matter for serious regret that the cod quota is to be reduced.

I wish the Minister well on this matter. He must dismantle any obstacles that are put in the way of the implementation of the west-east flexibile approach on western mackerel.

I support everything that the Minister has said this evening, but I suspect —as I said to him recently with regard to the common agricultural policy — that other member states will seek to wreck these negotiations on precisely this issue. He must be tough and formidable, as I am sure he will be.

I should like to make a plea for two small fisheries in the west of Scotland — the west of Scotland nephrops and the Clyde herring. The TAC for the nephrops is to be reduced. In 1987 the figure was 16,000 tonnes, but in 1988 it will be 4,800 tonnes. That will present a major problem for the fishermen of the Western Isles and elsewhere.

The recommendation for the Clyde herring is for a TAC of 3,200 tonnes, as opposed to this year's TAC of 3,500 tonnes. Will the Minister note that I believe that those TACs should remain at their 1987 levels? The TAC for the nephrops is precautionary — this is where I disagree with the Minister—and not scientifically based. I do not believe that the stock of Clyde herring has been over-fished. I should declare an interest, because I am the honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, whose members fish for the Clyde herring.

My last words to the Minister are a reminder. The Minister's predecessor gave a commitment in April to undertake discussions with the industry on further licencing proposals. Those discussions were to follow his Department's proposed study of the measurement of catching capacity. If that study has been completed, will the Minister give an assurance—if not this evening, in the near future—that those discussions on licensing will soon resume?

I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am imbued with the Christmas spirit, but I wish the Minister and his officials well in Brussels next week.

10.52 pm
Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who made a reasonable and well-considered speech. My sympathy was enhanced when he mentioned the problems of fishermen in my constituency. I am mainly interested in the fishing fleets of Whitby and Scarborough. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned cod quotas and their future.

There is no doubt that the two fleets in my constituency have a greater dependence on catching cod than other fleets. They must travel to catch other fish, whereas other fleets can alternate their catches. Therefore they are greatly dependent on this main source of supply of fish.

There is no doubt that we have experienced hardships this year. One of those hardships has been caused by the lateness of the plan. I hope that, whatever plans are made, they will be announced as soon as possible.

The way that we are going places too much emphasis on quotas. It is not the best way of seeking to do what we all want—to preserve the fish in the North sea. The increase in mesh sizes will be, in the long term, the right way to go. I was sorry to hear that the experiment with the bigger net size in the cod box on the Danish-German coast does not appear to be working as well as it could. In other words, it is not properly policed.

That brings us back to the major problem. Some people say that we are responsible for all the trouble because we joined the Common Market. We had to join the Common Market. We had to have an agreement between all the states bordering on the North sea if we were to conserve stock. I believe that policing must go hand in hand with changes such as increased mesh size.

I have talked to both fleets in my constituency and the fishermen are adamant that that is the only way, in the long-term, to obtain a satisfactory conservation arrangement and, at the same time, obtain a proper catch of good-sized fish. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Minister goes to the meeting next week with his colleagues he will press as hard as he can for the increased mesh sizes. I am glad to hear that he is prepared to have a review—

Sir Julian Ridsdale

Does my hon. Friend agree that the size of the fish landed is important as well as the mesh size?

Sir Michael Shaw

Absolutely. We should catch good-sized fish and let the others go so that they will be there for the future. That must be the right thing to do.

I realise that the debate is short and I shall speak briefly on the size of the TAC. I have been told many times that scientific advice is responsible for the level of the TAC. I can say only that during my many years in Scarborough and Whitby I have never known my fishermen to be wrong in their assessment of what goes on in the coastal waters offshore, whether it is the oil rigs that have been put in the wrong spot or, much more importantly in this case, what is happening to the fish stock. One has only to look at their advice with regard to herring stocks. That advice was resisted for so long by the so-called scientific advisers. In the end, my fishermen were proved right. Therefore, I believe that they are making a strong case when they say that there are more fish in the sea and that the scientific advisers have over-stated the case, causing a greater reduction than ought to have been made. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take the advice of the scientific advisers with a certain measure of scepticism and will listen also to the voice of the practical fisherman.

I believe that, over the years, our Ministers have defended the cause of the British fishermen very well indeed in Europe and in the agreements that have been reached. I wish them every possible success in their negotiations and for the future of the livelihoods of our fishermen.

10.58 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) in his praise for the Ministers. However, it must be one of their few pleasures in life to attend fisheries debates, which are in such contrast with agriculture debates because the reception is so much warmer, the situation is so much better, and the mood is so much lighter. I do not begrudge them the pleasure of coming to these debates.

Basically, Ministers are telling us that the status quo has been prolonged. For large sections of the industry that status quo has been fairly satisfactory. Grimsby has had a better year, but it has to be emphasised that that is a better year starting from a fairly low level.

The industry in Grimsby has been depressed to such an extent that its survival is conjectural and it really needs to be built up. It has been a better year but an improvement is still needed. The cod quota is not encouraging. That is a problem for the east coast and a particular problem for Grimsby. We are a cod port and the reduction in cod catches will hit us severely. Haddock cannot be a substitute. Haddock quotas have been increased, but not to the extent that cod quotas have been reduced. In any case, haddock is found further north.

Given the reduction in the cod quota, the industry must be confident that the scientific advice on which it is based is binding and cannot be questioned. The papers do not convince one that that is true. They cast doubt on the scientific advice on which the cut in the cod quota is based. Like the hon. Member for Scarborough, I have had fishermen pointing out that in their view the scientific advice is wrong. They say that cod is doing reasonably well this year and that haddock is down. Yet we find that on the basis of the projections, haddock is increased and cod is cut. That, combined with the explanatory memorandum, which comments on "inadequate scientific advice" and the "unreliability of the data", shows that the case is not convincing to an industry that depends so heavily on cod.

How much confidence does the Minister halve in the scientific advice? Why has that scientific advice become so imperative now, when the industry wants an increase in the cod quota and when in the past allowable catches have taken more account of the social and industrial needs that are so strong in Grimsby? I welcome the Minister's commitment to a mid-year review. If we can adjust the figures upwards mid-year that will be welcome. I hope that he concentrates on that point and redresses the problems that will be caused for Grimsby.

The Minister commented on the improvement in catches and prices this year, but I must emphasise that that is mainly a feature of the Scottish industry, rather than the English industry. The balance of the industry has shifted to Scotland.

I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Greeenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) should have gone out for a meal with the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and had to pay the bill. Only the Scottish fishermen are in a position to pay bills. Had he gone with the president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisation, he would have had to pay the bill.

We need to redress the balance that has shifted so heavily towards Scotland. We are just at, and possibly just below, the size at which the English industry is viable. There is a concentration of facilities at Grimsby which needs bigger catches and more catches. There is ground to be made up in Grimsby and it is time to make a start.

Grimsby faces problems because the fleet is too small and is not producing the return on investment for the new investment. It is difficult to get new funds. We have just had a severe problem with the landing company which I am glad to tell the Minister has today been solved. We now have a new landing company which employs half the labour force, because 30 of them have taken redundancy. On that basis we can be viable, but we must build on that.

We now need some improvement in the quotas and in our ability to attract new vessels, and to get those vessels a quota. It has been increasingly difficult to fit new vessels into Grimsby. We are well poised for expansion and we need the ability to improve the situation.

On the long view there is a need for an increase in mesh size. I talk about taking the long view, but I should like an immediate increase in mesh size. As other hon. Members have said, an increase in mesh size represents the best form of conservation — indeed, the only proper conservation. In Grimsby we have always had a bigger mesh size and we should like that to be made universal. It is silly to restrict catches, because that leads to fish being thrown overboard. They are dead and that is a blow to conservation. I am disappointed that Ministers are not pushing for an immediate and substantial increase in mesh size. Why cannot we have the mesh sizes that apply in Icelandic and Norwegian waters?

Why can we not also have the tough policing that applies in Norwegian waters? The one factor that could increase confidence in the common fisheries policy is proper policing. Our fishermen still do not have confidence in that policy because they feel that other industries are not being policed as tightly as ours. If we had adequate overall policing and the confidence that others could not overfish and fiddle the quotas and get away with it, Grimsby would find the situation much easier to accept.

The inadequacy of policing is the fundamental flaw. We need tough policing such as that applying in Norwegian waters, which would certainly be welcomed by the British industry. Every fisherman fiddles to some extent, but our fishermen are far more law-abiding and far better policed than their competitors, who get away with things that we are not allowed to do. Only when we have absolute equality and absolute faith in the system will we be able to accept the measure as an adequate basis for progress.

11.6 pm

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and to maintain the pleasant pre-Christmas spirit of unity that has pervaded this debate.

I begin by giving my personal thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food because they have championed the cause of British fishermen and have acted with great fairness when conflicts have arisen between, for example, my fishermen and fishermen who come to my part of the world from rather more northern waters.

I entirely agree with what hon. Members from all around our coast have said about cod. The sudden stop on cod in the Channel severely affected fishermen from the south-west, who also say with absolute conviction that they have rarely seen so much cod about. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister's opening remarks, in which I understood him to say that we need to look much more carefully at the precautionary total allowable catches—TACs that are not based on scientific evidence but are intended as a precaution. We can be more flexible with such TACs. I also echo all that the Minister said about the need to make conservation paramount in the fishing industry.

Undoubtedly we have enjoyed much greater prosperity in the past year. Some of my fishermen have even been honest enough—in their weaker moments — to admit that they have done pretty well. The port of Newlyn in my constituency is probably flourishing now as never before. It is certainly doing much better than it has done in recent years. However, there is the constant worry, illustrated in a Channel 4 programme on Sunday night, about the danger of overfishing and the pressure on certain types of stock. Only yesterday, a number of boats were preparing to go out of the port of Newlyn—they were provisioned and iced up and just about to sail—when the skippers were told by the Ministry, "Sorry. There is now a complete stop in certain areas on hake, sole and megrim". Can hon. Members imagine the effect that had on those skippers who were ready to sail? Without warning they were informed of the instrument from Brussels. I have already had a word with my right hon. Friend who will reply to the debate and I hope that he will comment on that.

Two matters arise from that incident. First, it cannot make sense for there to be no warning to fishermen. That is unacceptable. Secondly, in so far as I can piece the mystery together, the reason for the sudden stop was once again the ex-Spanish boats which sail on the British register but, in my opinion, remain completely Spanish boats. Over the years we have warned and warned again that those boats record some of their catches when they return to Spain against our quota, to the detriment of our fishermen.

The Ministers, the officials and I, know perfectly well, and I hope one day that the Commission will realise, that it is the easiest thing in the world for Spanish boats arriving in Spain to record some of their landings against our quota when they have been caught by Spanish boats which are not even on our register. How on earth can we check that that is not happening? It is a genuine problem. Again I pay full tribute to our Ministers for ensuring that action will be taken in the Merchant Shipping Bill, now in another place, but which before long will be here, against this wretched business of flag of convenience fishing and quota hopping which has done so much damage to our genuine shipping interests.

I know that the House will do everything that it can to pass that legislation on to the statute book as quickly as possible, and once there it must be enforced. Those bogus boats must be removed from our register so that we never again have boats in the ownership of and working in the interests of another country, fishing in our waters against our quotas to the detriment of our fishermen.

11.12 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

It is music, indeed, to the ears of somebody who looks after the interests of the Scottish fishing fleet to hear the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) so philosophical this evening. In the past, properly defending the fishermen of Newlyn, he has been acerbic, if that is not a euphemism, about some activities of boats from northern parts. That is a measure of the consensus in this debate.

The demersal fishing TACs, especially for cod, and the recent uncertainties about the lists of TACs as a result of scientific advice have been causing genuine uncertainty and anxiety north of the border. I subscribe to the view of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) who said that it was time to try to move towards rolling TACs over a two or three-year period. I wonder whether that is on the agenda in Brussels at any of these Fisheries Council meetings. What is the state of play on that? Are some other member states also actively considering that? That is the only way to achieve real stability and a long-term framework of prosperity. A great deal of anxiety and uncertainty is caused by the present position.

The fishing industry knows that it is in its best interests to have proper conservation, and no one suggests that the Scottish fleet is interested in a rapacious policy that will destroy stocks. But it is almost unscientific to have the fluctuations that have occurred in the cod TACs, as reflected in the fluctuations in the haddock quotas for 1986, 1987 and 1988. It may be a scientific fact that the biomass fluctuates as widely as the TACs demonstrate, but that is not borne out by the fishermen's experience. Some of them have been in the industry for many years, and their instinct is almost as good a measure as the scientific methods that are used by the Government's advisers.

Balancing all the conflicting interests, we must try to improve management in the future and, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow said, try to give more notice at the beginning of each calendar year of what the TACs will be.

I welcome the possibility of a mid-year adjustment. I do not know whether it should be written in now, but it was a feature of last year's cod TAC. If it has to be written in at the Fisheries Council meeting next week, I hope that the whole House will encourage the Minister to do it.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow spoke eloquently about the mackerel fishery. We must get the Commission to accept the element of flexibility in the western stock east of 4 deg. west. It is a welcome recognition of the practice that has continued for many years. It is a sign of real progress that the Government have accepted that practice and introduced their proposals. They will ease much of the anxiety in the pelagic sector. I urge the Minister to resist Danish, or any other, pretensions to muscle in on that fishery. They have no right to stake a claim. It is a piece of poker-playing which the Government could face down if they played their cards properly.

On herring and guide prices, the proposals are broadly neutral and acceptable to the industry and are, therefore, welcome.

I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow about the licensing review. It would be in the interests of the industry to bring forward the review, if it could be done without prejudicing the results, because it has caused some anxiety. I wish the ministerial team good luck. It is basically on the right lines, and I hope that Ministers do not have too many late nights before they get away for their Christmas holidays.

11.18 pm
Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I do not often agree with everything that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) says, but I did tonight, especially with his comment that, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), the balance had swung too far in favour of the Scots. We look to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make sure that it swings back again.

There is no doubt that the announcement of a reduction in the TAC for North sea cod will be disastrous for my constituency. The boats at Bridlington depend for 90 per cent. of their catch on one species—North sea cod—and if there is none, they can do nothing else. Last April, 1,000 tonnes were removed unilaterally from their quota. This year, the cut is from a quota which, despite being managed by the Yorkshire and Anglia Fish Producers Organisation Ltd, was exhausted by September. Indeed, 90 per cent. had been used up by the end of July, and since then the fleet has been able to have merely a by-catch of 5 per cent. of cod.

On numerous occasions, I have brought the problems of the fishermen this year in my constituency to the attention of the Minister and the Ministry. There seems to be something wrong with the way in which quota is organised. Without disrespect to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, Grimsby fishermen have been able to free-fish all this year without restriction, while the Bridlington fishermen have been restricted, yet they ran out of quota by September.

We in Bridlington believe in conservation, but we do not accept that quotas are the way to deal with it. and to achieve a growth in fish stocks. As has been mentioned, fish caught in excess of quota and thrown back into the sea are nearly always destroyed. The real way to conserve fish is to stop the catching of immature fish. That is done by increasing the mesh sizes. The EEC has moved far too slowly, and we have moved too slowly as well. This year in our area, our fishermen unilaterally increased the mesh size above the EEC level. It would be only fair if areas that do that were given some consideration in the allocation of quota, and given extra quota.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) said that we should have minimum fish landing sizes and prohibition of fishing in areas where there are significant concentrations of spawning or immature fish. Our fishermen were perturbed about the recent meeting with Government scientists about North sea cod. At the meeting, the scientists admitted that the cod box off the Danish, German and Dutch coasts, where the minimum mesh size was increased for six months last year to 100 mm because of immature fish, is not being observed by the continental fleets. That is appalling, at a time when our boats are virtually tied up.

The scientists also admit that the main requirement for a healthy future for North sea cod is to stop catching so many young fish, but their only solution is the cod box. The fishing industry wants closure of the fishing grounds where there is spawning in February and March, so that the fish can shoot their roe before being caught. It is unbelievable that the scientists will not support that suggestion. After all, no good farmer kills his cows while they are in calf.

The EEC proposals could spell disaster for my fishermen in Bridlington. The Government must reassess the basis of allocation of quota in the coming year and bring it in line with what is reasonable and sensible. They should press the EEC for larger mesh sizes. If we have the same situation next year as this year—with the proposed reduction it could be even worse—the Government will have to think about providing some financial help to fishermen whose boats are tied up. We hear that the EEC will increase the size of its social fund. I cannot think of any better use of that fund than to help fishermen who are not allowed to carry on their work.

11.23 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

My constituency is, by any standards, a substantial centre of the fishing industry, whether in its catching capacity, its marketing or its fish processing. The message from my constituents that I want to give the Minister is that we expect him to get the best possible deal for them and the rest of the United Kingdom fishing industry, at next week's meeting.

I should like to make three brief points, the first of which has already been made. We want a fair agreement on the North sea shoals between the EEC and Norway, which will allow a fair measure of United Kingdom involvement in those waters. My second point, about better policing, has been made fairly strongly. In discussions with my fisherman, I find that there is a tremendous sense of frustration at the fact that they know that their fishing quota is being used by other European countries.

For example, earlier this year I was approached by some of the processing organisations, which said that the saithe quota had been exhausted. They knew that they had not processed that quota and the fishing boats knew that they had not caught that quota, but the quota was exhausted. There is a sense of frustration. The plea for better policing comes from both sides of the House.

Thirdly, I make a plea for forward planning so that there is stability in the industry. That point has been echoed on both sides of the House. But the comments have been on behalf of fish catchers. I should like to make a plea on behalf of not only fish catchers but fish processors. There is a substantial processing industry in Aberdeen. In some respects it is very advanced, but in others it is fairly primitive. It spans the spectrum from the one-man business to the multi-million pound business.

Investment is needed. Because of the industrial position and the lack of grants, the small fish processor who wants to develop his business faces a greater difficulty than a normal small business man. There are fluctuations in the processing market and one cannot plan on a certain number of fish being available. Forward planning is crucial to the fish processing industry. I make a plea specifically on my constituents' behalf for stability in the market and for forward planning. I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman).

As a tailpiece, to inject some small controversy into a fairly amicable debate—I am pre-empting the point to be made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)— it must be said that about 75 per cent. of the fish landed in United Kingdom waters is landed in the north-east of Scotland. It is a little mystifying that the Scottish Office is responsible for forests in the United Kingdom yet, despite the high proportion of the fishing industry in Scotland, is not also responsible for the fisheries aspect covered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I ask the Minister to consider the departmental responsibilities.

11.26 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

Representing the constituency that includes Lowestoft—the premier fish town of England—a port that employs one man at sea for every nine men employed on shore, and a port whose fishing industry was all but decimated a short time ago, I certainly want to associate myself with hon. Members who wish the Government Front-Bench team good luck next week. I shall align my remarks with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) when I say that the proposed cod quota reduction would be a disaster for the port of Lowestoft. Equally, I wish to associate myself, and have it on the record that I have done so, with YAFPO's remarks. The organisation's objections about the cod box and other matters are valid, and I hope the Minister will address them.

The debate has hinged on the scientific argument versus the more anecdotal argument fom the fishermen. Both groups are represented in my constituency. I live just a mile from the Lowestoft fish laboratory, so I have received representations equally from the scientists, with their professionalism and expertise and the fishermen.

There is no doubt that the documents which we are asked to consider cast doubt on the validity of the statistical evidence. I hope that the Government Front-Bench team will bear that very much in mind. If Ministers consider that reduced catch limits are often necessary to protect the future viability of North sea cod, can they not see that they must carry the industry with them, especially in Lowestoft?

The scientists can justify their findings—that is their business—but it is not fair to put them in the firing line. Government must find the median line. It is a matter of judgment, of how far the Government accept what the fishermen report on other matters, such as on what the Belgians, Danes or Dutch did that led to action. The fishermen's reports are surely worth much weight.

Certain parts of the industry may well be prosperous, and with fish prices remaining high and fuel prices low, that can continue. But it does not take much to upset the fine balance—it would not take much to rock the boat. The documents do nothing to push the industry forward; they do nothing to address the transfer of quotas or insufficient by-catches; they leave intact the blatant absurdity of dead fish having to be thrown overboard.

I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will accept my remarks in the spirit in which they were intended, and also that the Lowestoft fishing industry is looking for something that inspires confidence. It does not want cold comfort — it wants assurance that the Government recognise that a UK fisherman's life is his fishing and that economic fish caught and landed legally in Britain are part of the fabric of our way of life. Next week, Lowestoft will be looking for something that will give its fishermen a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

11.30 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I want first to tell the anti-Scottish cross-party alliance, especially the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) that the success of the Scottish fishing fleet might well owe something to the courage and skill of Scottish fishermen rather than to Government policy. That may not be the way it is seen south of the border, but the distribution of the UK quota between the Scottish and English fleets is set on a historical rather than a current basis, and is biased towards the English fleet. A cynic might say that current policy is that the Humber fleet, having been paid to decommission, is now being paid to recommission and reinvest I ask hon. Members not to look at the industry from the limited basis of only the English ports — the success of the Scottish fleet is a tribute to the skill of the Scottish fishermen, who contribute to the overall prosperity of the industry.

The Minister was right to identify flexibility around the 4 deg. line as being critical to the negotiations. It would be absurd if the Commission cannot be made to realise that mackerel movements have changed. The cod quota is disappointing. It is reasonable for hon. Members to make the point that it is difficult for fishermen to have confidence in these allocations when even the documents before us show a severe question mark over much of the scientific data.

Once again, the Norwegians have obtained a superb deal from the EEC fishery negotiations. I do not know about the transfers of fish between Norway and the EEC, but I would not mind transferring some of the Norwegian negotiators to the EEC. Once again, they have walked away with an excellent deal.

My final point refers to something that has already been raised in the debate — the inherent tendency towards instability in the fishing industry. In a good year, the industry has high investment both in catching and processing. Therefore, if there is a severe shock after that, whether due to quota reductions or lower prices, the effects can be very severe. The common fisheries policy does not provide a framework for medium-term planning in the industry, a point which I think hon. Members on both sides would accept.

I wish to push the Minister on the setting of annual quotas on a single species basis. Annual quotas only encourage and reinforce instability in the industry. Would it not be possible to have a three-year review, so that quotas could be set for three years and provide a framework for planning? Hon. Members would not then have to come to the House, late in the year, with incomplete information, documents from the Select Committee that show a question mark about parliamentary scrutiny, and documents from negotiations between the EEC and Norway that show grave doubts about the adequacy of scientific evidence. With a three-year review, we could consider the needs of industry on a proper basis and provide a reasonable time scale for the industry to plan ahead.

11.35 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

First, I wish to thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for many of his comments. I support especially his remarks about the need to ensure that the Community's fishery arrangements with other countries, and particularly with Africa, are fair and properly policed. If we do not police them effectively, we shall not gain the opportunities that should be open to us. It is of considerable interest to our fishermen that there should be sufficient opportunities elsewhere should our fishing grounds become overcrowded. I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow that there is a strong moral consideration. In addition, there are practical reasons that should cause us to be concerned.

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow about the need for fairness. It is true that most fishermen are prepared to put up with a great deal if they feel that the system is fair. One of the difficulties that is associated with the fishing industry is that it is thought by those within it that the foreigner does better than the home fisherman. It is felt also that the neighbours of fishermen are doing better than the home fishermen. That applies to neighbouring Scottish and English fishermen and to fishermen just down the road. It is felt by fishermen that their neighbours are likely to get something that they will not enjoy.

That is natural in an industry that consists of hunting. There is a feeling of competition and a desire to ensure that one's neighbours do not do better than oneself. I understand that, but it is something that makes it difficult for Governments and Oppositions to be clear about the balance that should be achieved when listening to the anecdotal evidence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) would say, that is presented by fishermen on how we should proceed.

This means that we must depend on scientific evidence on the basis that there is no better evidence available to us. First, however, we must try to improve our scientific evidence. Those who have referred to the passages in the documents about the lack of scientific evidence have drawn attention to the failure of some countries to provide information that they should have made available to others. The provision of information is improving, and it will be unusual, but proper, to say in this place that the personal efforts of Dutch Fisheries Minister, Mr Braks, to ensure considerably better policing of the Dutch fleet and better reporting, are something that we wish to support. We have been extremely rude to Mr. Braks's predecessors and we must recognise that he has made great efforts to improve matters. That is something that we must support because there are others who could follow his good example.

Secondly, there should be updating on the basis of more recent scientific advice. I apologise to the House for the time limit which meant that the documents had to be submitted so quickly. The Commission has not done badly because the meetings of the scientists took place in late November. The evidence on which the documentation is based has to be as recent as possible so that decisions are made in the light of the most recent information. It would be sad if the House felt that the Commission had done other than its best. I hope that the House will accept that I am one of those who are likely to be quite tough with the Commission when things go wrong. On this occasion I must say that it has done as well as could be expected of it. However, if we get further and better evidence in the middle of the season, we should be prepared to use it and to change the quotas.

Thirdly, there is obviously a difference between precautionary quotas or TACs and those that are based on direct scientific evidence. I accept the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) on that score. There are many specific issues that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow raised, and I hope that he will recognise that there is a shortage of time and accept that I should answer them in detail after the debate. I shall be happy to respond in that way. We are still investigating the way in which the system works and examining ways in which we can improve it. When this work has been completed we shall be talking to representatives of the industry. I understand that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has dined with the Scottish chairman. When I last had lunch with him, the chairman paid for the meal. I understand that that is slightly political. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we try to enter into discussions with all sections of the fishing industry. That is why it is extremely difficult to make any such decisions in terms that the whole fishing industry wants. That is the difficulty about the problems of mesh sizes. Many parts of the fishing industry do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) may be right, but there are some things about Grimsby that are wrong, such as the national dock labour scheme. It has done more harm to that industry than any other.

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Gummer

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman should not shout in such a way from a seated position.

Mr. Mitchell

I am not seated.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman must accept that there is disagreement on the matter. When there is a mixed fishery and many different species—

Mr. Mitchell

Will the right hon. Member give way?

Mr. Gummer

No, I shall not give way. I have only a few moments left in which to conclude my remarks. The hon. Gentleman tempted me into making that statement. I would not have done it otherwise, as he knows. I am a mild-mannered person, though I am easily tempted.

I accept that, with a mixed fishery, it is more difficult to get fishermen to agree to a change in mesh sizes. In principle, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington and for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw). The measure is not a substitution for quotas and TACs. It should be additional and, once seen to be effective, should enable greater flexibility with TACs and quotas in future. I wholly agree with the view that we should have both systems and many other conservation measures, but, unfortunately, in the interim, until we have made them more effective, we shall have to stick to the system of TACs and quotas which, in a real sense is beginning to work. We should not overlook that fact.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby pointed out his lack of confidence in scientific advice and the problems that arise. I wish that there were better advice but I do not know on what else we should base our decision making. Therefore, we have to take what advice we can. The hon. Gentleman was unfair in regard to policing. The United Kingdom has taken the lead in improving policing.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)


Mr. Gummer

I have already refused to give way. I have exactly six minutes left. I wish to answer the question. I promised that I would.

Mr. Field

I shall be extremely brief.

Mr. Gummer

On the basis of fairness, it would be wrong if I were to give way.

We have carried out a tough policing policy. We first got the Commission and the Council to agree to an international policing system. It was violently opposed not only by other countries but by our own fishermen in many areas. Then we got the Council to get the Commission to do a type of league table about how well the policing was done, and pointing out what was wrong. Surprisingly enough, the United Kingdom came top of the list. That was extremely good. It meant that we could point the finger at others. We were also able to put right the things that we had got wrong. We did that so that we could push the others. Then we got an increase in the number of police. More important, we got the right for the Community policing system to look at things without a vast plethora of red tape which meant that everybody knew that the authorities were coming before they arrived. All the changes were achieved in the teeth of opposition from many of those who objected. The effect has been significant.

I have travelled around almost every fishing port in the country. I have also been to many fishing ports in Scotland with the Scottish Office Fisheries Minister. He has also given me reports. In every such port fishermen have told me that things are still not right but that they are much better than they were in respect of policing. They specifically mentioned the improvements in Dutch control and the fact that the Danes have also begun to improve on their past performance.

I inform my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives that I, too, am furious at the wholly unacceptable situation in which foreign boats can masquerade as British boats and gain fish from the quotas that have fairly been given to British fishermen. We are determined to stop that. It is the major undermining factor in the common fisheries policy, and it is the one thing that makes the CFP unacceptable to fishermen—that is, that someone pinches that which is not his.

We have a basic agreement, which we have accepted and which is not unfair to the United Kingdom, but it will become unfair if somebody else cheats; and it is a cheat to pretend that a boat is British when clearly it is not. That is why we are doing something about it and why we are unhappy that the Commission so far has done nothing. It ought to be even more concerned about this than we are, because the system will be acceptable to all nations only if it is fair.

The points made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) are understandable. We shall fight as hard as it is humanly possible to do something about the movement of the mackerel fishery. The hon. Member ought not to underestimate those who are opposed to this, because some of the opposition is based upon the principle that they, too, find the current fisheries policy sacrosanct, and they would not want to give others the opportunity to make changes that would undermine the basic agreement that was so hard won. I do not believe that they need be worried, but I understand why they are.

We have to reassure them that it is no use trying to renegotiate that which we have negotiated; it is merely a matter on which they may have a problem in the future because they may find that the fish have not swum exactly as the Commission thought they should. It is not easy, and I hope the hon. Member will support us in trying to understand it as well as in trying to win the battle.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington and for Waveney talked about the quota for YAFPO. The problem is that YAFPO did not manage its quota properly. It got exactly its fair share of the quota, and if the share is changed other people will get less. When YAFPO went to the industry, the industry kindly gave it more than its fair share. We have done everything in our power to help YAFPO, which has assured me that this will not happen next year because it will run its quota better. Even if there are fewer fish than there is an ability to catch, if more fish are taken from one place, some will have to be taken from somewhere else. The Government should not be faced with that problem, otherwise the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) will say that their fishermen are disadvantaged. There are other points—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the un-numbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 30th November and 3rd December 1987 on total allowable catches and quotas for 1988 and on 2nd December 1987 on the European Community — Norway Fisheries Agreement, European Community Documents Nos 6388/87 on the common organisation of the market in fishery products and 9585/87 on fish guide prices for 1988, and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom's fishing industry for 1988 consistent with the requirements of conservation of stocks.

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