HC Deb 12 December 1988 vol 143 cc656-67 3.58 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

Together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office, I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers in Brussels, on 9, 10 and 11 December.

This was a very important Council for the United Kingdom on many fronts. The Council reached agreement on a complex package of proposals on total allowable catches and quotas for 1989. As a result of our efforts, the final agreement contained improvements in the fishing opportunities originally proposed for the United Kingdom for 21 stocks. These changes are in line with the scientific advice where available, but in many cases there are increases in precautionary TACs where the scientific evidence is limited but experience in the fishery suggests that some increase is possible and desirable. In particular, we secured an increase in the Commission's proposal for the precautionary TAC for Channel cod and a United Kingdom allocation for sprat in the south North sea.

For western mackerel, I am very pleased to tell the House that we have finally secured flexibility to take mackerel east of the 4 deg W line, despite the continued strong resistance of a number of other member states. We have pressed for this for over a year in the Community, and now, in 1989, our fishermen will be able to take 35,790 tonnes to the east of the line. This has been achieved without affecting the general principles of the common fisheries policy. It will be a major help to the pelagic fleet.

I turn now to North sea cod and haddock, where the main difficulties for the coming year lie. We have had to face hard decisions for these stocks, because the spawning stock biomasses are at an unprecedentedly low level. This means that, unless firm action is taken now, we would be endangering the whole future of the fishery, as I warned the House on 1 December. Consequently, the TACs had to be set at levels which would prevent further depletion of the spawning stock. Although I recognise that this is likely to affect income, it is essential to accept these TACs in order to safeguard the long-term security of our fishermen. I welcome the comment from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation that the haddock quota was probably as much as it could have hoped for, given the decision to adhere to the scientific advice.

Given this unavoidable background, we regarded it as very important to secure as high as possible a quota allocation of North Sea haddock. After long negotiations, we secured 54,380 tonnes out of the Community's fishing opportunities of 62,500 tonnes—that is, 87 per cent. as opposed to our allocation in recent years of 78 per cent. This reflected an ultimate acceptance by the Commission, then by the Council, in the face of strong opposition from the other member states affected, that we should benefit from the Hague preference. Other member states face a cut of nearly 80 per cent. in their quotas compared with less than 60 per cent. for the United Kingdom.

In response to our strong pressures on the whole of the haddock question we secured an increase in the western haddock quota, which will add a further 1,500 tonnes for our haddock fishermen. This means that the fishing opportunities for North sea and western haddock next year will in fact be 73 per cent. of our estimated catches this year. Total white fish opportunities next year for cod, haddock, whiting and saithe in the North sea and west of Scotland will be 10 per cent. below this year's estimated catches.

I also insisted that the TACs for cod and haddock in the North sea should be reviewed if the biological assessment of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management in May indicates that this might be appropriate. In the final stages, we secured Council and Commission agreement to this.

During the negotiations, we have again made a substantial transfer with the Netherlands, securing valuable increases in 14 quotas, including additional opportunities in the North sea, as well as several stocks of particular importance to our fishermen in the south-west.

The Council also considered a number of technical conservation measures. I welcome the introduction of a plaice box along the Danish, German, Dutch and Belgian coasts, and the continuation of the cod box in the German Bight, both of which are designed to protect juvenile fish.

We have also agreed two new measures to protect sole in the North sea. We persuaded the Commission to alter its proposals so as to have broadly the same conservation effect but to achieve it by means less damaging to our fleet. We secured the removal of the potentially disruptive mesh size increase. Regulating the size of beam trawls will ensure containment of the catch effort of this highly valued species; and we secured a six-month period of notice to allow fishermen reasonable time to re-equip. The restriction of larger beam trawl vessels above 1,800 brake horse power to an area north of 55 deg N will afford protection for the sole stock in the spawning period. We consulted the industry closely on all these issues.

This was a complex and difficult Council meeting, but in the context of the current stock situation, the United Kingdom has achieved a better deal than any other member state.

Dr. Norman A. Gorman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

The Minister has just made what I would call an insufferably complacent statement. He will surely acknowledge that he offers a financially bleak prospect for Scottish and English fishermen who fish the North sea for haddock and cod. Will he accept that these fishermen face a dismal new year? Surely the same holds for many who are employed in the fish processing industry. Quota reductions must be of a manageable size in the interests of both the catching and processing sectors. We have seen in the herring ban what happens when the processing sector is ignored.

Will the Minister admit that the management of the fisheries is something of a scandal? Fishermen, even in harsh financial circumstances, accept the need to conserve threatened stocks, but does the Minister agree that effective management must extend beyond an annual block of quotas that are negotiated in mid-December? At the very least, we need increased mesh sizes and an increase in the landing size of the various species. Will the Minister agree to examine the problem of discards? The savage reduction of quotas will lead to a worsening of the discards problem. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that in this regard we lag far behind the Icelanders and Canadians.

Surely the time has come to introduce a reasonable and fair decommissioning system. Instead of a steady reduction of certain elements of the fleet, the Government have allowed an expansion to take place, with disastrous results. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will make a statement before the end of June 1989 on this mid-term review of haddock and cod quotas? That will offer a crumb of consolation to our fishermen. As for consolation prizes, I am pleased to see that agreement has finally been reached on fishing for western mackerel east of 4 deg W. Will the right hon. Gentleman review the rigour of the scientific assessments of fish stocks, which seem to be somewhat erratic?

Finally, are the Minister's officials and the European Commission considering proposals for a fisheries set-aside scheme that is analogous to the agricultural set-aside scheme?

This is surely a black day for many of our fishermen.

Mr. MacGregor

I totally reject the charge that I am complacent. It is important to have regard to the entire settlement that we have agreed and not confine ourselves to the one stock that is causing concern. It is fair to note the considerable improvement that the United Kingdom Government have secured across the board. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for his recognition of our achievement of flexibility for the fishing of western mackerel.

I have made it clear throughout that I am well aware and deeply appreciative of the effects that the cut will have on our fishermen who catch haddock. That is why I pressed so hard for the improvements and made them my top priority in the negotiations. I think that the hon. Gentleman underestimates the impact of the changes that we have achieved. He must recognise that the scientific assessment has to be taken into account. I am sure that he agrees that we would all have been criticised, including himself, if we had ignored the scientific assessment, only to find in future years that there were no fish for our fishermen to catch. That would be to place our fishermen in the most serious state of all. That is what we had to take into account.

I am concerned about the scientific assessments. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are talking about international scientists, not Government officials. The scientists have a problem because with haddock we are talking about single-year stocks. That is where the problem arises. It is difficult to make an assessment. However, the scientists' advice that we received last year —that haddock TACs could be increased—was misconceived. It is important that we examine the way in which the advice is undertaken.

The hon. Gentleman will know that mesh sizes are being increased from 1 January. The discards problem is important. Had the United Kingdom secured pretty well the whole of the haddock TAC, five other member states would have had such tiny quotas that they would have considerably increased their discards. That would have been the likelihood. That would have offset all the conservation effects of the reduced TAC.

We were undoubtedly considering the discard question in deciding where to pitch the relative quotas, but the five other member states, which took a good deal of persuading for the outcome to be reached, are left with only 25 per cent. of the quotas that they have fished this year, whereas in the case of the United Kingdom the haddock catch possibility has been held at 60 per cent. of this year's catches.

Expansion of the fleet reflects the profitability of fishing in recent years; and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are how considering how to deal with the problem.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether a statement would be made before the end of June. I cannot say whether that is possible, as the statement would have to be made after or just before the Council meeting when we receive the scientists' assessment in the May-June review. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that I am very alert to the importance of the matter. That is why I pressed for a review following the assessment, and we shall be considering how to give the House an appropriate opportunity to express its view then.

The hon. Gentleman will know that what might be described as the equivalent of the set-aside scheme—laying-up premiums—were available in the United Kingdom, but the uptake was very small. We must wait and see what happens in the fishery in the coming year. There are still considerable opportunities for our fishermen. I well understand the problems, but we must look at the state of the stock.

Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that no fair-minded Member could ever accuse him of being insufferably complacent? No one has worked harder to look after the fishermen's interests. The problem is clearly a lack of fish.

Having said that, may I ask my right hon. Friend to realise that, along with the real hardships being endured —certainly by my fishermen—there is a worry about whether the scientists are reaching the right decisions, and whether the further decisions being made as a result are themselves right. The stocks that were estimated a few years ago, and the allowable fishing of 250,000 tonnes of cod in the North sea, have been steadily reduced year by year. The forecasting seems to be completely adrift. In the meantime I hope that, in these difficult times, every encouragement will be given to improving port and marketing facilities, so that the fish can reach the market in prime condition and fetch the best possible prices.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to say that the most difficult problem is a lack of fish. I only wish that I could conjure up more fish, but I cannot. I can only secure the best possible deal for our fishermen—and that is precisely what we have done. It is plain from the facts and figures emerging from the Council meeting that, without the slightest doubt, the United Kingdom haddock fishermen have obtained far the best deal. All other fishermen face a reduced quota compared with what they expected when they went into the negotiations; we have obtained an extra 8,000 tonnes for our fishermen.

We must of course take into account the best scientific assessment that we can obtain, and there is no doubt that the state of the spawning stock biomasses for North sea cod and haddock reveals a worrying picture. I agree with my hon. Friend, however, that we need on each occasion to probe the scientists' work very closely. We did so on this occasion, and we will do the same when the review comes in May or June.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Let me start on a positive note and welcome the decision about fishing east of 4 deg W for mackerel. Will favourable consideration be given to the designation of Lerwick as a mackerel port?

The swingeing cut in haddock quotas will dismay those who depend for their livelihood on going out to catch haddock and cod. When does the Minister or his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland propose to meet representatives of the Scottish fishing industry to discuss the financial implications of the decision, and what constructive proposals can they put forward at any such meeting? When the issue was debated in the House on 1 December, it was generally believed that the Hague preference would entitle the United Kingdom to 60,000 tonnes and that figure was not contradicted from the Government Front Bench. Can the Minister explain why there has been a shortfall of some 6,000 tonnes?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about western mackerel. As he will know, the fishermen met my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland a few weeks ago, and are in regular touch with my noble Friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden. I am sure that meetings will be arranged to follow up the outcome of the weekend's Council decisions as soon as it is convenient. We were also in touch regularly with the Scottish fishermen who were in Brussels throughout the negotiations, and my noble Friend saw them yesterday morning. The Lerwick question is obviously a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend, but I am sure that he will have heard the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

It is important to recognise that in the past the Hague preference has not been accepted in its entirety. In one instance, the United Kingdom raised criticisms of it in relation to a request from Ireland, and we succeeded in ensuring that it was not wholly achieved. In this case, if the preference had been accepted at 60,000 tonnes, that would have left 2,500 tonnes for five other member states. There was a risk, to which I have already referred, of high discards from those other member states, which would have affected the conservation issue.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept, however, that the United Kingdom secured a very tough deal in getting so much of the haddock quota this year, and that our cut has been very much less than those of all other member states. We secured an extra 1,600 tonnes in the western haddock fishery, which is also available to our fishermen, and which should be added to the extra North sea stocks that we obtained.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that fishermen are realistic and know that the only fish that he and his fellow Ministers can conjure up are paper fish, through inflated TACs which bear no relation to fish in the sea? He is to be congratulated in not following that course.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the channel cod quota is one of those that will be subject to the mid-term review next year? Will he also confirm that a number of swaps have been made with other countries for other species? That will be of assistance to the south-west fishermen in particular.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can confirm that the channel cod question will be subject to review. My hon. Friend will know that we obtained an increase in the original proposals to assist our fishermen. As for quota swaps, we had one with the Dutch in which we transfered 17,000 tonnes of North sea plaice which we could not fish. In return, we obtained all the Dutch quotas for different stocks in the south-west area as well as others in the Irish sea and elsewhere, including significant quantities of sole and herring in the North Sea. Most of those are highly valued by our fishermen, and I believe that they will be of great benefit to fishermen in the south-west.

Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)

The Minister may be surprised to learn that I am a bit of an expert on the fishing industry—

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

As on most things.

Mr. Garrett

My hon. Friend is quite correct.

The right hon. Gentleman may also be surprised to realise that 15 years ago a Select Committee report on the fishing industry predicted precisely what is happening now. He will recall the first question about the depletion of herring stocks. Had we not pursued the policy that is now being pursued, there would be no herring stocks.

The Minister may be further surprised to learn that I am chairman of a Council of Europe committee on the fishing industry. We might learn something about the processing of fishing from the Portuguese and the Spanish, who have gone to warmer waters to find fish to process for commercial use. I refer, of course, to tuna.

The North Shields fishing port on Tyneside, which predicted exactly two weeks ago what the statement would say, may have been correct, that there are lessons to be learned. The primary lesson is that, as the Minister said at the end of his statement, if we do nothing, no fishing will be left.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman, with his great experience, is absolutely right. I can tell him—with far less experience than he has—that I have taken on board the message that he has put to the House. He is right to draw attention to the risk of repeating the herring fiasco—the near-disaster in the 1970s—and that was very much in all our minds when we accepted the total allowable catch for North sea haddock this year.

The hon. Gentleman's warning is also very pertinent. I have reflected on the advice that we received from the scientists last year for this fishery, and I am surprised now that it was such a high figure. We should therefore be careful and cautious this year on that fishery. I recognise deeply the problems that that creates in one year, but we must also recognise that those fishermen had a 50 per cent. increase in the value of their landings in the three years to 1987, which must be taken into account as well. What they would not forgive us for would be over-fishing now and then running into precisely the problems to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on achieving a great deal, for which the House must be grateful. I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for taking the trouble to pay a visit to Brixham fishing port and to talk to trawlermen there. They were very grateful, and they are pleased with the result that has been achieved. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Dutch and Belgians are notorious for ignoring quotas? Not only do they not have the policing to ensure that their ships do not go over the quota, but their ships have additional concealed fish holds and blinders in their nets?

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware of that. What steps will be taken to ensure that the Dutch and Belgians do not completely ignore the quota? Will action be taken to stop them taking more than they should?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's opening remarks and, in particular, his tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been assiduous in going round all the fishing ports since taking on his responsibilities and in pressing our case with great vigour in the Community. My hon. Friend said that other member states were not properly controlling quotas. He will know the tremendous importance that we attach to that, and the priority that we have given in many Council meetings to ensuring that we have a thoroughly effective inspectorate of inspectors, and that other member states observe the conditions.

I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the many steps that the Dutch Government have taken recently to put their house in order, which have caused them a great deal of difficulty and controversy. I can assure my hon. Friend that we continue to discuss these matters actively with other member states. I want to stress that the Dutch Government have been very strong in trying to deal with these matters in the past few months.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Given that we must take scientific advice seriously, what explanation can the Minister give for the sudden mood of optimism last year and the catastrophic drop in forecasts this year, which has led to savage cuts in the quotas? Why did the scientists get it so wrong? Surely they should have spotted the age profile earlier. How can the matter possibly be changed in June next year? Is that offered as a sop to fishermen for keeping quiet at the moment? If the Minister introduces some form of compensation scheme, will he repeat the errors of the past and give the money only to the boat owners and not to the working fishermen, the processors and those working in fish processing, who will lose their jobs as a result of the changes?

Mr. MacGregor

On the scientific advice, the problem on stocks—particularly in the haddock stock—is that annual fisheries have become dependent on single-year classes and those fluctuate widely for many reasons. That is one reason for receiving advice from one year to another. Single-year classes are an issue that gives us cause for concern because it implies that the remedy lies in increasing the spawning stock biomass, and that is the purpose of the current low level of TACs.

The review in May is not a sop. It is important to continue to review the scientific evidence and to change the TAC in mid-year, if the scientific evidence justifies that. That is important. However, I do not want the House to be under any misapprehension: I am not putting that forward as a way out of the problem. We shall have to wait and see what the scientific evidence is in May. There is no precedent for paying compensation to fishermen when stocks decline or disappear.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Although I welcome the statement, particularly with regard to the increase in western mackerel, which is good news for Fleetwood in my constituency, I also want to welcome the technical and conservation measures that my right hon Friend has taken. May I urge on him the importance in future of trying to ensure that quotas are more stable, which is the best long-term means to ensure a profitable and stable industry?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree. We have been focussing this afternoon on the one quota that has given is the greatest difficulty. It is important to stress that we have stability in many other stocks, and we have seen increases in some cases.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Has the Minister made an estimate of the number of jobs at risk from the cut in the North sea haddock quota, which is the mainstay of the Scottish fleet in volume and value? Does not the Minister's acceptance of the discard argument wholly invalidate the case for setting impossibly low TACs? Does it not show that one cannot manage a fishery by quotas alone? When will the Minister take effective action against Icelandic imports, some of which are coming in below reference prices? The Minister quoted the mildly favourable reaction from fishermen, as opposed to the welter of criticism that he has received from them. Does he not accept that the view among fishermen is that a haddock deal of 54,000 tonnes should have been accompanied by the resignation of the Minister, his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and his noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office?

Mr. MacGregor

I have quoted the point about the reaction of fishermen to contrast that responsible attitude with the ludicrous response from the hon. Gentleman and his party this morning. The hon. Gentleman has taken the matter out of all perspective. I hope that he does not mean that he was hoping for a far bigger increase in the TAC this year. If he was asking for that, he was endangering the future of the fisheries. I suspect that that was a short-term reaction. It is easy for the hon. Gentleman, who has no responsibility for carrying out decisions—and never will have it—to call for that. Such a call would have the worst possible effect on the long-term future of the fishermen.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the interests of producers several times. Will he bear in mind equally the interests of consumers, as fish is the one form of protein that everyone agrees is thoroughly healthy? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Twickenham this Saturday, the price of cod was three times the price of mackerel? If there is a glut of mackerel, cannot more be done to promote its consumption—perhaps by the industry itself? Is my right hon. Friend aware that more fishmongers are opening? What are the Government going to do to meet the increasing demand for fish? Perhaps there should be more fish farms and other methods.

Mr. MacGregor

We do not actually have a glut of mackerel at present, although I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the nutritious and other values of fish as food. That is why, through the Sea Fish Industry Authority. we have been carrying out a major marketing programme to increase the consumption of fish. I am delighted that there are now more retail shops and that the supermarkets are expanding their provision of fish.

It is very important to ensure that stocks do not disappear altogether. We find it very difficult to re-encourage the young consumer to consume herring because, given its disappearance, she has not been used to handling it. Ensuring the future viability of stocks is an important factor in ensuring that more people have more fish to eat.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

The cut in the North sea cod quota will be a serious body blow to a Grimsby industry, which is already struggling with catch difficulties with no help from the Government. Does the Minister accept that there is a disparity of treatment between farmers who, faced with the loss of earnings through natural disasters, usually receive some compensation and fishermen, who should, in this instance, receive compensation either from the Commission, which is awash with money, or from the Government, for the consequences of these decisions?

Does the Minister accept that quotas and TACs are a partial method of sustaining conservation? Is it not better to use technical measures such as the seasonal closure of grounds, the closure of spawning grounds and, most important of all, a real and substantial increase in mesh size—properly and effectively policed—to ensure proper conservation? Would that not have been a better step to take?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that farmers have been going through a very difficult period because of the impact of the weather on their harvests, which has considerably reduced many of their incomes, and there is no compensation for that.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that conservation measures represent just as important a part of the overall approach to the common fisheries policy. In particular, we have placed a heavy emphasis on the need to protect the juvenile cod—a stock that is of particular interest to the hon. Gentleman. This year, some member states attempted to remove the box in the Bight on which we have insisted, which helps to protect the juvenile cod. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to observe that that has continued in place. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important continually to examine conservation measures—including mesh size—and that is what we have been doing.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Those of us who represent fishing constituencies are genuinely worried about the effect of the decision. What will be done to ensure that non-Community countries do not come in and over-fish the stocks as well?

My second question follows on from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). Fishermen in my constituency believe that the reason why the Government are so generous in giving compensation to farmers—I do not quarrel with that—is that there are so many farmers on the Conservative Benches. They point out to me that there are no fishermen on the Conservative Benches—and by that I mean not rod fishermen but net fishermen. Will the Minister do something to show my constituents that their attitude is just a little cynical?

Mr. MacGregor

We pay great attention to ensuring that imports from outside the Community abide by the rules. The Community's deal with Norway this year was pretty tough—

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. MacGregor

We are looking at the position in regard to Iceland. We need evidence that the rules are not being observed.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the contrast with farming. I would point out to him that in recent years we have been spending considerable sums on capital grants to ease the problem of the size of the fleet. We have spent sums on general marketing and have been giving the utmost attention to ensuring that we achieve the best possible outcome from each Council negotiation to protect our fishermen.

Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I apologise to the Minister for not having been here for the early part of his statement. My question relates not so much to the quotas that he has announced as to their knock-on effect upon the prawn fisheries off the west coast. Does the Minister realise that my constituents are scared that fishermen affected by the quotas may transfer their attentions to the prawn fisheries off the west coast and that, in two or three years' time, quotas such as those now being imposed on haddock will be imposed on the prawn fisheries? Will the Minister undertake to consider that question carefully; and, if he envisages such a transfer taking place, will he introduce measures to correct the position?

Mr. MacGregor

I note that the hon. Gentleman fairly referred to what might happen in two or three years' time, so let me put the question in context. It is difficult to predict the effects on fishermen's incomes of the package agreed on white fish in the North sea and the west of Scotland, as it will depend on the market. With less fish coming on to the market, prices may well rise, although one cannot predict that with certainty. In addition to overall values, it is also important to consider the totality of North sea and west of Scotland white fish quotas.

As I said, those quotas represent 90 per cent. of our estimated catches this year. That is the context in which we must set the possible implication that the hon. Gentleman fears. We also have a review coming up mid-year, and we shall watch very carefully what happens in the fishery as a whole. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that at the same time we must ensure that the long-term future of the stocks is assured.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Minister now answer three specific and important questions that he has so far avoided? First, what assessment has been made of the impact of the agreement on jobs—particularly for the Scottish fishing fleet as a result of the haddock TAC—given that many reports suggest that several thousand jobs could be affected directly or indirectly? Secondly, what action does he propose to take to try to stop imports from non-EEC countries at below reference prices, which are undercutting our fishermen? Thirdly, will the Minister come and make the statements that he has made today not in the cosy confines of an office in Scotland but at one of the ports along the north east fishing coast?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Lady is a fair person. If she examines the answers that I have given, she will find that I have clarified the position on the assessment of jobs. One simply cannot tell today what the outcome will be. We have to consider the value of the fish that are landed, and we do not know how the market will react to that. We need to take into account the fact that the white fish quotas represent 90 per cent. of this year's catches and that last year the value of United Kingdom landings in haddock was nearly 50 per cent. up on 1984. We are therefore considering peak years. We must consider all those factors, and the possibility of a review mid-year. For those reasons, it is not possible for anyone to say what the outcome is likely to be.

On the hon. Lady's second point, I have already said that we are monitoring developments in relation to reference prices. On her third point, I strongly believe in getting out and about whenever I can, subject to the commitments of the diary. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary certainly travels a great deal, and I do so whenever I can.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

It is not only the fish catchers who are dismayed at the Minister's announcement; it is also those in the fish processing industry, a large part of which is situated in my constituency. The Minister will remember that the total ban on herring catching a few years ago lasted three or four years. By the time herring quotas were reintroduced, we had completely destroyed our capacity to exploit the stocks. What steps does the Minister propose to take to ensure that that does not happen again?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. We are taking steps to achieve a realistic TAC now, precisely to avoid what happened in relation to herring.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Minister accept it from me that the announcement on TACs will be greeted with dismay in towns such as Eyemouth in my constituency, where, only this weekend, the Allscot factory summarily laid off 57 employees, partly as a result of uncertainty about the supply of white fish? I understand that the Minister has difficulties in quantifying the value and volume changes implicit in the announcement, but will he next year consider giving special assistance both to the catching and to the processing sectors, if evidence is produced that the worst fears of some Opposition Members are confirmed? Will the Minister or one of his colleagues come to Eyemouth and explain the consequence of the announcement?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's request to my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office. The hon. Gentleman referred to the processing industry. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I fully understand the impact of the lack of fish and of the uncertainty to which the hon. Gentleman fairly referred. That is precisely the problem; we cannot just create fish. We must ensure that the spawning is protected if we are to have a proper supply of fish. That is precisely why we had to act as we did over the weekend, and we shall be reviewing the position throughout the year.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider haddock in a wider context. I have already said that the white fish quotas are 90 per cent. of our estimated catch this year. Haddock quotas for the United Kingdom in the North sea and off the west coast of Scotland are 73 per cent. of our estimated catches this year. The fact that the catches this year are well below our quotas suggests that the main problem is a lack of fish.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Can the Minister tell the House whether, without the global United Kingdom white fish quota, any protection will be given to vessels having a low catching power? If no such protection is provided, will there not be a danger that quotas will be gobbled up by the extremely powerful vessels that sail from some ports?

As the Minister has responsibility for food, will he deal again with the impact of this development on consumers? Can he given any estimate of the effect on shop prices that it will have?

Finally, given the clear warning that has evolved over many years that supplies of familiar species of fish are increasingly under pressure, and with the market looking to new species all the time, will the Minister give an assurance that the short-sighted nonsense of cutting fisheries research and of threatening the existence of establishments such as Torry will be abandoned once and for all? Let there be more research and recognition of future needs, not less.

Mr. MacGregor

As to the hon. Gentleman's question concerning prices to the consumer, that is not something that one can estimate now, because it will depend on the market place. On the hon. Gentleman's first point concerning quota allocation, the way in which we do that is something that we must now decide. As to research and development, the key aspect in respect of management of the stocks to ensure long-term supplies—this is the key issue for the consumer—is the research work undertaken by our fisheries people at Lowestoft—

Mr. Doran

And Aberdeen.

Mr. MacGregor

— and in Aberdeen, and elsewhere—in relation to long-term stocks management. That aspect is not affected by the research and development review we are now undertaking.

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