§ The Parliamentary Secretary of State to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8317/90 on technical measures for the conservation of fishing resources and 8240/90 on measures to improve and adapt structures in the fisheries and aquaculture sector; and supports the Government's view that changes in existing technical conservation measures are needed to improve the conservation of fish stocks and that these should achieve a balance between conservation and maintaining a viable fishing industry, the Government's recognition of the need to match Community fishing capacity with available fisheries resources, and the principle of strengthening the structural measures to reduce fleet size, provided that such measures can offer value for money.
The motion refers specifically to two proposals from the European Community, which are fairly narrow in scope. They concern the new-structures proposals, and specifically the proposals on technical conservation. The latter are of particular importance, as they affect the whole way in which fishing fleets operate. However, I shall confine myself to minute detail, because that is where the effect of the proposals will lie.
In fisheries, the status quo is simply not sustainable. We are seeing damage to the stocks, low spawning stocks and an unacceptable level of discards. In recent trials in the Heather Sprigg, for every 10 fish landed above the minimum landing size some 12 were below that minimum and had to be discarded. The problem must be tackled by Community action, and we shall discuss the proposals at a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday. When I attend that meeting, I shall have two objectives: first to conserve fish, and secondly to conserve the livelihoods of fishermen.
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
At that meeting, will my hon. Friend ensure that the concerns of east-coast Canadian fishermen are taken into account? They are concerned about the activities of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen who are operating off the coast of the Grand Banks—outside the territorial waters, but nevertheless in the area concerned—and causing problems for Canadian fishermen who make their livelihood obeying the quota arrangements from the North West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation.
§ Mr. Curry
My hon. Friend is attempting to lead me about 3,000 miles adrift. He is referring to the problems in NWAFO area off the Canadian coast, which will be discussed as part of the negotiations concerning TACs and quotas on which we will embark in December. However, I have met the Canadian Minister twice to discuss technical conservation. I know that he is in touch with Brussels, and that recently relations have improved somewhat.
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that we are attentive to the problems. As he said, the causes are related to the exclusion of Spanish and Portuguese vessels from the major Community-controlled waters because of their late entry into the Community.
As I have said, there are two objectives: to conserve fish, and to maintain the livelihood of fishermen. It is fairly easy to achieve one at the expense of the other. It is relatively simple to conserve fish by having nets so large 755 that the fishermen are driven out of business entirely. In the short term we could conserve the livelihoods of fishermen by enabling them to fish at will, but they would then run out of fish and their livelihoods would disappear in any event. It is important to keep a balance.
The steps discussed in the negotiations may not be dramatic in themselves, but their cumulative effect is to deliver a significant conservation payload. The practical steps must have the fundamental aim of improving the selectivity of the gear. It is a great mistake to believe that there is one glorious grand design or idea to solve all our problems. In a multi-species fishery, that just is not the case. We must avoid the temptation to think, "Here is the Holy Grail to solve our fisheries problems." Even if we solve the haddock problem, for instance, we may then find that another species is at risk.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Does the Minister accept that—especially in the North sea—there are problems with the size of fish because of the different water temperatures? Moving to 120 mm nets will kill off many white fisheries, especially in the areas that I represent.
§ Mr. Curry
I shall be referring to that shortly, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with what I have to say.
The requirements of cod, haddock and whiting—the principal species sought by Scottish fishermen—are not the same. Conservation efforts devoted to one species could result in different consequences for another.
Let me briefly outline the Commission's proposal. It is proposing a mesh size of 120 mm for the traditional diamond-shaped net, to operate in the North sea and the northern part of the west of Scotland. The whole top half of that area should have the square mesh, but the Commission would permit the continued use of the diamond-shaped 90 mm nets if they could guarantee a 50 per cent. whiting catch. In those circumstances, there would be no minimum landing size for whiting. The Commission's proposal also deals with the geometry of the cod end and proposes that fishermen should carry a single net.
Parts of the proposal are constructive, because they draw on experiments and proposals from the United Kingdom. Square mesh has been developed and given trials in the United Kingdom, especially off the north-east coast of England and in Scottish waters.
I am willing to credit the Commissioner with constructive intentions. In negotiations, it is sensible to assume good rather than bad will at the beginning. However, I must make it clear that the proposal as it stands is unacceptable to us, and I am fairly confident that most of my colleagues in the Council would say the same. I have done a great deal of leg work meeting other Fisheries Ministers here before the meeting, and I am fairly confident that there will be very little support for the proposal—although I am not sure what the Luxembourg position is on mesh size.
Our reservations are not limited to the proposals on mesh sizes. We do not think that a specific whiting fishery of the kind implied in the proposals will be possible. With that sort of fishery, there would be a massive level of discard of stock other than whiting—notably, it would 756 mop up a great deal of small haddock, consequently promoting the industrial fishery. The Government's firm policy is that more and more fish should go into the human consumption fishery.
One of the most notable changes over the past few years has been that species that were once given to the cat or went into industrial use are increasingly going into a high-value human consumption fishery—the horse mackerel being a species in point.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
Does the Minister accept that the whiting proposals might not just promote the industrial fishery? Given the interests of certain Fisheries Ministers in the European Community, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the intention might be to promote the industrial fishery? Will the Minister say clearly that it is not acceptable for 1 million tonnes of pout, small fish and sand eels in the North sea to go into the industrial fishery when the haddock quota is down to under 40,000 tonnes? Will the hon. Gentleman say clearly that he will come forward with further measures to clamp down on the industrial fishery, as opposed to allowing such measures as we have before us, which would promote it?
§ Mr. Curry
We have made it clear that we do not believe that an industrial purpose is the best destiny for fish. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman reads Fishing News. Today's edition contains an interview with the Danish Fisheries Minister in which he said that he has a good relationship with me. That is true and I am delighted to acknowledge that. The Minister said that we do not see eye to eye on industrial fisheries. Those words came out of his own mouth.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
Is there ever debate on the subject of industrial fishing on its own, or is it always lost in the fish trading that goes on in Brussels? It never seems to be put to the Commission as an individual issue.
§ Mr. Curry
It tends to be absorbed into the general debate on total allowable catches and quotas, which we have in the marathon session in December. We defend vital interests in that debate—for example, mackerel flexibility is of particular importance to the Scottish fleet. The klondiking operation is closely linked to that in Scotland. There is currently some debate in Scotland about that operation. This matter happens to be of particular importance to the Danes. A balance and a bargain must be struck. That does not alter the fact that we constantly make it clear that we are not supporters of the concept of an industrial fishery, but I have to recognise that my Danish colleague has an interest which he is pursuing.
The Commission's proposals are not acceptable. We have tried them. We do not just make a theoretical statement. Boats have been rigged to tow that net and have been compared with boats with a conventional net. The boats end up without many fish in the net. It will not work. The system is not practical. We have explained that to the Commissioner. We have sent him and just about everyone else videos with commentary. To give him credit, in starting this debate by putting forward fairly radical proposals, his intention was to pull other Ministers along with him so that they recognised that something had to be done. That is a legitimate purpose. We have made clear the 757 changes that we want and said that this is simply a bridge too far in terms of protecting the livelihoods of fishermen and that it does not necessarily deliver on conservation either.
What is the essence of these proposals? What do we want out of the negotiations? As I said, the key is selectivity. The aim is to stop the mesh closing. To use an old analogy, diamond-shaped mesh is like a string bag containing a 31b bag of self-raising flour—the more weight in the bag, the more the mesh closes.
What can be done? We are considering the option of rigging part of the net with square mesh, but even the square mesh is not the answer to a maiden's prayer in terms of all conservation. For example, it is not necessarily a great help in catching cod, although it is of significant help in catching haddock. The United Kingdom has 46 per cent. of the Community cod quota and 78 per cent. of the Community haddock quota, so we have a major interest in these matters. There is a clear conservation dividend in getting 80 mm square net. That is less than for the diamond shape. We must be careful that we do not assume that experiments are categorical in every respect. But they give clear evidence that there is a pay-off.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
No doubt, as an ardent reader of Fishing News, the Minister will have seen the comments in last week's edition by Mr. George Traves, the president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. He suggested that experimentation on the square nets was not getting support from the top. He specifically mentioned the lack of co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Sea Fish Industry Authority on the square net experiments. Has the Minister any comment to make on that allegation?
§ Mr. Curry
At the very moment I noticed the article in Fishing News, I was sitting across the table from Mr. George Traves and representatives of the NFFO. I found it slightly bizarre that he had apparently said to Fishing News that we never talked to the NFFO and that it did not know what was happening, when the date of our meeting had already been fixed. We are in constant communication with the NFFO. I met its representatives last Friday. Just for the record, so that we have no difficulties in Anglo-Scottish questions, may I say that this morning I met representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in Aberdeen and had an extremely constructive and friendly meeting in which we achieved a large measure of understanding.
§ Mr. Curry
I think that I met representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation more recently.
We wish to limit the meshes in the cod end to ease a problem of escape and to prevent the ballooning effect. We believe that certain attachments should be banned, notably, topside chafers. I am trying to use parliamentary language to describe "topside chafers" because it has a slightly titillating feeling about it. It is an outer net which goes over the cod end to protect it. It is more prosaic than one would imagine at first glance. We should also like a ban on lifting straps except in nephrops fisheries.
There is a difficult choice to make on mesh sizes. I put it clearly before the fishermen's organisations. I did not try 758 to pretend that the choice would be anything other than difficult. We know that the 90 mm mesh which exists now is wasteful. I have said that the status quo is unsustainable. I do not think that anyone disagrees—the fishermen do not. It is clear that an 80 mm square panel appears to cut discard by 10 to 14 per cent. in experiments, but there are some signs that the level might be higher. Clearly, there is a dividend from this. If we have 90 mm square mesh, we get a much bigger saving of about 40 per cent. on haddock discards, but then there is whiting loss. If whiting escape, there is a problem with predation on other fish.
That all rests on science that is 10 years out of date. We need to look hard to see whether that is true. A new programme is coming up next year to consider it. At the moment, it is generally thought that whiting pose a predatory problem, but we must bring ourselves up to date on the behaviour of a multi-species fishery. If we have the 100 mm diamond shape, the haddock discards are cut, but there is a big whiting problem.
There are clear benefits from those proposals, but we must carry the fishermen with us. I do not want us to try to do things that appear to be unreasonable and the fishermen to say that they might as well be hung for a sheep as for a goat. I do not want them to have an incentive not to make conservation work rather than try to make it work. That is the purpose behind this step-by-step approach. We need action. We believe that there is a big year class of haddock in 1990. In summer next year, we will have to protect the survivors of that class so that they can go into spawning stock and provide the fishing resources for future years. We do not want them to be hammered, particularly if it turns out to be a very promising class.
The other set of proposals relates to structures. I shall go through them relatively quickly. If hon. Members want specific details on grant levels, I shall undertake to supply them rather than detain the House unnecessarily. The Commission wishes to extend the modernisation grants and new vessel construction grants in the small fisheries to boats under 9 m in length. In the United Kingdom, that represents about 55 per cent. of our registered vesseles, but only 1 per cent. of our tonnage. I am sure that the House will understand why I have some hesitations about the programme when I say that 80 per cent. of the combined Spanish, French, Greek and Portuguese fleet is under 9 m. There is a danger of going into a bottomless pit of expenditure and engineering an increased pressure on stock while, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the problem is pressure on the stock.
Increased aid will be proposed for joint ventures. There will be payment of a proportion of the cost on a contract basis so that Community fishermen can exploit third-country stocks for landing in the Community market. There are redeployment proposals to encourage boats to fish outside Community waters. There are joint ventures which will permit the transfer of boats into other waters and there is a decommissioning proposal which would increase the rate according to the age and size of the vessel. By and large, the rates would go up by about 20 per cent. and there would be a 70 per cent. Community contribution below the 12 m level.
§ Mr. Salmond
The last few words of the motion are:and the principle of strengthening structural measures to reduce fleet size, provided that such measures can offer value for money".I and, I suspect, other hon. Members had substantial hopes that the Minister was about to recant the ridiculous policy of opposition to decommissioning. If not, what benefit would it be to Scottish, English or Northern Irish fishermen to have an increase in the grant to 70 per cent. when they are not entitled to any take-up because of the Government's hostility to a measure that is part of the fisheries policy of every country in the Community with the sole exception of southern Ireland?
§ Mr. Curry
The only problem with the hon. Gentleman's thesis is that at present, only four countries qualify for Community grant on the ground that they have met their multi-annual guidance programme targets. All the other countries have failed to meet their targets and do not qualify for grants, so the idea that the rest of the Community is a pack of people who are redolent of virtue while we are sinners is a misrepresentation of the position. The motion shows that we attach particular importance to value for money—the hon. Gentleman would have been disappointed if I had not repeated that phrase—and we still do not believe that this scheme offers value for money. The position has not changed. Hon. Members may raise the matter as much as they like this evening, but they will not get a different answer.
§ Mr. Wallace
Following the meeting between the fishermen's leaders, and the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the Conservative party conference, there were suggestions in the fishing press that the door was not as tightly shut as it had been. Can the Minister enlighten the House on what gave rise to such expectation? Does he have any proposals that would allow "value for money"? Clearly, that is the Government's objective. How does the Minister think that they will achieve it?
§ Mr. Curry
It is true that there was a delegation of some members of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation at the Conservative party conference at Bournemouth. The delegation met me and my right hon. Friend and we discussed the problems facing the fishing industry. I met members of the federation again this morning, when they raised their concerns again—no doubt in the same terms—and I told them that there was some suggestion that the Commission was considering a voluntary scheme. They asked what our reaction would be and I said that we should have to wait to see what the scheme was.
We always listen to proposals. As one would imagine, with my right hon. Friend as Minister, we are very ecumenical. However, we have still not been persuaded that a decommissioning scheme would give value for money. The Government's position has not changed at the margins of any conference.
We are seeking to keep expenditure within agreed ceilings. The Commission has provided a fiche that sets out the costs of proposed new measures in 1991 and shows that the ceiling on expenditure set in 1986 should not be exceeded provided that no changes are made to the proposals. We will watch the situation closely, as some member states are seeking to increase the already generous rates of grant and the estimates of costs for successive 760 years have not been provided. We are requesting that they should be drawn up so that our future commitments to the budget are clear.
I must remind the House that, although the Community may put forward 70 per cent. of the cost, much of that 70 per cent. is United Kingdom finance because of the operation of the Fontainebleau mechanism. To assume that this is largely Community money is wrong; it is largely British money no matter what flag it carries when it comes into the country.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
The Minister has made clear his position and that of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Is it his impression that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is equally unpersuaded about the merits of the decomissioning scheme?
§ Mr. Curry
I am aware of his name and I know his first name as well. We had a good meeting and he did not dissent from my propositions. There is no difference between the positions of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on this matter. There is certainly no difference between us on any of the proposals that are our subject for debate tonight.
§ Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)
I understand that we have to make a contribution. However, under the Fontainebleau arrangement, is not there a kick-back by way of taxation benefiting the Treasury which would largely alleviate this?
§ Mr. Curry
There are rebates to the United Kingdom once expenditure goes beyond certain limits. However, if there is a net inflow of new funds into the United Kingdom, the rebate itself is rebated—that is, diminished by the same amount. In other words, the flow of funds to the United Kingdom abates the rebate. It is a complicated matter, so I took the precaution of boning up on it before I came here in case one of my hon. Friends asked me such a question. If my hon. Friend the Paymaster General were still here, he would confirm my answer.
§ Mr. Trotter
Are not we, in effect, contributing to the grants that go to other countries through Brussels?
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
That means that we are contributing to the modernisation of the fleets in the four countries that the Minister mentioned, which come here to catch our stocks. It is useful to know that.
The Minister did not answer the point made by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) who asked whether there was a return to the Government in the taxation of the grants that are paid out under a decommissioning scheme. That would lessen the British contribution.
§ Mr. Curry
The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first is that the United Kingdom is not subsidising other people to catch our fish, because there is no competition in fisheries. We have divided up the Community waters. There is a British zone and British fish, and British licensed vessels are the only vessels that are permitted to take that fish. The Dutch cannot, for example, put on a brand-new beamer and fish in United Kingdom waters unless they have a specific agreement that gives them access and unless a licence appertains to it.
During my introductory speech, we have already had a mini-debate. The proposals that we intend to pursue in Brussels are realistic and sensible and take a practical approach. The fact that each may not be dramatic in itself does not alter the fact that the conservation that they will deliver is significant and worth while. It is a step which our fishermen would endorse, welcome and implement. Once those proposals prove to be a success, we may then wish to take further steps. Consensus and collaboration with the industry form part of the way forward, but the Marin proposals do not give us that basis. In very difficult negotiations, our proposals will seek to attain that basis, so I ask for the support of the House for our proposals.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I welcome many of the Minister's comments about the aspects of the regulations that are causing concern to our fishermen. To emphasise the urgency of the need to act, I quote from the explanatory memorandum to the EC proposal:In its report of 30 May … the high-level working party found that the conservation of fishery resources, particularly the North Sea, is inadequate and that the long-term advantages of satisfactory conservation of stocks is not guaranteed. For almost all the stocks for which analytical assessments are available, fishing of the stocks has increased, the biomass has decreased and the percentage of juveniles in the catches has increased. The situation of cod and haddock in the North Sea is particularly disturbing and urgent.It is against that background that we must consider the proposals concerning the conservation of fish stocks and the technical measures that are required to make progress.
There is concern that the total allowable catch figures are not working to preserve fish stocks and I am informed that at present scientists cannot set a TAC for North sea stocks. Whatever happens in the coming round, I suspect that pressure will be brought to bear for a further reduction—on top of the disastrous reductions that took place this year.
§ Mr. Curry
I will give the hon. Gentleman some information on that to help our debate. The advisory committee on fisheries management has declined to recommend TACs and quotas and has suggested a method of effort reduction. We wish to have that translated into the form of TACs and quotas. The Commission agrees and has therefore suggested quota levels in the context of the Norwegian negotiations, which are the preliminary to negotiations within the Community. As yet, however, there are no Commission proposals as such for us to consider. What the hon. Gentleman says is right, but I thought that it would help the House if I clarified the point.
§ Mr. Morley
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. Whatever comes out of the agreement, I suspect that it will bring pressure for still further 762 reductions in catches, which in turn will place further pressure on our fishing fleet. That emphasises the need for positive help.
I welcome the Minister's remarks about the proposal for a mesh size of 120 mm. There is no doubt that that would be to the advantage of the fishery in terms of conservation. The question is whether the fishery could stand the financial loss that it would face while the stocks recovered. I know that the Commission is doing its best in terms of conservation, but the 120 mm mesh size is not acceptable, and I am pleased to hear that the Minister will be arguing for a compromise agreement when he meets the Commission.
I accept what the Minister says about square mesh panels, for which there is considerable enthusiasm among fishermen. The research pioneered in this country appears to have been very successful. I am concerned that the Commission does not seem to have given enough thought to the exact location of those panels within the net structure in the light of continuing research. I hope that such matters will be brought before the Commission. Gill clogging can be a problem. Moreover, I understand that there has been no research into the effectiveness of square mesh panels in the Irish sea, in sector 7. There is also concern about the selectivity of square mesh panels, with cod in particular, although we know that it works with haddock and whiting which tend to go up into the cod end.
I share the concern that has been expressed about the EC's attitude to whiting. I am suspicious about why it is being argued that the mesh size can be smaller for whiting and that no minimum size for landing can be justified. In a letter in this week's Fishing News, a fisherman wrote that, in all his years of gutting fish, he had rarely come across juvenile cod and haddock in the stomachs of whiting. He argued that whiting prey mainly on fish other than the high-value fish stocks. There is a suspicion that the inclusion of whiting is to the advantage of the industrial fishing nations.
I was pleased to hear the Minister's comments about industrial fishing. The time has come to tackle the issue head-on. With fish stocks declining, and given the pressure on our marine ecology, large-scale industrial fishing for use in fertilisers and animal feed can no longer be justified where alternatives are available. I hope that the Commission will give more thought to the waste which occurs in the gutting of fish. I note that the American fleets now have fishmeal factories at sea, so rather than being thrown over the side and wasted, the guts can be collected and processed at sea, thus maximising fishmeal resources and reducing the need for industrial fishing on its scale currently occurring in the North sea. The Commission has not tackled the problem seriously enough. I hope that the Minister will open a debate on the issue, because if fleets are to be restructured, serious consideration should be given to a major restructuring of Britain's industrial fishing fleets.
I welcome the proposal to consider the closure of spawning and other sensitive areas. Not enough has been done about that. Regional fishermen are well aware of areas in their coastal patches that it would be advantageous to close at certain times of the year. I know that that is already done with some species and in some grounds, but I should like an extension of the practice based on scientific fact. The regional fishermen should be involved and we should seek their advice and draw on their expertise in deciding where closures should take place.
763 I digress slightly, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I should like the Minister to consider the development of a total coastal zone planning policy so that we may identify the sensitive areas and control disturbances caused by dredging and industrial output as part of an overall plan for the management of our fisheries. I emphasise that there is a role for the fishermen, who could be involved on a regional basis and could identify the areas where——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying a long way from the narrow debate on the documents. I am sure that he will come back to them.
§ Mr. Morley
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker; I shall certainly come back to the strait and narrow, but we are discussing conservation measures and EC proposals and I merely seek to make some proposals of which I am sure the Minister is taking note and which he could put before the Council of Ministers and the EC for their consideration.
I can see the logic of the one-net rule in terms of stopping abuse, but it will cause problems for some fisheries where nephrops are fished as well as white fish and where more than one net is carried. I wonder whether the Minister has considered the problem of enforcement.
One cannot separate technical and conservation measures from structures and I think that the Minister recognises that there is still a problem of capacity in terms of the pressure on our fish stocks. That brings me to a point that has already been raised: given that funding is available for a decommissioning scheme, why does the Minister continue to reject the suggestion?
We have been through these arguments before, but on my travels around the country I have talked to many fishermen—to the harbour commissioners in Bridlington, as well as to those in the small ports in the south of England and to those in the larger ports on Humberside—and I know that the whole industry is asking for a proper decommissioning scheme to help it to meet the problems that it faces. The 70 per cent. funding of a decommissioning scheme is now proposed; Governments have only to find 30 per cent. of the cost. As it is, we are paying into a pool to help restructure other countries' fleets but we are to receive no benefit at all.
The hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) referred to the Fontainebleau agreement. I stand to be corrected, but I understand that any expenditure that the Government put into the scheme can be recovered through capital gains tax, payable for those in receipt of decommissioning grants.
Even the small proportion that the Government would have to find to make the scheme work could thus in some part be clawed back through taxation, so we are talking about an even smaller proportion of finance than the 30 per cent. in the scheme. Given that fact, how can the Minister continue to argue that decommissioning is not the answer? He has admitted in earlier debates that it is not beyond the capabilities of his Ministry to come forward with a cost-effective and workable decommissioning scheme. If he accepts that he has the expertise to meet the criteria for decommissioning and to recognise the faults 764 which occurred in earlier decommissioning schemes, there is no reason why a coherent scheme cannot be introduced to help the industry.
Some of the EC's proposals are meant for modernisation and construction, as well as for decommissioning. While we have such overcapacity, why is the Commission still devoting resources to modernisation and construction? Surely the priority, should be decommissioning. Given that priority which the Commission recognises even if the Government do not, I do not see why more money should not be devoted to decommissioning so as to move towards a 100 per cent. scheme. If necessary, that could be achieved by reducing the money available for modernisation. The Government have not yet met the targets in line with the multi-annual guidance programme, because the measures that have been brought forward so far are not adequately reducing the effort of our fishing fleet. That underlines the need for a decommissioning scheme.
I noted the Minister's comments on joint ventures and there are proposals to give those ventures more assistance. However, there are also proposals to remove from EC waters some of the ships taking part in joint ventures, and compensation is being made available for that. Would that have an effect on preferential trade agreements which have been built up with third countries? I hope that the Minister will consider that point.
I understood the Minister's point about the Canadian problem and the fact that as a result, in particular, of Spanish over-fishing due to the EC's failure to agree quotas with the North Atlantic Fishing Organisation, United Kingdom vessels are prohibited from operating within the Canadian 200-mile limit or from landing at Canadian ports. If we are looking for new waters and new species to exploit, those issues must be resolved.
Does the Minister share the concern of organisations such as the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations about differentiation between the ages of vessels and their respective tonnages? While the logic of the calculations is not disputed, that logic does not seem to apply to the multi-annual guidance programme. There should surely be a correlation in terms of the calculations.
Does the Minister accept that there is a danger in the regional approach as outlined in his proposals, particularly if East Germany is included as a preferential region, with all the expense to which that might commit the EC as part of its own very large fleet? I am also concerned about the exclusion from the Minister's proposals of cessation grants for retiring fishermen. I accept that one of the criticisms of previous decommissioning schemes in this country is that most of the money went to a few owners of vessels. If we are taking vessels out of our fishing effort, there must be some compensation for the crews.
Will the Minister comment on recent tribunal cases, which have found that former Hull and Grimsby fishermen who lost their jobs following the cod wars were actually redundant and were not part of the classification of casual labour?
§ Mr. Curry
To clarify the point about grants for fishermen who, as it were, go out with their vessels, the Commission withdrew those proposals after legal advice, on the grounds that it was not an appropriate part of the FEOGA funding operation. The Commission said that, if that point was pursued, it had to be pursued in the context 765 of the social fund. We need not have an argument across the Dispatch Box about that, because the Commission took the initiative to withdraw it on legal advice.
§ Mr. Morley
I am grateful for the Minister's explanation of why the proposal was withdrawn. People were very concerned about that. The issue can be pursued in other venues and under different budget headings. I want to pay tribute to people like my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) who have been involved in the campaign for redundancy for our fishermen. I hope that the Minister will join me in pressing the Department of Employment to settle in full the outstanding claims of those fishermen who lost their livelihoods as a result of the fishing grounds that were lost following the cod wars.
I am a keen supporter of the aquaculture sector of the industry and I am keen to see it grow. I accept that care needs to be taken in terms of financial support because there is considerable overcapacity of certain species, particularly of salmon. Careful thought must be given to the effect of encouraging more capacity in areas where the price is falling because of the problems not only of this country but of third countries entering the market.
Will the Minister consider the fact that some countries, particularly Spain, have said that they see aquaculture as a future way of reducing efforts and the role and size of their fishing fleets? They see it as a way of providing compensatory employment. That is a welcome step forward for restructuring employment, but should not support for aquaculture be linked with a reduction in fleet capacity for the countries applying for that support? A new industry can be encouraged and that can be linked with the contraction of an industry which has a problem with overcapacity.
Will the Minister consider safety support for our ships and support grant aid for proper clothing and equipment, particularly for flotation suits? I stand to be corrected if such equipment is already eligible for grant aid. The Minister will be aware that a company in this country called Mullion has a considerable market in flotation suits. Those suits allow fishermen to work on deck. They do not restrict them and they offer considerable protection should a fisherman fall overboard. Not only are they flotation suits, but they allow air to be trapped inside the suit to protect the fisherman from the cold northern seas.
I must confess that those suits are made in my constituency, so it is only reasonable that I should declare an interest in the matter. It seems ironic that Canadian fishing boat owners are buying those suits in large quantities to protect their crews, while in this country, where the suits are made, they are rarely to be found on the decks of our boats.
The whole issue of reduced effort is linked with conservation measures and a proper and effective decommissioning scheme. We have all heard the arguments against the decommissioning scheme and about the weaknesses of earlier schemes. However, it is not adequate simply to judge decommissioning schemes on what happened in the past and on their faults and weaknesses. We can structure a scheme in this country which will meet the needs of our fishing fleets and provide a sensible, structured and careful reduction in effort in a way which will assist our fishermen and ensure that they do not suffer as a result of the restructuring which must take place.
766 I do not believe that the Government have given enough thought to that. They have not been serious about it. When 70 per cent. of the cost is to be met by EC funds into which we are paying, our fishing fleets have a right to expect a proper decommissioning scheme, and the British taxpayer is entitled to know that the money that we are paying into schemes is redistributed to the people in our country who need that help and support.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
I suspect that the House might have been puzzled by the intervention at the beginning of the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), who has now left the Chamber, on behalf of the Canadian fishing industry. As far as I know, Hereford is not one of our main fishing ports. The explanation is simple. Yesterday, six Canadian parliamentarians came here to see hon. Members on both sides of the House who have an interest in fishing to complain about the situation in Canada. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford is an officer in the body that links this place with the Canadian Parliament, and that was his interest. What interested me about their remarks was the similarity of the problem faced by those of us who represent fishing constituencies in the United Kingdom and that faced by the Canadians—the old problem of overcapacity in fleets chasing limited fish stocks.
There are other aspects of the problem with which we are also familiar. They spoke mainly against the Spanish fishermen and about the misreporting of catches on a big scale. I do not want to upset what I think will be a harmonious debate, at least on the Back Benches, but I have to say that I am receiving still more complaints about misreporting of catches from Scottish fishermen who are allegedly catching fish in the North sea and then counting them against the quotas for the south-west of England.
This cheating is to the detriment of fishermen in the south-west, in two ways. It exhausts the quotas for that part of the world quickly and leads to Scots fishermen building up a considerable track record of catching in those waters. That historical track record will be of great importance in the years to come. However, I do not want to say too much about that.
§ Mr. Wallace
Given the tenor of those remarks, is it not a pity that there is not present a single Conservative Member representing a Scottish constituency, whether or not it is a fishing one, to give us some information?
§ Mr. Harris
I look to the hon. Gentleman to give: us information and to contradict, if he dares, what I have said.
§ Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles)
I support what the hon. Gentleman has just said, but will he be a little more specific? The fishermen about whom he is talking are generally from the east coast of Scotland. I have the same complaint from my fishermen as the hon. Gentleman gets from his fishermen, only about east-coast fishermen fishing in west-coast waters.
§ Mr. Harris
The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue in the House before and, although I do not claim to be an expert on the position in his part of the country, I suspect that there is a grain of truth in what he has said.
767 I happened to receive today a letter from Mr. Michael Townsend, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation. He maintains:Most species have a certain amount of misreporting this year but the real concern is for the area VII Haddock, which I assess, and no one disagrees with me, at 340 tons out of the annual quota of 600 tons, i.e. 56 per cent. misreporting.If that is the situation, and I am sure that he is right, it is serious, not just for this year but for future years when the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation will take up its sectoral allocations.
Although I do not expect a detailed reply from my hon. Friend the Minister on this matter, he knows my concern about it, as I have had meetings with him. I ask him to look at the situation again with Ministers and officials from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland so as to get to the bottom of the problem. It cannot go on as it is. We often complain about fishermen of other nations cheating, but the matter becomes even more serious when, unfortunately, we have to make such allegations about fishermen from other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Wallace
The hon. Member is making a serious point. If misreporting is going on to the extent that he alleges, there is something seriously wrong with the enforcement of fisheries legislation. Has he any comment on that?
§ Mr. Harris
I agree. As it is difficult to police to perfection, we cannot have a perfect enforcement system. I acknowledge the steps that my hon. Friend the Minister has introduced, such as dealing with the reporting in of vessels. What has been suggested, in the past at any rate, is that vessels that have claimed to be fishing in the south-west have been nowhere near that area. We must have measures on that, and I know that my hon. Friend has met those points.
§ Mr. Curry
Let me try to lay this issue to rest, as far as possible. My hon. Friend will know that we are consulting on the proposal that, when producer organisations take a sectoral allocation in one species, they take it for all the sectors. This would get to grips with the problem of boats, owned by whomever, fishing in one sector and claiming that the catch came from somewhere else. We are looking into reporting requirements. I note his point about the track record, but I do not wish to pursue that at the moment. I am sure that he will be delighted to know that we managed to get some more cod for the Irish sea following those allegations.
§ Mr. Harris
I am grateful for that assurance, and I pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend in handling this difficult situation.
The word that will be repeated throughout this debate is "decommissioning". My hon. Friend the Minister put up a skilful defence, as one would expect, of the Government's position, but he will find on both sides of the House a feeling that the Government will have to look again at decommissioning, for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) in a fair, reasonable and thoughtful speech. I did not disagree with much in it.
We must not close our minds. We all know the difficulties that accompanied the last scheme, and I can understand the Government's reluctance to go down the 768 road of decommissioning grants again, having had a mauling by the Public Accounts Committee over the workings of that scheme. However—I say this in all friendliness—the time has come for my hon. Friend the Minister to look at the issue again. I do not see how we shall get the necessary reduction in our fleet and in our catching capacity, as I do not see how our existing policy will achieve that. I am not saying that a decommissioning scheme must be introduced, but it would be a mistake to close our minds absolutely and firmly to it.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to have studies made of variations of the scheme. If Scottish fishermen can come forward with voluntary proposals, fine. My hon. Friend should look at those, as he promised he would. I think he will find that Conservative Members—there is no collusion on this point, and I am not even expressing the view of the Conservative party Back-Bench fisheries committee, which I happen to chair—feel that we shall have to return to the subject and look at it again, without commitment. I urge that course on my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
We are debating two revisions to regulations from the European Community, one on North sea conservation schemes and the other on small-scale fisheries vessels' support schemes. The Minister might have been right to say that the debate could be described as narrow. We are debating also the motion in the names of the Prime Minister and her colleagues. It is a broad motion that covers the balance between conservation and maintaining a viable fishing industry and, secondly, the principle of strengthening structural measures to reduce fleet size.
We are told that the amending regulations will extend to Ceuta and Melilla on the African coast. Strangely enough, that part of Africa is within the European Communities. The two territories happen to be part of the national territory of Spain.
The Minister and I were colleagues for some years at Strasbourg, and he will know of my continuing interest in Gibraltar. I ask him to confirm that the fishing industry in Gibraltar will have the same support in this measure as that which is to be extended to Ceuta and Melilla.
The debate will have implications for the area which I represent, which in this context is the Irish sea. The proposed measures for the North sea, and especially the increase in mesh size from 90 mm to 120 mm, have a knock-on effect on other fishing areas, and especially in the Irish sea.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) raised an issue which is of continuing concern to us in Northern Ireland, and that is the dramatically increased landings by United Kingdom vessels in Scottish ports. The hon. Gentleman went so far as to allege that there was cheating by Scottish fishermen. I shall not go so far as to make that dreadful allegation against my kith and kin in Scotland, but I was interested that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was quick to allege that it was the fishermen of eastern Scotland who were cheating and not the western fishermen. I shall have to check that in detail.
It is interesting, however, that there is such a large Scottish fishing lobby in the Chamber this evening. I seem to be surrounded by members of it. They represent all the main political parties in Scotland.
§ Mr. Taylor
They are not members of one of the main political parties. As the hon. Gentleman says, they are not even represented in the Chamber this evening.
What is the tremendous interest of the main political parties in Scotland? In anticipation of the debate, I submitted a written question about the damage that is being done to Scottish ports by United Kingdom vessels. I shall give some figures to support the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Ives. The Minister of State, Scottish Office answered my question—this appears in column 130 of Hansard for 13 November—and provided a table of figures. It shows that cod caught in area VIIa in June 1986 was 16 tonnes. In 1987, it was 26 tonnes, in 1988 it was 51 tonnes, in 1989 it was 42 tonnes and in 1990—guess what happened in June—it was 809 tonnes. In areas VII and VIII—this excludes area VIIa—there was no catch of cod from 1987 to 1989. Suddenly, however, in June 1990, there was a catch of 175 tonnes.
I could continue with facts and figures to substantiate the allegation which has been made by the hon. Member for St. Ives. Although one of the measures that we are being asked to amend tonight refers specifically to the North sea, there will be a domino effect on fishing opportunities in other areas.
I represent in this place the fishermen of Northern Ireland in the three fishing towns of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. These towns are in rural areas where there is high unemployment. The industry employs 1,600 people, half of whom are involved with the fleet. The other half is engaged in the processing industry. The rural area in which the three towns are situated earns about £20 million a year for Northern Ireland. There have been problems during the present year because of the knock-on effect of what is happening in the North sea.
Incidentally, the fishermen tell me that, although tonnage is being claimed by Scottish ports as having been found in area Vila, they have never seen the Scottish boats in that area. They can see the American nuclear submarines under the water and do all sorts of other things, but they cannot find the Scottish fishing boats that claim that they are in our sea and landing fish in Scottish ports.
The Northern Ireland fishing industry is under threat this year for numerous reasons. There is continued concern about the lack of decommissioning schemes from the Government. The Government have yielded to the demands of the Isle of Man to extend the three-mile limit to 12 miles. Now we have the problem of Scotland, the result of which is that some of the quota is taken from us and given to others.
I want the Minister to defend the rights of Northern Ireland fishermen in the context of what is happening in the North sea and at next week's session in Brussels. The Minister said in an intervention that the cod quota has been increased in the Irish sea—that is presumably in area Vila. The major threat lies in the new negotiations for total allowable catches in 1991.
I have with me the latest recommendations that I can find for the area with which I am concerned. This year, the recommended TAC for cod in the Irish sea was 15,300 tonnes. The recommendation for 1991 is a reduction to only 6,000 tonnes. The TAC for whiting this year was 15,000 tonnes and it is recommended that it be reduced to 6,400 tonnes next year. As for nephrops, the largest source of income for the Northern Ireland fishing industry and one which affects the hon. Member for Western Isles, the 770 recommendation is that the present 26,000 tonnes be reduced next year to 17,680 tonnes. Some of the reductions are dramatic. They amount to a 60 to 70 per cent. reduction on the tonnage that was allowed for this year.
I conclude with a few requests to the Minister. Please stand up once again for the Irish sea fisheries. We recognise the importance of the North sea to the entire British fishing industry, and we understand that it must be a matter of priority, but please accept that there is a domino effect which affects those who earn their living in the Irish sea. Please ensure that the recommendations from the scientists are not accepted unless there is proof that their opinion is correct. There are many doubts about the scientists' opinion of stocks in the Irish sea.
In what way will Northern Ireland be represented this year at the negotiations in Brussels? We know that an English Minister will be there. We know that the Scots will be represented. At what level will Northern Ireland be represented? Will there be a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office or, if not, will there be even a civil servant from the Northern Ireland Office? Or will Northern Ireland once again not have a voice in the room when the negotiations take place?
§ Mr. Taylor
The Minister can answer my questions when he replies to the debate.
I hope that Northern Ireland will be properly represented and that when we have our major debate on the recommended TACs for 1990 we shall hear from the Minister a report that the allocations for area VIIa will be similar to those for 1990.
§ Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)
I welcome this short, but none the less valuable, debate. The constructive way in which it has been conducted augurs well for future debates of this kind. When we first reached agreement in the European Community on fishing in the North sea, there was far from a community of agreement in the debates. Yet at the time I thought that the agreement reached by my right hon. Friends in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was a good one which provided a secure future for the fishermen of Britain, especially those in my constituency.
Alas, it has not turned out that way. The quotas have perhaps not been adhered to. Industrial fishing has made greater inroads, as the hon. Member for Glanford arid Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, than was expected when the agreement was reached. I am certain that more will have to be done about that. Certainly, inspection and control needed to be improved and, indeed, at long last they have been.
Year after year, the quotas were laid down according to the best scientific evidence. We are now faced with a more difficult situation than ever before. We face difficult times and we must do our best to help fishermen to preserve their way of living, which has often been pursued for generations—for example, in ports such as Scarborough and Whitby.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken up his task and that he has visited various fishing ports, including my own, and met the fishermen there. He got the feeling from them that they regard him as a pretty tough customer. None the less, they appreciate that he 771 understands the problem, is interested in it and is anxious to solve it fairly and squarely both at home and in the Community. The words that he addressed to us this afternoon showed that he fully appreciates the practical problems which face our industry and that in Brussels he backs the industry fully. For that I thank him on behalf of the fishermen.
I wish to make two points. First, I echo the view that the 120 mm mesh size is over the top and cannot be sustained I shall not develop that point further, because my hon. Friend the Minister did so in some detail. It is clear that he is fully apprised of the concerns and feelings of people in the industry. I know that the industry has made firm representations to him, particularly the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, with which I and probably many other hon. Members have corresponded.
My second point has already been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, to which he referred. I was entirely in agreement with the conclusions that we reached in the 24th report, Session 1987–88. However, I was not in any way satisfied that we were obtaining "value for money". It is significant that those very words appear on the Order Paper this afternoon. In view of the continuing pressure from the industry and—I shall not disguise it—from my own fishermen, I feel that I should look at the matter again.
I am still doubtful that decommissioning grants are the best way. On reading the evidence again, I need some further reassurances about whether the matter merits reappraisal. On page viii of the report, in paragraph 17, we said:We note that member states were given options as to how the EC scheme for decommissioning grants should be applied but MAFF chose to introduce a regulatory approach with provision for the automatic payment of flat rate grants. It is clear that this was exploited by some owners and grants were paid in several instances at a level which exceeded the unlicensed value of the vessel.The paragraph continues, but I shall not quote it all.
The next paragraph says:We consider that in drawing up the decommissioning scheme the agriculture departments could have made much better use of the flexibility allowed by the relevant EC directive; as a result in our view the scheme was grossly expensive for what it achieved.In other words, we did not get value for money. We went on to note that, after MAFF had become aware of the NAO report, which, of course, was critical, it stopped giving decommissioning grants in 1987.
The scheme was intended to be flexible but the particular scheme adopted in Britain was inflexible. It worked very badly. Surely there were other ways of achieving the same objective by directing the grants to areas which were really in need, rather than spreading them over all types of boat. We wanted to bring certain boats out of service to reduce the sector.
§ Mr. Salmond
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but the whole point was that the decommissioning money was not spread over many boats. It went to a very few companies. As the geographical aspect has been raised several times in the debate, the hon. 772 Gentleman will remember that the decommissioning money and the companies which exploited it literally went up the Humber.
§ Sir Michael Shaw
In modern terms the scheme did not reach areas that were in need of decommissioning grants. That is the point that I wished to make. It is felt strongly by my fishermen. I am not yet completely satisfied that a scheme can be devised, but on reading again the strictures that we made in 1987–88 I realised that we disclosed that there were other ways of doing it. All that I ask of my hon. Friend the Minister is that he considers other ways. Is he completely satisfied that there are no other ways of achieving the real objectives which should have been achieved in the first place?
I hope that the Minister will be successful when he goes to Brussels. He knows its ways and how to turn on the charm and the hard act, the good mix which is essential in any negotiations in Brussels. I wish him Godspeed on behalf of us all and in the interests of good results for our constituents.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I wish to make some basic points about the crisis that is developing in the North sea. The noises coming from Brussels about a 30 per cent. reduction in effort will mean that deep damage will be inflicted, not only on the British fishing industry as a whole, but specifically on the Grimsby industry which is the case that I want to make. If that prospect materialises, I hope that it will not be compounded by a deal that is unfair to Grimsby, by invoking the Hague preference on cod.
The Minister gave us a bad deal in his unfair and unreasonable decision to invoke the Hague preference on haddock and to distribute it to the north. I wrote to him at the time to oppose it. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisation—or was it the Grimsby Fish Producers' Organisation—opposed it in court——
§ Mr. Mitchell
Well, I am at least half right.
When the Hague preference was invoked on haddock, the Minister promised that it would not be regarded as a precedent for cod. I want the Minister to keep to that, because it is ludicrous that——
§ Mr. Curry
I have made it absolutely clear that if we ever had to invoke the Hague preference again—if the quantities of haddock were greater than in the previous year, and if we were to invoke it for the new species, for example, cod—we would have to reconsider the methods of distribution. I do not give any undertakings about the conclusions that we would reach. The hon. Gentleman has asked whether we would look afresh if a new species were involved. From the answer that I have already given, I hope that I have made it clear that we will.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I hope that the assurance will be stronger than that. Cod is of crucial and central interest to Grimsby. The Minister can interpret the Hague preference as he wants, but surely he can see that that position is unreasonable as far as Grimsby is concerned. Grimsby is a community which is dependent on fishing and is in north Britain, yet it is regarded on his definition as being outside the boundaries of the Hague preference. In other words, 773 north Britain begins at Bridlington. That is ludicrous, because we are a community which is dependent on fishing. If we are not interpreted as such and if the Hague preference is to be invoked on cod, it will be a crime against the Grimsby fishing industry. The Minister's assurance needs to be stronger than the one that he has just given.
An allocation of North sea plaice to compensate the industry on the west coast would have a serious effect on the Grimsby industry, which needs to diversify effort into plaice to compensate for the rundown in catches in other areas.
There must be more effective control of the over-fishing by the Scottish industry to which, in my view, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland has been turning a blind eye. We can argue about whether it is happening on the west coast or the east coast, but there is certainly a problem and it almost caused talks earlier this year to break down. The clipping that I have relating to that is not dated, but it states:English west and south west and Northern Irish interests walked out after demanding that fish allegedly caught by Scottish vessels in the North Sea and landed in Peterhead, but logged as being caught in the Irish Sea, be reinstated as area VII fish.That is the kind of problem that we are having.
I have tabled questions about the number of prosecutions of Scottish vessels because, as far as I recall—this is only a recollection, because I do not have the answers with me—there was nothing in 1988–89 and only something pending in 1990. That is not an appropriate response to the scale of what is admitted to be a problem, and one which has a knock-on effect on Grimsby, but to which DAFS seems to be turning a blind eye. Only proper, uniform and fair enforcement of the rules could lead fishermen to obey the rules. If, as seems to be the case, they are convinced that some are getting away with infringing or fiddling the rules, there will be a general breakdown of respect for those rules. We must be assured that the rules are being enforced as vigorously in Scotland as is the case for the English industry.
That brings me to my next point, which other hon. Members have already raised, which is that we need to get proper respect for conservation by a reduction in the fishing effort. I am unhappy to say that, but it is widely accepted that there must be some reduction. The only way to achieve that is by a proper decommissioning scheme. It is the Minister's responsibility to establish a proper decommissioning scheme.
As has been said, we are in the ludicrous position of contributing to the grants that are being made available by Europe for decommissioning schemes in other countries. The result is that other industries are being modernised, partly at our expense, and can then fish energetically in the North sea, and that we are competing with them, but are unable to get the same grants. That is ludicrous. We are not getting any benefits from the scheme.
If we were to have a decommissioning scheme, 70 per cent. of it would effectively be paid by Europe and only 30 per cent. by us, so why not develop such a scheme? As the Minister said, four other countries have already done so. The fact that the Department bungled a scheme about half a dozen years ago is no argument against a new scheme. That was simply a case of maladministration. If the Department cannot administer a scheme properly, there will clearly be fiddles and a loss of money to other 774 purposes. It is the Department's responsibility to devise a scheme that will work and which can be enforced. It is riot the Department's responsibility simply to say, "This is impossible." If it is impossible here, it is impossible in other countries, but other countries are actually doing it. We need such a scheme urgently.
If the British Government contributed 30 per cent. of the cost of such a scheme, a good proportion of that would come back in tax. I do not know what the Minister was saying when he denied that any tax is involved. There is a return to the revenue from taxation involved on the scheme, so something must come back that way.
The industry is arguing that it would accept some kind of levy to help to provide some form of finance for the scheme so that it does not all have to come from the Government. A letter from the operations manager of Tom Sleight of Grimsby reveals the attitude and concern of the industry. It states:The lack of such a scheme places the UK Industry at a severe disadvantage with our European colleagues in that we are unable to dispose of surplus tonnage thus creating a better commercial platform for those left in the Industry. Decommissioning also creates a climate in which remaining vessels could be replaced with more efficient and safer vessels.We wonder if there would be any mileage in Industry contributing to a decommissioning scheme say for example on a basis of a levy of one per cent. of first hand sales value. This added to the tax (balancing charges etc) that many would have to pay on decommissioning would in our view go some considerable way to meeting Government expenses".That is the cost of the scheme. Why does the Minister not consider that proposal and open his mind to the possibility? We need a decommissioning scheme.
It is clear that if we do not reduce effort and if we do riot achieve proper conservation by a decommissioning scheme, the Commission itself will act. The 16 August edition of Eurofish Report, talking about a document provided by Mr. Marin for the European Parliament, argues that the current situation is highly unsatisfactory, andhints that central Community control of all the EC's fisheries activities may yet prove to be the only way to prevent Europe's marine resources from collapsing.In other words, if we do not act, the Commission will act and matters will then be out of our hands.
It is the Minister's responsibility to strengthen the British position and to strengthen conservation measures by providing a decommissioning scheme, which is the only effective way to provide for conservation by reducing effort. It is the Minister's responsibility to help the industry to do that. It is imperative that he provides such a scheme for the industry.
A letter from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations argues that, if the Minister does not provide a scheme of his own, he shouldrequest that the Commission put increased priority on decommissioning aid. If the Commission are intent on reducing effort they presently have the available budget and could indeed contribute the full assistance to vessels (as opposed to retaining the requirement that the Member State provides 30 per cent of the fund).
The NFFO notes also that the proposed budget will give 67 million ecu in contruction grants—which is certainly overgenerous given the present state of the fishing industry, which already has an overcapacity problem—but only 40 million ecu for the decommissioning scheme. That is an inappropriate portion of the funds available and needs to be substantially increased, regardless of whether it comes from the Commission or from the British 775 Government—though, I hope that it will be from the Government. Why should the industry's reshaping be left to market forces when other countries are able to develop with their fishing industries schemes that will reduce effort in a managed way and provide for proper conservation?
A number of hon. Members have mentioned mesh sizes, and the Commission is proposing a standard of 120 mm. There has been a chorus of complaints from other interests, particularly Scotland, but I have little sympathy with them. Grimsby has always been conservation conscious, having used the 120 mm mesh, it has prospered. It seems sensible to provide for conservation in that way.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Of course, and that is why the Grimsby industry uses a 120 mm mesh. It is ludicrous for the Scottish industry to urge the adoption of a 90 mm standard. I quote from Fishing News for 5 October—
§ Mr. Salmond
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, if one is fishing for different species, particularly whiting and haddock, different mesh sizes are needed?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I will deal with that point. I am quoting now an argument against the case advanced by the Scottish industry for adopting a 90 mm mesh. Research by the Scottish Office showed that 90 mm diamond mesh gear caught 693 haddock above the legal minimum size, but a lot of small whiting and haddock was also caught. It quotes 864 haddock and 525 whiting. It is clear that 90 mm is not the right size to use.
There is an argument as to whether we should opt for 80 mm square mesh, on the ground that the diamond mesh pulls out of shape and therefore catches smaller fish, or for 120 mm. Grimsby is happy with that size, but there is a case for changing to 80 mm square mesh, if not to 90 mm diamond mesh.
John Ashworth's work proves the validity of that argument, and its acceptance has only been delayed by what I can only regard as official obscurantism. We must make up our minds and not leave it to vested interests in the industry. It is no use just being negative and opposing the demands of the Commission. Instead, we must present effective, researched alternatives. In that way, we can make an even bigger contribution to conservation.
The question of Spanish vessels entering the British register is not really part of tonight's debate, but the Minister's remarks on that topic were anyway inadequate. It appears that we are caught between two EEC principles—the right to establish a business in any country and the right under the common fisheries policy for coastal states to superintend their own fishing and have preferential access to their own stocks. It is ludicrous that those rights should be brought into conflict by allowing Spanish vessels to register in this country as British, and then to catch our quotas. There must be more effective ways than the Minister has provided of restricting the access and right of Spanish vessels to register, at least until the matter has been resolved by the European Court. The risk of a Spanish incursion will create problems and trouble.
§ Mr. Curry
As the hon. Gentleman said, that aspect is not really for this debate, so rather than reply when I wind 776 up, I shall make a response at this point. We did not start from a zero situation in respect of quota hopping. There have been a series of court cases, and some of them have consequences for the way in which we run our management policy. With a court ruling, one cannot escape that. Therefore, when we received an approach which suggested that we might be able to arrive at an agreement, I immediately asked myself whether I could secure sensible and effective licensing conditions or whether we should proceed with the court action. After careful consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and others, I reached the conclusion that we could devise licensing conditions, which the Spanish indicated they could accept.
However, that does not affect the Factortame case in the European Court, where the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 has come under some scrutiny. Neither does it affect the requirement for those vessels to register—and to do that, they must fulfil the existing conditions of direction, management and control in the United Kingdom. I understand the hon. Gentleman's disquiet, but I would not have reached the arrangement had I not been convinced that it offered British fishermen a satisfactory outcome and an advance on what we might otherwise have achieved.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am glad to hear that the European Court case is still being pursued, and it would be wrong to abandon it. However, I am concerned that the Minister has reached agreement with the Spanish, because, if it is an arrangement that they find acceptable, I doubt its value to British fishermen. Why is it that our law can be overruled by the Community when no other country seems to have that problem? Are the other member states' rules so shaped, rigged or managed that they do not have the problem of quota hoppers from other countries registering as domestic vessels and then fishing the domestic quotas?
§ Mr. Curry
Other countries are affected. Several have made submissions to the European Court in support of the British case, and they are clearly concerned that they might find themselves in similar difficulties. Neither Spain nor Portugal has an allocation in the common fisheries policy because they entered after the present scheme had been devised, and with very large fleets. The United Kingdom does not have the vast majority of the waters that are divided among the Community, so, since we have a large number of the species for which others want to fish—although there is less of an argument about hake, for example, because of different tastes—it is with the United Kingdom that other fishing interests want to establish a link. If we see the new arrangement through, we shall be able to establish, subject to the final ruling of the European Court, the essential principle of direction, management and control.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I will leave it there. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance, and I follow some of his arguments. We remain concerned about predatory Spanish efforts, which other countries seem able to exclude.
There is an emerging crisis in the North sea that threatens fishing and particularly the Grimsby industry, about which I am passionately concerned. Action needs to be taken more urgently than has been the case. I cannot see how the gradual development of political compromises and concessions will resolve that crisis. Firmer action is required. I do not accept either that quotas are a way of 777 resolving the problem, because they are not an effective way of policing catches. If fish are caught and cannot be landed, they are simply chucked back. As the quotas go down, the number of discards goes up. That is no way to provide for proper conservation. We need a more substantial and a devoted effort.
The Minister's efforts are welcomed by the industry. He has shown genuine concern and interest, and the industry has developed a respect for him. We are grateful that the Minister has taken an active part, and has considered the proposals, complaints and problems put to him by the industry. However, I warn him that the crisis is gathering pace and it requires action. It is no use our lagging behind. We have to develop certain basic and clear principles about conservation which will put us ahead of the game.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the situation. Hon. Members are conscious of the way in which Community policy has clearly failed. Regulation and control of the fishing industry is very complex but it has not achieved its aim of conservation, which is essential for the stability and long-term future of the industry.
The entire industry—whichever part of the country it is based in—is seriously worried about what has proved to be one bad year after another. In recent times there have been no good years. The fundamental issue of conservation requires a new approach. Stocks in the North sea are clearly inadequate, and steps must be taken to correct that. At present it is a vicious circle—poor recruitment of young fish, high catches of juveniles, increased discards and low level of young stock.
Cod and haddock spawn at between three and four years old. Ideally, in a well run fishery, we should be catching five or six-year-old fish. However, the vast majority of fish are being caught before they achieve spawning age. The result is self-evident, and there is a serious problem ahead. We hope that breeding habits may change but that is a complex business, and there are larger differences from year to year. For a while we could say that things would get better, but clearly they will not get better unless action is taken.
I cannot help reflecting that money seems to have gone in the wrong direction. Hon. Members have made a number of comments about the money spent on construction grants. Money has been used to encourage fishermen to build large and powerful boats—very productive boats, which have served only to add to the problem that the industry faces. One cannot blame fishermen for taking the money that was offered to them, but now they face serious consequences because of large borrowings, at high interest rates; and the high productivity affects other members of the industry who are in competition with them.
The multi-annual guidance programme calls for reductions in the fleet, whereas there has been an increase in all productive capacity. We have to face up to that. There are a number of ways to reduce catches and a combination of them is the answer. First, there can be fewer fishermen, which brings us to the question of structural changes. Hon. Members on both sides of the House support a decommissioning scheme. Secondly, 778 fishermen can fish less. That can be achieved in two ways—by spending less time at sea, and by using less productive gear.
There is genuine alarm at the suggestion that the Community might in its future proposals be considering a reduction in the time allowed at sea. I do not know whether the Minister can comment on that.
Most of our debate will be about the type of gear that fishermen will be allowed to use, but we must also seriously consider decommissioning. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) contributed helpfully to the debate by drawing attention to changed circumstances and to the mistakes made with the previous decommissioning scheme. He also rightly said that, because mistakes were made in the past, there is no reason why they should be made in any new scheme devised to deal with present circumstances.
As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, it is important that the industry is interested in contributing to any scheme which is introduced. I, too, have read the latest edition of Fishing News, to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred in his introductory speech and in which Mr. Kent Kirk, the Danish Fishing Minister, was understandably cordial about my hon. Friend and referred to the good relationship between them as Ministers. Mr. Kirk said:Along with a conservation policy we must reduce our catching capacity … We don't want to subsidise the fishing sector, but if we really want to achieve a fleet that can survive on its own in the future, then of course we have to help them take vessels out.I believe that that is the correct conclusion. It is not the sole answer to the problem, but it should be part of a package of measures. Whatever the package, it is important that it is acceptable to the industry, and it is more likely to be acceptable if part of the package includes some form of decommissioning scheme, to which the industry would probably be prepared to contribute.
I am not sure that we spend all the money on the industry in the right way. I have already referred to the money used to encourage people to build larger, more productive boats when we were running into a serious stock shortage. The figure of £40 million per year has been bandied about as total Government spending on the industry. I understand that about £15 million of this is spent on research. If one divides that sum by the number of working days, one arrives at a figure of about £60,000 per working day for fisheries research. A great deal of money is being spent on the industry, and we should see that it includes some support for decommissioning.
The mesh size of 120 mm suggested by Commissioner Marin in Brussels is not acceptable in the North sea. It has been suggested that the Spanish, Portuguese and Greeks support such a mesh size, but they do not fish in the North sea and they are not concerned about the multi-species relationship which exists there. In our industry, there is concern that, when the time comes to renegotiate the common fisheries policy, we should ensure that our traditional rights in the North sea are maintained and that there should be no increase in fishing activity there as a result of new members of the Community seeking to intrude on our traditional markets.
The case against 120 mm nets was put very well in a recent programme on BBC Radio 4 which many hon. Members may have heard. Mr. Bernie Vaske, the outgoing 779 chairman of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas committee on fish management, which gives scientific advice to the European Commission, said that he could not support the argument for a 120 mm mesh. The arguments against it are well known to hon. Members who are taking part in the debate. Young cod and haddock are eaten by predators of the whiting family. If the whiting are not controlled by fishing, breeding stocks of cod and haddock will be affected. It is thus very important that the mesh size takes into account the complex habits of the multi-species environment which exists in the North sea.
The hon. Member for Grimsby referred to some of the trials which have taken place. I am sure that his figures were accurate, but various conclusions can be drawn from them. It is perfectly true that 846 small haddock below marketable size were caught when the existing nets were used. That is evidence of the problems with the gear which is in use at present. The trial also showed, however, that using the mesh size proposed by the Commission, only eight haddock of marketable size would be caught compared with 693 with the existing gear. That supports my hon. Friend's contention that we must not make changes which conserve some fish but end up taking away the fishermen's livelihood in the process. There must be a sensible compromise.
Another statistic which came out of the same trial was that, with the present gear, 900 whiting—the predators which feed on the young cod and haddock stocks of the future—were caught. With the Commission's proposed gear, no whiting at all were caught. All those predators would therefore continue to feed on the breeding stocks on which we depend for the future of our cod and haddock. There appears to be a good argument for the square mesh to which the hon. Member for Grimsby referred. According to the trials of which I have knowledge, there would be a considerable advantage in using a form of square mesh. It would lead to a big reduction in the number of discards. Discards at present amounting to about 50 per cent. would come down to between 10 and 15 per cent. Technical changes of that kind could lead to big improvements in conservation.
Our prawn stocks off the north-east coast of England have been threatened by the use of twin trawls. Our local fishermen believe that such intensive fishing would lead to the whole stock of prawns, so important to us in the north-east, being endangered. Fishermen in North Shields and elsewhere in the north-east have, to their credit, imposed a voluntary ban on such twin trawling. It has proved to be effective, but there is great concern that because of the pressure on stocks elsewhere fishermen from outside our area will in increasing numbers seek to fish in these waters. The voluntary banning of twin trawling could not then be enforced. Consideration ought to be given to imposing a statutory ban so as to protect these stocks which are so important to local fishermen.
North Shields depends on its smaller vessels. About 60 of them are based there. The well-being of local inshore fishermen is of particular concern to us. Far more families are supported by smaller boats for the same amount of fishing effort than by the large vessels that have been built in recent years. Far more sons follow their fathers into the fishing industry in the traditional family way in the case of the inshore fleet. Inshore fishermen feel particularly 780 threatened by the pressures caused by diminishing stocks and by the movement of vessels into their traditional fishing grounds.
It is ridiculous that such a high proportion of small young fish should be caught unintentionally and tossed over the side as discards. Inevitably they die, with the result that they do not mature and breed. I understand that £15 million is spent each year on research. Far more information is needed about discards. They may be unintentional, but industrial fishing, which has been justifiably criticised in the debate, results in the deliberate catching of young fish. That is a scandal. The Community surely must face up to the problem and ban industrial fishing.
With regard to enforcement, more needs to be done to ensure that the gear regulations are complied with and that any black landings, or others of a suspicious nature that were referred to by a number of speakers, are exposed. The regulations must be properly enforced, but that does not now happen in some parts of the country.
A great deal more can be done to protect fish stocks by means of closed seasons and the closure of breeding areas. It would be relatively simple for the Community to agree to such proposals and I hope that these important measures will soon be agreed by the Community. The need for action is self-evident. The failure to take action in the past has led to the present dismal situation. My hon. Friend the Minister will go to Brussels knowing that the industry is united in its acceptance of the need for determined and urgent action now. We wish him well in the negotiations.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
I shall deal briefly with three points that have been made in the debate. A number of other points have been made more than once, so I shall not refer to them. The Minister is well known for his open-door policy. We are grateful to him. He demonstrated that he is very much on top of his job. I have some sympathy for him. A number of hon. Members with fishing constituencies in various parts of England have spoken in the debate. It seems that the geographical wisdom of Solomon will be needed to keep these warring tribes together.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) lives in splendid isolation and is far away from those battles—as, I suspect, is my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). He tells me that any suggestion that fishermen in the northern isles lie is not true. That word can never be used about them. I am sure that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) will have much the same to say when he speaks.
My hon. Friends and I also oppose the proposed increase in minimum mesh size from 90 mm to 120 mm. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) speaks for Grimsby, as he made clear. However, some of us speak for a much wider area of the country, known as Scotland. The hon. Gentleman must accept that what is good for Grimsby may not necessarily be good for the rest of Great Britain. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he argues his case at European Community level.
The Minister referred to the fact that he had met representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in Aberdeen earlier today. Therefore, he will have listened 781 directly to the case made by Bob Allan, the chief executive, Willie Hay and others. The important point that they have stressed in their briefings and at their meetings with Scottish Members of Parliament who represent constituencies with fishing interests is that the scientific information available on the selectivity of a 120 mm diamond mesh netindicates clearly that there would be very large immediate losses in catch of marketable fish, which, in the case of haddock, would be likely to amount to not less than 50 per cent. in the average catch per haul. The decrease in the whiting catch with a 120 mm net would be very much greater, to the point of near elimination, and there is no guarantee that catches of either of these species would return in time to their previous levels, far less exceed them.That is a cogently made case. I hope that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, who has necessarily to express the views of fishermen in his area, will nevertheless realise the genuine anxieties about the proposal of those who represent the Scottish fleet.
Every speaker in the debate has said, with varying degrees of strength and forcefulness, that the Minister should think again about decommissioning. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw), who served on Public Accounts Committee at the time that the critical report was published, made a pertinent point when he reminded us—this point is all too often forgotten when the PAC report is cited—that the principle of decommissioning was not criticised. It was the practical application of decommissioning in these circumstances that was criticised. The Minister reiterated that he has not yet been persuaded—I put the emphasis optimistically on the word "yet" when I paraphrase him—but it was his predecessor who was in office when the PAC presented its report. One suspects that perhaps a sense of guilt is influencing the man at the top of the Ministry.
§ Mr. Kennedy
Yes, that is an appropriate reminder.
Although the Minister has stressed that he is not yet persuaded, I was interested that he did not deploy the argument that rests on the criticisms of the Public Accounts Committee. The last time I contributed to a debate on this issue, the then Minister used that argument. In fact, it was the mainstay of his opposition to decommissioning. The Minister tonight did not dwell on that and I wonder whether it is because within the internal machinations of the Department there is just a flicker of recognition that there might be some merit in what is being argued.
The way things are going, those of us who hope to be back in this place after the next election will have to get used to the total absence of Scottish Conservative Members. I do not think that even the stirring words of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) will save the Tories in Paisley next week. In fact, one may ask whether the right hon. Member for Henley will get more votes in the leadership ballot next week than the Conservative candidates will get in the two by-elections next week.
I regret that the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) is not present. Had he been here, he would have argued strongly for decommissioning. He has taken every opportunity in the local media and at Scottish questions to recommend that course to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for 782 Scotland. I am sure that he would have put the same argument to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had he been here tonight.
It may be an excessive fondness for crossword puzzles, but I thought that there was something cryptic about the phraseology of the Government's motion. It talks ofthe principle of strengthening the structural measures to reduce fleet size, provided that such measures can offer value for money.That suggests a hint of a shuffle in the direction of the principle of decommissioning. I should be grateful if the Minister could give some indication about the extent to which the internal representations he has been receiving from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland has helped to influence opinion at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Scottish Members try to read the smoke signals from the Scottish Office. However, the way things are going between the Minister of State and the Secretary of State, "smoke signals" is probably an understatement. The word "arson" may be more appropriate. There is a feeling that there is a fair degree of willingness in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland to go down this line but that it is being held back because of intransigence at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The Minister said that, when he spoke in Aberdeen today, his noble Friend Lord Strathclyde—nobody in the fishing industry in Scotland had heard of him at the time of his appointment—did not demur. I do not think that that necessarily represents all Conservative political opinion in Scotland, particularly not the constituents of serving, or soon to be former, Conservative Members. Therefore, will the Minister do everything possible to listen to his Scottish counterparts and try to overcome what appears to be the rather blind and blinkered obduracy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in setting its face so firmly against decommissioning? It has to come, and the sooner the better.
Within aquaculture, emphasis is laid on the need for further research in terms of new markets. I want to express the anxiety felt by many of those whose constituencies have become increasingly dependent upon fish farming. That makes a tremendous contribution, not least in my area, to employment and income. There are legitimate anxieties about environmental aspects which are debated vigorously locally and nationally. Equally, there is anxiety over an issue for which the Minister is not—responsible the question of how accountable the Crown Estate Commissioners might be. I appreciate that they are appointed by the Treasury, so that is not an argument for the Minister.
There is no doubt that there has been great pressure on the domestic fish farming sector, not least because of the extent of Norwegian dumping that has taken place. The industry in the highlands and islands has developed through support from the Highlands and Islands development board. Initially, to get the industry up and running—I shall not go into the pros and cons of this vexed argument—many of the multinationals were given the prime sites and the biggest holdings.
Those such as, for example, a crofter in Lewis who diversifies as an adjunct to his croft and has one cage just off the shore have suffered. As the economics of the industry have turned sour in the past year, people such as that have suffered the most. To a certain extent, the multinationals can survive the lean periods on economics of scale. Given the influence that Norwegian dumping has 783 had on the European market and the prices generally, I wonder what progress the Government are making at European level on the question of a levy being applied. I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the anxiety that that causes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)—my hon. Friends can be distinguished by the names of their constituencies, as we never have one name when at least three will do—mentioned the difficulties his fishermen are experiencing. He wanted me to ask the Minister to develop at some length the Government's attitude towards individual tradable quotas. Many of us feel strongly that is not the right route to go down. It is like taking a public asset and using it against public interest. I share that view, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.
Generally, problems abound. Although the stance that the Government are taking on some of the specifics of the draft directives has found support on both sides of the House, there is also dissatisfaction about action that the Government could be taking but, for whatever reason, have so far chosen not to. That is the case, not least, on decommissioning. That must remain vital to the restructuring of the industry which, sadly, is long overdue. I hope that the Minister can be more forthcoming. Clearly, votes in the country are swinging on this issue, particularly in fishing communities.
I suspect that decommissioning might yet emerge as an issue that will swing votes on the Back Benches of the Tory party. After all, Henley is noted for its regatta and there is no reason why the right hon. Member for Henley should not take decommissioning to its logical political conclusion next week and apply that principle to the Prime Minister. It is a restructuring which we would welcome.
§ Mr. David Porter (Waveney)
Following the self-styled spokesman for Scotland, I shall unashamedly speak for East Anglia, and for Waveney in particular.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House informed me last week, this is likely to be our only opportunity this year to discuss fishing, so I shall crave your famous indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on some of the related matters.
It is fitting and rather sad that we are debating this matter in the week of the 15th anniversary of the ending of the Icelandic cod war. As ever, we are debating fishing under a cloud of gloom and worry. It is true that we are not facing Iceland gunboat with gunboat—we solved that war in exchange for a NATO base—but a charge of Icelandic dumping on United Kingdom markets still stands, pending further inquiry.
It is often argued that the fishing industry is divided, that it is its own worst enemy and that it is small fry compared with even the pet food industry, but is there an industry more regulated, more vulnerable to external forces beyond its control or more psychologically important to a constituency such as mine, which includes Lowestoft, than fishing? I answer those three questions no, no, no.
Like other hon. Members, I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Minister, who faces an impossible task. As the 784 hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) said, in England we are divided and there are differing views in the United Kingdom. We send our Ministers to Europe to do their best for our fishing waters. If ever there were a case for us to be resolute, fishing is it.
In fishing debates, hon. Members tend to make the same remarks, because in general we have the same problems, albeit with strong local differences and regional peculiarities. Although we repeat them every year, some questions remain unanswered. I hope that perhaps this year my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer one or two rather than leaving them hanging in the air to be answered next year.
An annual debate is inevitably a chance to air one or two grumbles. A minor grumble, but one which is important in my area, concerns the Sea Fish Industry Authority—an august body which possibly has ambitions to be even more important than it is. Its members are appointed for their expertise, but should there not be a built-in mechanism to ensure better regional representation? East Anglia is still not represented on it, but I refuse to believe that its individuals do not have the required expertise.
The explanatory memorandum comments on net selectivity to improve conservation and on banning blinders to make modest improvements in the spawning stocks. My hon. Friend the Minister says that this policy has been broadly accepted by the United Kingdom industry. Has it been broadly accepted our EC partners, especially by the Dutch, who in the past few years have built up an expertise in blinders?
We have already expressed doubts about the 120 mm mesh size, and no one who is connected with fishing is unable to recognise that the fishing effort should be reduced, but that is proposed at a time when, economically, the industry should be expanding. Plaice quotas affect my port, but all quotas must be caught in full or we shall be in danger of losing ground after 1993. As the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has pointed out, will increasing mesh size or changing our licensing system achieve the required reductions? It doubts it, and many fishermen in my area doubt it.
I must deal with decommissioning. I must disappoint my hon. Friend the Minister by being in the same camp as other hon. Members. He has not answered this question, but I hope that he will: why should we contribute to other countries' decommissioning schemes through our EEC payments but not to our own? My hon. Friend said that decommissioning is no Holy Grail. Perhaps it is not, but it is a way of reaching that mythical Holy Grail.
The world's best scientific evidence is available. Undoubtedly the biggest worry facing us is fish stocks. I pay tribute to the contribution of the scientists at the MAFF laboratory in Lowestoft, who deservedly have an international reputation. If their work is to be treated seriously, should there not be a serious grasping of the nettle rather than a pruning of the twigs? That is an inappropriate analogy, but I hope that my hon. Friend takes the point. Decommissioning could be that serious grasping of the nettle.
All our fish markets will soon face the rigours of the new EC fish market hygiene regulations. Some will need modest adaptation and others will need major surgery that will fall not far short of total demolition. Grants can be applied for and extra taxpayers' money has been made available, but the fear is that markets in, for example, 785 Spain need such drastic rebuilding to bring them up to standard that they will absorb most of the money. That will leave areas such as Lowestoft, which was part-modernised to the best standards available only two or three years ago, in the cold. The cold wind of economic reality would be fair enough because Lowestoft is used to that, but that would place it at a disadvantage compared with its competitors.
One of the documents that we are debating says that the enlargement of the EC in 1986 has had particularly important consequences for the common fisheries policy, especially for its structural component, as a result of the size of the sector in Spain and Portugal. Will my hon. Friend spell out clearly the nature and scale of the distortion to the CFP and to fair competition that the probation of Spain and Portugal in the EEC means to the rest of us?
The fishing industry, when prospering, gives a hard-fought and decent living who those to risk life, limb and money to bring wholesome, cheap food to our tables. There are the deep sea men and owners, the inshore fisheries, the merchants, the port owners, the people who work directly and indirectly in the industry, the organisations, the factions, the groupings, the special interests and the individuals—and that is just at Lowestoft. It is vital to take account of as many of those different views as possible. They cannot all attend meetings in Lowestoft when a new issue must be debated, much less meetings in London or in Scotland. It is a big outlay in time and money beyond the means of many whose views on fishing MAFF needs to absorb.
Is it beyond the wit of modern technology, and would it not be cheaper in the long run for all concerned, to install a system of electronic instant two-way communication in the office or home of every interested party or person so that he or she can feel a part of the informed decisions that are taken on behalf of the United Kingdom industry?
Restructuring the regulations should help, but in his visits to the many ports of the United Kingdom, for which I thank him, did not my hon. Friend the Minister learn that fishermen feel that they are so subject to external dangers that other industries do not face that they face a catalogue of problems which I will not risk your anger, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by mentioning? If I were 'to talk about fuel prices that are higher than many can stand, you would rule me out of order. If I were to mention the closeness of industry and Government in other EC countries, which leads to doubt about even-handedness in the enforcement of regulations, you would again rule me out of order. There is an uneasy feeling of resentment about how farmers fare compared with fishermen.
Does my hon. Friend understand that sometimes fishermen of many years' experience say, "Hang it, why not dump all regulations except free fishing for a month, then close the sea and give us a tax break to do something else for the rest of the year?" That feeling is not conducive to a healthy industry.
Will my hon. Friend spell out now, and unequivocally, that the Government want an independent United Kingdom fishing industry, supported and encouraged fairly, regionally and strategically balanced and on a sound economic basis—yes, fair enough—but with both hands free to meet its challenges?
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
Before I make my main point, let me pick up three of the points made by other hon. Members.
I was delighted to hear the Minister speak so strongly about the Commission's proposal for 120 mm nets, and I applaud his determination to resist it. The fishing industry's resistance has come not from any spirit of evasion or irresponsibility, but from a recognition of the practical problems that will result.
The Minister mentioned the nephrops fisheries, but not the trials of separator trawls that have been undertaken to solve the problem of the by-catch. I hear that the trials have gone very well. I hope that, if they prove as good as seems likely, the Government will encourage small fishermen to adopt separator trawls, which will bring conservation benefits.
There has been support from both sides of the House for a renewal of the decommissioning scheme. The Minister said that there were practical problems; however, he was probably thinking mostly of financial problems, and the need to ensure that the money was spent in the best possible way and went to the right people. There are other practical problems. If the Government intend to move towards a decommissioning scheme, they should take care that any such scheme tackles the core of the problem—that of the larger trawlers, which are causing the overfishing. We do not want a scheme that ends up sucking the smaller boats out of the industry and leaving the larger ones in place. In the long run, that would not solve the problem of overfishing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that the Government should seriously consider a system of "coastal zoning" as a means of managing both fisheries and other activities that are now impinging on the coast, such as aquaculture, dredging and mineral and oil extraction. All these things—which conflict with fishing—could be better managed and regulated if a coastal zone system was adopted.
I commend to the Minister and his officials the recent report of the Marine Conservation Society, which proposes a United Kingdom coastal zone management plan and has been endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature. We need to explore such possibilities in the future.
Let me now refer more specifically to my own area—although I hope that what I say will be relevant not only to the north-west and the Hebridean fisheries, but to some of the other fisheries in the United Kingdom for instance, in Northern Ireland and the north-east of England—that were mentioned earlier. A proposal submitted to the Government earlier this year suggested that a simple, cheap, effective and easy-to-regulate first step to ensure proper conservation and management in the inshore waters of the north-west of Scotland was the introduction of a weekend ban on fisheries—a total ban from midnight on Friday until midday, or early morning, on Monday. It would ban fisheries of any kind in the inshore waters off the Minches and the west coast of the Hebrides. It would be simple to introduce and police, and is supported by the fishermen of the west coast. However, so far the Government have refused to take note of the proposal, let alone introduce it. That is sad: if the Government are seriously interested in conservation, they should consider it seriously.
787 The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) talked about the conflicts between the various geographical elements of the British fishing industry. His fishermen in Northern Ireland now face much the same difficulties as mine in the Hebrides—and, I believe, all fishermen on the west coast of Scotland. A state of anarchy is emerging on the west coast, because there is no incentive for the traditional fishing industries to fish in a responsible and sustainable way while there are incursions from the east coast of Scotland. Boats have hit their quota ceilings and are moving to the west coast. As long as that continues, there will be no incentive for fishermen on the west coast to fish in a responsible and sustainable way, as they are capable of doing because of their smaller boats.
A specific example of this process is the newly developed style of long-lining for dogfish and skate in the Hebridean Minches. This example shows that being traditional does not mean that the fishermen do not go into new types of fisheries or use new techniques—they do. Long-lining is an exciting development. There is good demand for those fish, both domestically and on the continent. The fishery can be sustained during the summer and winter months. It can exploit grounds that cannot be exploited by normal means. The fishery has been developed experimentally over the past 24 months by boats from my constituency, from the Hebrides. Because of its great success, it has been taken up by 16 boats in the Western Isles. They have rigged themselves out for long-lining for dogfish and skate.
Now that this fishery has been developed in a bold way by these fishermen, and the Western Isles boats are poised to take advantage of it, what has happened? This year already, four boats which used to fish for white fish, cod and haddock along the east coast have come into these waters. Perhaps I shall make the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) happier by pointing out that those four boats are not from the east coast of Scotland but come from Grimsby. The key issue is not the point of origin but the size of the boats.
These boats have run up against quota problems fishing for white fish in the North sea. They have seen the dogfish and skate long-lining fishery open up on the west coast and have begun to transfer their attentions to it. Their boat size means that, when they transfer their attentions to that area, the whole fishery, which has been carefully and experimentally built up, will come under increasing threat. Each Western Isles boat has between 4,000 and 5,000 hooks. Each east coast boat has 20,000 hooks, which is a four to fivefold increase in fishing power. Next year, we can expect 10 to 20 such boats to come from the east coast.
That fishery will be exploited and plundered completely. Any incentive for the traditional fishermen to develop, sustain and manage a new fishery in a way dictated to by their own interests—because they want the fishery to last a long time—is removed by the way in which other fishing fleets can all too easily transfer their attentions from one region to another under the present regime.
The only thing to save the west coast after this past catastrophic year has been the abysmal failure of the Government's 92-day rule. It is widely accepted that that rule has been flouted everywhere. If it were not flouted, there would be many more boats coming to the west coast from the east coast.
§ Mr. Kennedy
The hon. Member and I share many representative organisations, just as we share the Minch, the passage of sea between our respective constituencies. It is useful to put on record the seriousness of the difficulty on the west coast, around the Western Isles and the northern isles, this year. Like other hon. Members, the hon. Member and I went to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland to see the then Minister of State, Lord Sanderson. The difficulty led to the formation of a unique umbrella organisation, drawing on all the representative fishing groups, from the Orkneys down to the Firth of Clyde and all points in between. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the fishermen's efforts to try to resolve some of the issues show, if nothing else, the seriousness of the crisis that the industry faces?
§ Mr. Macdonald
When the industry on the west coast gets together, thrashes out some of its differences and comes forward with proposals such as the weekend ban, it is disappointing that the Government, who were handed on a plate a conservation measure that was cheaply and easily enforced, looked the other way. However, I took encouragement from the Minister's recent meeting with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. I hope that he will also be willing to meet representatives of the West Coast Action Group if a meeting can be set up in the near future.
I want to point out an oddity of the fishing industry, which is not an oddity of any other industry. In almost every other industry, increased efficiency means an increase in the supply of the product, whether it is cars or, in agriculture, sheep or grain. One increases the supply and reduces the cost to the consumer through increased efficiency. The fishing industry, uniquely, is not like that. Efficiency of catching power, if anything, works in reverse. The more efficient the industry is, the more the supply will begin to diminish in the long term as one begins to fish out the stocks. As a result, the price to the consumer shoots up.
I warn the Government against what may lie behind some of the present approaches to the industry, such as licence aggregation and quota aggregation. I have the feeling that the Government hope to achieve an industry with many fewer, but far larger and more efficient, boats. That is not the solution to the problem. Going for efficiency in the fishing industry is not like going for efficiency in agriculture or in any other industry. Efficiency in the fishing industry does not have the beneficial consequences that it has in every other industry. On the contrary, being over-efficient has led us to our present pass.
The supply of fish to be caught is set by nature. No matter how efficient a fishing boat is, it cannot create fish. The real question is whether the finite supply of fish is to be caught by many fewer boats, which are more efficient, but more highly leveraged and which need to earn huge profits to keep themselves and their bankers going, or whether that finite supply should be spread out among many small, less-leveraged boats, which would earn less profit per boat, but would need less profit per boat because there would be fewer loans to pay off. They could earn sufficient to keep not only the fishermen and their families, but whole communities alive, especially on the west coast of Scotland.
It makes no sense to have a system of regulation—or non-regulation—of fisheries that would lead to the destruction of the small fishing communities of the west coast—and especially of the north-west coast—of 789 Scotland, that would benefit only a small number of eventually profiteering boat owners and their bankers and would not benefit the consumers. Such a system would also place a burden on the taxpayer, because the public purse would eventually have to be used to resurrect the destroyed fishing communities.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I hope that the rather tame motion does not imply any complacency about the crisis that is enveloping the fishing industry. The noble Lord Strathclyde, whose name the Minister was able to remember so well, said of the fishing industry in a newspaper article in Scotland on Sunday on 4 November:I wouldn't have said it's in one of its most critical periods.I hope that, given what the Minister has heard tonight from both sides of the House, and given the prospects not only of immediate negotiations in the European Community but of even lower quotas and total allowable catches for next year, he will in no way share the complacent "Crisis—what crisis?" view of the Scottish Minister responsible for fisheries. I know that the Scottish Minister has been in the job for only a few weeks, but his early findings and soundings in the industry should have removed from him any sense that the industry is making do or that anything less than major changes of policy will be enough to meet the crisis that is enveloping the industry.
The sense of complacency probably stems from the fact that, although the quantity of landings this year has substantially decreased, prices have increased. The Government may therefore feel that things are not as bad as all that. I do not think that the Scottish Minister would take that view if he were a fish processing worker in my constituency earning about £100 a week and with no wage increase at all last year because the problems have been passed on to the processing sector through high prices.
We should not underrate the problem of increased costs in the fishing fleet. Penal interest rates have cost the Scottish fishing industry alone perhaps £10 million. Imagine the sense of fury that fishermen must have felt as they sailed past oil platforms in the past few weeks, given that they face a doubling of their fuel costs. In some cases, half the revenue from a fishing trip now goes in increased fuel costs, yet the fishermen have to steam past platforms run by companies that are exploiting the wealth of the North sea, where development costs have not increased during the past few months. The industry is facing increased costs to which it is exceptionally vulnerable. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the somewhat complacent views of his counterpart at the Scottish Office in no way reflect the overall policy of the Government.
I want to speak both about technical conservation and about the structural support measures proposed for the industry. I have a reasonably substantial record of advocating technical conservation. In the Scottish Grand Committee last July, I made a long speech—perhaps too long—in which I dwelt for some time on the technical conservation measures that would be necessary and explained why I thought that they represented a far better bet for the future stability of the industry than a total reliance on ever-lower quota allocations. But the technical measures must be the correct measures.
I have four specific questions for the Minister and I hope that I shall get favourable answers to all of them. First, does he accept—from his opening speech, it would 790 appear that he does—that the 120 mm mesh would virtually wipe out the prospect of a mixed fishery in the North sea? Does he accept the view of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation that there would be a 50 per cent. decline in the haddock catch and that the whiting catch would all but disappear?
Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the shape and design of fishing gear are at least as important as mesh size—if not more so? On that, I should correct the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who seems to be suffering from the delusion that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation is arguing for the status quo. The Minister will be well aware that that is not correct. For the past two years, the federation has argued consistently for a series of technical changes to fishing gear, which should have the effect of increasing the number of small fish that escape into the sea not just alive but in good condition.
There is now substantial scientific evidence to support the technical changes that the federation has been advocating for some time. I refer to the proposals for square mesh panels, not ballooning at the codend, and the one-net rule. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that the Scottish Fisherman's Federation has been arguing for those things for some time and that the scientific evidence shows that, at least for whiting and haddock, innovations like the square mesh panel above the codend will have a substantial effect in increasing the escape of immature fish.
Thirdly, I want confirmation that the Minister accepts that an official 90 mm directed fishery for whiting would substantially increase discards of cod and haddock.
Finally, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that there was at least a suspicion that the basis of that argument is coming from interests that favour the expansion of the industrial fishery in the North sea.
The Minister has heard from both sides of the House today that the general feeling is that the industrial fishery should be an immediate target, if not for closure, then for severe restriction. When fish for human consumption are so scarce, it is untenable to continue to extract 1 million tonnes of pout and sand eels—the feed stock and the food source—from the North sea annually, when the haddock fishery for human consumption is down to less than 40,000 tonnes. It is obscene to have the industrial fishery running at current levels. I repeat the earlier call for the Minister to show determination and ensure that that aspect will be put firmly on the agenda of the Council meeting and that there will be a specific debate on how the industrial fishery can be controlled.
I want now to consider structural support. I hope that hon. Members from various parties will support the call by Winnie Ewing, the MEP for the Highlands and Islands, when she moves in the European Parliament next week to have the north-east of Scotland added to the list of areas entitled to special structural support from the European Community. No area in the country is more dependent on fishing than the north-east of Scotland.
I compiled some figures today to give the Minister an idea of the disadvantage from which the fishing industry in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom is suffering as a result of the Government's intransigence in terms of the take-up of decommissioning and lay-up schemes. The figures come from the joint seminar on fisheries held by the Commission and the European Parliament in France last week. Knowing the Conservative party's current interest 791 in the hard ecu, I will express the figures in ecu. Over the past three years, the figures for lay-up subsidies to other European fleets are as follows: 50 million ecu in 1987; 30 million ecu in 1988; and 6 million ecu in 1989. The vast bulk of the funds for lay-up premiums have gone to the Spanish fishing industry.
The figures for decommissioning are as follows: 37 million ecu in 1987; 49 million ecu in 1988; and 45 million ecu in 1989. The vast bulk of those funds went to the Danish fishing industry. In sterling, the total over those three years is £115 million. The Scottish and United Kingdom share of those fisheries funds is zero as a result of the Government's hard-line determination not even to spend other people's money on fisheries, because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made such a cod of attempting to introduce a decommissioning scheme eight years ago.
When decommissioning schemes are being pursued successfully elsewhere in Europe, it is not sustainable to pursue the argument that such schemes could not be carried out efficiently, productively and cost-effectively in the Community. The United Kingdom's share of the total sum for all structural support for fisheries, including modernisation and new build, over the past four years was 7 per cent. in 1987; 3 per cent. in 1988; 3.6 per cent. in 1989; and only 1 per cent. so far this year. How on earth can the fishing industry, in the tough competitive environment of the European Community, hope to compete with fleets as powerful as the Spanish and Danish fleets if vast sums of money are going to support the structural improvement of fishing in those countries and no funds are supporting the same structural improvements for the fishing industry in this country?
Earlier in the debate, the Minister was speculating on what Luxembourg's policy on fishing might be. We shall have to leave that as an open question, but there should be no doubt that there is a Luxembourg veto over fishery matters. The Prime Minister is in no doubt on these matters, although I do not know the views of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). No doubt we shall hear them expounded over the next few days. Perhaps even as I speak the right hon. Member is, in Paisley, speculating on the use of the Luxembourg veto.
The Minister has made it clear that he is opposed to the 120 mm mesh size, and that his agenda on technical conservation changes is different from that being put forward by Mr. Marin. Does he believe that the Luxembourg national interest veto is available on fisheries matters? If the bit comes to the bit, is the Department prepared to use such a veto to defend what is seen in Scotland, however it is seen elsewhere, as of vital national interest?
§ Mr. Curry
With the leave of the House. For the most part, the debate has been conducted with a great deal of understanding and many points have been sensitively put. I hope that I can sum up in the same spirit. As the hon. Members for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) and for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) said, I try to keep my door open. That policy will continue. Whenever someone has a sensible argument to put to me, I shall listen to it. I have done that in the past and I shall continue to 792 do so. I was generous in giving way to interventions when I opened the debate, but I shall try to be quicker in winding up. I hope that the House understands that.
The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) supported the general thrust of what we are saying about technical conservation. I am grateful to him and to all those hon. Members who repeated those points. My introductory remarks were clear about that and included the famous four points mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). There is no equivocation. Our position on these matters is clear.
Every hon. Member who has spoken has mentioned decommissioning. I should make it clear beyond all doubt that, as I have said before, the problem with decommissioning is not that we could not devise a scheme for it if we wished to go down that road. The criticisms levelled against the previous scheme were, as hon. Members have said, about the mechanics of it. The problem is that we still remain to be convinced that that would be a proper and good use of money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) spoke about a targeted scheme. It is true that we could have met many of the points made by the Public Accounts Committee, but if we want to target inefficient vessels and catch few fish, how do we get value for money? If we target efficient vessels which catch lots of fish, would we be aiming for a less efficient fleet? That dilemma must be faced and sorted out. There is no easy answer to decommissioning. We have put forward various proposals. There has been movement in capacity aggregations and we are still looking at other proposals. As I have said, when people make sensible arguments, I will listen to them.
Like several other hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) mentioned allegations of Scottish fishing activities in other waters. I said then that we have proposals on producer organisation management which we hope will address that problem. We are inviting comments on whether the track records for next year should omit those catches which appear to be abnormal, for whatever reason. We have had mixed reactions from the fishing industry, but we are exploring that possibility.
We have managed to do something about cod in the Irish sea. As for prosecutions, there is the general problem of rules of evidence. I am talking about Scotland. With the best will in the world, difficulties have to be overcome. When I was in Aberdeen this morning, Scottish fishermen said that they felt that they were the subject of intense scrutiny and a surveillance operation. They felt that they were not getting away with murder or even with slight scratches.
§ Mr. Morley
The Minister has referred directly to the problem of enforcement. Does he agree that there is no point in having good conservation measures if there is not adequate enforcement? We are all aware of the pressures which are driving fishermen, but there must be proper enforement.
I accept much of what the Minister has said about decommissioning, but will he agree that we are still not progressing in reducing our fleet? That is the key factor. The problem can be resolved only by a decommissioning scheme.
§ Mr. Curry
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on whether only a decommissioning scheme can do that. 793 There are other measures. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about surveillance but add the rider that it is the nature of the industry that, if individuals want to cheat, it is not in the power of man to stop them, short of having an inspector on every boat 24 hours a day and inspectors at every port. We do not want that sort of regulation. That is why I want the techical measures that we are discussing to be acceptable to the industry so that those who work within it feel that the measures are in their interests and that we are not working against them
§ Mr. Mans
I am pleased by what my hon. Friend has said about not using the track record of the last year. He will know that Fleetwood has suffered heavily in area VIIa as a result off the exploits of Scottish fishermen. Is it not possible to increase surveillance and move a little further towards the possibility of having more inspectors on boats, especially in areas where there has been misreporting in the past?
§ Mr. Salmond
When the Minister is considering track records, will he consider also the substantial payments of the Scottish industry? Will he accept that the track records extend too far back historically and do not permit a reasonable interpretation of current fishing perfomance and current catching power?
§ Mr. Curry
Whatever the hon. Gentleman makes of it. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) asked me about Gibraltar. He will know that Gibraltar is not in the Community, nor is it within the United Kingdom. Therefore, it does not apply. As we understand it, commercial fishery from Gibraltar is extremely small. The two Spanish territories to which the right hon. Gentleman referred have special status under the Spanish accession treaty and therefore fall——
§ Mr. Curry
Not in the terms in which we have been conducting the debate.
The right hon. Member for Strangford said that we yielded to the Isle of Man. I take issue with him on that score. We yielded nothing to the Isle of Man. We have clear safeguards about the rights of our fishermen in Isle of Man waters. We discuss them on many occasions.
Perhaps I might point out to the right hon. Member for Strangford that there is not an English Fisheries Minister. 794 I am the Minister responsible for United Kingdom fisheries. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is in overall charge of United Kingdom fisheries policy. I do not see it as my responsibility to protect the English fleet. I see it as my job to be responsible for the needs of the United Kingdom fleet. There is always a Northern Ireland member of the United Kingdom delegation. That applies to agriculture as well as fisheries. The support of the Northern Ireland representative is always extremely valuable to us.
I was grateful for the constructive remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough. I recently had the pleasure of opening a new fish dock with him in Scarborough. I am only happy that it did not happen when all the lights went off.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) asked me about the Hague preference. I understand that people in Grimsby and ports south of it feel anxiety about it, but how does one define northern Britain? At some stage one must define it. The quantities of fish are small. If we dilute the arrangements right through the coast, we shall end up not giving a quantity that is worth while.
§ Mr. Curry
No. I have not completed my remarks. When I intervened in the hon. Member's speech I told him that I had made it clear that, should the Hague preference extend to species other than haddock and to greater quantities of haddock than in the past, we should have to reconsider the mechanism for redistribution. I reaffirm that.
As other hon. Members have said, compared with other ports Grimsby is a distant-water cod fishery and cod can take a 120 mm net. It is a different fishery, and that accounts for the difference. I intervened to mention the quota-hopping case. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that.
I note the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) made. He mentioned the twin-trawl ban on the prawn stocks. Again, we are faced with the dilemma of whether we want to take a measure which would effectively ban any method of fishing. It is not simple. We constantly keep the matter under review. I am aware that, in other areas, it has been decided to go for a ban on twin trawls. However, at the heart of fisheries policy, we must decide whether our objective is to make the fishing industry less efficient by making people fish less efficiently, so that more people can participate and remain, in the industry, or to move towards a more efficient industry, however that is defined and whatever limits we place on that evolution. Clearly, limits might have to be placed on that evolution.
§ Mr. Trotter
Is not the local fishing community the best judge of how to preserve its livelihood for the future by preserving stocks?
§ Mr. Curry
A balance must be struck between the judgment of the local fishing community and the implications for other fishing communities and overall fisheries management. Nothing can be decided purely on a local basis. Of course, we pay particular attention to the needs of communities, especially where the industry is highly localised.
The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) had a great deal of fun. There is no difference of 795 policy between DAFS and MAFF. We co-operate closely and our officials co-operate closely. When we send delegations to Brussels, we are represented at an official level by teams from both Departments. The officials interchange their work and contribute to each other's work. The hon. Gentleman may suggest otherwise as much as he wants, but we are indivisible in our policy and we intend to keep it that way.
On Norwegian dumping, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if he will allow me. That is not because I do not wish to reply now, but because the procedures are complicated. It is somewhat like the Schleswig-Holstein question, and I have forgotten some of the details. Therefore, I should like to give the hon. Gentleman a full account of what must be followed and the stage that we have reached in the proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter), whose constituency includes the principal port of Lowestoft, which I shall visit on Monday, asked about the role of Spain and Portugal. Our commitment to the notion of relative stability remains. We have not compromised that commitment. He also mentioned representation on the Sea Fish Industry Authority. The problem is that, by statute, it consists of 12 people. Also by statute, four must be independent. That leaves eight people to represent catchers, merchants, processors and the whole of the diverse industry. With the best will in the world, we cannot represent every geographical interest. I note what my hon. Friend said about East Anglia. If we find an occasion on which I can give satisfaction, of course, I shall seek to do so.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) made a thoughtful and sensible speech.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, the hon. Gentleman makes thoughtful and sensible speeches. I hope that my saying that will not do him too much damage in his constituency. I note what he said about coastal zoning. If he wishes to discuss it with me I shall be happy to do so. He said that his west coast small fishermen would like to talk to me. Clearly, the prime responsibility lies with my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde. However, if those fishermen think that it would be useful to see me also, I shall of course make myself available for such a meeting.
I have always understood the hon. Gentleman's concern about small communities, which he has expressed in all these debates in which he has participated. It is not my intention that we end up with only three large boats coming from a single port. The thrust of the provisions is not that; it is to enable the fishing communities to make a living.
I shall not respond to the attacks made upon my noble Friend by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Those comments were the only point at which a note of sourness was introduced into the debate. Those comments were unnecessary—all the more so because they are wholly untrue. However, the hon. Gentleman asked me four specific questions, to which the answers are yes, yes, yes and, "It depends what you mean."
§ Mr. Welsh
I appreciate the Minister giving way. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) asked a straightforward question: does the Minister have the power of veto at that meeting? If the Scottish fishing industry is threatened, as is obviously the case, will he be prepared to use that veto?
§ Mr. Curry
The hon. Gentleman asked me four questions. He asked me about the 120 mm net, and I said that that was not on. He asked me about the shape and design of the nets, and I said that I agreed with him. He asked me about the role of whiting, and I said that I agreed with him. He asked me about the industrial fisheries, and I said that I did not necessarily associate myself with the motive behind the proposals, but that I agreed with the burden of his remarks and that we are not in the business of encouraging industrial fisheries.
The fisheries sector has never found it necessary to employ a veto. We settle these things in the Council by means of majority voting and we work towards building those majorities. Invoking the Luxembourg compromise should be reserved for issues of grave national importance. If any such matter arose, we should have to consider whether we thought that it was a matter of national importance of an order that would justify the use of a veto. I suspect that such a decision would be taken at a level other than that of the Ministers representing the United Kingdom in that Council. We go to the Councils equipped to negotiate. We do not intend to turn the Council into a telephone exchange, because that is not a very good way of going forward.
I have attempted to summarise the debate. There has been a wide consensus. The way forward for our fisheries is to introduce sensible and practical measures for conservation, which will command the consent of our fishermen so that we can start the ball rolling and move towards measures which produce an ever-increasing conservation yield, if I may use that expression. These proposals form a starting point. They go to extremes, but we can build down from them to achieve a sensible beginning.
Our fishing debates tend to invoke a large measure of consensus about our concern for the industry—a concern that is reflected in this Minister. Several hon. Members have been kind enough to acknowledge that I have the industry's concerns at heart. I am anxious that that is seen to be the case, and I invite the House to support the proposals.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 69, Noes 10.797
|Division No. 4]||[9.43 pm|
|Amess, David||Atkinson, David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas||Boswell, Tim|
|Bowis, John||Knowles, Michael|
|Brazier, Julian||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Burt, Alistair||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Cash, William||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Mans, Keith|
|Conway, Derek||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)|
|Curry, David||Mudd, David|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Dykes, Hugh||Neubert, Michael|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Paice, James|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Patnick, Irvine|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Gale, Roger||Raffan, Keith|
|Gill, Christopher||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Hague, William||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Trotter, Neville|
|Harris, David||Waller, Gary|
|Holt, Richard||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wilshire, David|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Hunter, Andrew||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Jack, Michael||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Mr. Nicholas Baker and|
|Knapman, Roger||Mr. Timothy Wood.|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Wallace, James|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Salmond, Alex||Mr. Archy Kirkwood and|
|Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Andrew Welsh.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8317/90 on technical measures for the conservation of fishing resources and 8240/90 on measures to improve and adapt structures in the fisheries and aquaculture sector; and supports the Government's view that changes in existing technical conservation measures are needed to improve the conservation of fish stocks and that these should achieve a balance between conservation and maintaining a viable fishing industry, the Government's recognition of the need to match Community fishing capacity with available fisheries resources, and the principle of strengthening the structural measures to reduce fleet size, provided that such measures can offer value for money.