HC Deb 11 December 1991 vol 200 cc922-67
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might assist hon. Members to know that the reports of the Select Committee on European Legislation relating directly to the debate could be deposited in the Vote Office only at 6 o'clock tonight. That was because the documents were capable of consideration by the Select Committee only at its meeting this afternoon. I have raised the point of order because the documents contained important information which I understand became available only at lunchtime today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House will share my regret that the information was not available earlier, but the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the information which he has now provided.

7.41 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 9134/91 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 27th November 1991, relating to guide prices for fishery products for 1992, the proposals described in the unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 10th December 1991, relating to total allowable catches and quotas for 1992, the reciprocal Fisheries Agreement between the Community and Norway for 1992 and duties on certain fish imports for 1992 and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1992 consistent with the requirement for conservation of fishing stocks. I begin, as my right hon. Friend the Minister did last year, by reminding the House that fishing remains a dangerous and difficult industry. Last year we acknowledged that 30 lives had been lost in the industry; this year 31 lives have been lost. I am sure the whole House would wish to acknowledge the loss to the close-knit communities involved in fishing which that represents.

In response to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), I am sorry that the documents were late. It was for the reason which he gave. We only had the preliminary documents over the weekend. They cannot be produced by the Commission until we have reached agreement with Norway because so many of the waters are jointly managed. We got the explanatory memorandum out as rapidly as we could. Even then, there were gaps, because the talks with Norway did not conclude until 7 December and the Commission had to make proposals consequent on those talks. Therefore, we produced a supplementary explanatory memorandum to fill the gaps. I signed that at lunchtime today, the earliest that I could do so. I acknowledge the problem, but we have done our best to surmount it.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the Minister. Will he give the House an assurance that the explanatory memoranda are a faithful replication of the proposals that will come from the European Commission some time in the future?

Mr. Curry

I give that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman. In the final stages of some of the working groups that will be meeting between now and the Council meeting, the Commission may come forward with new proposals on matters such as tariffs, but in regard to total allowable catches and quotas, I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that what is in the explanatory memorandum is the latest state of play. We put the information there in complete faith. I examined the memorandum line by line to make sure that it was as accurate and up to date as possible.

I will move directly to the package in front of us because many hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate. The guide prices for 1992 were agreed in November, with no major changes. The important point for the United Kingdom was the dual price system for herring. That is particularly important to the Scottish fleet. There is a lower price for August and September. We managed to maintain the dual price system. That part of the package was settled, as it always is, in November.

On the key issues facing the Council on TACs and quotas, the scientific advice is sombre, generally advocating no change or reductions. In the North sea no increases are proposed, except for haddock, where the total allowable catch is increased from 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes. The upturn, partly because of its rarity, is welcome to us.

On the west of Scotland, all stocks are under pressure, but the proposed reductions reflect a greater pessimism than they should. We will press for modest increases in the proposals within biologically safe limits.

In the Irish sea, a real problem area for fisheries, we acknowledge that the Northern Irish fleet, with its dependence upon whiting and its heavy dependence upon the nephrops fishery, and with the sensitivity of the Hague preference as it applies to Northern Ireland, finds itself in a difficult position. We recognise the difficulty. We believe that there can be an increase. Only a modest increase is needed to avert the triggering of the Hague preference. We will seek to increase to those levels. We are anxious to safeguard our position on nephrops, which is a particularly important species to the Northern Ireland fishery.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Can the Minister tell us what protection he is giving to the Northern Ireland fleet from others who are coming into those fishing grounds?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Northern Irish fleet depends heavily on fishing in the Irish sea. In the past when the Hague preference has been triggered, that has led to a decline in the stocks available for Northern Ireland, and they have gone to the Republic. We have managed to correct that with swa - ps with the Irish Republic, to the benefit of the Northern Irish industry. This year we will seek to avoid the triggering of the Hague preference. If we can make up any shortfalls with swaps which will benefit the industry, we will undertake to try to do that.

In the Channel we think that there is an undue restriction on the cod and whiting TACs and on some of the flat fish. Our general position is to try to maximise the possibilities within safe biological limits.

As I have said, the proposals trigger the Hague preference for North sea haddock and North sea cod, although only by 500 tonnes. We will seek to get that TAC up to the level where it is not necessary to trigger. On the west coast, the Hague preference would be triggered for whiting and saithe, in the Irish sea for cod, whiting and plaice, and in the west of Scotland for cod, haddock, whiting and saithe.

We will seek TACs which would avoid triggering the Hague preference. We are sensitive to its problems. Certain communities benefit from it, but others feel that they are victims. We have always regarded the Hague preference as part of the fabric of relative stability. In the past we have succeeded in winning the Hague preference in respect of some of the quantities for which it was claimed. We shall seek to achieve an equitable balance if the problem presents itself at the Council.

Once again, we do not have mackerel flexibility in the proposals from the Commission. That is an important issue. It is essential to be able to take mackerel east of the 40 deg west line. The agreement with Norway allows the Norwegians some flexibility. We will seek to reinstate mackerel flexibility. I regard it as silly of the Commission to keep it out of the package every year. Clearly, the Commission wants to force us to fight to put it back. We will not disappoint it; we will fight to put it back in the package.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Minister undertake that in seeking to reinstate the flexibility, it will be to the full extent of 62,000 tonnes?

Mr. Curry

I can give the assurance that we will aim to get the full 62,000 tonnes. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in trading in the Community we have to get a majority vote to do that. I am outlining a number of the things that we are asking from the package, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our objective to get the full tonnage, because we regard it as justified. He will know that, during the past two years, we have not succeeded in getting the full tonnage. That is an important issue for the United Kingdom.

The most important issue—certainly the main preoccupation in the fishing industry—will be the effort control proposals in the package. As the House will know, at present there is an eight day tie-up. As the eight days are consecutive, it makes for an inflexible system and adds up to 96 days of tie-up during the year. The recommendation is for 200 days of tie-up a la carte—taken as the fishermen wish. There is no explicit gear option, but the language upon which we used to get a gear option last year is in the package this year. I am sorry to be slightly elliptical about that, but it is the situation.

The Commission is proposing that coverage should be the same—in other words it should be boats which catch 100 tonnes of cod and haddock, and those fish must represent 40 per cent. of the total catch. The twin criteria are the same as last year. It is also proposed that fishermen can fish under the whiting derogation during the period in which they are formally tied up, subject to a 90 mm, one-net rule.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Does the Minister accept that some of the real anger which greeted this proposal derives from the fact it will be directed against the same people who have been obliged to observe the eight day tie-up rule this year? There is considerable annoyance that, for example, Denmark and France appear to have got round it in some way. If it is a common fisheries policy, surely it should be common throughout.

Mr. Curry

I recognise that there are a number of reasons for the fishermen's objections. First, one cannot fish under that system—a 200 day tie-up means that one cannot fish economically. It is not a practical proposition and I must make it clear to the House that we shall oppose it.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is there not a question mark placed over the restrictions when we hear —as was reported last week—that some fishing boats are illegally landing fish late at night at ports in different parts of the country? Their landings are not being recorded. What will happen? What will the Government do about that? Do they intend to put in place sufficient enforcement officers to ensure that that does not happen, or will the Government ignore what is happening, in which case fishing communities will lose.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman poses a real problem of enforcement. Our policy in the United Kingdom is to allow fishermen to land anywhere. Some fishermen have asked why we do not have designated landing ports. I can imagine the problem which would result if we did not designate every port where landing takes place. We would have a problem, especially in places with an irregular coastline, such as Scotland.

The enforcement problem is real—we cannot put an inspector on every boat all the time, and it is also a practical impossibility for there to be an inspector at every landing place all the time.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)


Mr. Curry

I shall give way once more during this section of my speech, as many hon. Members wish to speak. As the hon. Lady asked first, I shall give way to her and then I shall give the Floor to the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Ewing

The Minister has already said that the 200-day limit is unacceptable because of the devastating effect that it would have on the fishing community. Can he tell us what the Government's position will be on that, or will it be like last year when a 10 day tie-up was suggested and the Government came back with an eight day tie-up and claimed it as a victory? Will the Government come back with something less than 200 days and claim it as a victory?

Mr. Curry

I was about to come to that part of my remarks. I have taken two interventions since then on a slightly tangential question. I promised the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that I would give way, but I am happy to plough on for a while.

Mr. Wilson

I sympathise with the Minister, but it is unreasonable to discuss the intervention about alleged illegal and unrecorded landings without establishing the factual basis. Without that it is a smear. Has the Minister any factual evidence for the allegation? Does it have any substance in fact?

Mr. Curry

We all know that the fishing industry is alive with reports of what other people do. Some of them are legal practices, some are illegal. I could not say that all fishermen are saints; nor do I wish to say that the fishing industry is an organised crime syndicate, because that is not the case. There is bound to be some infringement, as is the case throughout the Community. Our enforcement is by far the best. I should be glad if enforcement in other countries were a little more rigorous and were similar to the enforcement which we carry out at considerable cost.

There is no way that we can accept the proposed length of tie-up. It is anti-conservation, in the sense that it would be unenforceable if one tried to impose it on the industry. It would drive fishermen to precisely the sort of wholesale cheating which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) spelled out. It is not the way to conserve stocks.

Two years ago, when I was first appointed, I said that the job was to conserve stocks and fishermen's livelihoods, and that there was a balance between the two. The proposal does not achieve the balance, any more than the equivalent propposal last year did—a 10 day tie-up and 120 mm square mesh. That was an opening bid which was wholly unrealistic in terms of what the industry would accept and what would deliver effective conservation.

I have said that we will not accept the present proposal. However, continuing effort control is necessary. We shall be seeking significantly fewer days and flexibility, so that there will not be eight consecutive days of tie-up—I accept the arguments against it. We are examining the possibility of a modification of the criteria to overcome some of the objections about categories of boats, and the equity of the boats caught in tie-up last year.

We are seeking a gear option, and it is important that there should be one. For example, the Humberside industry, which is a long-distance fishery, could not operate on the basis of tie-up. We are seeking that it should apply more widely in the Community fleet. One of the strong reasons for a sense of injustice in the fishing industry is that it was caught by the proposals, but there were means by which other people avoided being caught.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North asked whether we had up-to-date information. We understand that the Commission may propose a sliding scale to include partial exemptions for vessels taking certain gear options—for example, in respect of the part of the year that they spend fishing for pelagic species. We must wait to see what the Commission comes up with during the negotiations. Traditionally, the Council goes through the night, into a fairly tight clinch, and it is impossible to forecast what type of proposition will be on the table as it develops.

I must pay some attention to tariffs, because I am conscious of the needs of the people who work in processing as well as those whose job is catching fish. More than 22,000 people work in processing imported frozen fish material and it is an important source of employment. It would be wrong not to take account of their interests when we take the decisions.

The Commission has proposed a reduction in the tariffs on Alaskan pollock, from 10 to 5 per cent. There is no quota restriction on that fish, as it is a cod surrogate, as are a number of species. The Commission has proposed duty cuts on fresh, chilled or frozen whole cod, saithe and Greenland halibut. There may be a proposal for some liberalisation on hoki, which is a New Zealand cod-type species, although I understand that, as there has been large-scale purchasing by the United States, there is no ready availability. We do not expect a proposal on hake because it is central to the negotiations with Argentina. The Commission is reserving hake as a fish to negotiate in the Argentine-Community agreement.

All the current concessions operate from April until December, so there is a moratorium on the first three months of the year. I accept that there is a case for some liberalisation, for the reasons that I have given and to ensure supplies to the consumer. We do not want the consumer to be driven out of the habit of consuming fish because of the price.

I shall balance those concessions against the needs of the catching industry, because I recognise that the maintenance of price levels has been important to the industry at a time of reduced supplies. We expect the Commission to present its paper on the state of the fisheries sector—that will form the basis of the mid-term review—in this Council.

There is no such thing as a homogeneous United Kingdom fishing interest. Different communities have different concerns and they are often competing concerns. I am often faced at one port or in one community by demands for protection against the activity of a different British community; so there is a balance to be struck. For example, in Scotland the interests of the white fish fishermen at the east coast ports, fishermen in the Clyde and the west coast, or the Shetlanders are not the same.

I have already mentioned the particular importance in Northern Ireland of whiting and nephrops and the difficulties of the Hague preference, and we shall seek to return to last year's position on that.

In England, there is no absolute homogeneity between the interests of Humberside's deep water fleet, which can fish with large-scale meshes, which has its interests in north Norway and which will benefit significantly from the EFTA concessions, and the interests of Fleetwood, where the fishermen are concerned with the activities of south-west beamers inside the 12-mile zone. Fishermen in Lowestoft are preoccupied with flat fish and with the sensitivities of the swap with the Dutch for some of their fish species. Fishermen in the south-west, who have a more mixed fishery, are preoccupied with the importance of a mackerel box, which has been made into a permanent instrument there.

If we satisfy one community totally, others will not be satisfied, so it is a difficult task. We must add to that the needs of the processors and consumers. If consumers go on strike, there will be no point in trying to preserve the industry for anyone. We must bear all that in mind.

We have had close contacts with the industry. I met members of the two principal fishing organisations—the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishing Federation—last week. I shall meet the NFFO again at the beginning of next week to go over some of the ground in more detail. Both organisations are traditionally in Brussels and I have made arrangements to keep in contact with them during the negotiations. We already have two meetings planned with both organisations next year to discuss other relevant issues.

The negotiations will be difficult, as they always are. It will be difficult to satisfy everybody, but we shall argue the case of fishermen in all quarters of the United Kingdom. We shall do our best to come to a fair and equitable arrangement that gives them a reasonable prospect of a livelihood, which, given the difficulties of the industry, they certainly deserve.

8.2 pm

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glandford and Scunthorpe)

I beg to move, To leave out from "duties on certain fish imports for 1992, and" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'condemns the Government for its failure to produce policies to bring stability to the United Kingdom fishing industry, including a decommissioning scheme to reduce fishing effort in order to conserve fishing stocks and guarantee a sustainable fishing industry.' It is a great shame that, yet again, we are discussing further reductions in the total available catch of fish species for our fishermen. Every time we discuss that issue, there seems to be a lack of direction in the management of fisheries. There is crisis management in terms of the problems, pressures and changes in the industry and the ever-greater restrictions that are being placed on it. It is time that we came out of the negotiations with a consistent policy to introduce stability into the industry. We would then not have to stagger from crisis to crisis.

Will the Minister consider some of the following points in his discussions with the Commission? It is proposed to reduce the minimum landing size of whiting from 27 to 23 cm. That seems surprising, given that whiting is becoming an important fish species for human consumption. I suspect that the hand of the Danish industrial fisheries is involved, because they want to reduce the minimum landing size of whiting for their own reasons. I hope that the Minister will resist that reduction strongly in order to maintain that fishery. Indeed, there is a case for increasing the minimum landing size and my information is that the Scottish industry would support that.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman raised a specific point to which I shall reply. As he knows, that reduction was one element which we did not like in the October package. I voted for the package as a whole because I thought that the other elements were satisfactory enough to make it sastisfactory overall, but I have never disguised the fact that we found that element objectionable: we agree entirely with the industry about it. If I get a chance to reverse it in Brussels, I shall do so. However, we shall consult the industry shortly on the possibility of introducing a unilateral measure that would increase the minimum landing size for whiting to 27cm—back to where it was—or to 30 cm if the industry wishes and on a one-net rule for the whiting derogation.

We shall issue papers shortly to consult the industry on whether the square mesh panels should remain compulsory when we adopt the new technical conservation measure in June. I hope that that information completes the picture.

Mr. Morley

I am grateful to the Minister for those assurances, and I am sure that the industry will welcome them.

The TAC in saithe is being cut drastically by 18 per cent. I do not see the scientific argument to back up a reduction on that scale. Saithe is an important fish species for east coast fishermen in particular and I hope that the Minister will try to justify that cut.

I welcome the increase in the haddock TAC and I am sure that it will be welcomed by our North sea fishermen. However, the cod TAC is to be reduced by what may seem a marginal 2 per cent.

The Minister mentioned the Hague preference, particularly as it applies to Ireland. I hope that in the negotations, cod quotas will be agreed which would remove the need for the Hague preference. If the Hague preference is implemented, it will tend to complicate matters, especially as in the Irish sea the cod quota allocated to the Republic of Ireland has not been totally taken up, so there is a distortion in the amount of cod available to our fishermen.

Mr. Curry

To ensure that the House is absolutely clear, may I explain that we shall try to get the TACs increased for the Irish sea so that the United Kingdom quota will be about the same as if no Hague preference had applied to the Commission's proposed TACs for 1992.

Mr. Morley

Again, I appreciate the Minister's assurance. We seem to be making a fair amount of progress.

I should appreciate an assurance from the Minister on the question of the 400 tonnes of cod which, for the past two years, have been given to the Danes as part of a swap. I realise that, in the cut and thrust of negotiations, there tends to be give and take, but the Danes appear to have been doing the taking in that negotiation and we appear to have been doing the giving. I do not see why we should give so much cod to the Danes at this stage in the negotiations. I strongly urge the Minister to resist that and I should appreciate an assurance that he will do so.

I hope that the Minister will maintain the status quo for English channel cod. I take his point about the importance of the processing industry. I understand that it currently employs some 22,500 people, many of whom work in my area. It is an important industry, which relies on stability of supply. There is no doubt that fish prices have been pushed up recently because of shortages and there is a danger that, if prices are pushed up too much, although it helps the fishing industry because it receives more money, consumers will resist buying fish.

The Minister will be aware—we have discussed it before —of what happened in Great Grimsby with the closure of Findus and a loss of 900 jobs, which was fiercely resisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). One reason claimed for that closure was the high price of fish and the fact that it was no longer economic to produce fillet fish products, so I recognise that there is a real problem. The scale of the problem illustrates the fact that there is a basic shortage of fish, which brings us back to the fact that Britain needs a basic stability of supply. Concessions are being made on tariffs and I suspect that they will continue to ensure a supply to the fishing industry.

The scale of the problem was illustrated by the UK Association of Frozen Fish Producers, which produced figures to show that imported fish account for 88 per cent. of fish used in the fish processing industry. That figure is depressingly high and I should like much more of our local fish to be used for the benefit of the fishing industry and the processing sector. To deal with the problem, we need more available fish and we must ensure that we achieve that aim through proper management schemes.

I was disappointed at the outcome of the EFTA and European economic area agreement which allowed tariff concessions to the EFTA countries, particularly Norway and Iceland, while we did not get much out of it. The Minister will have received representations from the industry, which has made clear its feelings on the issue. It is a shame that, when we had the opportunity to negotiate greater access to the fishing grounds of Iceland and Norway, we obtained little from Norway and virtually nothing from Iceland, other than a small quantity of red fish. I understand that the increase in Norwegian waters must be met by quota swaps, so the overall deal for our fishermen has been poor. I am sorry that that deal has been concluded, because it is unlikely that we shall have the opportunity to try to improve on it.

Mr. Curry

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that our success in ensuring that there was no tariff liberalisation on salmon, mackerel and herring was welcome, as it was important, particularly to the Scottish industry. He asked about the material advantage. He will know that the agreement was strongly in the national interest in that it created economic space. We succeeded in pushing up the Community share in Norwegian waters from 2.14 per cent. to 2.9 per cent. on the basis of an expanding TAC, which will mean an extra 10,000 tonnes of cod by 1997. Next year, when we shall be halfway towards the implementation of the agreement, we shall get 2.5 per cent. The tonnages are small, but well worth having in the context of the global amounts available. I still maintain that the United Kingdom achieved an acceptable deal in those negotiations, given that it was overwhelmingly in the national interest to conclude it.

Mr. Morley

I appreciate the Minister's position in the negotiations. However, I believe that those increases—which are, of course, welcome—could have been achieved through bilateral negotiations, without the deal having to include access to those waters for Portugal and Spain, which have no historical track record there. Therefore, I do not think that it was that great a deal.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we had a particularly strong claim in relation to Iceland as, historically, one of the main districts for fishing from the Humber ports were the cod fisheries around Iceland? The Humber ports were devastated when we lost those fisheries. Therefore, when we had a chance to regain a share, it was regrettable that we did not do better.

Mr. Morley

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who comes from Humberside and knows what happened to the Humberside fleet when it lost access to the Icelandic waters. Our fishing fleet paid a terrible price when it lost the Icelandic waters while Iceland received all the benefits. Iceland now wants the benefits from close relationships with the European Community and tariff advantages. It achieved those goals, while we received a paltry amount of red fish—not even a prime species. I thought that it was a poor deal for what is left of our long-distance fleet.

Everything that we have discussed so far has been underlined by the decline in fish stocks and the problems faced by the industry in meeting that crisis. Therefore, we must consider our management and how it is guided. The cuts in the TACs are influenced by scientific advice and it is right that the Government and the Opposition should take note of it. I am worried at what happens to reports such as the east coast salmon review—a detailed report based on proper scientific advice. Not only were the report's findings delayed while it sat on a desk for a year and no action taken on it—because, I understand, the Scottish Office did not like its conclusions—but when the Government finally acted on the report, they ignored its main recommendations. They have decided to close the east coast salmon fishery and their only justification for that seems to lie in the fact that the Scottish landowners wanted the fishery closed.

I am extremely disappointed that the Government have caved in to a small pressure group and put at risk more than 1,000 jobs on the east coast. They have taken away an important traditional fishery and those people who have lost, or will lose, the opportunity of using that fishery are likely to turn their attention to other stocks such as crabs and inshore species. That will add to the fishery's problems, for no scientific reason.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got the idea that there was no scientific justification. There is plenty of scientific evidence about the lack of salmon coming up the River Tay, in which I declare an interest as it runs through my constituency. To suggest that only landowners are interested in the well-being of fishing on the Tay is nonsense and the hon. Gentleman should not repeat it. Thousands of jobs in my constituency depend on tourism, an essential part of which is fishing on the River Tay and its tributaries. If the hon. Gentleman ignores that, he ignores the economic well-being of an essential part of the Scottish industry.

Mr. Morley

With respect, I think that the hon. Member is himself ignoring the findings of the report, which said that there was a limit to the amount of salmon that could be contained in a river. Even if the numbers of fish running are increased, that does not necessarily increase the escapement levels of fish. There has been an increase in the amount of salmon in some rivers that have traditionally had interceptory netting at their mouths. The jobs of constituents of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) will not be under threat as the salmon will still be in the river, but the jobs of the people up and down the east coast will certainly be under threat and will be lost. Those were the report's findings.

The Opposition are prepared to support what might be difficult decisions in relation to fisheries management when scientific evidence justifies them, but how can we support a Government who ignore the findings of their own specialists and reports? That brings the process into disrepute.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Gentleman knows that my constituency will be the most affected. The Government did not merely ignore the scientific evidence: they even admitted that they were doing so when they said that they were going to close the fisheries.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and many of his constituents will pay the price. The Government said that although the evidence was not there, they would still close the fishery. Such decisions do not give credibility to the management regime. The Government do not transmit the right signals to the industry when they are not prepared to follow proper scientific evidence, but give in to vested interests.

Another management issue involves the increase in mesh size. We recognise that there is an argument for the mesh size to be increased to 100 mm, but how does the Minister expect us to support what must have been a difficult decision when he does not support the salmon industry? The Opposition have mentioned square mesh panels in previous debates and certainly support those. We were greatly disappointed that the proposal was not adopted by all EC member states in previous Fisheries Councils. We hope that the Government and the Minister will press for that suggestion to be adopted.

The issue of black fish—illegal landings of fish—has already been mentioned. Everyone in the industry knows that there are large-scale landings of over-quota and undersized fish caught illegally. The Scottish Sunday Post contained an article which estimated that the scale of such landings amounted to about £100 million a year.

Every fisherman and fish merchant involved in such illegal landings is cutting the industry's throat. It is true that we need to know the precise scale of the problem and see the evidence, but I do not doubt that law-breaking on that scale is occurring. I hope that the Minister will give more attention to enforcement measures in our country. I hope that in the Fisheries Council he will discuss measures such as fitting satellite transponders to fishing vessels so that they can be tracked and encouraging the European Commission to carry out spot checks on member states to ensure that all of them are obeying the law. I accept that Britain is not the only country in which the law is broken in that respect and that other member states do not enforce the law as rigorously as they should. The Commission should introduce a spot check system to make sure that enforcement takes place throughout the Community.

Mr. Curry

I am slightly puzzled. A short time ago the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said that such reports were a smear, but the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) validates them. We all agree that there is a problem, but at the end of the day it is the fishermen who will have to decide that they will not permit such things to happen. If people are determined to break the law, we cannot stop them. We cannot run a police state with an inspector in every boat. We might even need two inspectors, one to protect the other. It is not a practical proposition.

Mr. Morley

We do not know the scale of such law-breaking, but there are allegations and smears for all sorts of reasons. People in the industry are pointing fingers at each other. Everyone knows that illegal fishing takes place and it must be stamped out. People in the industry who are engaged in such fishing are doing themselves and fishermen and processors who are abiding by the law and playing by the rules no good whatever.

Unlicensed vessels also contribute to fraud and in that context I know that the Minister is discussing the extension of licensing. I encourage him in those discussions. The central theme of any package of management and change is decommissioning. The Minister met some of his hon. Friends recently in a delegation of which I was a member. I thank him for doing that and for the constructive and positive way in which the problems of decommissioning were discussed. He said that decommissioning was not ruled out as part of an overall package. Will he say in the near future whether he will introduce decommissioning as part of that overall package?

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

I am in favour of a decommissioning scheme, but can the hon. Gentleman say how that would reduce the effort rather than simply leaving it as it is and removing some vessels from the fleet?

Mr. Morley

I shall come shortly to that important issue, which is the main theme of one of the Government's arguments against decommissioning. They say that if the fleet is reduced, the boats that are left will simply increase their efforts and the fish stocks will not be any better off.

I hope that the Minister will discuss with the Council the proposal by the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management for a 30 per cent. reduction of effort in the North sea. That is linked to the proposal for a 200-day effort limitation which, it is suggested, will be a days-in-port restriction. A 200-day limitation is better than an eight-day consecutive restriction, but I am concerned about fisheries management that is simply based on tying up boats in port. It is wasteful and difficult for the industry and presents grat problems for the fishermen. It is not efficient fisheries management.

Mr. Curry

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a 200-day tie-up is better than the current 96 days of consecutive restriction periods of eight days?

Mr. Morley

I am grateful to the Minister for his assistance. Any sort of effort limitation based on a number of days rather than on consecutive days tied up in port every month, such as the eight-day consecutive tie-up, is certainly an improvement.

I am not arguing for a 200-day tie-up, because that would be unsatisfactory. If the European Community went down that road, the Council would throw in the Minister's face the fact that this country does not have a decommissioning scheme. If we start arguing for a reduction of the number of days in port, the Council will oppose it on the grounds that we have not made a move on decommissioning to reduce fleet capacity. That would make it harder for the Minister to get concessions and would impose a heavy burden on the fleet.

In terms of the Government's attitude, it is an insult to suggest that fishermen who have to meet fixed costs and pay off loans are not fishing to capacity. Given our fishing patterns and the fact that I have talked to fishermen about this issue, there is not much scope for fishermen to make a great deal of extra effort. The Minister has not advanced any arguments to back the allegation that fishermen are working below capacity.

If the Commission introduces a days-in-port scheme, it should pay compensation to the fishermen who are forced to tie up, because that is the equivalent of a set-aside scheme. Farmers who take land out of production are paid, sometimes quite handsomely, for doing so. I do not want to be controversial, but many Conservative Members have taken up set-aside payments and have received many thousands of pounds of public money. If some Conservative Members owned fishing boats we might see more sympathy and more support for compensation for taking those boats out of production.

Mr. Salmond

I saw some signs from the Treasury Bench indicating that Ministers do not agree with the proposal for a comprehensive lay-up scheme. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, in the three years up to 1989, some 86 million ecu was paid by the Commission to other countries for such a lay-up scheme in certain fisheries that were under pressure.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Other countries have made use of that fund. However, payments for tying up are not a good use of money. Problems of over-capacity should be solved by using the money for a decommissioning scheme. That is better than spending it on tying-up grants.

If there is to be any such restriction, there must be a gear option. It has been alleged that previous gear options have been abused, but it can be enforced. People who take a gear option and abuse it should suffer substantial penalties, including a possible suspension of their fishing licence. People who break the law in that way undermine the industry's future and the Minister would be quite right to take strong action against them.

I hope that we can have a rolling reference period for the calculation for restricted fishing boats to take into account boats that have switched their fishing patterns over the previous year. I agree that any restriction or scheme must apply to all member states. The previous days-in-port regulation did not apply to one or two member states' fleets and there can be no justification For this country abiding by such restrictions when other countries do not.

The Government pay lip service to conservation through their conservation policies, but they have not been prepared to introduce a definitive policy for fisheries management and control. The hands-off policy that the Government have pursued for so long is not working and even peripheral policies, such as the privatisation of the trust ports and of Associated British Ports, have been damaging the industry.

Fishing fleets have many problems apart from fish stocks. The fishing fleet in Whitehaven faces severe problems because of the recession and the fall of trade in the port. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is actively pressing that case, but reduced prosperity for the industry means that fleets such as that one which are based in small ports can barely afford the dredging fees that are needed to keep those ports open. I hope that the Minister will bear such issues in mind when he considers an overall strategy for the fishing industry.

I hope that the Minister will take up the points that I have made about the TAC. I thank him for the assurances that he has given. However, the time has come for the Government to make a statement on a decommissioning scheme. We know that, on its own, this is not the answer to the problems of the industry, but, given the pressures, difficulties and restrictions that the Government are putting on the fishing industry, it may help. It is curious that the Government seem to think that it is all right to limit fishing days—the amount of time that people spend fishing—but do not think that it is all right that the European Community should limit working hours. There is a contradition in their approach.

In any sort of restructuring or management, a decommissioning scheme is essential. It will assist those who want to get out of the industry and reduce effort. It should be allied to the social fund so as to take into account the effect on local communities and those who earn their livelihood on the ships.

Mr. Mans

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said about the social chapter. How does he feel that the 48-hour rule, which I understand that his party supports, would apply to the fishing industry?

Mr. Morley

The 48-hour rule would not apply to the fishing industry because of the pattern of its work and because many in it are self-employed, and therefore free to work for as long as they want. The question is not relevant.

We cannot have the two approaches. The days-in-port scheme is a restriction on people's livelihood. There is no sign of any compensation for those who are affected. There are European Community funds available for this, but, above all, decommissioning must be used as part of restructuring. The social fund will assist the communities as well as the individuals. The resources are there, the structures are there and it is time that the Government took up this opportunity.

8.31 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) is a fair man, but he was a little harsh on my hon. Friend the Minister towards the end of his speech.

Mr. Morley


Mr. Harris

I thought that the the hon. Gentleman was. My hon. Friend the Minister has worked tirelessly for the fishing industry. He has a thankless job.

Mr. Wilson

But the hon. Gentleman would still like it.

Mr. Harris

I am sure my hon. Friend likes his job, but it is a thankless task. On behalf of the industry, he has to deal with an impossible situation. We all know what it is —the dreadful task of trying to match the ever-increasing catching capacity with ever-decreasing fish stocks. It is as simple and difficult as that. He is to be commended for his hard work on behalf of the industry and for the great courtesy with which he receives every hon. Member who represents a fishing constituency and who therefore has great problems. His door is always open to us, as it is to the fishing industry and its organisations. I am sure that the whole House will thank him for that.

It was my sad duty and privilege once again in the past year to visit the relatives of fishermen lost at sea—in this case the two men lost in the Margaret and William II. I mention that partly because I know that all hon. Members who represent coastline constituencies are increasingly concerned by the number of hit and run accidents. Responsibility in such matters is split between Government Departments. The Department of Transport takes the lead in maritime safety matters, but I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is concerned as well.

I hope that the one message that will go out from this debate—a united one from those of us who represent fishermen—is that we are alarmed at the number of these accidents. Many of them can be prevented by better watch-keeping on merchant ships. Earlier this week, I saw hon. Members, mainly from Scotland, who are concerned about another aspect—the loss of fishing boats in accidents involving submarines. That is extremely worrying, and I hope that, while we concentrate on the financial and conservation aspects, we never lose sight of the dangers that our fishermen face at sea.

The debate is primarily a review of the fishing industry in preparation for the Fisheries Council meeting next week. Once again, that is being dominated by the ever-downward pressure on quotas for many species. Looking at this problem from the south-west of England perspective, the aspect that I find most worrying is the pressure on quotas in area VII for plaice and sole.

I pay tribute to the work that the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations does for the industry and in briefing Members of Parliament for debates such as this. Its chief executive estimates, for example, that the proposed cut in quota for flat fish in area VII could reduce the income of the entire European Community fleet by as much as £15 million. If those figures are accurate, a large proportion of that loss of income will be borne by United Kingdom fishermen and in particular fishermen from Cornwall and Devon. The ports of Newlyn and Brixham stand to be hit considerably by such cuts in TACs.

If one measures not TACs but the proposed reductions in quotas, the most startling example is that for plaice in area VIIf and VIIIg. I know that you are familiar, Madam Deputy Speaker, with such technicalities, but just in case you are not, that is the Bristol channel and Celtic sea. That reduction is a startling 27 per cent. Those waters are very important for south-west fishermen and the consequences of such a reduction, if that is what it turns out to be and it is not mitigated by other measures to offset it, would be serious.

That is why I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not just to look closely at those figures but to negotiate strongly on them. Again, I share the view of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe that many of these proposals are not based on sound scientific advice. To put it mildly, there is room for argument on the views put forward by the scientists. I also press my hon. Friend to try to offset the damage caused by such drastic reductions by arranging swaps with other countries. I see that he is nodding with agreement on that.

Another feature of next week's meeting of Fisheries Ministers will be the review of the mackerel box—a matter of great importance to the south-west fishermen. I have always been in favour of the mackerel box, and I played some part, both as a Member of the European Parliament and as a Westminster Member of Parliament, in getting it in place. Dreadful harm was being done to juvenile stocks by the gross overfishing of those waters several years ago. I have always recognised that the box is a blunt instrument. It has certain advantages, but it has disadvantages, and some people have suffered as a result.

The most worrying aspect of the box has been the way in which, unlike some of the boats specialising in pelagic fishery—I am thinking particularly of one example in my constituency—the south-west fishery has been unable to build up a track record, and has therefore found great difficulty in obtaining quotas.

The difficulty of obtaining a reasonable quota also applies to the hand liners. My hon. Friend the Minister and his officials have spent many hours on that problem and I thank them for it, but the situation is still worrying. The hand liners pose no threat to fish stocks. Most have small boats going out from the Cornish coast and I hope that some way can be found to ensure that they can continue on a reasonably sound basis. I ask my hon. Friend to look at the matter again.

Reference has already been made to the Hague preference. I regarded it as a scandal that the south-west was not granted such preference when the agreement was struck. It was a political deal before the common fisheries policy. I believe that it was the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who signed that agreement when he was a Foreign Office Minister in the Labour Government. I am not sure whether he foresaw then what the consequences would be for the south-west fishery, but he represents a south-west constituency.

Mr. Salmond

Before the hon. Gentleman gives the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) the credit for the Hague preference, I should tell him that the initiative was taken by Garret FitzGerald, the then Irish Foreign Minister.

Mr. Harris

I was not giving the right hon. Member for Devonport the credit or the blame; I was simply pointing out that I think—I am open to correction—that he signed the agreement as a Foreign Office Minister. In those days, negotiations with Europe were carried out by the Foreign Office. Thank goodness that that situation has changed. I speak as a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Foreign Secretary.

The Hague agreement has done terrible damage to the south-west fishery and its shadow is cast forward in so many ways. If some regions or other countries in the current round of negotiations are given additional quota as a result of the Hague preference, those who stand to lose will be those who do not enjoy that status, and that includes the south-west, even though parts of it are dependent on fishing. Again, the ports of Newlyn and Brixham will be particularly affected, but so will a number of other ports in Cornwall and Devon. I was heartened by what my hon. Friend the Minister said on that, but the Hague preference is a dangerous area.

As the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, my hon. Friend the Minister received a delegation—it was meant to be an all-party delegation, but for reasons which we understand, the Liberal Democrats were unable to come along—[Interruption.] I hear someone say "cheap", but that is no reflection on the hon. Members concerned, one of whom was giving evidence to a Select Committee. I am in no way blaming the Liberal Democrats.

Those of us who did see the Minister were somewhat heartened by what he said. All of us who keep a close eye on the fishing industry have noticed the Government's considerable move away from their previous position; we all welcome that. The Government are seriously considering decommissioning. However, we all understand that a price will have to be paid if a decommissioning scheme is brought in. Technical measures will not be such a controversial element, but, again, as the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said, the question of effort control will undoubtedly be a controversial aspect if that forms part of a wider conservation package. Fishermen will rightly need to look with great care at what is being proposed.

Sometimes we use euphemisms in the Chamber and perhaps instead of talking about "effort control" we should be talking about "tying up". That, as we know from experience in the north and in Scotland, has been a hot issue. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's opposition to a 200 day tying-up proposal. My guess is that we shall probably see moves towards greater tying-up, but I hope there will be greater flexibility. At the moment, the boats in the south-west are not affected and I hope that they will not be, but I hope that when my hon. Friend replies he will confirm that the Commission's proposals apply to the areas which are at present covered.

Mr. Curry

indicated assent.

Mr. Harris

In conclusion, we all wish my hon. Friend well in the horrendously difficult task that he faces week in week out, month in month out. I hope that there will not be a Division tonight, but I suspect that that is wishful thinking. We need to back him strongly on a united basis as he defends United Kingdom interests in the negotiations next week.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. If those hon. Members seeking to speak were each to take about 10 to 12 minutes each, it would be possible to call them all in this timed debate.

8.46 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

I shall endeavour to comply, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate the Minister, not so much on what he said because there was not much of surprise and much was unwelcome—we have become used to the standard opposition to decommissioning schemes—as on the way in which it was said. I have been involved in about a dozen fishing debates since I entered the House in 1987, and they have all been characterised by bad temper. I appreciated the much more humble tone adopted by the Minister today. He showed much less aggression than he adopted in the corresponding debate last year, when in one fell swoop he alienated the north-east fishing establishment.

It is worth emphasising the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and in the Opposition's amendment, that the Government have no apparent strategy for the fishing industry. That was shown again by the Minister's statement tonight. There was no sign of anything other than crisis management and no sign that the Government had any particular direction in which they wanted to travel.

My particular concern is the fish processing industry, because any decisions made as a result of the negotiations in Europe will affect that industry, of which I heard no mention by the Minister tonight. That reflects the lack of strategy and an apparent lack of concern for the industry, which is certainly felt by the industry.

There are 4,500 jobs in fish processing in the Grampian region in 148 businesses, which makes it a significant and important employer, particularly in the rural areas and the smaller communities. They have faced massive problems as a result of the rundown in stocks and the lower TACs. That has given rise to considerable problems, not the least of which was the announcement of the closure of a fish transport business, Charles Alexander and Company, in my constituency, which will result in the loss of about 300 jobs.

The problems facing the processing industry are different from those facing the catching industry. At least the fish catching industry has been somewhat compensated, in that, with the shortage of fish, the prices have been higher. It is a simple law of the market. However, someone has had to pay the higher prices, and they have been paid by the fish processing industry.

The industry has tried to pass on the price increases to the consumer, but it has not worked. It has been impossible for the industry to recover all the increases that it has had to face. Last week, the Sea Fish Industry Authority produced its first assessment of consumers' response to higher prices. The SFIA carries out a regular survey. It says that the fishing industry is now meeting real consumer resistance to the high price that the consumer is having to pay for the product in supermarkets and fish shops. It is a serious problem, not only because fish, particularly in my part of the country, has been a staple part of the diet for as many years as anybody can remember, but also because it is being forced into the luxury price bracket. Haddock is now more expensive in many areas than prime steak. That is appalling.

The Government ritually suggest that the industry should solve the problem by importing fish. I visited a factory recently, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), where we saw the effects of that advice. It is a modern, highly automated factory. It has the best machinery, and it follows good hygiene practices. However, it has been forced to import about 75 per cent. of its fish, most of which comes from Canada and Newfoundland. I do not know what the implications are for the balance of trade, but it is a serious problem for all of us.

Not every fish processing company has the appropriate technology. They do not have the freezing capacity, or the capacity to process and then re-freeze fish. The bulk of the businesses in my area are small, so many of them do not have access to it. For them, such a possibility is unrealistic.

The trends are worrying. The capacity to process fish is being reduced. That happened 10 years ago when herring stocks were so badly devastated that the industry had a nil total allowable catch. The processing capacity was therefore completely lost to the industry. At one time, Aberdeen had a huge herring processing industry, but now it has none. Yesterday I checked the position with the local fish merchants and found that some 12,000 boxes were available in the three main Grampian markets. That was a glut on the market, compared with the usual 5,000 or 6,000 boxes during the summer.

Most of the fish were very small, at the lower end of the market. The majority were unsold because nobody had the capacity to process them. That fish was wasted. It ended up in the fish meal factory rather than on the consumer's plate, where it should have been. We are losing our capacity as a result of the problems faced by the industry. If things go on as they are, we shall be unable to cope with any upturn in the industry, and that will affect many other businesses.

There is great uncertainty about the hygiene regulations. When he winds up I should appreciate it if the Minister would say something to dispel some of the uncertainty. We were told initially that the regulations would come into force in 1992. We have seen drafts; we know what we shall be required to do. However, it is not clear whether the regulations will be applied with immediate effect or whether they are to be phased in. I hear that there is the possibility of 1995 being the final date for implementation. The industry is very concerned. It faces considerable investment if it is to get itself up to standard to meet the hygiene regulations.

Last week, it was announced that just over £2 million in European Community grants is to be made available to fish processors in the Grampian region. That represents about 30 per cent. of the investment that will be necessary by the group of processors who have been lucky enough to win these grants. They will have to provide 65 per cent. of the investment. The Government are providing only 5 per cent. That gives some idea of the scale of the investment that is necessary—some £10 million for a very small group of processors.

It is a tremendous achievement that Grampian regional council, Aberdeen district council, Grampian Enterprise and its predecessor, the Scottish Development Agency, as well as local industry have been able to secure these grants. The industry has planned ahead, mainly through the Aberdeen sea food project, and is in the forefront of technology. At the same time, however, it is faced with this difficult squeeze: the question of supplies, the problem of the price of the product, consumer resistance and the very high levels of investment that are necessary. However, it is struggling through.

The industry faces a number of difficulties. One of the major problems is the very strong feeling that it is not allowed to operate on a level playing field. For example, Aberdeen district council is keen to enforce the hygiene regulations. It rigorously enforces the current regulations and wants to do the same with the new regulations. However, the regulations are less rigorously imposed in other parts of the country. I have heard tales of some local authorities that allow fish processing to take place in the open air. That has all sorts of hygiene implications. It means that the processor who does not invest, who takes a backward view of the industry, who does not have the overheads that those who adopt a much more enlightened attitude incur can easily undercut those in my constituency, and others, who have taken on this massive investment burden.

I return to my original point—the lack of a Government strategy for the industry. All that is obvious about the Government's strategy is its absence. Fish is an important and healthy food. It is important to our local and national economies. There is no sign, however, that the Government recognise that fact.

The aims must be very clear to the Government. They are clear to the Opposition. We need to slim down our catching capacity for traditional species. We also need to modernise the processing industry and to market fish once more as an attractive and affordable food. However, the Government seem to have opted out of decision making. They refuse to give a lead over the decommissioning scheme. They seek to push that responsibility on to the fishing industry instead of putting forward a positive scheme of their own.

The fragile sensibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his embarrassment over the previous scheme are much more important to him than the future of the fishing industry. His actions have affected the election results. Before the 1983 election the Conservative party held five out of six seats in Grampian. The most recent by-election has resulted in the Conservative party holding no seats in the Grampian region. The tragedy is that——

Mr. Wilson

—it has no more to lose.

Mr. Doran

Certainly. It has more seats to lose in other parts of the country, but I take my hon. Friend's point.

The tragedy is that the industry is paying the price for this Government's incompetence.

8.58 pm
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

It is interesting to reflect, particularly today, that we are considering an industry that is more controlled by Europe than perhaps any other. It is hardly an example of a well-managed industry. I appreciate the problems. It is sometimes difficult to achieve international co-operation—even at times between Scotland and England. Something as complex as the fishing industry is bound to present difficulties. There is some good news, with the best haddock stocks for 12 years. That shows what has been achieved with a restriction of effort in the past.

A 200 day tie-up would be disastrous. I was encouraged to hear my hon. Friend the Minister suggest that that was simply an opening gambit in Brussels. It would be quite unacceptable to go for such a tie-up. I do not regard tie-up as a solution. It is a ridiculous misuse of assets to have capital tied up in a boat that is not being used. The answer must be to bring the capacity of the fleet into line with the stocks available.

Like the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) I welcomed the way in which my hon. Friend the Minister met myself and colleagues from both sides of the House and showed that he does not have a closed mind on decommissioning. I accept that decommissioning is not in itself a solution, but it is an essential part of a package to deal with the serious problem facing the industry. I was encouraged by my hon. Friend's remarks on that occasion and I believe that we shall see such a scheme introduced in due course.

I should like to deal with some technical points. The twin trawl rig is highly detrimental to the stocks of prawns on the north-east coast of England and I hope that we shall see a ban on that. It is self-evident that there is a need for a one-net rule, as the opportunities for cheating and the difficulties of enforcement are obvious. I am told that there is now a device for heat sealing around the knots of larger mesh nets which reduces their aperture. Apparently, that is legal, but I suggest that it needs attention.

Some people in the fishing industry are concerned solely with the short term and, with the financial pressures upon them, they have no regard to the future and will take whatever they can. That could result in black landings, to which Opposition Members have referred. Most fishermen are sensible people. They think of the future and have sons to follow them. They wish to see stocks preserved. It is important that the restrictions put before them are acceptable. That is the key to the success of whatever proposals we make.

The point about sons following their fathers leads me on to the future of the north coast commercial salmon fishery. It is a traditional industry that goes back at least 100 years. The first record of licensing that I can find occurred in 1867. That industry is now threatened with being phased out, with no new licences being granted and fathers no longer being able to hand on their licences to their sons.

I have read the report on the review of salmon fishing. It is a thick document of well over 100 pages. However, having read it from cover to cover, I have found no scientific evidence to support the proposals being made by Ministers. Those proposals are of great consequence to local fishing on the north-east coast of England. It will have consequences far beyond the catch of salmon. The pattern of fishing on the north-east coast is one of intermingling of fishing from season to season. The refusal to allow salmon fishing would have a detrimental effect on the livelihood of many people who are traditionally dependent on that industry.

It is hard to explain why there is no proposal for a similar phasing out of the Scottish commercial fishery. I know that that has been reduced and that the fishery has been bought out to some extent. Why is there commercial buying out of fisheries in Scotland, but no similar proposal in England?

Mr. Bill Walker

Drift netting in Scotland has been banned for years.

Mr. Trotter

I know that, but there are other methods of commercial fishing. On the Tay, which is the local river of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), over 75 per cent. of salmon are caught by commercial fishermen and only 25 per cent. are caught by anglers. If anything is to be done to deal with commercial fishing, my hon. Friend should start by looking on his doorstep at his local river and not down the coast at us.

Mr. Walker

While my hon. Friend is being so complimentary, he might say who stocks the river with salmon.

Mr. Trotter

I am not sure whether some of the 250,000 salmon that are put into the Tyne eventually find their way into the Tay. I am not sufficiently au fait with the migratory habits of that fish.

The salmon is not a factory product; it depends on nature. The research that I have seen shows that the climate, the problems of temperature and the movement of natural foodstocks in the sea are important factors in deciding the quantity of salmon available.

I have referred to stocking on the Tyne. I am not sure to what extent that method is followed in other rivers. It seems an excellent idea that all rivers where there is angling should be required to produce their own stocks in the way that we do. It is fallacious to suggest that reducing commercial fishing would necessarily increase the number of young salmon breeding on the rivers. If the river is already sufficiently stocked, that will not increase its stock because there is only a certain amount of breeding material available in the natural environment. Therefore, however many more mature fish come into the river, that will not lead to a significant increase in the number of young fish. The subject is complex, but I do not believe that there is evidence in the report from which the conclusion can be drawn that commercial fishing should be phased out.

Other major issues affecting salmon have not been referred to, such as the effect of seals. It is said that each seal eats two tonnes of fish a year. I do not suppose that seals eat only salmon, but in the north-east of England many of their meals are salmon. Why is it not being suggested that something should be done to prevent this misuse of salmon? I suppose that if a fish is caught by an angler or a commercial fisherman, at least it is a good human use, but that cannot be said of the fish that are wasted in the stomachs of seals.

The report does not mention poaching. It is suggested by other sources that poaching on some rivers in Scotland is higher than their total declared catch. What is being done about that?

Mr. Wilson

That is an interesting point, but there is more than one kind of poacher. Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that it is absurd that there is no legal obligation on the owners of rivers to declare their catches, far less to declare them accurately, to the Scottish Office?

Mr. Trotter

I was intrigued to find that more than 3,000 tickets were issued to anglers on one river, but not one catch was recorded. They must have been pretty inefficient fishermen. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which he made well.

One of the effects of a licensed industry off our coast is an effective system of policing. The National Rivers Authority's boats regularly patrol the coast, but there is no better policeman than the fisherman, who will report any infringement. We have far less poaching in our area than is to be found in other areas.

The industry is closely controlled, well managed and limited. There are restrictions on weekends, on hours and days and on night-time fishing and the number of licences has been significantly reduced. It is interesting that netting does not start until May, unlike angling, which starts in February. Angling goes on while the spawning season is at its height, whereas netting does not start until the spawning season is over. That point should be considered by the inquiry.

The effects of north coast fishing on the Scottish catch is estimated to be only 7 per cent. In other words, if there were no netting off the north-east coast of England, there would be an increase of 7 per cent. in salmon in Scotland, which is not a significant increase. The argument about who has the best right to the salmon is interesting. Why should an angler have a better right to catch it than a commercial fisherman? The salmon is dead whoever catches it. I cannot agree that it is better that the salmon should be caught in one way rather than the other, and the effects on Scottish rivers are in any case insignificant.

Much could be done to improve stocks. River quality could be improved, obstacles could be removed from rivers, more fish could be inserted from local breeding, effective limits could be placed on poaching and commercial fishing at the mouths of Scottish rivers could be reduced, in the same way as is mistakenly proposed for my area. The National Rivers Authority has been asked to phase out the industry over a period of years. The authority should carry out its own research and reach its own conclusions on the basis of its own judgment. I hope that it will take that advice.

I ask my hon. Friend whether he can clarify the position for next year. It is physically and practically impossible to start phasing out by them. I do not want a phasing out and I hope that we shall resist it successfully. Will my hon. Friend assure me that a net limitation order will be introduced for next year so that there can be some understanding as soon as possible about what the position will be? I suggest that there should be a delay of perhaps five years while the NRA produces its own evidence and arrives at its own conclusion.

9.9 pm

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As the Parliamentary Secretary suggested, the nature of these debates is that we rightly consider the impact of European Community proposals on various fishing communities around our coast. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), although talking about measures that did not arise out of the EC documents, raised an important issue for the north of England. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) rightly drew attention to the difficulties that fishermen in his area have had in trying to encourage the Government to give more help to the hand-line fishermen. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) has bent my ear about that issue and he has pointed out that it is a conservation-friendly method which probably deserves greater support from the Government.

Various total allowable catches are subjects for discussion this evening. We welcomed the fact that, in several respects, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he and his colleagues would go to Brussels to try to negotiate improvements. I draw his attention especially to the TACs for cod, haddock, whiting and saithe in the west of Scotland where there appears to be increasing pressure to reduce the TACs. Some emphasis must be given to an increase in those TACs

The nephrops TAC in the North sea, if it is to be introduced at all, would be better applied on a geographically sectoral basis rather than as a TAC for the whole of the North sea. For the channel stocks of cod and whiting, there is a proposed reduction in an essentially precautionary TAC. The industry would very much welcome efforts made at this stage to increase that to the 1991 levels so that it does not face again the problem of recent years when Ministers have had to go back for a half-yearly review.

Many hon. Members have expressed considerable alarm and concern about the proposal that there should be what is effectively a 200 day tie-up. The hon. Member for St. Ives euphemistically referred to it as effort limitation. I welcomed the fact that the Minister said that the Government would not accept the proposal and that they would negotiate it downwards at the Council of Ministers meeting next week.

As the hon. Member for Tynemouth said, it is perfectly clear that the proposal would tie up working capital for a substantial part of the year. It would be almost impossible for anyone to suggest such a proposal for any other industry. It is a staggering proposal, especially as many of the fishermen concerned have laid out or borrowed substantial sums to invest in their boats and in their gear. They need adequate opportunities to fish if they are to be able to meet their financial commitments. There will have to be rigorous negotiations. We look to Ministers to show as much enthusiasm in negotiating against the proposal as the Prime Minister showed in negotiating against the social chapter yesterday at Maastricht.

Ministers can put forward several arguments. The scientific evidence suggests that this year's tie-up of eight days for each of 11 months—88 days in total—was not especially effective in conservation. An increase in the TAC for North sea haddock is proposed for 1992 and that may suggest that there is less need for a tie-up in 1992 than there has been in 1991.

We also have a compulsory 90 mm square mesh—it has been unilaterally imposed by the United Kingdom since July. From the middle of next year, the minimum mesh size will be 100 mm. Those limits are imposed in an effort to reduce landings of small cod and haddock.

One hopes that that will lead to an improvement in stocks. It reinforces the argument that there will be less need for effort limitation in the forthcoming year. There are arguments that Ministers can marshall on the subject—we wish them every success in trying to negotiate against the proposal.

If we are realistic it may dawn on us that some measure of effort limitation in the final package is inevitable, and that we must face the idea of a gear option. I realise that that idea is not universally popular in the industry, but the precedent for a gear option was set in 1991.

If we wish to divert activity away from the traditional north seas fisheries of cod and haddock to new species—for example, monkfish, ling and redfish—a gear option would allow such diversification, while putting less strain on the North sea species whose stocks are pressurised.

In developing alternative fisheries, much will have to be done to develop a market for new species—to encourage consumer demand for them. Ultimately, that would lead to greater consumer choice, but marketing will be necessary to introduce the new species; furthermore, there will be an incentive for fishermen to use larger mesh sizes if they are allowed a derogation from any tie-up rules.

Perhaps the strongest opposition to a gear option has come from the Scottish White Fish Producers Organisation. If that organisation said that it was against the option because it did not want a loophole in the law, I would agree. It would be wrong, and would defeat the purpose of allowing a gear option, if it was intended simply to provide a loophole, but I know that in some cases south of the border this year, as a result of the gear option there have been landings of larger sizes in certain categories and classes of fish. That seems to suggest that in 1991 the gear option has had at least some effect.

If the Commission and the Government propose a concession, it is not unreasonable to attach strings to it to ensure that it is not a loophole but a genuine means of conservation. It could be tied to higher minimum landing sizes, or we could insist that vessels undertaking the option may be allowed to land only certain class sizes of haddock and cod.

I welcome the Minister's reassurance about his intention to negotiate against the 200 day tie-up. Perhaps the Minister of State, Scottish Office could say more about the Government's position on gear options when he replies.

This is an opportunity to examine the technical conservation measures suggested and implemented at the Council of Ministers meeting in October. The 100 mm mesh size has attracted considerable criticism. There is disapointment that in the negotiations it was not possible to incorporate into the EC requirements any reference to square mesh panels. Many people who at the outset were sceptical about their use have found that the trials have proved them to be an effective means of eliminating the smaller fish.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that one sure way of assisting conservation is to reduce the number of discards. The wastefulness of discards strikes all of us. We do not claim that the square mesh panel is the ultimate solution, but those who have used and tested it agree that it can make a worthwhile contribution. It would perhaps have been useful to have had the option of the 100 mm diamond and the 90 mm square mesh panel. I hope that the Government have not lost sight of that and will be prepared to argue for it in future.

Linked to the proposals put forward in October, there has been considerable dismay about the derogation for the whiting fishery. Many people feel that it is unenforceable to have a separate 90 mm mesh size for whiting as long as one does not have a one-net rule. The arrangements are open to abuse, as is widely recognised. I accept, however, that some communities depend heavily on a whiting fishery. If there is to be a derogation on net size, it should perhaps be linked to size of vessel—for example, one might specify vessels of under 400. That would give greater control than the proposal on the table.

It has been said in every fisheries debate in the past three or four years that everything comes back to why the Government have not introduced a decommissioning system. It can be argued with considerable force that the debates that we had last year on the eight day tie-up and the debates this year on the proposed 200 day tie-up would not have taken place—and certainly would not have engendered the same passion and anger in the industry —if, two or three years ago, the Government had grasped the nettle and introduced a well-targeted and well-funded decommissioning scheme.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth blamed the European Community for much of the crisis in the European fishing industry. It is fair to say that, in this case, the EC has made available the funds to finance a decommissioning scheme: it is the British Government who have not been prepared to take advantage of that scheme and implement it for our United Kingdom fishermen. Instead of a permanent reduction in the size and capacity of the fleet, we have had what might be termed a temporary reduction through various ad hoc tie-up schemes. That cannot be good for the long-term stability of the fleet and, in many cases, leads to working capital being tied up in a most unacceptable way.

We have heard the argument again tonight that decommissioning would not enhance conservation, but one argument in favour of decommissioning is that those who are left in the industry have a better opportunity to make a worthwhile living. That fact should not be overlooked. With decommissioning, one is not—as is the case with the eight day tie-up rule—forcing people to go out and fish in circumstances that are often hazardous and constitute a danger to their well-being.

As has already been hinted in the debate, many of us feel that the blind spot really lies with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who had his fingers burnt when the last decommissioning scheme was introduced and was rapped on the knuckles by the Public Accounts Committee. It should not be forgotten, however, that, in its report, the PAC did not dismiss decommissioning schemes altogether—it merely dismissed that introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will be able to overcome that inhibition.

One can only speculate, but it would appear that the right hon. Gentleman alone is the block on the road to a decommissioning scheme, which is widely recognised throughout the industry and on both sides of the House as necessary. On more than one occasion, the fishing industry has indicated its willingness to sit down with the Government to discuss how such a scheme might be targeted. I hope that, in the new year, the Government will take up the industry's offer. If the lead Ministry had been the Scottish Office rather than the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that might have happened.

We are all very conscious that the 1992 review is upon us. It may well be concluded during the British presidency of the Community in the second half of next year. This is the first fisheries debate since the sad death of Alick Buchanan-Smith, who always made a valuable contribution to such debates. In the Scottish Grand Committee on 13 July 1989, he said that he began to wonder, where the preponderance of the industry is north of the border, whether, in the same way as forestry, the Secretary of State for Scotland ought not to consider taking the lead."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 13 July 1989; c. 62–63.] That was a considered view from someone who had held office in MAFF and was part of the negotiations in respect of the common fisheries policy in 1983. The Government should take that view to heart.

Having said that, I want to compliment the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) on the conciliatory way in which he opened the debate. Obviously a lesson has been learnt from previous occasions. I place on record my thanks to him for the vigour with which he pursued the minimum import price for farmed salmon after representations from me and my constituents in September. That may not be the complete answer, but the move was welcome. I am aware of the vigour with which the Minister pursued that policy.

Continuing this congratulatory vein, in respect of the pelagic side and the negotiations with Norway on mackerel, it appears that the year-by-year encroachment of the Norwegians into the share of North sea mackerel has been halted. Perhaps that can form the basis for a longer-term arrangement on mackerel.

As Norway has agreed to flexibility west of 4 deg west, I hope, as in previous years, that the Minister will be able to negotiate that flexibility with the Council, perhaps up to the 62,000 tonnes allowed. The decision taken earlier this year to allow 45,000 tonnes of mackerel to be klondyked in Lerwick has benefited my constituents. I have pressed for that, together with the local industry, for some time and I give credit where credit is due.

While I am prepared to offer congratulations this evening, real congratulations would be in order when a Minister announces at the Dispatch Box that at long last the Government have seen sense and are prepared to embark on a decommissioning scheme for the fishing industry.

9.26 pm
Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

The suggestion of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that the Scottish Office should have more influence on fishing policy will not be welcomed by English fishermen. The feeling is that the Scots have had too big a slice of the cake so far.

The fishermen of Bridlington are dependent on one species—North sea cod. The fisherman's lot is not a happy one. The common fisheries policy has been a complete failure. It has been a disaster for the country, for the fishing industry and for conservation. Those Opposition Members who talk about increasing EC competence should consider carefully the record of the fishing industry.

For 15 years the industry has had its fishing restricted by quotas which were supposedly based on scientific evidence. If the policy had worked, we should have been able progressively to increase those quotas and stocks should have increased. The reverse has happened. Stocks have grown smaller and quotas have been reduced progressively year after year.

If quotas worked and were an effective way of conserving stocks, why must we consider tying up boats? For a long time the industry has claimed that quotas are inefficient because of the effect of discards and because many foreign Governments do not ensure that their fishermen abide by the quotas. I have to say that some fishermen in the United Kingdom do not always abide by those quotas.

As a method of management, we do not need quotas; we need effective conservation. The Bridlington fishermen have for many years been calling for smaller mesh sizes. At long last we have a 100 mm mesh size, but that is too little, too late. Even now, it is left to Britain unilaterally to require square mesh panels to be fitted to certain nets. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) that a one-net rule is long overdue.

Industrial fishing should be banned completely. cannot understand why the Community has never agreed to banning fishing in breeding grounds while the fish are spawning. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth refer to seals in connection with Scotch salmon. It is a fact that seals eat an enormous amount of fish. The Norwegians are worried about the effect of seals on their fish stocks in the Baring sea. We should seriously consider reducing the number of seals in the North sea.

Regrettably, the EEC is still concentrating on restricting fishing rather than on conserving fish. I agree with hon. Members of all parties who have said that the current proposal to force boats to tie up for 200 days a year is ridiculous. How can any business survive if it does not use its capital assets for more than half the year? If a factory owner was required to do that, the receivers would be in before one would have a chance to say Jack Robinson——

Mr. Harris

Or Robert Maxwell.

Mr. Townend


Although we have had some reassurance from the Minister, this proposal is made worse because there is no specific provision for the gear option. I am pleased that the Government have said that they will oppose those proposals, but I fear that we face the same prospect as last year of having our ships tied up.

The Government must also fight to keep the total allowable catch for cod above the Hague preference in the interests of English fishermen. I agree with the suggestion that the Government should stop our annual gift of 400 tonnes of cod a year to the Danes. I know that we get a swap—I believe that we receive haddock in return—[Interruption.] Well, I am told by my fishermen that we do, but the benefit of the haddock goes to the Scots. If we had not given away those 400 tonnes this year, the fishermen of Bridlington would probably have been able to fish until the end of the year.

My next question to the Minister again reveals the nonsense of the EEC's fisheries policy. I refer to the case of the Spanish trawlers which we lost in the European Court. Their actions have been confirmed as legal, but the court's decision undermined the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which was passed by this House specifically to protect British fishermen. I presume that what the Spanish are doing, the French, Italians and Portuguese could do also. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the House what he intends to do about that serious and appalling threat to the British fishing industry.

I should like to add my thanks to those of my colleagues for the efforts of the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). Throughout his period of office, he has taken more cognisance of the interests of English fishermen than any other Minister for some years. Since the decline of the Humber ports, the English fishing industry has been the poor relation of the fishing industry. The interests of the Scots fishermen tend to be given preference. Therefore, we welcome my hon. Friend's support, and long may it continue.

I am also pleased that the Government are now seriously considering decommissioning grants. I believe them when they say that. That is important. My fishermen also feel that boats of less than 10m should be licensed. I am pleased to learn that the Government are paying serious attention to that matter also.

I began by saying that a fisherman's lot is not a happy one. We must pay serious consideration to the future of our fishing industry. It is not unfair for our fishermen to comment on the amount of help that farming receives. Farming and fisheries are looked after by the same Ministry. The industry is suffering and fishermen deserve more consideration than they are getting relative to farmers.

9.34 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I was disappointed that the Parliamentary Secretary did not refer to the shellfish ban that hit the Scottish industry over the weekend. Although it was lifted after only a day, the ban sent a nasty shiver down the spine of the industry in Scotland. It could have had devastating implications if it had remained in place. I hope that we shall hear something about it in the reply to the debate.

The ban is over, but it generated much bad publicity. We need to know urgently what lay behind it. Where did the confusion arise? Was it in Brussels or at the Scottish Office? We need answers from the Department. It reinforces the call made repeatedly by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunningham, North (Mr. Wilson) for monitoring to be tightened. The ban should be a lesson to us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) mentioned the impact of the hygiene regulations on processors throughout Scotland. The regulations emanate not just from the Community but from national legislation. The Government's food hygiene regulations have potential consequences, particularly for small processors who will have to spend much money to bring their facilities up to the required standards.

The regulations particularly affect small processors on the west coast. Their smallness of scale does not exempt them from any of the regulations, because, generally, their business is export-oriented. I understand that Highlands and Islands Enterprise is undertaking a survey of the processing industry to find out the full financial impact. I hope that, when that survey is completed, the Scottish Office will come forward with the assistance and funding which will be required by smaller processors who are already under-capitalised. They will need help to get them through the transition period into the new conditions set by the much more stringent hygiene regulations.

On the west coast there has been a failure over the years to add to the value of the primary product—the fish caught off the coast. It is crucial to maintain the processing outlets and the facilities that we already have if the communities there are to derive full benefit from the natural resources that lie on their doorstep.

The development of the fishery industry on the west coast is vital for a region that has few other resources and sources of income. The local authority in my constituency has recently suffered the devastating impact of the collapse of BCCI, which will affect the economy of the whole area. It makes it all the more important that we maximise the value of those few industries, such as fishing, which are already there.

A recent report by the Fraser of Allander Institute, commissioned by the Western Isles council and partly financed by the Scottish Office, stressed the future potential of west coast fisheries, especially those further off the west coast of the Hebrides. It is vital that communities on the west coast should be capable of taking advantage of that potential. A number of measures have to be put in place if that is to happen.

The west coast fleet has to be renovated—it is aging, and the fishing community generally lacks the capital resources which would enable it to renovate the fleet by itself. One of the consequences of the Government's failure to tackle the gross over-tonnage in the United Kingdom fishing industry is that the opportunity to renovate the west coast fleet has been missed.

The European Community identified the west coast as a vital area for the provision of such support and was prepared to give preferential support to the west coast fishing industries. That support has dried up because of the Government's failure to establish control over the size of the United Kingdom fleet. Wherever else the overcapacity in the United Kingdom fishing fleet, it is surely not on the west coast. Therefore, it is unjust that the west coast should have been caught up in the problem in that way.

The west coast has a strong interest in the Government's introducing, as a matter of urgency, a decommissioning scheme, which will help to reduce the over-tonnage and thus begin to release funds for the desperately needed renovation of the industry on the west coast. If the decommissioning scheme is not to compound the way in which the west coast has been caught up in the problem, it must be finely targeted to ensure that larger, and not smaller, ships come out of the United Kingdom fleet.

Another plank in the development of the west coast industry has to be a comprehensive programme to develop infrastructure there, especially pier infrastructure. The examples of Kallin and Berneray in my constituency, which have received funding—especially from the Community—in the recent past, show what can be done with proper pier development. The piers have provided a shot in the arm for the fishing industry in those areas. The same could happen throughout the Western Isles, provided the Scottish Office was prepared to put its weight behind that sort of infrastructure programme.

The Western Isles council has already made a submission to the Scottish Office, asking for specific help to develop at least four new piers in the Hebrides. That is exactly the type of programme that the Scottish Office should urgently consider, especially in the context of the troubles which are affecting the Hebrides economy because of the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Funding is also urgently needed to develop the processing sector on the west coast, especially in the Hebrides. If the islands and fishing communities are to derive maximum benefit from the natural resources on their doorstep, they must be able to add more value to the product.

Neither an infrastructure programme, nor the renovation of the fleet will be effective unless there are fish to be caught. Therefore the third, and perhaps the most important, element of a development strategy must be timely conservation measures.

I welcome the new consultation document on shellfish issued by the Scottish Office. Once the consultations have been concluded, I urge the Minister to act quickly on the recommendations. I particularly favour the concept of a ban on twin rig trawling on the west coast, and increasing minimum landing sizes, both of which would find favour among fishermen on the west coast.

However, I am disappointed that the consultation document did not put sufficient emphasis on the possibility of a weekend ban. I urge the Scottish Office yet again to consider that, because a weekend ban would be effective, would be supported by all fishermen on the west coast and would cost no money to introduce or enforce. A further potential advantage would be to help solve some of the problems caused by submarine activity on the west coast, which is causing the Ministry of Defence such a headache, as well as being a hazard to fishermen working off the west coast. A weekend ban may allow some submarine activity to be targeted into weekends, thereby avoiding conflict and collisions.

With the prospect of a 200 day tie-up and a massive shift of shipping effort from the east to the west coast, the need for conservation measures on the west coast becomes all the greater. I urge the Scottish Office to look again at the case for a weekend ban, to listen to the ideas put forward by the industry, and to introduce a ban as quickly as possible.

9.46 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

Although things change in fishing, as in any other industry, I feel that we are travelling familiar waters tonight. We are gathered here a little before Christmas to perform our annual fishing industry pre-ministerial Council season's service—that litany of woe from every corner of the kingdom—telling of sad tidings of discomfort and no joy in the industry. In fact, the position is not as bad as in the recent past, but we are still not there yet, because there is no question but that any extra cuts in quotas must mean hardship.

I suspect that we all know our lines—we have heard several of them repeated tonight—and, like a pantomime by a well-loved local drama group, we fishing industry Members of Parliament will perform well in this packed House. I am sorry that that old favourite, the very nauseating tie usually worn by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), is not with us, although the hon. Gentleman has just arrived. The band of bleating chorus from Scotland is present, with its regular melody, played on the strings of our hearts, about how bad things are north of the border. It gives Conservative Members the occasional chance to shout a seasonal "humbug" or two.

All may be well in the Chamber because we are on familiar ground, but outside in the real world of fish markets and the North sea, all is not fully well. For the past year or so, all hon. Members except my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have sung from the same hymn book about decommissioning. This year, I am delighted that my hon. Friends have at least found the same page of the hymn book.

In Lowestoft and elsewhere, the industry wants a voluntary decommissioning scheme. Those who choose to risk their lives earning a living at sea do not want to be forced to give up, but they are realists and they do not want to go bankrupt either. They want an effective, properly policed scheme for the whole industry which compensates enough to pay off debts and is still worth while.

Equally, nobody to whom I have spoken thinks that decommissioning is a magic wand. We have all mouthed the phrase, "It must be part of a package of conservation measures." Let us remember that everything for which we legislate is for worse cases and blanket rules. There are enormous regional differences in the fishing industry and they must be recognised. So we should extend licensing and do all that is necessary to reduce the fleet enough to start to modernise it before it is too late.

There have been some welcome additions to the Lowestoft fleet. It is a supreme act of faith by Colne Shipping of Lowestoft, but the additional boats are secondhand rather than new-built. The safety implications of an aging English fleet are frightening. A 200 day tie-up, even when fishermen can take the days when they want, totally ignores the issue of how they are supposed to live and make all that investment worth while. Therefore, I wish my hon. Friend well in reducing the 200-day period.

The horse trading, or rather fish trading, that takes place at the Council meetings and other times—the talks with EFTA and the quota swaps—are all very well and sometimes seem to work to our advantage. The EFTA deal, which includes extra tonnage of north-east arctic cod, seems to do so, but there is a fear that, when the common fisheries policy comes up for review and renewal, the wheeling and dealing over fish then will make Maastricht this week look like a teddy bears' picnic. The fear is that we as a country in general, and Lowestoft in particular, will lose on quota swaps, as my hon. Friend the Minister acknowledged.

The package that the Fisheries Ministers will hammer out next week is just one more step on the way to that review. Perhaps next year or the year after we shall consider abandoning minimum sizes, landing everything and taking everything off catch quotas for each boat in order to abolish discards. Each boat would then be licensed by horsepower for a set number of days at sea based on a three-year track record.

Perhaps next year we shall discuss flagship problems and decide that each boat must belong to a producers' or other organisation, which is then allocated a quota from the United Kingdom TAC. That would mean, to quote one of my fishermen who suggested the proposal, "Johnny foreigner cannot get any more of our British quota." Perhaps we shall be saying that Brussels should operate a scrapping scheme, with Her Majesty's Government as local agents.

We cannot know what we shall be discussing next year or the year after at this time. However, we know that tonight's motion, which has produced some disappointingly negative amendments from the Opposition, should be approved to give my hon. Friend the Minister a good send-off to Brussels, with the motion ringing in his ears. Whether we should send him off with a shove in his rear and a pair of boxed ears does not matter. He knows that he has to return with a deal, a scheme, a package that treats the scientific advice seriously but can also be swallowed by the industry. It must be even-handed in the way in which it reduces effort, understandable, believeable and flexible enough to be realistic.

I know that that is a tall order, but my hon. Friend the Minister knows that, whatever he returns with from Brussels, on 1 January the fishing industry—with its quotas, effort curbs, mesh reductions, days at sea, inspections, boardings, paperwork, Health and Safety Executive rules, fuel bills, interest rates and mortgages to meet—will still be the most regulated industry in this country. In addition, it has to cope with a basic shortage of fish. It is even more regulated than the nuclear industry, at a time when all that fishermen want to do, and all that they ask to do, is catch and sell fish. I wish my hon. Friend the Minister good luck next week.

9.53 pm
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

This is always an important debate, coming as it does a week or so before the Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I speak on behalf of the fishermen at Portavogie in my constituency. Northern Ireland has a sizeable fishing industry that employs over 2,500 people—more than 1,000 on the boats and 1,000 in the processing plants. There are nearly 250 boats in the three harbours of Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. The industry is worth about £25 million to our rural economy. I stress that it is a "rural" economy as there are few alternatives for employment in the regions of the fishing ports.

Earlier the Minister mentioned the deaths that have occurred in the fishing industry during the past year. We in the Ulster Unionist party agree with what he said. While on the subject of fatalities in the fishing industry, I mention the problem of submarines, which has attracted the attention of many of our Scottish colleagues in the House. There have been gestures towards solving the problem in the Clyde. We in Northern Ireland want the problem in the Irish sea to be tackled. It is not sufficient to stop at the Clyde as the problem exists in the Irish sea. There has been contact between our fishing boats and—if one may use the word these days—Soviet, American and our own Royal Navy submarines.

Quotas are hurtful. When I participated in this debate a year ago I stressed that quotas in 1991 would be disastrous for the Northern Ireland fishing industry—regrettably, that has proved absolutely true. However, fishermen are responsible. I have had recent meetings with my fishermen in Portavogie and they certainly accept the need for quotas, as long as they are reasonable and based on the real situation in the waters. Sometimes they find that their views are totally at variance with scientific evidence upon which the quotas have been decided.

This year, as a result of the quotas, there has been a decline in the tonnage landed in Northern Ireland and the value of the fish. There was even a fall in the price of nephrops because boats from other areas began to concentrate on catching nephrops and transferred from their previous catch. That created greater competition for our fishing industry whose main catch is nephrops. We accept that the fleet must be reduced, but it must be assisted to reduce.

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he was concerned at the effect of last year's quotas and the introduction of the Hague preference on the Northern Ireland fishing industry. On behalf of Northern Ireland's fishermen, may I say that we respect what he said in that context? The Hague preference worked badly against Northern Ireland fishermen. I heard it explained in the debate that the Hague preference was introduced by Mr. Garret FitzGerald. That means that we dislike it even more in Northern Ireland and now realise why it worked so much to the advantage of southern Irish fishermen during 1991.

It is important to note how that preference worked. The Republic of Ireland was given a cod quota of 5,450 tonnes and used only 1,500 tonnes. Its quota for whiting was 4,700 tonnes and it used only 1,600 tonnes. The same applied to nephrops, which, as I said, are very important for Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland got a much bigger quota than it needed and kindly transferred tonnes to Northern Ireland. When we were running out of our quota in October, some of us wrote to the Minister for the Marine, Mr. John Wilson, in Dublin and I subsequently spoke to him on the telephone. As a result of those representations, the Republic of Ireland swapped 400 tones of its nephrops quota to Northern Ireland fishermen. That was equivalent to a month's work in Northern Ireland and we greatly appreciate that gesture by Dublin. That is what we want to see in the island of Ireland—co-operation, not interference.

We in Northern Ireland are already worried about the 1992 quotas, because the quota for cod is 10,000 tonnes, the quantity that we were allocated for 1991. There is no change at present. For whiting, the news is even worse. We are being offered 9,300 tonnes, a drop of 300 tonnes. The quota for plaice is 3,000 tonnes, a drop of 1,500 tonnes. If the quotas for 1991 were disastrous, those proposed for 1992 are criminal for Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. I have met fishermen in Portavogie who had to sell their boats this year. I have met others who could not pay their mortgages and had their houses repossessed. I had to help them move from their houses into rented accommodation. That is the sort of situation that is developing in our fishing areas.

I know from what the Minister said that he has taken on board the problem in Northern Ireland. I hope that, when he goes to Brussels, he will be successful in getting the suggested quotas increased for 1992 for area VIIa in the Irish sea which affects Northern Ireland fishermen.

I see that the Minister of State, Scottish Office, is beside the Minister on the Treasury Bench. It is a pity that once again there is no Northern Ireland Minister there. Are we to have yet another year during which the United Kingdom delegation to Brussels will have no Northern Ireland Office Minister representing us? How are we to have our view fully represented in Brussels if Northern Ireland Ministers do not take enough interest to be present in debates on fisheries and will not attend this quite important meeting in Brussels to decide the quotas for the coming year?

I have four small points about nephrops, which are our main catch in Northern Ireland. First, we want a ban on twin rig trawlers. We have had a consultation paper about the future of the nephrops fishery. I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), but the ban must be introduced as quickly as possible. Secondly, like him, many of the fishermen in Portavogie would give sympathetic and favourable consideration to a weekend closure for the nephrops fisheries.

Thirdly, we want a decommissioning scheme. That is one way forward and the Ulster Unionist party will be joining Her Majesty's official Opposition in the Lobby on that point. We need such a scheme to be introduced throughout the fishing industry in the United Kingdom. I am glad that, in the past six months, the Minister has made it clear that he no longer has a closed mind on the subject.

Finally, I make an appeal to the absent Minister with responsibility for fisheries in Northern Ireland. There is a new European Community scheme for rural areas, called the leader scheme, the purpose of which is to stimulate a Community-driven rural development programme in agricultural areas that are in decline. I should like to see some of the £4 million that has been allocated for the leader initiative used in Northern Ireland, not just where farming is in decline, but, by extending the scheme, to set up a pilot scheme for the fisheries industry. Naturally, I would recommend that the small town of Portavogie, where the fishing industry is in decline, be used as the centre for a trial of whether we can further inspire community development and create jobs in such an area.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It may help the House if I say that I understand that the first Front-Bench spokesman wishes to rise at 10.20 pm, so five-minute speeches would enable all hon. Members who wish to speak to do so.

10.1 pm

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Over the past year, fishing in the Irish sea has not been good. My port at Fleetwood has suffered quota restrictions, tie-ups and swaps. Most significant of all, it has suffered from over-fishing of some of the juvenile stock, within the 12-mile limit along the coast, from vessels that do not come from the local area. That has not been good for fishing in the north-west.

We must look closely at what we wish to do to ensure the level of fishing off the west coast that we have enjoyed in the past few years. Although that level was a decline over that of previous years, it has since been relatively static, and I for one would not wish it to decline any further. We must find some way over the medium term to increase the size of the stocks—that is, the size of biomass —and reduce the percentage of the stocks caught in a year. That has to be done by ensuring that we catch fewer juvenile fish and, at the same time, as several hon. Members have said, reduce the numbers of discards, which are an awful waste. We must continue to try to find ways to diminish the problem.

If we are to be successful, the first thing that we must do is improve the scientific information available. At the moment, much of the fishing community does not have a great deal of confidence in the scientific information that is provided. Often, quotas are restricted in an area one year, only to be increased the following year when, at sea, fishermen do not see the evidence to make them believe the figures coming from scientists. We have to find new ways to provide more accurate information on which we can do the calculations and, from those calculations, come up with better ways to ensure that we have a clearer run at fishing year by year and to make certain that we do not have such large variations.

On the preservation of stocks, which is the crux of the matter, we need to consider effort control. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reject the idea of a 200 day tie-up. As other hon. Members have said, that is an incredibly inefficient form of effort control.

Like many hon. Members, I am pleased that the Government have not shut their mind to the idea of decommissioning. However, that must be part of a much wider attempt to reduce the amount of effort in fishing. We must consider net sizes and licensing boats below 10 m. However, I understand that there are significant administrative problems in making that work effectively.

Decommissioning should be part of a much wider conservation effort which we must consider. Decommissioning is a complicated subject. I was not being unduly critical of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) when I asked how he considered a decommissioning scheme should work. There is a balance to be struck here. We do not want a lot of modern vessels to be taken out, because, in many ways, that would put our industry at a significant disadvantage compared with the more modern fleets around Europe, but at the same time, we must ensure that a decommissioning scheme reduces the effort. That is a difficult problem which needs to be addressed if it is to operate effectively rather than be characterised by the mistakes that were made last time around.

Part of the problem is the way in which we police the fishing that takes place. I like the idea of introducing satellite transponders. In the coming years, there may even be an increased role for the Royal Air Force which has a number of aircraft with a considerable ability to detect vessels that are fishing where they ought not to be. However, the fishing industry should not have to bear the full cost of such an operation as has been the case in the past. There may well be an opportunity to ensure that in the future. Most important of all—and this has been emphasised by several hon. Members, the enforcement has to be EC-wide. There is little point in our having efficient enforcement methods for our own vessels if many other countries have a less efficient method.

The fishing industry must have a viable future. We need to consider ways of increasing the amount of fish that we land. Fish has a market in Britain and in Europe. Therefore, I hope that when my hon. Friend goes to Brussels he will bear those points in mind so that we can look towards 1992 being a better year for fishing, particularly off the north-west coast, than the past 12 months have been.

10.8 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I understand your strictures on time, Mr. Speaker, but I would be a great deal more sympathetic to them if the Front-Bench spokesman had not taken 50 minutes to open the debate.

I shall restrict myself to three points. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas' advisory committee on fisheries management confirms that the eight-day tie-up has been completely ineffective in reducing fishing effort. That lesson should be well learned by the Government who, only a year ago, were extremely confident that it would provide a solution.

I well remember that in the corresponding debate on 13 December last year, at column 1223, the Secretary of State for Scotland called the eight-day tie-up a "sensible measure". On 5 March this year, at column 238, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he was confident that there would be a significant reduction of effort from the tie-up scheme. The Minister of State, Scottish Office achieve the notoriety of not just lounging and sniggering his way through that debate, but also being the only Scottish Member to vote for the implementation of the tie-up scheme. The scientists now say that the eight-day tie-up was ineffective. Therefore, the analysis of all these right hon. and hon. Members was wrong. They should listen to the views of Members of Parliament with fishing constituencies. The anxiety, fear and danger that the eight-day tie-up produced over the last year was all for nothing. I hope that, given its track record, the fisheries team approach the current proposals with some humility.

I noticed that the Minister with responsibility for fisheries was careful not to put a figure on what he would find acceptable when the 200-day suggestion was made. That underlines part of the underlying difficulty over fisheries management. Of course the 200-day suggestion is absolutely unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the Minister's unwillingness to recognise that the directed whiting fishery drives a coach and horses through any form of effort limitation or any form of mesh size formulation.

It is all very well for the Minister with responsibility for fisheries to say that he intends unilaterally to introduce a one-net rule and an increase in the minimum landing size of whiting, but he does not go on to say that the whiting derogation on current terms will be available to the rest of the European Community. He is in severe danger of devising a system that may be logical for the United Kingdom but of allowing the rest of the European Community to drive a coach and horses through all conservation measures.

The reduction in the minimum landing size of whiting is a disaster for conservation policies. The lack of a one-net rule makes a joke of conservation when people can fish with a 90 mm net, claim that they are fishing for whiting, and discard other species in order to qualify under the whiting fishery directive. It is the most anti-conservation measure that one can imagine.

The Minister has managed to allow the Danish fleet in particular to introduce into fishing for human consumption practices that that fleet has long followed in industrial fishing. Aficionados of these debates will know that each year I have remarked on the increase in industrial fishing when fishing for human consumption has been reduced year after year. In the period from 1987 to 1989, industrial fishing increased to 1,483,000 tonnes while fishing for human consumption was reduced to a residual level. I should like the Minister of State, Scottish Office to say what will be done to bring industrial fishing under control. Do not the Government understand that the whiting derogation undermines the conservation proposals?

Reference has already been made to the shock to the shellfish sector for the second time in two years, due to the virtual ban over the weekend. What guarantee can the Minister give that a test on one particular species of shellfish from one area of Scotland that goes wrong does not again result in a ban that affects virtually the whole fishery? Can he give an undertaking that there has not been a succession of letters from the European Commission to the Scottish Office during the past few months asking, in particular, for area testing results? Can he provide a guarantee that what has happened will not be repeated? The shellfish processing sector cannot afford yet another health scare over the next few months and years.

The capacity of the fish processing industry has been substantially reduced. In my constituency the result has been that, in Peterhead, on Monday fish were offered for withdrawal because the fish processors did not have the capacity to take up a reasonable landing for that day. As the industry cuts its capacity, the problems faced by the industry are compounded. What support will the processing sector get so that the hygiene regulations can be implemented? What assurances can the Government give that there will be access to European funding, which the Commission says will be available on a large scale, to restructure the industry?

I hope that we shall have an assurance that the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation will not again have to write the sort of letter that was published in Scottish Fishing Weekly on 22 November. He wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food complaining of fishing industry leaders being dismissed like schoolchildren. The letter also noted the childish outbursts of the right hon. Gentleman. The Government should mend their ways towards fishermen and have effective and proper consultation. There should be effective representation for the industry within the counsels of Europe. If the Government put into representing the fishing industry a fraction of the effort that they use to try to prevent the extension of workers' rights across the Community, the industry in Scotland would have a much brighter future.

10.15 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) drew attention to the concern in his constituency over the phasing out of licences for drift-netting of salmon. He said that it was sad because the industry had been in business for 100 years. Everyone understands that, and appreciates the problems created. The difficulties would not arise if they were using the equipment of 100 years ago, because the industry would not take as much salmon. I draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that the fresh water laboratory at Pitlochry in my constituency can provide useful and interesting statistics. I recommend that anyone with a real interest in salmon should visit that laboratory.

Those who fish on the river—those who take salmon out from the estuarial nets or those who fish it because they have broad fishing beats—all contribute in different ways to the stocking of the river. That is an important part of the total balance. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth was right to say that the estuarial nets have to be dealt with in the same way as drift nets. Attempts have been made to buy them out, and I hope that that will be successful. It has been successful on some rivers.

It is a recognition of changing times and circumstances and a recognition that the salmon belong in the river, although they spend a great deal of time at sea. The salmon could create employment prospects that would go on for ever if it could be guaranteed that they could get back up the river. It may come as a surprise to some people that we count the salmon going up the river. That is done at Pitlochry, where there is a ladder at which it is possible to measure the number of salmon going beyond the dam.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to matters affecting deep sea and other fishing. What consideration has been given to the decommissioning schemes that have been suggested and to the impact that any such schemes would have on jobs? Has that aspect been looked at and does it mean a form of enforced unemployment? If that is the case, it must be stated. There is little point in using grand slogans if one does not spell out exactly what is meant. That is one of the great problems. I am not unsympathetic to the views that have been expressed, but I like to have the facts so that I can make an objective assessment.

The alleged illegal fishing received considerable prominence in one of the Scottish Sunday papers. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the selection of fishery protection aircraft. The Cessna aircraft is particularly suitable for the task. With the equipment that will be on board, one hopes that it will provide a deterrent to those fishing illegally and that such people will be caught. The best deterrent is to catch people at it—[interruption.] It may surprise hon. Members but I have been airborne in aircraft carrying out such tasks. That is one of the advantages of having served in the Royal Air Force for many years. Aerial surveillance has been perfected in Hong Kong, where I spent some time flying with the Royal Hong Kong auxiliary air force. It used Cessna aircraft, which were effective and successful and were ideal for the job. I look forward to aircraft performing the same policing operation as the Royal Hong Kong auxiliary air force, which is very effective.

10.20 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I shall be very brief. In several years of speaking in fishing debates, I have not known the situation to be as bleak as it is now. The bleakness of the situation means that we should emphasise to the Minister that, if he had introduced a decommissioning scheme last year, the Community would not now be considering daft schemes such as a 200 day lay-up. He said that he opposed that, but did not give his preference. It is essential that he introduces a decommissioning scheme.

I shall make three points about North sea stocks. The first is that it is vital for Grimsby's interests—and, I think, for the national interest now—that the Minister keeps the cod total allowable catch above the level at which the Hague preference will be invoked. I should like him to reconsider the Hague preference, because the net losses will outweigh the net gains for the country. It would certainly damage Grimsby's interests if that preference were invoked, so I hope that he will keep it above that level.

Secondly, I emphasise that the North sea and west Scotland saithe TAC, which is down, should be increased. The scientific advice is shaky, and there is certainly a strong case for increasing it.

Thirdly, Grimsby has diversified into plaice and sole tremendously in the past five years. This year has been our best for sole fishing. That quota should be kept at its present level, and to stop the increase in the beamer fleet, which is increasing by one or two vessels a month and much of it with Dutch money, it is essential that the Minister should introduce a pressure stock licensing scheme for North sea beamers. That growing beamer fleet is taking fish away from Grimsby vessels.

I should like to make many more points, such as those made by the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) about a ban on industrial fishing, but I conclude by saying that it is essential that the Minister takes urgent action to prevent the disastrous situation that we are drifting into.

10.22 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I was persuaded by a comment made earlier in the debate to fetch a quote with which to begin. It reads: Unless someone in the Scottish Tory Party can quickly devise a credible, vote-winning policy for Scottish fisheries during the coming months, their total elimination at the poll in all Scottish fishing constituencies is certain. One might wonder what political partisan said that. Those words were written by the co-editor of The Salmon Net, Rhoddy Macleod, the brother of the late lain Macleod, a distinguished Member of the House. He wrote that his late brother was attacked by the right wing of the Tory Party as being `too clever by hair. He added: The problem facing the Tory Party in Scotland now is exactly the opposite one—they are not nearly clever enough. Listening to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) this evening, I could only think how very true that was.

Mr. Macleod was writing about the vendetta that had been conducted against the salmon netting industry in Scotland. In that context, I would say to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and to Opposition Members from the north-east who have spoken that we have absolutely no truck with what is being done to the salmon industry or to the salmon netting industry in Scotland—a fine traditional industry for which I have much respect. I give the commitment that the pendulum will swing back in favour of that industry and away from the vested interests that have dominated the debate in recent years.

We noted the absence from the Minister's speech of any reference to a decommissioning scheme, which is the key to so much else. That point has been well covered by my hon. Friends and by others. The 200-day a la carte, table d'hote, or whatever other description is used, is not acceptable. We remember the arrogance with which the eight day tie-up was presented a year ago. We recall the certainties that were expressed that it would be the solution to conservation issues and over-catching. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) rightly said, we find that the scientific evidence contradicts all of it.

We do not want the Minister to come back in a few weeks' time proclaiming triumph. We know today that there is no shortage of newspapers to proclaim triumph on behalf of any Tory Minister who comes back from Europe. However, if the Minister comes back and says that 150 days has been agreed and that a wonderful compromise has been achieved, he will get an even bigger raspberry this year than he did last year.

There are serious questions to be asked about the recent shellfish scare in Scotland. If the scare did nothing else, it highlighted the fact that the shellfish fishery, including the prawn fishery, is now the second biggest fishery in Scotland. It is an important and major industry in Scotland and in other parts of the country. Important and fundamental questions arise out of the events of the past week.

I pay tribute to the civil servants in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland who, when alerted of the urgency and the seriousness of the problem, went off to Brussels and got a solution. That was excellent and exceeded the short-term expectations of the industry.

It seems that a specific consignment of scallops from Orkney had been tested at Ostend and had been found to contain toxins which made them unfit for human consumption. That was the root of the problem. I want the Minister to answer three questions on the matter, either tonight or subsequently.

First, how did the delay arise between identification of the defective samples at Ostend and the matter being drawn to the attention, I believe as late as last Wednesday night, of officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and of the Department? How did communications break down in that period?

Secondly, will the monitoring of shellfish at Torry and elsewhere in Britain be brought into line with continental practice? That means testing the organs as well as the meat of the shellfish. If we are selling in continental markets, there is no point in our having different standards of testing from those on the continent. There must be standardisation if such incidents are not to happen again.

Thirdly, going back to the matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) rightly said I raised in Committee earlier this year, will the Department now introduce far more localised monitoring of shellfish to avoid a general ban such as the one imposed last week? Those are three questions that are relevant for the Scottish shellfish industry and for the shellfish industry throughout Britain. Such problems could arise elsewhere so we wait anxiously for the answers.

It is regrettable that we could not have had at least a whole day's debate on fishing. It is also regrettable that we always debate the subject entirely from the point of view of the catching industry. We should debate it from the points of view of the consumer and of the food industry. We never recognise sufficiently that fish is not just a source of income to fishermen. It is a source of protein which may be superior to all others and it is a source of good health to our people, if they have access to fish and to fish products.

The problem at present is that fish is being priced out of the reach of many people in British society who are precisely those who most need that source of protein. Fishermen's incomes can be protected to some extent by ever-increasing landing prices for smaller volumes, but that does no favour to the consumer who is being priced out of the market.

I understand that the Ministry has recommended that the sea fish advertising budget, which promotes fish as a product, should be discontinued at the end of its present period. I should like that proposal withdrawn. I believe that the pressure for it is coming from the big companies such as Findus and Bird's Eye, which object to paying the levy for seafish. We need fish to be advertised and promoted, and the proposal points up the danger of leaving the promotion of an industry to those who have a financial interest in it. There is also a social interest in the promotion of fish as a food and a source of protein.

The clock is against me, so I shall not go into further detail, although I should like to refer to a matter affecting my own area—the Clyde herring quota, which, as we have heard, has been decimated. Even now the herring caught and landed in the Clyde does not have a market because the processing industry has been clawed away from under it. Herring is one of the healthiest and best species of fish for consumption, yet its market has been removed. Perhaps the herring industry board should be brought back to promote herring and its virtues to the wider community.

I ask all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been critical of the Government's record and performance and who have expressed their doubts and fears about the current negotiations to consider carefully the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that they will find anything to disagree with in the amendment, and I suggest that they consider carefully the reaction in their own constituencies all around the British coast before voting against it.

10.31 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

We have had an excellent debate and I am glad that all those who wished to speak had an opportunity to do so. We have heard excellent contributions—with the possible exception of that from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

I shall try to cover the points that have been made, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has kindly undertaken to write to hon. Members about those that I do not cover. In reply to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), I should explain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland regrets the fact that he could not be here; he wished to attend the debate, but I understand that his duties in Northern Ireland prevented him from doing so.

The hon. Members for Banff and Buchan and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) suggested that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea had advised that the eight-day tie-up had been ineffective. That is another example of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan trying to put a particular gloss on something to suit his own conclusions. The ICES said not that the eight-day tie-up had not been effective, but that it had not been effective enough in securing the recommended objective of achieving a 30 per cent. reduction in fishing effort by comparison with that for 1989. That is a rather different statement from the one that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan gave the House.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) and for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) suggested that we needed to have a one-net rule to prevent cheating. I entirely agree that a one-net rule is required, and we have convinced the Commission of the need for one. The problem has been that we have not secured the required qualified majority in the Council of Ministers, but I assure my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to press for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth spoke about the east coast review. As my hon. Friend knows, it is the drift net fishery that is to be phased out. The use of T nets closer inshore will continue and the intention is to encourage drift net licensees to move to T nets which are closer inshore and which should catch fish from local rivers.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) asked about the position of mackerel handliners in the south-west. The fact that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is very much aware of the problem of the south-west handliners is in no small part due to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and he is always ready to explore the issues with them. We were pleased that it was possible to give them a reallocation of an extra 100 tonnes from a Scottish producer organisation this year and the handliners will also benefit from the increase in the mackerel TAC next year.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland expressed his preference for TACs for nephrops by stock rather than for the North sea as a whole. I assume that the Commission had made that proposal on the basis that a global TAC for the North sea would be more readily enforceable. We will consider that, but the key must be the right level of TAC and a satisfactory allocation for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Forsyth

No, I do not have much time left.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) asked about the Factortame position and the European Court of Justice ruling in July. That was unwelcome, but the Government will have to comply. We can however insist that vessels are genuinely managed and controlled from this country, and we shall use the licensing system to ensure a genuine economic link. There is no sign of a rush to re-register. The total number eligible as a result of the judgment is only 65, many of which have sunk, been scrapped or reflagged or are now pursuing non-fishing activities. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington that we will do what we can to ensure that the Commission proceeds against other member states if they impose restrictions of the sort that we have been forced to drop.

The hon. Members for Cunninghame, North and for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) referred to paralytic shellfish poisoning and the apparent ban on Scottish exports imposed by the Commission last Thursday.

As I think is now well known, that decision was taken by the Commission's standing veterinary committee with very little notice to the United Kingdom Government before the meeting and with no preliminary bilateral contact such as we might reasonably have expected. The action was taken following a complaint by the Belgian authorities, which claimed to have detected a high incidence of PSP in two batches of scallops imported from Scotland and originating, so far as we are aware, from Orkney. It is the case that PSP, although mainly a summer phenomenon, was continuing to be detected in certain Orkney crabs, and the fishing and sale of green and velvet crabs in certain Orkney waters is still banned, under the United Kingdom's own long-standing arrangements.

I emphasise that the Government have well-established arrangements, which we think are fully adequate, for sampling shellfish species and keeping these off the market where there is a PSP problem. Those arrangements, which operate during the appropriate time of the year, involve regular sampling from 46 sites in Scottish waters, with intensified sampling then being triggered as soon as low levels of PSP are detected. Those arrangements, as hon. Members from Scottish coastal constituencies will be aware, have led to numerous closures of fisheries in the last two summers.

The Commission has sought to explain the decision taken last Thursday on the grounds that individual member states would otherwise have taken unilateral measures which might have disadvantaged our industry more. It also felt under an obligation to act quickly, in the light of the alleged threat to public health, but it is clearly unsatisfactory that such an important industry and confidence in it should be put at risk by such sudden action, without proper consultation with the United Kingdom first and indeed without any consultation at all in this case. Apart from the lack of consultation, a ban or an apparent ban arising from an alleged problem concerning only scallops and only waters around Orkney, but extending to all shellfish species and all Scottish waters, was clearly absurdly disproportionate.

My noble Friend Lord Strathclyde has made clear our dissatisfaction at this turn of events and on his instructions officials met Commission representatives in Brussels on Monday, when I am very glad to say that the matter was satisfactorily resolved. The Commission, having heard the details of our monitoring procedures, was satisfied as to their adequacy, and the export of Scottish shellfish can now proceed as before, on the basis of the existing United Kingdom arrangements.

We are naturally instituting further sampling to make sure that there is no problem, but there is no sign of it, and I should say that samples from Orkney tested in Aberdeen last weekend, in the light of the Belgian complaint and with the tests being carried out according to what we understood to be Belgian testing methods, produced nothing like the results alleged by the Belgian Government. We have, however, offered to have bilateral contracts with the Belgians to ensure that we understand their worries fully and take them properly into account in future sampling and testing.

A central problem for the fishing industry is that it harvests a renewable—but also exhaustible—natural resource. The industry has to be regulated, and, not least because of its fragmented nature, it cannot do that itself. It is then hardly surprising that, particularly given the present state of stocks, the industry and Government find it hard to agree on the right balance to be struck between the industry's short-term needs and its long-term interests.

The Government want the industry to survive and to have a healthy and secure future. We do not want a one-generation industry. We have to remember that many fishing communities are relatively isolated and highly dependent on fish-related employment. They could not readily adapt to an economy without the fishing industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde will be fighting strongly for the United Kingdom's interests next week, and will be aiming to secure the best available deal for our industry. But they will also be looking for the right deal that will provide the industry with its livelihood for next year, while also contributing to the stabilising and rebuilding of fish stocks.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 186.

Division No. 25] [10.40 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Hood, Jimmy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Battle, John Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Beckett, Margaret Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Beith, A. J. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bellotti, David Illsley, Eric
Benton, Joseph Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Bermingham, Gerald Kirkwood, Archy
Blunkett, David Lamond, James
Boyes, Roland Litherland, Robert
Bradley, Keith Livsey, Richard
Bray, Dr Jeremy Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Loyden, Eddie
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) McAllion, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) McAvoy, Thomas
Caborn, Richard McCrea, Rev William
Callaghan, Jim Macdonald, Calum A.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) McFall, John
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) McGrady, Eddie
Carr, Michael McKelvey, William
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McMaster, Gordon
Clelland, David McNamara, Kevin
Cox, Tom Madden, Max
Cryer, Bob Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dalyell, Tam Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Darling, Alistair Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Martlew, Eric
Dewar, Donald Maxton, John
Dixon, Don Meale, Alan
Doran, Frank Michael, Alun
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Edwards, Huw Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Enright, Derek Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Morgan, Rhodri
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Morley, Elliot
Fatchett, Derek Murphy, Paul
Fearn, Ronald Nellist, Dave
Flannery, Martin O'Brien, William
Flynn, Paul O'Hara, Edward
Foster, Derek Parry, Robert
Foulkes, George Patchett, Terry
Fyfe, Maria Pike, Peter L.
Godman, Dr Norman A. Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Golding, Mrs Llin Prescott, John
Gordon, Mildred Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Redmond, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Richardson, Jo
Grocott, Bruce Robertson, George
Haynes, Frank Rogers, Allan
Hinchliffe, David Rooney, Terence
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Home Robertson, John Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Ruddock, Joan Vaz, Keith
Salmond, Alex Wallace, James
Skinner, Dennis Walley, Joan
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Wareing, Robert N.
Snape, Peter Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Spearing, Nigel Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Steinberg, Gerry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Stephen, Nicol Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Strang, Gavin Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford) Worthington, Tony
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Tellers for the Ayes:
Trimble, David Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Allen McKay.
Turner, Dennis
Alexander, Richard Harris, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Haselhurst, Alan
Allason, Rupert Hawkins, Christopher
Amess, David Hayward, Robert
Amos, Alan Heathcoat-Amory, David
Arbuthnot, James Hill, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Hind, Kenneth
Ashby, David Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Atkins, Robert Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Batiste, Spencer Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Bellingham, Henry Hunter, Andrew
Bendall, Vivian Irvine, Michael
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jack, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Jackson, Robert
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Janman, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Boswell, Tim Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bottomley, Peter Kilfedder, James
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Knapman, Roger
Bowis, John Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Bright, Graham Knowles, Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Knox, David
Burt, Alistair Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Butcher, John Latham, Michael
Butler, Chris Lawrence, Ivan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lightbown, David
Carrington, Matthew Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Cash, William Lord, Michael
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Chapman, Sydney MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Maclean, David
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William McLoughlin, Patrick
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Madel, David
Cran, James Malins, Humfrey
Curry, David Mans, Keith
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Day, Stephen Maude, Hon Francis
Devlin, Tim Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Dickens, Geoffrey Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Dorrell, Stephen Mellor, Rt Hon David
Dunn, Bob Meyer, Sir Anthony
Durant, Sir Anthony Miller, Sir Hal
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Mills, Iain
Fishburn, John Dudley Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fookes, Dame Janet Mitchell, Sir David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Moate, Roger
Fox, Sir Marcus Monro, Sir Hector
Franks, Cecil Moss, Malcolm
Gale, Roger Moynihan, Hon Colin
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Neale, Sir Gerrard
Goodlad, Alastair Nelson, Anthony
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Neubert, Sir Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Nicholls, Patrick
Gregory, Conal Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Norris, Steve
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Page, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Paice, James Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thorne, Neil
Porter, David (Waveney) Thornton, Malcolm
Powell, William (Corby) Thurnham, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Townend, John (Bridlington)
Redwood, John Trotter, Neville
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Rhodes James, Sir Robert Viggers, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Walden, George
Rossi, Sir Hugh Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Rowe, Andrew Waller, Gary
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Ward, John
Sackville, Hon Tom Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, David (Dover) Watts, John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wells, Bowen
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Wheeler, Sir John
Shelton, Sir William Whitney, Ray
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wilkinson, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wilshire, David
Speed, Keith Winterton, Mrs Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Winterton, Nicholas
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wood, Timothy
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Sumberg, David Tellers for the Noes:
Summerson, Hugo Mr. Irvine Patnick and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 9134/91 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 27th November 1991, relating to guide prices for fishery products for 1992, the proposals described in the unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 10th December 1991, relating to total allowable catches and quotas for 1992, the reciprocal Fisheries Agreement between the Community and Norway for 1992 and duties on certain fish imports for 1992 and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1992 consistent with the requirement for conservation of fishing stocks.

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