HC Deb 05 March 1991 vol 187 cc233-57
Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this debate must end at 11.30 and that a great many hon. Members wish to participate in it. I intend to give precedence to those hon. Members who were not called to speak in a similar debate on 14 February. However, I hope that all those on both the Front and the Back Benches who are called to speak will be brief so that as many hon. Members as possible can participate in the debate.

10.1 pm

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Sea Fishing (Days in Port) (Amendment) Regulations 1991 (S.I., 1991, No. 335), dated 26th February 1991, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th February, be annulled. This statutory instrument——

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I draw your attention to the Order Paper which makes it clear that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet completed its consideration of the amending regulations that we are dealing with tonight which amend the principal regulations—the Sea Fishing (Days in Port) Regulations which we have reported. The amending regulations arise out of our recommendations. I hope, therefore, that the Government will find time to debate, in addition to these regulations, the principal regulations. We have reported the principal regulations. Our report is in the Vote Office. I mention that in case hon. Members are confused. The Committee asked the Government for information about the exemptions that are not clarified in the instrument that we are to debate tonight. We cannot report it because, as you know, Mr. Speaker, we have to wait for a memorandum from the Government under the terms of our Standing Order. I hope that you will not mind me drawing that matter to the attention of the House. I know that we shall debate the merits rather than the technicalities, but the two are closely linked.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is the Chairman of the Committee, has done the House a service by saying that.

Mr. Morley

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. He carries out essential work by going through European Community documents.

This measure is of vital interest to the fishing industry. It is being implemented retrospectively, so it is important to deal with the effect that it is having on the industry. It clarifies the legal enforcement of the Sea Fishing (Days in Port) Regulations, though I doubt whether it will clarify the way in which they will be enforced by those who have a duty to do so. It also takes into account the exemptions for those boats that use 110 mm mesh nets, as belatedly agreed with the Commission by the Minister. On behalf of the Opposition, I would not quibble with exemptions, but the whole basis and effect on the industry of the regulations should be brought to the attention of the House and debated in depth.

The regulations were introduced to reduce effort on our fish stocks, and we have no quibble with the Government in trying to meet such objectives. We are concerned with the way that it is being done. I have consistently argued on behalf of the Opposition that effort must be reduced and I have supported conservation measures that may be necessary, and hard on fishermen who must implement them. But while I accept that conservation measures are essential, they must be supported by the fishermen and be seen to be to their advantage. I am not convinced that the eight-day tie-up regulation meets those objectives.

During the debate on the take-note motion on 13 December 1990, I expressed concern lest the then proposed 10-day lay-up rule would be inflexible and dangerous. Tonight I heard from Scottish fishermen, some of whom are listening to the debate, about the inflexible way in which those regulations are being imposed, contrary to assurances that were given by the Minister of State, Scottish Office. We heard how many of them had been forced to stay at sea fishing in bad weather, how many of their families and the community life of their crews had been disrupted, how many boats could not steam to home ports for resupply and repair without being caught by the rules and how many boats had had to run for port to comply with the regulations in bad weather in situations which made it difficult for them to get into port, so endangering their ships and crews.

The implications have a knock-on effect for local economies. Hon. Members representing fishing constituencies will give further details of the effects of the regulations on their communities. We are speaking not of insignificant effects. It is clear from the excellent brief supplied by Grampian regional council that in that area 10,000 jobs are linked directly to the fishing industry. Fish for the north-east ports is vital for the local processing industries, and the same is true of areas such as Humberside. There is concern that the proposed eight-day rule will make it hard for producer organisations to regulate landings and will cause severe price and supply distruptions.

In financial terms, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has calculated that the tie-up rule could reduce fishing days by 72 days. That would represent a reduction in effort of about 38 per cent. It is calculated that, on that basis, average wages of fishermen could be down by about £6,000 a year, and gross profits would be slashed by 99 per cent. Differing working patterns may reduce those figures, but the net result would inevitably mean cuts in income.

The NFFO also argues that the approach adopted by the Government, and agreed by the Council of Ministers, could be in breach of articles 28 and 39 of the Treaty of Rome. The regulations contain defined objectives, including the rational development of production, the optimum utilisation of the factors of production, in particular labour, a fair standard of living, the stabilising of markets and the availability of supplies at reasonable prices. I claim that the regulations do not meet those objectives.

There is a crucial difference between Britain and other countries whose boats are subject to the restrictions. Other countries are covered by the EC decommissioning scheme and are taking advantage of it. That puts the situation facing them in a different light. They are already in a scheme that is reducing fleet size and effort and is providing compensation for the industry. The only compensation that our fishermen are offered is bankruptcy and the dole queue.

We must contrast the situation in fishing with the comparable position in farming. Over-capacity exists in farming. One scheme on offer is set-aside, giving farmers financial compensation for reducing effort. Like decomissioning, the bulk of farmers' costs are met through the EC, in that case 60 per cent. Last year the scheme cost Britain£21.6 million, close to the estimate of £25 million that a decommissioning scheme would cost.

That scheme is subject to the same Fontainebleau agreement which we are told makes a decommissioning scheme unviable. Why should farmers enjoy such a scheme while fishermen are denied it? The only difference that I can see is that a decommissioning scheme is a one-off scheme and hence cheaper than an on-going commitment to a set-aside scheme. Its EC contribution is 10 per cent. higher, which is hardly an argument for ruling it out.

Although the measure gives the option of 110 mm nets in terms of exemption from the eight-day tie-up, the Scottish mixed fishery fleets are most affected. This is a national issue and there is broad agreement between the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.

As I have said, fishing effort must be reduced and it is significant that the former head of the EC fisheries conservation department, Mr. Michael Holden, made it clear in conversations with me that efforts must be reduced by restructuring through decommissioning to match capacity to availability.

The industry is prepared to play its part, given the chance to develop fishing as a prosperous and sustainable industry. I have said that I am concerned about the number of discards from 90 mm diamond mesh and about rule-breaking by some fishermen, whether by falsifying the area in which they say fish have been caught, by using techniques to close mesh, or by taking high by-catches from prawn trawls.

I am greatly encouraged by the positive and responsible approach of fishermen to these problems. The Minister would do the industry far more good if he argued in the Council of Ministers for measures such as the option of fishing with square mesh panels. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has strongly advocated an 80 mm square mesh panel with a 90 mm diamond mesh, and research on reduced discards is encouraging. Why not have a comparison between that system and a 90–90 mm square mesh and diamond mesh option, or even a 90–100 mm option to see the effects on catches and discards? We could press for dispensation from the eight-day rule on the basis of the most suitable configuration.

The issue of EC minimum mesh sizes still needs to be resolved and the Minister has the option and the opportunity in the forthcoming year to table proposals and to amend the present scheme. I advocate the fishermen's proposals for the adoption of a one-net rule, the introduction of square mesh panels on prawn trawls, an increase in the minimum landing size of whiting to 30 cm, and a licensing regime for all fishing boats. Those are some of many measures that should be incorporated in a proper national fishing industry.

I accept that progress on discards and conservation gear should have been made long ago, but if we are to have a sustainable fishing industry, the Government must be supported by the fishermen. The need for a decommissioning scheme is accepted by every sector of the industry and has attracted universal cross-party support from hon. Members with fishing interests. The Government's arguments against such a policy do not stand critical examination and I do not think that Ministers, who should know better, have their heart in their standard and discredited defence of their policy. They know that a decommissioning scheme can be implemented and made to work properly.

I suspect that the eight-day tie-up rule has been advocated by the Government because they do not have anything else to offer to reduce fishing efforts. In the end the scheme may not even work adequately in that sense. At best the regulations are crude, disruptive and of doubtful conservation value. At worst, they endanger lives and boats. Unless there is an adequate fisheries management policy that includes a decommissioning scheme, the industry will continue to stagger from crisis to crisis. I am concerned that this eight-day rule will also create tragedy and grief.

So important is this measure and so great is the cross-party support for it that I offer the Government the support of the official Opposition in a non-partisan effort to construct such a scheme and speed its passage through Parliament. That is a genuine offer for a genuine problem, and I urge the Government to reconsider with extreme urgency their attitude to this matter.

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

We last debated fisheries on 14 February. I recall that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) said that she would like to debate these regulations, and as it was St. Valentine's day, it would have been extremely ungallant of me not to accept such a proposition, so we are debating that statutory instrument tonight. However, one would not have thought so from the speech of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), which, as he meandered round the entire course of fisheries policies, was indistinguishable from all his previous meanderings.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Curry

No. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe was not interrupted. Mr. Speaker has asked us to be brief and I intend to keep to his injunction.

I want to know why Opposition Members have decided to pray against the gear option. Do they know what they are doing? It is quite curious. The Labour party is running scared in front of the Scottish Nationalists, who prayed against the original order and got a day or two ahead of the Labour party. The Labour party is now trying to catch up.

I am surprised to find the name of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on this motion because, of all the ports in the United Kingdom, it was Humberside which wanted the gear option most.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I do not know what the point of order is as I have heard nothing which is out of order.

Mr. Mitchell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I prayed against the original regulations.

Mr. Curry

I am delighted to hear——

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister referred to me in his opening remarks, in the context of 14 February. His remarks were cheap, given the significance of the fisheries industry to Scotland, and he should apologise to the House and tackle the issues which are of key importance to many people in my constituency and throughout Scotland.

Mr. Curry

I am addressing a question that many fishermen will ask—why are the Opposition praying against the gear option which I was so earnestly enjoined to obtain from Brussels? We obtained it, and if I were to accept the Opposition motion and they were to carry it, we would be left with an eight-day compulsory tie-up, with no alternative. I want to know how they think that that would be of benefit——

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)


Mr. Curry

No, I shall not give way. Why do they think that that would benefit the United Kingdom fishing industry? It seems curious and perverse.

Mr. Morley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Curry

No. I allowed the hon. Gentleman to speak uninterrupted. Mr. Speaker has asked me to be brief, and I intend to be.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe went on a protracted ramble round fisheries, ports and half our agricultural policy, none of which got us anywhere.

Why did we have a tie-up? The reason is that the rule reflects scientific advice. That is where we must begin this evening. It might be unpalatable, hon. Members may not like it and it might be unwelcome, but it is the fact of the matter and the only sound basis for fisheries policy. Scientists argued, first, that the North sea and west of Scotland roundfish stocks were under great pressure, and I see that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe agrees with me. We are not in dispute about the facts.

Secondly, scientists advised that cutting quotas would not be sufficient to protect stocks. Reduced quotas cannot prevent misreporting—I do not wish to use an emotionally charged word, but everyone will know what I mean—and reduced TACs cannot prevent, and may even increase, discarding. Therefore a reduction in effort was needed—I notice that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe again agrees with me—and, in practice, less fishing.

In the light of that, the Commission proposed that vessels which had caught more than 40 per cent. of cod and haddock during the reference period should remain in port for 10 consecutive days per calendar month. That proposal applied not merely to the United Kingdom, but to Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Ireland, which are all countries that have applied decommissioning schemes. It does not appear to have saved them from this regulation.

My right hon. Friend and I said that we could support the principle of effort reduction, but that the details of the Commission's proposal required amendment. As a result —as hon. Members know—the 10 days were reduced to eight. We could not escape that regulation as it was tabled in front of us and we had to deal with it in the Council. It would not just disappear or float away and therefore we had to respond to the matter. Vessels that caught less than 100 tonnes were excluded, reducing the number affected from approximately 700 to 450.

We undertook to try to obtain a gear option. I made that promise specifically. Immediately after the meeting I went to the Euroflats, the hotel that the fishing industry had made its base camp for the day, and said very plainly that I would try to obtain a gear option. I particularly remember the leader of the Shetlands fishermen's delegation telling me how important that was. We obtained the gear option—obtained it, moreover, before any other country did; we fulfilled the undertaking that we had given. There is an urgent need to protect the haddock stock. We have decided to allow the flexibility that will enable a monthly change between the gear option and the tie-up, which we think is the most sensitive policy.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Curry

No. I shall be winding up the debate, and I shall respond then to any points that are made.

Let me now turn to the three main criticisms of the eight-day rule: that it is unsafe, that it is ineffective and that it is enforced too rigidly. First, let me deal with the safety issue. The argument that financial pressures will oblige fishermen to use their remaining 22 or 23 days to the full, regardless of bad weather, seems to overlook the fact that the industry's earnings are not constrained by the time that vessels can spend at sea; they are constrained by the level at which quotas are set. That constraint is not affected by the eight-day rule. Without it, indeed, quotas might have been set at a lower level. Moreover, the inspectorate has been instructed to enforce the regulations with proper regard to safety.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Will the Minister give way on the question of safety?

Mr. Curry

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to finish my sentence? This is an important point, which has been made by many hon. Members.

The inspectorate has been instructed to enforce the regulations with proper regard to safety. No fisherman need fear proceedings if, because of genuinely severe weather, he puts into a different port from that notified, or arrives a few hours late. We are not in the business of forcing fishermen to take unnecessary risks. It would be irresponsible for those who would hype up the industry to say that all that is being done will put safety at risk, and I hope that fishermen will have more sense than to listen to such talk.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Curry

I will not give way. I intend to speak briefly so that the maximum number of hon. Members can contribute to the debate. I shall respond to interventions in my winding-up speech.

Let me deal next with the question of effectiveness. I accept that fishing in the remaining 22 or 23 days may be somewhat more intensive, and that the fish may not therefore enjoy the full benefit of the eight days. I am, however, confident that there will be a significant reduction of effort, and that must help stocks. Those who argue that the tie-up will merely lead to more intense effort, and will fail in respect of conservation, should be careful not to argue the Commission's case for an even longer tie-up next time round.

I make no apologies for our policy of rigorous enforcement. I am frequently criticised by hon. Members on the ground that aspects of our regime are being undermined—always, of course, by fishermen from other ports. One of the great advantages of the eight-day rule is that it can be enforced firmly and fairly, and that will be our policy.

I commend the regulations to the House, and invite it to reject the Opposition's perverse and wrong-minded prayer, which gives entirely the wrong impression. The Opposition's proposals would merely imprison the industry even more drastically in a fixed set of regulations, while denying all the flexibility that we have sought to introduce and that the industry deserves.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask hon. Members to limit their speeches to five minutes. Although I confess that I have no authority to impose such a requirement, it would enable everyone to be called.

10.23 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

The regulations are a testament to our futility. We are debating an amendment to regulations that should never have been laid before Parliament—or, indeed, thought of in the first place. They show no knowledge of the industry, do nothing to achieve the desired objective, and damage safety and conservation in the fishing industry. We are debating the principle of the regulations weeks after they came into effect; we are debating them late at night, preventing the fishing industry from expressing its anger in the massive way that it should; and we are really debating only an amendment to them.

Ministers have put themselves in an impossible position by proposing the regulations. It is certainly true that the Minister has secured a gear derogation and we in Grimsby are grateful to him for that because it means that most Grimsby vessels, which would have been hard hit by the regulations, are exempted. But some of those Grimsby vessels should never have been included in the regulations in the first place. I refer to gill netters, which use 170 mm square mesh, and to long-liners. Even now, anomalies remain. I have written to the Minister about one Grimsby vessel, fishing in areas 6 and 7, which was catching cod and haddock in 1989. Now, it has changed everything and is catching prawns, but because of the date at which it changed over, it is caught by the eight-day rule.

Had the Minister not introduced the derogation for gear, he would have been legally vulnerable. Legal opinion, obtained by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, suggested that there was a strong, and almost certainly successful, case for challenging the regulations. Had the derogation not been introduced, such a case would have been successful. The Minister is saving his own skin and defending his own position.

The basic daftness of the regulations is not removed by the gear derogation: It is as logical to use the present regulations as a method of conservation as it is to slim by weighing an arm and sawing it off, then weighing a leg and sawing it off. That is exactly the basis of the regulations. It is illogical to approach the matter by means of such expedients.

I am in a happy position. It is now the official policy of every party in the House, with the exception of the Ulster Unionists and myself, to hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil about the Common Market. Yet the regulations are just the sort of daft, bland, cover-all measures—irrelevant to the circumstances of particular countries, fishing industries and stocks—that one would expect to emanate from such an organisation. They are blanket measures whose application to particular countries will be damaging. Total allowable catches—a bad method of conservation—are also blanket measures, which lead only to increased discards. An equally daft measure is the proposal for 120 mm meshes as a universal norm.

Such measures would not have had to be imposed from outside—by the Common Market—had Ministers taken a responsible position, pursuing research and advancing conservation by more reasonable methods over the years. Instead, they have allowed the industry to be restructured by market forces, liquidations and bankruptcies, and have not pursued proper conservation policies. As a result, we have a crisis. Measures have had to be imposed from outside because Ministers have not prepared the way by paying due attention to conservation by a proper decommissioning scheme—a much more effective way of reducing the effort bearing on the stocks. They could also have closed spawning grounds for certain parts of the year; that, too, is an effective method of conservation.

Ministers could also have pursued the valuable research that has been done into the effects of square mesh panels. I shall not go into that argument tonight, although others undoubtedly will.

The basic principles in favour of square mesh panels had been established at the Aberdeen laboratory by 1983. John Ashworth's paper, circulated to hon. Members, makes that absolutely clear. Yet for some reason the proposals have been held back by senior officials or the Department. Only now, with the industry itself financing and undertaking research into square mesh panels, are we in a position to demonstrate the value of the panels as an alternative and more effective method of conservation than blanket measures such as those contained in the present regulations. The Minister should be looking at a derogation for square mesh panels—whether 80 mm or 90 mm square mesh panels and wherever the panel is placed. Does it have to be placed differently for haddock or whiting than for cod? We should now be in a position to know all that. We should have undertaken the research and we should have in our possession the information to enable us to propose such alternative methods of conservation.

We should approach the issue with selective methods of conservation like that, not with this kind of blanket, crude measure which will damage the industry. We could have done that if Ministers had adopted a rational and reasonable attitude over the years and encouraged research into conservation. If they had done that, we would now have a good conservation record and regulations like the one that-we are debating tonight would not be imposed on us from outside.

10.29 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

There are relatively few fishing vessels on the Solway firth and they are important to their skippers. I want to refer briefly to the north-east and to Morayshire in particular, which I know well from annual visits and from many hours flying over the Moray firth as a maritime pilot.

Knowing Burghead, Hopeman and Lossiemouth, I can appreciate how seriously the fishermen view the problems that they face. We all know that we cannot amend the instrument; we can only reject or accept it. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the interpretation of the regulations and be flexible. Having listened today to the important lobby on the subject, I think that my hon. Friend the Minister should consider the sea time between the port where the fish have been landed and the journey to the home port. A vessel may land fish at Peterhead while its home port may be Lossiemouth or Burghead. The journey back to the home port is dead sea time during which no fishing takes place, but that time must count towards the eight days.

After the fish have been landed, I cannot see why the vessel cannot be sailed back home without that time being counted against the eight days. After all, the fishermen must get home. They may also need to get home for repairs or to take on stores and equipment for the next voyage. To maintain that that journey time should be counted within the eight days is too rigid an interpretation of the regulations. When my hon. Friend replies, I hope that he can concede that point and be flexible.

I support the overall aim of conservation, but I am concerned about how we are going to interpret the regulations. If the Minister can make the concession for which I have asked, that would help some fishermen who want to take their boats home after they have landed their fish in another port.

10.33 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Many people with a great interest in the fishing industry who have been listening to this debate will have been disappointed by the Minister's response to the prayer. He began my making several cheap debating points. He said that the prayer relates to amending regulations and that if the prayer was approved, the amendment would not be part of the scheme. He did not mention the fact that we are not debating the substantive statutory instrument which implements the days in port regulations because that lies entirely in the Government's hands. The Leader of the House and the Government could have allowed us to debate those regulations. The Minister should not be allowed to pull the wool over the eyes of people who might be listening to this debate by using cheap political points.

I remember appearing before Lord Wheatley in the second division of the Court of Session, and he would say to me, after I had made a point like that made today by the Minister, "Is that your best point, Mr. Wallace?" After the Minister's speech today we are entitled to ask "Is that your best point, Minister?" It just shows how bankrupt and threadbare is this Government's policy.

I do not have time to repeat the arguments that have already been made on many occasions. I shall simply refer to the point about flexibility made by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). Flexibility must be conceded in respect of the sailing time back to a home port after fish have been landed at the market. That particularly applies to several vessels from my constituency that might land at Mallaig or at the north—east ports and it may also apply to some vessels from Shetland which are not allowed to count as tie-up days and days when they are not fishing days when they are steaming back to their home ports.

In the debate of 14 February, the Minister of State, Scottish Office responded to the point by saying: Transit time certainly adds to the time not available for fishing, but the whole point of the scheme is to reduce fishing activity. That is endemic in it and it must be faced."—[Official Report, 14 February 1991; Vol. 185, c. 1092.] What can that mean other than a concession of the point that we were trying to make? It underlines the fact that there is considerable scope. With those comments, the Minister would not pass the primary 7 test.

It must be recognised that the derogation of 110 mm is better than nothing. It will benefit many boats in the English ports and it will benefit several ports in the Shetland part of my constituency. However, there are two points related to that. First, even for those who enjoy a derogation, eight days may be seen as a precedent. When I visited ports in south-east England yesterday, especially Hastings, there was a fear that, although they will not be affected by the measure, we are creating a precedent that will be applied to and will affect other parts of the industry. Secondly, fishermen fear that because the 110 mm measure is included in the regulations, it will become par for the course in other size regulations. The 110 mm size will not be acceptable to the industry which has, for a long time, put to the Ministry scientific evidence on a number of mesh sizes, including square mesh and diamond mesh combinations, which are far more acceptable to the industry and which make a positive contribution to conservation.

The Minister gave the game away. He said that the safety argument does not stand up because it is not a question of the number of days of fishing, but of the quotas determining incomes and how much fish will be caught. If that is the case, what in the world have we been debating? Why do we need the eight-day tie-up if it is the amount of fish available and the quotas rather than the number of days that can be fished that are relevant? The Minister ruined his whole argument with the argument that he tried to turn on us. He has turned his mind against decommissioning. It is part and parcel of this debate because if we had had a well-managed and properly targeted decommissioning scheme, there would never have been a need for tie-up regulations.

The Government have failed the industry by refusing even to countenance a decommissioning scheme. Lord Strathclyde refused even to respond to proposals that the industry itself might make a contribution to pump-priming a decommissioning scheme. The Government have a bankrupt policy for bankrupting the industry.

10.37 pm
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

Everybody must accept the need for conservation. However, there will clearly be enormous argument about whatever methods are advanced. There is no doubt that it would have been wholly wrong if we had stuck to the original tie-up proposal. Few boats in the north-east, in my locality, were affected by the proposal, but it would have had a serious effect on those who were covered by it. There is no doubt that it was seen as a dangerous move and the Minister is to be congratulated on persuading Brussels to allow the option on mesh sizes.

There was considerable fear that the initial proposal would have spread eventually to the many smaller boats and there was great concern in the industry that the adverse effect would spread along the coast. Without question, it would not have been accepted by the fishing community. At one time, the fishing community talked about breaking the law, but, quite rightly, it refused to do so. It decided that, whatever the circumstances, it would not break the law.

We have to face the fact that if we are to have effective regulations, they must carry the fishing community with them. That was not the case with the original proposals. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the way in which he fought, through Brussels, the option on net sizes.

I find myself in considerable agreement with the reference of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to the stupidity of trying to find universal solutions to the problems of different countries. Following that path all too often leads either to no solution or to a draconian solution which can harm the future of the industry. We are all concerned about the long-term future of the industry as well as about the short-term problems of today, which are in everyone's mind.

We must deal with the problems of discards and of the indiscriminate slaughter of juvenile stocks. All hon. Members participating in the debate are conversant with the problems between different parts of the industry and the problems of mesh sizes as they apply to different stocks.

Industrial fishing seems to be a subject that, time after time, evades effective action from Brussels. We must keep on emphasising that in our discussions with the Community. There has clearly been a dramatic failure of Community policy on fishing, and criticism of Brussels by the fishing industry is self-evidently justified.

In the short time available, I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the Minister the issue of square mesh panels, which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby also mentioned. How does my hon. Friend the Minister see that proposal developing? We have all heard of the successful trials that have taken place. What will happen to ensure that the proposal is introduced? Many sectors of the industry believe that it could be an answer to their problems. What are my hon. Friend's views on derogation for whiting in the winter season? How does he respond to the suggestions made about that?

It is true that the industry is divided—north and south of the border and in different ports north and south of the border. Derogation adds to the divisions within the industry because something that helps one sector is seen as disadvantageous to another. In his wind-up speech, will my hon. Friend say what will happen to those boats that will not be affected by the current proposals? What will happen to the smaller boats which, in my part of the world, make up most of the fleet, but are not affected by these proposals? What does the Minister see as the future of the smaller boats which form such an important sector of the industry?

10.42 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

This is a serious debate. The reputations of Parliament and the Minister have not been enhanced by the Minister's tawdry opening remarks. That bodes ill for the future of an industry that faces a crisis and is seeking to put its view to the Government in a serious manner. The Minister clearly underestimates the enormous strength of feeling in the fishing industry, particularly in the north-east of Scotland. Its members are anxious to co-operate with the Government and arrive at a scheme that provides for conservation and structure and will give a decent livelihood to the people who go to sea.

Fishing is still one of the most dangerous industries, if not the most dangerous, in the country. The fact that that danger is being compounded by apparently stupid inflexibility—turning danger into daily peril—is astonishing. The Minister gave an assurance that instructions had gone out stating that the eight-day rule should be dealt with flexibly. Apparently, those instructions have not got through to the people enforcing the rules. The fishermen are clearly telling us that the rules are still being applied totally inflexibly, and making it dangerous. There is a failure of communication, which the Minister must put right.

The whole point of today's debate and the eight-day tie-up rule is that there seems to be a blanket refusal by the Government to deal with the issues on a long-term basis. There is a saying in Scotland, "Everyone is out of step except our Jock." It seems that everyone is out of step except our David. But clearly the Minister is absolutely out of step. I have never known such a cross-party unanimity of purpose and feeling as there is on this issue.

The Minister gave the game away to some extent when he said that if we did not deal with the problem now there would be a grave danger that the eight-day rule might be increased in future. That is a serious matter, and whether the Minister likes it or not, and whether he admits it or not, a precedent has been set. The Commission and the Government are proceeding on a dangerous course if they deal with fishing purely in terms of tie-up time. The eight days will become 12, and it will be said that we have won a great concession when the period is brought back to 10 days; a 16-day period will be suggested and it will be said that we have won a great concession when the figure drops back to 14. We have an increasing problem. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, the Minister gave the game away when he said that quotas would determine the matter. The shorter the time that is provided for vessels to be at sea, the greater the proportion of that time they have to spend at sea if they are to achieve their quotas. It is a circular argument.

The Government must address the problems of the industry. The industry has said quite clearly that it wants a decommissioning scheme, properly structured and properly worked out over a period. I am afraid that the Minister's remarks at the beginning of the debate make constructive debate much more difficult. There is no reason to create hostility, yet the Minister is doing that extremely well. Everyone believes that if we have a proper decommissioning scheme, some of the problems can he resolved. But not all the problems will be resolved. The industry needs some stability and some sanity. We cannot stagger on year after year, from crisis to crisis, never knowing where we shall be this time next year. It is just not good enough. We are concerned about the catching side of the industry—the one which, at present, is more severely affected. But the processing industry too will be affected. All sorts of people will be involved.

I want to adhere to the five-minute limit that we have been asked to observe, but there is a question that I must put to the Minister. It was originally proposed that the mesh size should be 120 mm. How was that size chosen? What scientific evidence was provided? I have not seen any, and I do not know anybody who has. Why was it suddenly decided that the size could be reduced to 110 mm? What was the scientific basis for that decision? I do not have time to go into detail about square mesh panels, and so on. Alternatives, coupled with restructuring of the industry on a proper basis, are being put forward—alternatives that would begin to tackle the problem on a long-term basis. We lurch from crisis to crisis; from danger to danger; from peril to peril.

It is not good enough that the Minister should dismiss the genuine fears of the fishermen. Some people say that the fishermen brought their difficulties upon themselves. That is not necessarily wholly true. No doubt the fishermen would accept that, in days gone by, they contributed to over-fishing. But they all want stability. They want to deal with the problem, and the Minister must not set his face against constructive dialogue with the industry. If he does so, the Government will pay a very heavy price. Whatever else we may want, we do not want to see that price paid in terms of fishermen's lives.

10.47 pm
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

I speak more in sorrow than anything else. I was slightly disappointed by the remarks of the Minister at the beginning of his speech. I beg him to be under no illusion about the strength and depth of feeling among fishermen in Scotland about this matter. This is demonstrated by the number of fishermen who are attending this debate and by the support that they have had from councillors, fish processors and others.

My views on this scheme have already been made clear, and I do not intend, in this short debate, to elaborate on them. I have to say, however, that I believe that this tie-up scheme is crazy. It is nonsensical, and seems to have been devised in Europe by people with no practical experience of the fishing industry or of what fishermen have to face every day in the waters around the country. The fishermen's discretion as to when they should go to sea, and whether they should stay at sea, is being interfered with. This could be downright dangerous. I can only hope that that will not turn out to be the case.

Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made clear, the regulations are riddled with anomalies and injustices. What exactly constitutes a day at sea? What we have here shows a lack of understanding of the practicalities of the industry—quite apart from the wider issues of the intrusion on social and family life.

We now have the alternative of the 110 mm net. As I said in the last debate on this subject. I welcome the introduction of this alternative. It is a practical proposition. It shows that action should be possible on other sizes. What I hope to see in future is an extension of the use of mesh sizes to achieve conservation as an alternative to the nonsensical tie-up scheme.

As other hon. Members have made clear, the 110 mm mesh is not an alternative for Scotland. We have a mixed haddock and whiting fishery, unlike the cod fishery in the south. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) said, it is of benefit to his fishermen, but it is not of benefit to Scottish fishermen. I assume that it is hoped that the 110 mm mesh as an alternative will achieve the one third reduction in fishing effort which was referred to in the last debate.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), what is the genesis of the 110 mm mesh? Why was that mesh size chosen? On what scientific advice was it chosen? What scientific research took place to justify that measurement as opposed to another measurement which might have been more relevant for the Scottish fishery? The question needs to be answered because it is directly relevant to the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer it.

This is not just a negative debate. The fishing industry has alternatives. It is not just saying no to the tie-up scheme. It accepts that there have to be changes in the net, and it accepts the square mesh alternative. It accepts the need to reduce fishing effort.

In that context, the decommissioning scheme is relevant. I must impress on the House and on my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that that measure is available to us and is supported by the industry. It will not be without cost. The adjustment will be hard on certain sections of the industry, particularly as I believe that it has to be combined with a tight licensing scheme to control the fishing effort.

The measure is available to us. It is an integral part of the common fisheries policy. It was supported by British Ministers in the renegotiations in the early 1980s. I was there. I negotiated it as part of that policy, with the total support of the Government and of fellow Ministers.

For all those reasons, I am deeply saddened that I am asked tonight to approve a measure that is not soundly based, that is impractical and that could be dangerous, particularly when other alternatives, supported by the fishing industry, are within the gift of the Government. I certainly cannot approve the statutory instrument, and I shall not support it.

10.52 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I note that the Minister responsible for fisheries is opening and closing the debate. Perhaps after the lamentable performance of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State, Scottish Office in the previous two fishing debates we should not be surprised that this time they have been left in the pavilion. None the less, given that the regulations affect more Scottish fishing boats than those of the rest of the European Community put together, we might at least have had a Scottish Office Minister at the Dispatch Box attempting to defend this miserable statutory instrument.

It is about three weeks since the previous fishing debate and we have had three weeks' experience of how the eight-day tie-up is affecting the economic and social fabric of the fishing communities. It is not just affecting livelihoods but is in danger of affecting lives.

The measure is being enforced not so much as a tie-up but punitively as a curfew. In the Lobby today we heard three specific examples of the hardline enforcement of the rule. We heard of how a boat going for repairs from Whitehills to Macduff, a distance of two to three miles, was considered to be in breach of the tie-up regulations.

We heard that boats going out from Macduff for engine trials, within sight of the harbour, are considered to be in breach of the regulations. And, thirdly, we heard that boats returning to home ports, for example, from Peterhead to Fraserburgh.. are considered to be in breach of the regulations, greatly to the detriment of the businesses and traders in Fraserburgh. That is economic dislocation of the fishing communities to no point or purpose. Opposition Members will be surprised if the Minister can tell us any way in which any of those examples are contributing to the conservation of fish. Why cannot the activities that I have described be considered as a "reasonable excuse" as defined under the statutory instrument?

The great concern of all representatives of fishing communities is safety. Ministers'—indeed, the Government's—comments on this matter are, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, dishonest. On 13 February the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote in the Aberdeen Evening Express: Fishermen should never be forced out in bad weather and I don't believe it will be necessary—". In the previous fishing debate, the Minister of State said something similar, and Lord Strathclyde wrote to me on 14 February stating: safety always remains the responsibility of each individual skipper. Those remarks display either total ignorance of the position or total cynicism on the Government's part. Of course, fishermen will be forced to sea in adverse weather conditions——

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

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

The Minister denies it.

Mr. Salmond

Last year, 38 of the first 90 available days were forecast as either gale force 8 or storm force 10. That is a natural constraint on fishermen's ability to put to sea. If one adds to that an artificial limitation and further constraints on the ability of fishermen to judge the best time to put to sea, the economic pressure will force fishermen out of port in adverse weather conditions. The Government say that that is somehow the skippers' "free choice", but that is the same as saying, "You have a free choice of registering for the tie-up scheme if you are prepared to face a penalty of £50,000 for breaching the regulations." The stark truth is that fishermen have been dragooned into registering for the scheme and are being pushed out to sea in adverse weather conditions.

The Minister said that there will be "flexibility" for people caught at sea in storm conditions. Exactly the same promise was made to me in the previous fishing debate by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, yet there has been instance after instance in the past three weeks of fishing boats in my constituency running for port in adverse weather conditions because they were frightened of the penalties under the tie-up regulations. When will that flexibility be detailed to the fisheries officers round the coasts so that they know that promises which are being made at the Dispatch Box will be put into force in our fishing communities? I should be happy to give way to the Minister of State if he would answer that specific question.

I do not wish to transgress on the time that is available to me and shall make only two final points. Opposition Members do not want any more excuses about how all this is to do with European Community regulations. We believe that if the Government took a reasonable line on decommissioning, all sorts of things would be possible within the European Community, including the scrapping of the eight-day tie-up and the introduction of 80 mm square mesh panels.

Above all, the message from this debate is that, although only a dozen Conservative Members have been present, no doubt when it comes to the vote, their colleagues will stagger out of the bars and restaurants round Westminster to vote through this measure. I do not believe that any Government have the moral right to impose on fishing communities a measure that will further endanger the lives of fishermen, and I certainly do not believe that any Government have the moral authority to whistle up their majority from the liquid dungeons of the House of Commons.

10.58 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

The Minister has made great play of the scientific evidence and all his predecessors have done exactly the same. Scientific evidence clearly shows that we need conservation measures and hon. Members have talked about some of the measures that are available. The marine laboratory in Aberdeen in my constituency did research work into the square mesh and diamond mesh net panels. It is clear from all the discussions that I have had with the scientists and fishermen on the particular tests that there are appropriate conservation measures, but one must also bear in mind that fishing is an economic activity and try to obtain the optimum mesh size with the appropriate degree of conservation.

All the scientists have come to the conclusion that for the fishermen in the north—east of Scotland the optimum size of net is 90 mm diamond with an 80 mm square mesh panel. That scientific evidence has been accepted by the fishermen and it would lead to improved conservation. I gave the figures when we last debated the matter in the House. That is acceptable to the fishermen because it would offer them a reasonable standard of living and the possibility of a reasonable catch.

The regulations effectively remove any option. The fishermen know that the regulations do not give them a viable economic option. The regulations will not be accepted by the fishermen in the north-east of Scotland because they have no prospect of a reasonable catch. They will be given no support, economic or otherwise, in the face of these draconian measures, so it is understandable that they see no alternative but to reject the regulations and face all the problems that have been so admirably discussed and presented today.

The processors also have to rely on a steady supply of fish. They are against the regulations because they may mean the interruption of their supplies which in turn will affect their businesses. That too seems to have been ignored by the Minister.

Hon. Members have already referred to the way in which the Minister has approached the debate. The Minister came to the previous fishing debate just over three weeks ago in what seemed to be a fairly excited state of mind because he had managed to wring a concession out of Europe and he expected the full gratitude of the House. He did not get that gratitude because hon. Members on both sides of the House have enough experience to be aware that he was not making any offer whatever.

I wish that the Minister would listen to the points being made and not try to score cheap party political points as he attempted to do earlier. The most serious points that have been made tonight have come from Conservative Members. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) used to occupy the position which the Minister now holds and has a vast experience in this area, representing a fishing area. I wish that the Minister would take some time to listen to him. What he said tonight was constructive and much more appropriate than the cheap political point-scoring in which the Minister indulged. It takes quite a lot for the Minister to turn the House against him in that way.

The Minister huffs and puffs, but at the end of the day there is a unanimity of purpose in the House. All hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies want the industry to thrive. We all accept that conservation measures are necessary to protect the fishing stocks. We all appreciate the problems that the fishing community is experiencing. The Minister is adopting an antagonistic approach to the debate. It would not take much for us all to speak with one voice and to march forward and to present to Europe a case which has the full support of the House. Instead the House is split. Even Conservative Members are split, as we have heard tonight.

I wish that the Minister would take a much more constructive approach and attempt to take a sounding. There is an arrogance about his approach which I find extremely disturbing in the context of this debate. We do not want to be divided on this. We want to see our industry prosper. The only way to do that is to find adequate conservation measures which are acceptable to the industry. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will consider what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House and attempt to deal seriously with the points, rather than to dismiss them as though he took no interest in them.

11.4 pm

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Of necessity, I shall be extremely brief. I have found it difficult during this debate to contemplate the expressions of Front-Bench Members and members of the Treasury Bench in particular. They showed an attitude somewhere between smug complacency and total disregard for the fishing industry.

The Minister opened the debate by referring to comments which I made on 14 February. As a woman Member of Parliament who represents, and is proud to represent, a fishing constituency, I can tell the Minister that his comments will be read with disgust by not only the fishermen but their wives, sons and daughters.

Just before Christmas I and my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) experienced the tragedy of fishing disasters. We know the exact implications of fishing disasters for our communities. The Minister takes lightly the probability that dangers will be increased by the implementation of the eight-day rule.

I also emphasise to the Minister the implications of the tie-up for the whole society of many of our fishing communities around the coast of Scotland. Not only the catching industry but the processing industry and all the ancillary industries will be affected. The rule will affect the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker in all our communities. If the fishing industries disappear in areas like mine, where 25 per cent. of jobs are totally dependent on fishing, many other facilities in the community will disappear.

Another point that I should like to emphasise to the Minister was raised by a member of Highland regional council. The eight-day tie-up will force many people to break what they see as the Sabbatarian rule. I shall not go into people's religious beliefs, but I respect their beliefs. For many people, Sunday is also a family day. It is a day when they try hard to be with their family and to be involved in the community. Many fishermen are involved in various voluntary organisations such as the venture scouts or the boys' brigade.

I see the Minister yet again sitting smirking on the Front Bench and paying not a blind bit of attention to what we are saying about our communities in the north—east of Scotland. If he would pay attention to what we are saying about our communities, I would be grateful. I, for one, am fed up with Ministers saying, "Yes, we care about the rural, far-flung and peripheral communities," yet at the end of the day doing nothing to argue our case.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Does the hon. Lady agree with me that the eight-day tie-up is an amazing policy to come from a party which purports to be the party of the family? Does she conclude, as I do, that fishermen's families apparently do not count?

Mrs. Ewing

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. The Ministry has a great deal to answer for in terms of the distress caused to the wives and children of my constituents who are skippers and crewmen.

It is clear that again the Government are ignoring our arguments. There is a great deal of chat and smiling on the Front Bench. Ministers argue that somehow they will achieve flexibility on the eight-day tie-up, but as yet we have received no details. The fishermen who have come down from the north—east of Scotland, the Northern Isles, the Western Isles and all over Scotland to listen to the debate are still awaiting details of how the Government intend to implement the so-called flexibility. I suspect that there is no flexibility. There is no flexibility in their altitude to the eight-day tie-up. There is no flexibility in their attitude to our communities and the problems which the Government are creating for them. The House of Commons is being brought into disrepute by the Government's failure to address the needs of our fishing communities.

11.9 pm

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

I hope that the Minister will answer two questions when he replies. I had not intended to speak in the debate until I came across David Gardner's article in yesterday's Financial Times concerning Mr. Marin's threat to withdraw the legal basis of the Community's fisheries policy. I hope that the Minister will respond to that threat.

The Fisheries Commissioner said that the Commission might apply the principle of subsidiarity which holds that the Community should not interfere in policy best developed at national level. David Gardner went on to say: The Commission would also be making national fisheries ministers and governments responsible for whatever future the industry has. That is a serious question and I hope that the Minister will deal with it. I believe that Mr. Marin has issued a real threat. I hope to meet him on Tuesday next week.

When I meet the Fisheries Commissioner next week, I intend to tell him that, in my view, article 13 of Council regulation EEC No. 3926/90 may be legally invalid. Furthermore, there may be some loose drafting in the regulations.

The policy objective is to reduce the fishing of certain commercially valuable species. The Community is allowed a degree of commercial discrimination. It is able to introduce regulations which may hit some elements of the Community more than others. The question of dubious validity arises. The regulations may affect common law principles that are recognised by the European Court of Justice. I hope that the Minister will deal with the question of proportionality and the administration of equal justice to all concerned. The measure may lead to unfair discrimination.

This turbulent Fisheries Commissioner claims that the European Community's fleet suffers from 40 per cent. overcapacity. He may be close to the truth, but a rigorous examination and overhaul of the total allowable catch and quota system is needed, as well as a new set of multi-annual guidance programmes. What is the Minister's view concerning the introduction of a new set of MAGPs for the different fishing fleets?

If some communities will be hit hard by the measures, should not we argue that the European Community should conduct a study to identify those regions that are likely to be worst hit by a reduction in fishing effort so that appropriate measures can be introduced in the forth-coming review of the European Community's structural funds?

The stay in port represents major hazards for fishermen. It places them under a terrible burden to fish in bad weather. Risky fishing is normally associated with fleets owned by trawler companies. Skippers are forced to fish in bad weather. If they did not do so, they could be replaced by many others who were members of a pool of skippers. We do not want that kind of dangerous fishing being introduced into this sector of the industry. This measure is a disgrace. I believe it to be invalid and it should be opposed.

11.15 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

There has been considerable unity in the Chamber tonight, not least among hon. Members who have spoken about the appalling nature of the Parliamentary Secretary's opening remarks. If there was any doubt about whether Opposition Members should have prayed against the instrument and forcing a debate on the Floor of the House, our action was clearly justified by the response of the occupants of the Government Front Bench, not only in the substance of what they have said but in the manner in which they have conducted themselves.

Considering that, of the 450 vessels affected by the statutory instrument, 384 are registered in Scottish ports, we are disappointed, to say the least, that in the remaining minutes of the debate we shall not hear even from the Scottish Office Minister who has nominal responsibility for the fishing industry.

Other matters aside, Scottish fishermen and everyone concerned with the Scottish fishing industry are fed up with that nominal Minister for the industry not being answerable to the House but being yet another stooge hired from an agency apparently run by Debrett's—[Interruption.] Those people are put up to answer for the Scottish fishing industry but are not answerable to the House; they are known to nobody in the Scottish fishing industry and are accountable to no democratic electorate.

When dealing with matters such as this, it is unacceptable not to have a Scottish Office Minister at the Dispatch Box. Perhaps in the previous debate the Minister of State gave away so many hostages to fortune that we should understand why he is not addressing us tonight.

Tonight we got from the Parliamentary Secretary an arrogant performance. He thought it was a gross inconvenience, beyond anything that was reasonable, that he should be called back to the Dispatch Box to speak on the measure. He was utterly dismissive—[Interruption.] Does the Government Assistant Whip, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), wish to intervene? He is not the only Conservative who is a little overtired and emotional at this time of night. That has been evident during the debate.

In his remarks, the Minister made the extraordinary statement that the whole matter was governed by quota. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked, what is the point of the eight-day tie-up rule if the quota is designed to impose precisely the control the Government are seeking?

As the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and several of my hon. Friends asked, from where did the magical 110 mm figure come? In the previous debate the Minister appeared triumphantly to give the impression that the figure had been put forward by Her Majesty's Government in Europe. Is that a fact? Where did the 110 mm figure originate and why is it so inflexible in dealing with the different and comprehensible needs of the Scottish fishing industry and the mixed fishery that it pursues?

Much has been said about the need for flexibility. It is unfortunate that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), is not replying to the debate because, somewhat uncharacteristically, he introduced the word "flexibility" into it. We can call him the flexible hon. Member for Stirling. In the debate on 14 February—St. Valentine's day, as the Under-Secretary touchingly, though patronisingly, pointed out—the hon. Member for Stirling said: Under the scheme … there is a requirement to give 12 hours' notice of the port where the tie-up will take place. That does not have to be the port of normal location. If it were not sensible, because of weather conditions, to make for port, we should expect the fisheries inspector to take a flexible view. No one is suggesting anything to the contrary.—[Official Report, 14 February 1991; Vol. 185, col. 1091.] Can the Under-Secretary of State tell us whether anyone is now suggesting anything to the contrary? Will he assure us that the flexibility mentioned in the previous debate will obtain for a vessel caught in a storm while in transit? Will it be prudent for such a vessel to make a run for port, as happens already? It is common in the Scottish fishing industry, although I would not expect the Minister to know it, for vessels to be based on the west coast while their crews have their homes on the east coast. Will the time taken to sail from west to east be included in the eight-day tie-up, or will that time be counted as additional? Will the time taken for fishermen to sail from one port to another to have their vessels maintained or repaired be included in the eight-day period?

Those are practical questions which the Minister, with some assistance, should be able to answer. There is no need for arrogance or for a dismissive attitude. There is an audience inside and outside the House, and it wants answers to those questions. A decommissioning scheme is relevant to the debate. Because of the folk memory of the failure of the Humber decommissioning scheme in the early 1980s, which appears to hang like a limpet to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, there is a repeated incantation that the Government will not have a decommissioning scheme.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office spelt out the rationale for that. He said: A decommissioning scheme would not help to conserve stocks. It would be most attractive to the least efficient vessels which exert a little pressure on the stocks."—[Official Report, 14 February 1991; Vol. 185, c. 1092.] That is not correct. The Minister of State, Scottish Office cannot speak but he can sneer, and spends all his time doing it. If he has anything to say that does not come from the corner of his mouth he should come to the Dispatch Box and say it. If the Government are telling us that they are incapable of conceiving or administering a scheme that does not overcome the difficulties mentioned in the excerpt that I read from the Minister's speech, it is an admission of defeat, like that of every other European Government except the Government of the Irish Republic.

We should consider not only the 384 vessels that will be directly affected by the tie-up, but the knock-on effect on the east coast fishing industry and that of the Orkney and Shetlands. In parts of Scotland that are not subject to the tie-up regulations, notably the prawn fisheries which are not subject to quota, the pressure from the measure is already being felt and the bottom has been knocked out of the livelihoods of fishermen.

Conservative Members laugh and sneer and obviously think that such a debate has no political cost. Last week Scottish Tories visited the north—east of Scotland and spoke about winning seats there at the next election. People from the north—east will have watched their performance in this debate. Conservative Members might as well have visited China because the debate has shown their contempt for and lack of interest in the issues that have been presented.

Mr. Curry


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House to speak again?

Hon. Members


Mr. Curry

It is as well at this point to appreciate where we are. We have a major conservation problem on fisheries and it will not go away. There is a major problem about haddock and cod—the two stocks that are of predominant interest to British fishermen. Haddock in particular is the backbone of the Scottish fishing industry. Therefore, to deal responsibly with fisheries, we must take measures to conserve the stocks of haddock. That is the point from which we start and the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) starts from the same point, because I know that he appreciates the dilemmas that we face in trying to formulate policy in the industry.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Curry

No, I shall not give way. I shall try to answer the questions that have been asked as I have only a few minutes.

Many hon. Members mentioned technical conservation and the square mesh. We all hope that we can reach the point at which we can tackle conservation through selectivity of gear. That is where we want to be. It is true that positive work has been done. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is not correct that that work has been suppressed, or that we have not taken it seriously. Trials are taking place at the moment, and we have carried out extensive trials.

We have managed to persuade Brussels to accept the principle of square mesh. However, as I have said frankly in the past to fishermen, if they are merely offering a 90 mm diamond mesh with an 80 mm square mesh panel, we will be unable to get that accepted in Brussels. We tried. I argued throughout a Fisheries Council for that, but it is not sufficient to be accepted in Brussels, and that is the fact of the matter. It does help. It is a conservation measure which takes us forward, but it does not take us far enough. That is the political reality. However, we shall continue to press ahead with that cause.

There will be a new Fisheries Council meeting in mid-April at which we shall yet again seek Community-wide measures, based on technical conservation, because that is the key to fisheries. No doubt at that Council I shall be able to explore the matters about which the vice-president was talking. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned Mr. Mann's speculations. In one breath, Mr. Marin appears to be saying that we should not have national quotas, but a single Community sea, with a sort of free-for-all, which is entirely unacceptable to us. I am delighted to be able to say that it is unacceptable to a sufficient number of other countries for us to be able to defend ourselves from that proposal.

I have also heard Mr. Marin say that we should accept a not very well defined principle of subsidiarity. Does that mean that we pass fisheries policy back to member states? We have to know what he is talking about.

Clearly, our aim, if we are to have a Communitywide policy, is to try to preserve the status quo, in so far as it gives the United Kingdom a major proportion of its fisheries and allows us to manage our fisheries policy, because we believe that we will do it better than anyone else.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

What about tie-ups?

Mr. Curry

I am answering questions asked during the debate. Hon. Members queried whether there would be flexibility when boats moved from one port to another. May I be quite specific—boats have done so in the past. They have moved from one port to another to have an engine repaired or for some other purpose. The regulations state that they must remain in port, not merely refrain from fishing. The purpose is to reduce effort. In other words, it is different from ordinary practice. Therefore, we shall enforce the rule.

In the first part of his remarks the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) asked whether we would consider genuine safety problems and bad weather. The answer is yes, and we can prove it, because in the past few days the fisheries inspectorate has accepted bad weather as a reason for fishermen arriving late at a port where they have nominated to tie up. That is perfectly clear, and we are on record as saying that. We have implemented that and it is perfectly clear to fishermen.

Mrs. Ewing

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Curry

No, because I have only three minutes left.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked why, if quotas limit the amount that fishermen can catch, we need a tie-up. The reason is that if there is a quota alone, more fish are caught than are landed, and there is a high rate of discard. Therefore, we need to bring effort more into line with the quota to reduce discards.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) will agree that discards are a major problem. We have to tackle that problem because the trials, to which several hon. Members referred, demonstrate that in some cases the rate of discard is higher than the number of marketable fish caught. That is why square mesh is so important, because it eliminates discards of roundfish. Square mesh suits certain species, but not necessarily others, and the sort of rigging used is also important.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) talked about 120 mm square mesh, which was a Commission proposal. Our experiments showed that it would catch practically nothing, which is why we rejected the proposal, and even the Commission is no longer pressing for it. I have a strong suspicion that when we go back to the Council the Commission will be pressing for 110 mm.

The origin of the 110 mm option lies in the fact that that mesh size was calculated to deliver a reduction in effort equivalent to the 30 per cent. effort reduction. Also, we had to get the Commission to accept the proposals. We cannot escape our obligation to respond to propositions put to us by the Commission. There is no alternative; we must deal with the circumstances presented to us That means, however, that we must take conservation seriously. There is a serious problem which we must tackle. I resent any suggestion that we have no dialogue with the industry. There is no hon. Member in the House—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)):-

The House divided: Ayes 51, Noes 75.

Division No. 87] [11.30 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Leadbitter, Ted
Alton, David Livsey, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy McAllion, John
Ashton, Joe McAvoy, Thomas
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McLeish, Henry
Beggs, Roy Maclennan, Robert
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) McMaster, Gordon
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Cryer, Bob Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Dewar, Donald Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dixon, Don Morley, Elliot
Doran, Frank Nellist, Dave
Douglas, Dick Prescott, John
Dunnachie, Jimmy Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Salmond, Alex
Fearn, Ronald Skinner, Dennis
Foster, Derek Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Fyfe, Maria Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Haynes, Frank Wallace, James
Hood, Jimmy Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Wilson, Brian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Ingram, Adam Tellers for the Ayes:
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Mr. John Home Robertson and Mr. Calum Macdonald.
Kennedy, Charles
Kirkwood, Archy
Alexander, Richard Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Knowles, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Lawrence, Ivan
Boswell, Tim Lord, Michael
Bright, Graham Maclean, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) McLoughlin, Patrick
Carrington, Matthew Mans, Keith
Chapman, Sydney Miller, Sir Hal
Chope, Christopher Neubert, Sir Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Curry, David Norris, Steve
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Paice, James
Davis, David (Boothferry) Porter, David (Waveney)
Day, Stephen Rowe, Andrew
Dover, Den Sackville, Hon Tom
Dunn, Bob Sayeed, Jonathan
Fishburn, John Dudley Shaw, David (Dover)
Forman, Nigel Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Skeet, Sir Trevor
Freeman, Roger Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Goodlad, Alastair Steen, Anthony
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Stevens, Lewis
Gregory, Conal Summerson, Hugo
Hague, William Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hanley, Jeremy Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Harris, David Thorne, Neil
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Thurnham, Peter
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Trotter, Neville
Irvine, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Jack, Michael Waller, Gary
Janman, Tim Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Watts, John
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Wheeler, Sir John
Kirkhope, Timothy Widdecombe, Ann
Wilshire, David Tellers for the Noes:
Wood, Timothy Mr. Irvine Patnick and Mr. Neil Hamilton.
Yeo, Tim

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is aware that the previous debate related to the amending regulations to the original Sea Fishing (Days in Port) Regulations 1991 (S.I. 1991, No. 139). Having regard to the fact that some Opposition Members and other hon. Members were extremely dissatisfied, and continue to be less than satisfied, about the ministerial response, will you confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is within the Government's power to allow time for debate on the original statutory instrument? It would be in the interests of the fishing industry if we had an opportunity to debate the original regulations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I confirm nothing. Doubtless what has been said will have been heard by the usual channels.