HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc388-90
5. Mr. Austin Mitchell

to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to meet the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to discuss a decommissioning scheme.

Mr. Curry

I see the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations regularly, and it is well aware of the Government's view on decommissioning.

Mr. Mitchell

In that case, it will be very depressed. Does the Minister recognise that the whole of the British fishing industry is crying out for a decommissioning scheme? Does he not recognise that that is the most effective contribution that he can make to conservation and that unless the Government introduce a proper conservation programme we shall get more daft Euro-measures imposed on us like the eight-day lay-off?

Mr. Curry

I thank the hon. Gentleman for any influence that he may have had on the letter that I received this morning from the Grimsby fish producer organisation thanking us for our excellent efforts in producing the gear option as an alternative to the tie-up scheme.

A decommissioning scheme is not the most effective method. Taking out old boats would be bad value and taking out new boats would be bad economics. If some boats are taken out under a decommissioning scheme, the remaining boats must be controlled to prevent them from simply mopping up all the additional effort; otherwise, there would have to be a new system of regulation, including compulsory tie-ups for longer periods than those that we unfortunately have at present.

Mr. John Townend

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I do not welcome his remarks on a decommissioning scheme, but what other initiatives will he take to reduce the fishing effort? In particular, will he consider making it illegal for prawn fishermen to carry two sizes of net—70 mm and 90 mm—as that makes conservation enforcement practically impossible?

Mr. Curry

We have just completed a consultation with the industry. We considered whether we should introduce a square mesh panel on nets used for the nephrops fishery. We suggested a 70 mm square panel, but the industry said that it would like to go further. I shall do all that I can to go as far as possible so that we do not catch so many small round fish in the nephrops fishery. That is an important conservation measure.

Mr. Salmond

Does the Minister accept that he is totally isolated from the fishing community in his opposition to decommissioning and in his support for the eight-day tie-up? Does he understand that even members of the Conservative party are embarrassed by the contemptuous attitude that he showed to Scottish fishermen during the eight-day tie-up debate? When will there be a reversal of policy to support decommissioning and to oppose the life-threatening eight-day tie-up?

Mr. Curry

To be isolated is not necessarily to be wrong—and I do not accept that I am isolated. The hon. Gentleman's remarks about the previous debate are silly. He suggests that fishermen want to be able to fish exactly as they have always fished and yet to have conservation. That cannot be delivered.

If fishermen genuinely want conservation, they can take their suggestions about mesh sizes further forward. I shall always listen to them. Since I have been a fisheries Minister, not one hon. Member who has asked to bring a delegation of fishermen to see me has ever been refused. That offer remains open.

Mr. Morley

The Minister knows very well that he is isolated on the decommissioning issue in terms both of the industry and of Europe. The revision of the common fisheries policy provides an opportunity to use the available structural funds to finance a proper decommissioning scheme which takes account of all the points that the hon. Gentleman raised. Will he take the opportunity to tap into that funding? Will he also use the opportunity offered by the review of regional policies to extend the Hague preference south from Bridlington to include all the east coast ports?

Mr. Curry

I know that the Hague preference is a sensitive issue. It is designed for the northern communities. The Scottish industry attaches particular importance to it. Even the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) would agree that it is particularly important to the Scottish industry and to communities in northern England.

I realise that the Hague preference causes difficulties. As I am anxious that the review of the fisheries policy should be a limited review—I do not want the common fisheries policy to be busted open, because we benefit greatly from it—I should hesitate before introducing that element into the discussions, as it would encourage other people to seek a wider review than we think would be helpful.