HC Deb 04 June 1992 vol 208 cc935-6
6. Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to meet the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to discuss the future of fishing.

Mr. Curry

I met the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations earlier this week and I am meeting its national executive on 4 July.

Mr. Mitchell

I have just come from a meeting with members of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his achievement in uniting the fishing industry—for the first time in its history—in total opposition to the measure that he will be proposing on Monday. Does he accept that the measure is necessary only because of his long delay in introducing a proper decommissioning scheme, that it will be disruptive, dangerous and financially crippling for the fishing industry, and that the industry is begging him to think again and propose alternative measures which will be really effective in dealing with conservation?

Mr. Curry

Quite unusually, I agreed with nothing that the hon. Gentleman said. The measures are necessary. It is easy to talk about conservation, but when we have come up with alternative ideas, the industry has tended to oppose every one of them. At the end of the day, we must be serious about conservation. The stocks are in very serious danger, not just in British waters but in waters throughout the world. We can tackle that only by adopting a series of measures, of which decommissioning is one. Effort control, licence extension and industry-led rationalisation are all part of conservation and represent a sensible, balanced package. It is important that all elements of the package should be introduced.

Mr. Harris

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion. Will he agree that one of the biggest threats to the future of the fishing industry is the recent growth in the number of foreign boats being transferred to our register? I refer not just to Spanish boats, but to the large number of Dutch boats coming on to our register. Will the Government use their six months presidency of the European Council to try to achieve some political agreement with other fisheries Ministers to deal with the scourge once and for all and to put an end to that diabolical practice?

Mr. Curry

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is a problem. We took measures to deal with some of the problems of beamers on the east coast, which is, of course, a Dutch problem. With regard to the pretentions of the Spanish and Portuguese to fish in some Community waters, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Advocate General delivered an opinion which was helpful, though the full court ruling has yet to come. Our presidency will be devoted to matters of enforcement and making sure that European fishing grounds are predominantly for Europeans and for the benefit of coastal communities who depend on them.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Is the Minister aware that fishermen greatly resent the measure to be introduced on Monday and allege that there has not been proper consultation between them and the Minister? What has been the level of consultation? Has the hon. Gentleman met the fishermen's organisations before presentation of the Bill?

Mr. Curry

The Government's measures on fisheries were announced at the end of February. It was stated clearly then that effort control was part of our policy. We then introduced a consultation document, immediately after the general election—it would have been constitutionally improper to do so earlier, even though it was ready just before the election—dealing with all the details of decommissioning and effort control. I very much want detailed consultation and discussion about how this will work in practice. The Bill will give me power to attach to the licence a condition to introduce effort control. All the details of that are still subject to consultation, and that consultation is entirely valid.