HC Deb 23 March 1995 vol 257 cc476-8
13. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the fishing industry to discuss fisheries policy. [13888]

Mr. Jack

I last encountered representatives of the fishing industry on 17 March in Plymouth, principally to discuss the implementation of the future arrangements to apply in western waters from 1 January, but also to boost the sales of British flour.

Mr. McAvoy

I am sure that the Minister enjoyed his encounter at Plymouth, but I assure him that if he ever meets fishermen from Scotland and Northern Ireland it will be an even more robust encounter. Did fishermen in Plymouth take the opportunity to tell the Minister that they just do not believe that he and his Government fully represent their interests in the European Union? In that context, will the Minister consider contacting the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to borrow some backbone?

Mr. Jack

I had a useful discussion with members of the industry. Although we may not have agreed on everything, it is fair to say, as some of the comments of the industry's representatives on the treatment that I received at Plymouth showed, that they understood that they had been listened to and that their views would be represented fully in Brussels.

The Canadian Prime Minister said in Parliament in Ottawa yesterday that he hoped that the discussions would be helpful. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, behind the scenes, we have been doing a great deal of work with the help of Sir Leon Brittan and Sir John Kerr to ensure that the negotiations are kept on track. Ultimately, they will come to a successful conclusion.

Mr. David Porter

When my hon. Friend meets representatives of the fishing industry, he surely cannot find many who are any longer in favour of our membership of the common fisheries policy. Does he accept that it is the policy itself that is destroying fish stocks, and that instead of tinkering with it he should agree to come out of it and start afresh?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend knows that I shall soon have meetings with representatives of the industry in Lowestoft, and I shall certainly listen carefully to their comments on the common fisheries policy. To say simply that all problems will be solved by coming out is to offer too simplistic a solution. Without a common policy, we would have to invent some system of common management for fish stocks to the benefit of all fishermen concerned. I would certainly welcome constructive comment from my hon. Friend on the way forward in reforming the common policy.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Why does the Minister not accept that he cannot have it both ways? He cannot spend his time in this country defending a common fisheries policy that the industry wants to get rid of, and his time in Europe failing to get the British industry a better deal under that common fisheries policy. He has to do one thing or the other—either pull us out or get a better deal for the nation, which contributes 75 per cent. of the fish.

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman does not speak for the entire United Kingdom fishing industry. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has taken a view on Britain's fish, but he will know that its view is not supported by fishermen in Northern Ireland or in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman asks for a better deal. Under their terms of accession to the Community, Spain and Portugal could have expected a free-for-all in western waters, but we kept them out of the Irish sea and out of the Bristol channel. Instead of having 220 Spanish fishing boats in the remainder of the Irish box, we restricted the number to 40. That is not a bad deal by any standards.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The Minister will shortly visit the three fishing ports in Northern Ireland. I very much regret that I shall not be there personally to meet him, but I can assure him that he will be received with the respect that he deserves by fishermen in Northern Ireland. One of the main issues that they will raise with him is the unfairness of the operation of the Hague preference for the Northern Ireland fishing fleet. I ask him this now, as a matter of urgency: a rumour and concern exists in Portavogie that, in the next decommissioning scheme, boats fishing for nephrops will be excluded from the advantages of that scheme. Can he give an answer to that today?

Mr. Jack

On the Hague preference, the hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a complex and difficult issue. In recent times, the United Kingdom has gained overall as a result of the operation of the Hague preference, but because of the increase in the haddock stock in the past quota round we have a net deficit. I am looking carefully at the implications of that and will welcome contributions to that discussion from the Northern Ireland fishing industry. I have also heard the same rumour about nephrops and decommissioning. I will certainly examine the matter most carefully and will have an answer for Northern Ireland's fishermen when I visit.

Mr. Ian Bruce

May I welcome my hon. Friend back from what appeared to be a Head and Shoulders shampoo advertisement? My fishermen think that he is head and shoulders above other agriculture and fisheries Ministers when he goes to the European Commission.

Are we reducing the amount of fish that we are landing, or is the amount increasing? Is the value down or up? What would happen if we had no European common fisheries policy to police the illegal activities of the Spanish?

Mr. Jack

If my hon. Friend examines the latest fisheries statistics, he will find that the value of landings has increased.

My hon. Friend made a pertinent point about the common fisheries policy. If we returned to the days when there was no such policy, we should have only a three-mile limit, and anyone would be able to establish their own free-for-all. If we pulled out of the policy unilaterally, as some have suggested, the other countries remaining in it would say, "We will play by our rules"—which would be to the detriment of our fishermen.

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