HC Deb 20 June 1996 vol 279 cc989-90
5. Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has for using decommissioning funds to encourage conservation-effective fishing. [32366]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Tony Baldry)

The aim of any decommissioning policy should be to help bring fishing effort into better balance with what fishing stocks will bear.

Mr. Mitchell

Given that there is a conservation crisis in fishing as a result of the common fisheries policy and that there will be continuous pressure for decommissioning, would it not be more sensible not to take out conservation-effective fishing vessels, such as Grimsby's seine-netter fleet, but to rearrange the programme to give priority to taking out, first, the bigger and more efficient vessels, those whose activities are more damaging to conservation and the environment and those vessels whose track record shows that they have been making the biggest catches? Would it not also be sensible to do that on a Europe wide basis? If we do it alone, we shall simply ensure that the stocks that we save are looted by over-large foreign fleets.

Mr. Baldry

I made it clear to the Council of Ministers the other day that its forthcoming decommissioning proposals, which do not make any provision for decommissioning industrial fishing vessels, are crazy. Industrial fishing does enormous damage, especially to stocks in the North sea. I have also made it clear that we will not contemplate any further large-scale decommissioning of the UK fleet until we have made some substantial progress on the issue of quota hoppers.

I find the Labour party's approach to the whole issue somewhat surprising, given the comments of the Labour Member of the European Parliament who represents the hon. Gentleman's area—Peter Crampton—who describes himself as the Labour party fisheries spokesman in Europe. He appears to have welcomed the 40 per cent. reduction in the UK fishing fleet. I find that very strange indeed.

Mr. Bellingham

My hon. Friend will be aware from his recent visit to the Wash inshore fishery that conservation is of paramount importance. Is he aware that the current dredging programme is causing great concern to local fishermen? Will he confirm that the promised monitoring programme and consultation process are actually in place and working?

Mr. Baldry

I visited my hon. Friend's constituency last year specifically to look at the whole issue of dredging. I fully appreciate that concerns about dredging were raised with me at that time. I am confident that the monitoring programme is being assiduously carried out.