HC Deb 17 December 1997 vol 303 cc336-406

[Relevant documents: European Community Document No. 8371/96 laying down certain technical measures for the conservation of fishery resources; European Community Document No. 7055/97 relating to the total allowable catches for 1997; European Community Document No. 9893/97 relating to the multi-annual guidance programmes for fishing fleets at the end of 1996.]

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.48 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8th December 1997 relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1998 and certain conditions under which they may be fished: and supports the Government's intentions to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for British fishermen based on sustainable fisheries management, effective enforcement and the need to ensure that the regional differences of fisheries and their communities are fully recognised. The House usually has a debate on fisheries late in December, in advance of the setting of the total allowable catch and quotas for the coming year. Although I have participated in such debates for eight years, this is my fist time speaking from the Government Front Bench. Through that participation over the years, I know how important this debate is to hon. Members from fishing communities, and I am pleased that we are maintaining the tradition this year, with the opportunity not only to debate the forthcoming decisions of the Fisheries Council later this week but to review other important aspects of fisheries policy.

It is right, I believe, to open the debate by recalling the exceptional nature of the fishing industry and the demands that it places on those who go to sea. Catching fish to meet the needs of consumers is a hazardous and unpredictable business; and it is a business that, sadly, results all too often in loss of life. Most recently, we have to recall the sad loss of the Margaretha Maria and the Sapphire, and the tragic loss of their crews.

All those who follow these debates regularly will know the difficulties relating to fisheries policy in this country. Our inheritance as a new Government has not been an easy one. Little progress had been made on meeting multi-annual guidance programme IV targets, and we were faced with the debacle of quota hoppers and the totally unrealistic expectations raised by policies designed not to deal with real problems of over-capacity and sustainability but to pander to the prejudices of Euro-sceptics in the Conservative party, no matter what damage that approach did to the long-term interests of the fishing industry. I appreciate the fact that there are honourable exceptions among Conservative Members to that remark.

The Government have been determined to adopt realistic and workable policies in the fisheries sector, and not to duck tough decisions. We made it clear from the start that we would apply the rules of the common fisheries policy properly, and that we would look to the Commission and other member states to do likewise. Our approach to the CFP has not been uncritical, but it has been realistic.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

As my hon. Friend knows, I am an honorary president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association—I do not get anything for that—and serious concerns have been expressed to us both about the immense pressures on the west coast scallop fishery. It is not a pressure stock. I hope that he will say something to allay the serious but entirely legitimate concerns of the Clyde fishermen.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right: I am well aware of his long involvement in the fishing industry. He has spoken in all the debates that I have attended. I am aware of the matter he raises about the scallop industry. The issue is not covered in the total allowable catches and quotas in the Council, and part of it comes under our inshore regulations, but we are considering it. If my hon. Friend wants to raise the matter with me formally on behalf of his constituents, I will be only too pleased to consider it, and to give him a direct response.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

The Minister may remember the condemnation by the Select Committee on European Legislation, on which I serve, of the last round of the Fisheries Council. The Committee said: There is no doubt that the United Kingdom has done badly out of the decision taken at the Fisheries Council. Since then, we have had to issue another report, on 10 December, in which there is again severe criticism of the Government for not providing information about what is really going on with the massive cuts that are proposed, which I will not set out. The report said: We believe it would have been helpful to the House if information of the kind set out in World fish Report had been included". Can we assume that we will have a proper, candid, open and transparent description of the real position in today's debate? Does the Minister accept that such condemnation from a Select Committee on which the Government have a majority speaks for itself?

Mr. Morley

I accept that there have been problems in getting information and documents to Committees. We have made representations about that delay to the Commission. We will be happy to consider suggestions on how information is presented, and if the Select Committee wants to make recommendations to the Government, we will respond appropriately.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

Would it be useful if, when Members of the European Parliament got their papers from the Commission, members of the European Legislation Select Committee, on which I serve, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), could get them at the same time, with the Commission's comments? At present, we get only the Government's comments, and do not know what the Commission says.

Mr. Morley

That would seem a reasonable suggestion, and it may be worth looking at. There have been delays in obtaining information for scrutiny, and that is not acceptable. I want to make that clear to hon. Members.

The previous Administration left the issue of quota hoppers suspended and in a totally unworkable state. Quota hoppers—the foreign ownership of UK-flagged fishing vessels and the consequent rights for foreign interests to use UK quotas—is a problem which has exercised the industry. The previous Administration claimed that that problem could be resolved by adding a protocol to the treaty. That was a bogus claim. They ignored the fact that not a single member state of the European Union supported the proposal they had made for such a treaty change. Not even the member states that were suffering similar problems and were sympathetic supported a treaty change at the intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley

I shall be happy to give way when I have finished this point.

Having examined the situation and discovered the negotiating realities that we had inherited, we secured instead an understanding with the European Commission in the form of an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the President of the Commission. This gave an authoritative view as to the measures we could apply to secure a firm economic link between the vessels using UK quotas and the interests and communities dependent on fisheries.

Mr. Jack

Will the Minister acknowledge that the Barber judgment, which was a protocol on the Maastricht treaty, was an example in which not all member states agreed with our view, but in which we did get our way—to the benefit of the United Kingdom and pension holders?

Mr. Morley

The fact remains that getting a protocol or an amendment of that kind requires a unanimous decision in this case. The prospect of getting a unanimous decision from countries such as Spain and the Netherlands on issues directly against their interests is not realistic. To get a change in a protocol, there has to be some support. There was no support whatsoever for that change from any other country. It was not a realistic option.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

Is it not a fact that that would have been an option if we had been prepared to go to the wire and say, "Unless you agree to this, we will veto the whole treaty"? Amsterdam would have fallen. That would not have been allowed to happen under any circumstances. That is the card that the Government had to play, but they lost their will and did not play it.

Mr. Morley

I am not convinced that that was an option. We have been through all this before over beef. The previous Government had a policy of non-co-operation. They said that if they ran that policy, the beef ban would be lifted. It was a failure. It did enormous damage to our relationship with Europe and it damaged our industries, not least the fishing industry, and went a great deal wider than that. Adopting such a policy in this case would have been equally damaging. Those who are opposed to the concept of the European Union would support such a move, but it was not a realistic option.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)


Mr. Morley

If hon. Members will forgive me, I must make some progress.

Detailed proposals have been put to the fishing industry as to how the economic link in relation to licences can be operated. We have had valuable feedback, which is helpful in developing our ideas. We expect to reach a final view on the measures to be implemented very shortly, taking account of the advice of the European Commission.

It is only fair to say that the views coming from different parts of the industry are diverse, and that the enthusiasm for stringent measures has not been uniformly expressed even by some well-established representatives of the UK fishing industry. Those who think that the proposed conditions on licences would count for little may be surprised at some of the reactions to this proposal. That is something we shall need to take into account in deciding on the measures to be applied.

I turn to the Commission's proposals for the total allowable catches and quotas to apply in 1998. I regret that, as in previous years, they have appeared very late in the day, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). That makes it difficult for us, and for all member states, to prepare for important decisions in the December Council. I have taken the matter up with the Fisheries Commissioner. To allow the fullest possible parliamentary scrutiny and consultation, we made available papers containing as much detail as possible before the Commission's proposals were published. I accept that there is room for improvement, and we will press for that.

The proposals cover some 120 different TACs. There is an increase on previous years, because six new TACs in the North sea—sand eels, monkfish, megrim, turbot, mixed flatfish and skates and rays—are proposed. The adoption of the new TACs is welcome. They will help to conserve stocks and prevent increased fishing efforts from being introduced by countries that have not traditionally fished for them.

I also welcome the fact that, for the first time, a TAC is to be set for sand eels. Hon. Members know of the Government's concern about the impact of industrial fishing. Although we think that the proposed TAC on sand eels is far too high, it presents us with the opportunity to argue for catch limitations on industrial fisheries.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I am sure that the House is with the Minister in welcoming the new TACs, but do not the Government expect producer organisations to try to administer them from 1 January? For the first time, some of those are mixed TACs. Some are listed under the Norwegian "other" category. Given that they are dealing with track records that are five or six years out of date, how are producer organisations expected to cope with the administration of the new TACs? Will the Government consider undertaking their administration at least for the first year, to allow the producer organisations to sort things out in an orderly way?

Mr. Morley

I accept the criticism that the new TACs were announced at short notice and that the producer organisations have not had time to consider them. I would have to reflect carefully on the Government administering the TACs. They are much better administered by producer organisations. While I appreciate their problems, I hope that they will be able to resolve them. If there are difficulties, I am sure that they will make representations to the Ministry in the normal way.

Mr. Jack

Before we leave the difficult subject of administration and availability of information, can the Minister assure us that he will lodge a minute with the Council tomorrow, laying down the requirements in clear terms, so that the problem he described at the start of his speech does not happen again next year?

Mr. Morley

I would be more than pleased if, by lodging a minute, I could ensure that such things did not happen again next year. I am willing to take all appropriate measures to draw this unsatisfactory situation to the attention of the Commission. I will consider the matter.

For the remaining stocks, the Commission proposes increases or the status quo for some, and cuts for others. The year-on-year changes are based on the advice of the fisheries scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. It is particularly important that the scientists are developing a precautionary approach in their advice. Few would argue against a prudent and cautious approach to fish stock management.

We must take seriously the scientists' assessment of the state of stocks. At the same time, it is important that the scientists should draw on the day-to-day practical experience of the fishing industry in making their assessments. An effective dialogue between fisheries scientists and fishermen is vital if the scientific advice is to be valued and accepted by the industry.

A good example of the relationship working well is the responsible approach that the industry has taken to the TAC for North sea cod. That is an important stock, which must be protected. The scientists advise that it would be possible to raise the TAC to 150,000 tonnes in 1998 and still increase the spawning stock biomass to within safe biological limits. However, to speed the rebuilding of the stock, the Government have pressed, with the support of the industry, for the TAC to be limited to 140,000 tonnes.

I am glad to report that that figure has now been agreed in the annual consultations between the Community and Norway over the management of this and other North sea stocks. It is an excellent example of joint industry-Government co-operation in ensuring sustainability.

Naturally, however, fishermen are concerned about some of the cuts proposed by the Commission. I met leaders of the UK industry this morning. We had a full discussion, so that I was able to hear their concerns and priorities. I was able to assure them that, at the Fisheries Council tomorrow, we will seek increases in TACs to reflect their concerns where that is compatible with the conservation of the stocks. But I emphasised that our approach has to be responsible if stocks are to recover from some of the current low levels.

I am pleased that, in addition to developing the dialogue with fisheries scientists on the state of the stocks, the British fishing industry has co-operated closely with fisheries departments and scientists in the lengthy and complicated negotiations on new technical conservation measures. Those measures are designed to conserve stocks by reducing catches of juvenile fish and discards.

In October, after many months of negotiations, we secured a good package that met the key needs of our industry on mesh sizes, and, for the first time, introduced into Community legislation the square mesh panels that our industry strongly supports as a means of increasing the selectivity of nets. Among a range of other provisions, we secured important new measures in the shellfish sector, which have been particularly warmly welcomed.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

The Minister has referred to the cod TAC: perhaps he could tell us the logic behind the decision to increase that catch but not that for haddock by anything like the same proportion.

Mr. Morley

The recommendation for increasing the TAC of a species comes from ICES and the fisheries scientists. They reach that decision on the basis of their monitoring and measurement of stocks. It is their view that the cod catch could be increased to a greater extent than that of haddock. We must take that scientific advice into account when making a decision on TACs.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Something of a paradox exists because, although the cod stock is increasing and recovering, it is still outside safe biological limits, whereas the haddock stock is inside that safe limit. It is important to stress that unless working fishermen can understand the reasoning behind some of the scientific advice, it loses credibility, and it becomes all the more difficult to enforce TACs.

Will the Minister assure the House that he will look carefully at the advice given on haddock to see whether something can be done, perhaps through the industrial by-catch element, to allow for an increase in the haddock catch, which the evidence seems to support even if the scientific recommendation does not?

Mr. Morley

The points raised by the hon. Members for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) were also raised with me this morning in a meeting with representatives of the industry. I undertook to query the total allowable catch with the Commission in the Fisheries Council. We need good science, but there must be co-operation between the industry and scientists. It is right and appropriate that when scientists make a recommendation which, on the face of it, appears contradictory, they need to explain their case for it. We will certainly examine that reasoning and ensure that the information is made available.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Does not this matter serve as a timely reminder to the Government to bear in mind the fact that, although advisers can give the advice, they must make the tactical decision on whether that advice is correct and appropriate? The Minister has been reminded again this afternoon that it is not practical, as proposed, to catch fish before they have had a chance to breed. Surely to goodness it should therefore be possible for the politicians to move in to stop that, instead of simply sheltering behind the advice given them by scientists.

Mr. Morley

On occasions, a political decision must be taken in relation to TACs and quotas, but one must have a basis for doing so. One cannot take such political decisions just because one would like to have more fish. If such an attitude is taken, the stocks will be run down and there will be no fish. There must be a baseline and some kind of reference point, and that must come from scientists.

It is true that fisheries science, by its very nature, is imprecise; nevertheless we must take into account the advice offered, and use it as a starting point from which to work. That is important.

Mr. Gill


Mr. Morley

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress.

MAGP IV—multi-annual guidance programme IV—is a major issue which has preoccupied both the Government and the fishing industry for two years. It has been a sword of Damocles over the industry because of the uncertainty about the size of the cuts that the industry faced in view of the need for effort control.

I must repeat that the situation the Government inherited was far from satisfactory. The previous Administration adopted a negotiating technique that greatly reduced their potential influence on the final outcome, in that it became clear that they would not vote in favour of any likely conclusion. Since May, we have been seeking to recover the ground in the negotiations to prepare a detailed United Kingdom plan to implement the April decisions on MAGP IV. I can now say that we have succeeded in making considerable progress, and in mitigating the scale of the cuts that the industry feared.

First, we had to put right various technical flaws concerning MAGP I am pleased to report that we succeeded in getting agreement on the long overdue technical changes in the proposals for the Commission's final MAGP IV decisions. As a result, our overall shortfall on tonnage for MAGP III will reduce to less then 3 per cent., and we shall have met our total power target under that scheme.

The 1997 decommissioning scheme, the results of which I announced on 3 December, will help to narrow the gap further, but there remain significant shortfalls in both the pelagic and beam trawl segments. The profitability of those segments has effectively precluded any real interest in decommissioning until now.

For MAGP IV, we, like all other member states, are still awaiting the formal adoption by the Commission of our definitive targets. Regrettably, that has been delayed. It should have taken place before 30 November. On the assumption that the proposals considered by the management committee at the end of October are confirmed, we shall have secured a treatment of the main demersal and nephrops fisheries that should make it possible to avoid the need to restrict time at sea, provided that present effort levels do not increase, and that other measures directed at the conservation of fish stocks are fully respected.

We shall also have secured recognition of certain new fishing opportunities for the pelagic fleet, which should help to offset continued growth in that segment. In addition, there will be separate targets for the beam trawl fleet as between the North sea fishery and those in the south-west, which will enable the implementing measures to be applied appropriately to the different parts of that fleet. That will be an important and helpful outcome for our fishing industry, because it means that we can avoid the need for fishing effort controls on the great majority of fishing vessels.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not increasingly clear that the whole machinery of European Commission control of catches and the husbandry effort that it has made, which often bears no comparison with the successful efforts unilaterally conducted by Iceland and Norway, means that—certainly following the enlargement of the EU now in prospect, including the accession of Estonia and Poland with their significant fishing fleets—if we are to maintain the crazy notion of a "common resource", much of which is our territorial water, stocks will continue to decline, there will be further decommissioning, and more British fishermen will be put out of work?

Mr. Morley

I have said several times that, in my view, the term "common resource" is out of date, as fish stocks are now protected by the idea of relative stability, which means that our share of the fish quota is protected within the common fisheries policy.

It is true that countries outside Europe have had successful fisheries regimes, but that has not always been the case—certainly not for Norway, whose industrial fishery collapsed, or for Canada, where the cod fishery has collapsed. There is no guarantee that going it alone necessarily brings an improvement in fisheries policy. What is clear is that, even if we could go it alone, we would still have to have a pan-European fisheries management policy.

Mr. Godman

May I make a plea on behalf of the nephrops fishermen? Can they be allowed to remain in their separate segment, as in MAGP III? That is an important issue for nephrops fishermen.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right: that is an important issue for that sector. However, many of the vessels move in and out of the white fish sector, and there is logic in having nephrops and the demersal fleet in the same sector. We shall, of course, consider any representations that we receive.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister is making an interesting statement. Could he elaborate on what he has said about the pelagic sector, because the expectation under MAGP IV was for a sizeable cut in that sector at a time when the TACs were debating a 60 per cent. increase in North sea herring and a 20 per cent. increase in North sea mackerel? It would be ironic if, despite having far more fishing opportunities, the time that pelagic vessels were allowed to be at sea was cut. Does the Minister think that MAGP IV is a good mechanism for restructuring the pelagic fleet, and does the review clause at the end of 1999 enable us to defer decisions on the pelagic fleet?

Mr. Morley

I confirm that the review clause in 1999 will allow us to examine the progress of the whole MAGP. The majority of the fleet has now met its MAGP target in total. Effort restrictions will apply to only about 250 vessels, including the pelagic fleet. There has been substantial expansion of and investment in the pelagic fleet in recent years. Although increases have been recommended for mackerel and for North sea herring, some of the pelagic stocks to the west of Scotland are in a pretty poor state.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made a good point. The central question is whether capacity reduction is appropriate for pelagic stocks, the availability of which is subject to wild swings. Once capacity has been reduced, there is no access to bring it back. The Minister would be well advised to consider how the Dutch manage effort limitation on the pelagic side. They do it in such a way as to meet MAGP requirements without seriously inconveniencing the fleet. Would that not be a better method than the blunt instrument of capacity reduction? Perhaps a more sophisticated method is necessary, so as not to fling away the fishing opportunities to which the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland referred.

Mr. Morley

It may be useful if I finish what I was saying about MAGP IV, because I shall touch on some of the points that the hon. Gentlemen have raised. We are keen to implement effort limitations in co-operation with the industries concerned, and to give them the option of managing those effort limitations themselves. If they have workable schemes, such as the Dutch scheme, that is fine by us.

I appreciate that effort limitation is a burden on the pelagic sector, as it has not been decommissioning. However, one of the advantages of effort limitation is that, if stocks improve and if the science shows that there is increased availability and opportunities for fishing, the fleet could be allowed to expand. That is a more flexible way of dealing with the problem than decommissioning.

Effort is most in excess of our targets in the pelagic and beam trawl segments. We understand why they have not responded to the decommissioning schemes, but the only practical alternative for the Government is to introduce effort controls for those segments. That will come as no surprise to those sectors.

Given the relatively small number of vessels involved—about 250—the Government's preference is for groups of vessels to co-operate in managing their effort collectively, along the lines of the current management of quotas by producer organisations. That covers the points that the hon. Gentlemen raised. Effort allocations would be set annually by group and by fishery, and would be aimed at reducing effort to the final MAGP IV targets over the next four years. The average effort reduction is likely to be 30 per cent. for the pelagic sector and 15 per cent. for beam trawlers, with higher figures of about 36 and 19 per cent. respectively for the North sea.

Detailed discussions with the fishermen concerned will begin as soon as practicable, but the monitoring of effort and its recording against the new targets will have to begin from 1 January 1998. If agreement on the sort of devolved flexible arrangements that the Government are suggesting cannot be reached, a centralised system will have to be imposed to ensure that the relevant annual limits are not breached. That will include, if necessary, the closure of fisheries when effort allocations are exhausted. Inevitably, a centrally imposed system will be less flexible and sensitive to market needs, so I hope that the industry will respond constructively to the Government's proposal for self-management.

Mr. Jack

I seek clarification. The Minister seems to want to sub-contract his effort control to the industry. Can he confirm that that would be a burden on the industry? Does he have proposals for financial assistance for the industry for managing effort control? Has he ruled out further moneys for decommissioning in the sectors that he has mentioned?

Mr. Morley

I shall shortly deal with those matters. For the reasons that I have given, it is surely more desirable to put the management of effort control in the hands of the industry so that it can take choices that fit working patterns while enabling it to reach the targets. I think that the industry will welcome that. The right hon. Gentleman asks about financial support. We are operating on the budget that was left to us by the previous Government, and they made no such provision. We have to work within those financial limits.

For the newly combined demersal/nephrops segment, which is roughly half the UK fleet or some 1,500 vessels over 10 m, we do not plan any restriction on time at sea in 1998. In deciding on that approach, we have taken account of the effort targets that are being defined, the impact of the current decommissioning and the effect of strengthened enforcement. Fishing effort remains a matter of concern in fisheries where scientific advice is for reductions in fish mortality. For that reason, fishing effort will be very carefully monitored, and we shall strengthen enforcement to help to ensure that quotas and other conservation measures are properly respected.

The position will be kept under review in 1998 and beyond, so that action can be taken if fishing effort does not respond as envisaged. If effort limits prove necessary, the reference period for any management measures would be based on effort prior to 1998. We are making that clear now, so that fishermen know that there is nothing to be gained by attempting to build up a record of increased fishing activity. The approach to the remaining segments of the fleet—lines and nets, shellfish, fixed and mobile—will be on the same lines, although for distant water vessels the application of article 8 of the April Council decision needs to be further clarified with the Commission in the light of the continuing consultations with industry on the proposals that we sent to it in September. That will be taken forward as soon as practicable.

There is one other general change in relation to MAGP IV compared with MAGP III, which I should like to signal now—the handling of segmentation. Under the previous arrangements, a vessel's allocation to a specific fleet segment was purely for statistical purposes. Under MAGP IV, there are differential effort targets for different parts of the fleet. As a result, we must have arrangements that determine in advance the segment and targets to which a particular vessel is subject for the coming year. Full details are set out in reply to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), which I am answering today. In brief, the arrangements will mean that, initially, a vessel will be subject to the effort regime of the segment in which it fished in 1996. As no effort constraints are planned for the great bulk of the fleet, the impact of this new requirement is likely to be very narrow.

We are taking this opportunity to make some changes to our licensing arrangements. Again, these will primarily affect the pelagic sector and will extend the ring fence around the pelagic fleet to prevent further growth in its capacity.

We shall also be setting down a timetable for linking the licensing of all fishing vessels to the declaration of maximum continuous engine power, as well as reviewing the operation of the licensing system to see whether and how that might be improved. We should like to involve the fishing industry in the review, and I am proposing that officials should hold a series of meetings with representatives of the principal fishermen's organisations during 1998. There are acknowledged difficulties in the reliable recording of engine power and it is important that we address those if MAGP IV is to operate fairly and reliably. For that reason, I hope that the licensing review—again, with representatives of the industry—will look at the arrangements that will need to be made for the licensing of maximum continuous engine power.

My final remarks on MAGP IV relate to future decommissioning, to which the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) referred. The initial implementing arrangements which I have described are expected to be sufficient for immediate purposes to ensure satisfactory progress towards our targets. As the bulk of the UK fleet has now met its targets, there is no requirement for decommissioning for the vast majority of the UK fleet. The previous Administration made no financial provision for decommissioning beyond this year; nor did they provide for grants towards satellite monitoring.

Before reaching any view on whether we should operate decommissioning or other new measures in future, we need to complete the comprehensive spending review that is currently taking place. In respect of fisheries, the review is looking at all aspects of expenditure, whether on administration and enforcement, or on the various grants that are currently paid. It will examine the future need for such expenditure and the ways in which it could be funded in the future, including the possibility of the industry itself making a contribution. Thus, the range and scale of all expenditure will be looked at, and the scale and financing of—and, of course, the need for—any decommissioning will be decided when that review is concluded.

Mr. Gill

Before concluding his remarks, will the Minister make it quite clear to the House what he understands relative stability to mean in relation to the British fishing fleet? Is he saying that, regardless of how many new members join the European Union and assuming that fish stocks remain static, the amount of fish that the British fishing fleet will be permitted to catch will remain constant in terms of tonnage?

Mr. Morley

No. It is the share that will remain constant and not necessarily the tonnage, because stocks and quotas vary from year to year. I can confirm that the principle of relative stability means that any new members that join an enlarged European Union will not have the right to fish on quota in our waters, or in Community waters, unless they have a track record of having done so.

The House will appreciate that this is a difficult package, especially for some parts of the fishing industry; but it represents a very considerable improvement on what they might have expected some months ago. In particular, we are able to limit the introduction of effort controls to no more than about 250 vessels, and there is no current expectation of effort controls being required for the rest of the fleet in order to meet the targets of MAGP IV. We are offering the industry the opportunity to share in the task of managing effort and managing quota more effectively and thus take a greater responsibility for the successful management of fisheries. I hope that the industry will work with us to make the controls that are needed as flexible as possible, as it is in its own best interests to do.

I referred earlier to the need for conservation measures to be fully respected. Since taking office on 1 May, I and my colleagues have repeatedly emphasised that the long-term future of the industry depends on the effective conservation of fish stocks. That includes action to deal with the problems created by black fish. Our commitment to improve standards of enforcement was spelt out at the high-level talks my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture had with the leaders of the fishing industry in July. As promised then, we shall be consulting industry in the new year about plans to introduce a system of designated ports for white fish landings made by our larger vessels. That, coupled with the phased introduction of satellite monitoring, will enable us to make much better use of the resources we devote to enforcement.

At the same time, we have been actively reviewing with the European Commission the steps that might be taken to raise enforcement standards across the Community, following up the undertaking the Commission President gave to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Amsterdam in June. We can expect to see the Commission's ideas in the new year, and we have made it clear that we will give priority to examining them during our presidency.

There will continue to be a great deal to do during 1998 to secure the future of the fishing industry. I have already referred to the implementation of MAGP IV, the need to look at the financing of the fisheries sector in the context of the comprehensive spending review, and our determination to develop improved enforcement measures in the UK and across the Community.

In January 1998, Britain takes up the presidency of the European Union. For fisheries, that means that my right hon. Friend will chair the two meetings of the Council which are planned, and we see good prospects of using this opportunity not just to manage the business efficiently, but to focus on some important issues—including not only enforcement, as I have mentioned, but the environmental dimensions of the CFP and policy development, including the more effective involvement of local fishermen in the management processes.

We have agreed with the European Commission that it will be promoting with us a debate on how to improve EU-wide enforcement of the common fisheries policy, and I am optimistic that we shall be able to adopt new and more effective rules. Environmental issues will be addressed through measures to phase out drift nets used for tuna fishing, and so reduce the dolphin and other by-catches. We also envisage a review of action being taken to implement the Bergen inter-ministerial meeting on sustainable fishing in the North sea.

We need to be sure that everything possible is being done to apply well-based environmental measures where they can help the fisheries sector. We plan a debate on the marketing regime to give guidance to the Commission in preparing proposals; and the Council will also be looking at plans for handling the 2002 review of the CFP and having a report on the closer involvement of fishermen in fisheries management through regional meetings.

The Government intend to continue to keep in close touch with fishermen on all these matters as the presidency progresses.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley

Briefly, as I must bring my remarks to a close.

Mr. Wallace

What does the Minister hope to achieve during the presidency to ensure much more equality of enforcement of fisheries measures throughout the Community?

Mr. Morley

That will be one of the priorities during our presidency. I attended the conference of Fisheries Ministers in Vigo, when enforcement was the main topic. I was very encouraged by the undoubted determination of all countries in the European Union to tackle enforcement and such issues as the landing and, indeed, the marketing of undersized fish, of which there is a long tradition in some countries. It is an issue on which we need to make progress, and we believe that there is support for that in both the Commission and the Council.

I have had many contacts with fishermen and fishermen's organisations during my time as a Minister. The leading organisations such as the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and, in Scotland, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation play a vital part in ensuring that the Government receive a full and balanced presentation of what the catching sector is thinking. I pay a warm tribute to the constructive role they have played. I would also like to take this opportunity to send good wishes to Cecil Finn, the president of the SFF, who is recovering from a triple heart bypass operation.

The NFFO and the SFF were key voices when, last July, we took the initiative of convening a meeting of a broad range of interests in the fishing industry. That high-level meeting went much wider than the catching sector and was, we believe, useful in giving broader direction to the consideration of policy. We envisage having a further high-level meeting early next year to look at the topics arising during our presidency.

The underlying problems of the fisheries sector are substantial, and a great deal remains to be done. It will not be easy for the fishing industry, which will need to accept continuing adjustments and rationalisation if it is to be sustainable and economic in the long term. However, the Government are determined to secure the industry's future and to plan the way forward in close contact with all parts of the industry, and taking full account of the interests of consumers and the environmental implications of fisheries policy.

For the first time in many years, we are making progress on a number of fronts relating to outstanding issues. The MAGP IV agreement gives the industry some stability, and it will come as a relief for most of the fleet. It is our priority to achieve a sustainable fishing industry and to give fishermen a real stake in managing it. While much remains to be done, the days of gesture politics to appease an anti-European rump are over.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

What a shame.

Mr. Morley

Our priority is a prosperous, stable and sustainable fishing industry recognising the rich regional diversity of our coastal communities and the crucial importance to certain regions of this national industry. The measures I have announced today are an important beginning in meeting those objectives.

I commend the motion to the House.

4.34 pm
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I beg to move, To leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'notes the contents of the unnumbered explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8th December 1997 outlining the basis of the negotiations for the December Fisheries Council; and supports efforts to secure the best possible sustainable fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom industry, but recognises that, whatever the Council's outcome, the Government have yet again failed Britain's fishermen through their inability to provide an EU Treaty-based solution to the question of quota hopping, any form of workable plan to enable the industry to respond to the demands of MAGP IV and a statement reflecting the Government's priorities in the forthcoming discussions on CFP reform.'. I was intrigued by the sedentary intervention of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). His voice was a timely contribution to the debate because it showed that Labour Members are not going to allow the Minister to have his own way.

Before I get into the meat of the debate, on behalf of the Opposition, I repeat the Minister's salute to the industry. We associate ourselves with his remarks about the sad losses in the industry since the debate 12 months ago. Any hon. Member who read the newspaper reports of the raising of the vessel Sapphire, and the reports of the continuing anguish of the families, will understand only too clearly what a dangerous occupation fishing is. Those of us who enjoy our fish, whether in the form of traditional fish and chips or of more sophisticated dishes, have much for which to thank the fishing industry, which ensures a regular supply of excellent quality fish.

I join the Minister in sending my best wishes to Cecil Finn. He has been a doughty advocate of the industry north of the border, and we wish him well.

The Minister tried to give the impression that all was sweetness and light between the industry and the Labour party, but I took some comfort from a west country newspaper article that followed his first meeting as Minister. In the Western Morning News of 13 May, Jim Portus, chief executive of the South-West Fish Producers Organisation, said: I have never been so depressed after meeting with a Fisheries Minister. The whole atmosphere was clouded by his apparent determination that, having been given a legal obligation to reduce the fishing fleet, that is what we are going to do because we are all good Europeans now. I felt slightly better having read that. Having been in the fishing industry's firing line, I am still dusting the flour from my coat, or at least my driver's coat, so I know what it is like. I sympathise with the Minister. It is a rough, tough industry to negotiate with, but it is worth standing up for.

I know that the Minister has a genuine interest in the fishing industry because I debated the matter with him when we were in government and he was in opposition, and he showed his expertise and understanding in the way in which he dealt with the interventions. I wish him well in his supporting role to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the Agriculture Council. No doubt the Minister will read out the speaking notes, ably written by his officials, but the explanation will come from the Parliamentary Secretary.

As the hon. Member said, this is our annual opportunity to review the fishing industry and to hold the Government to account for their stewardship of fishing policy, for which they have been responsible for the past eight months. It is a great pity that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not able to be here, because he will carry much of the burden. I am sure that he will be engaged in bilateral discussions with other fisheries Ministers.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), will be able to tell us in his winding-up speech whether the Minister will present the case on behalf of the United Kingdom industry in the form of a special presentation to the presidency and to the chairman of the Council of Ministers to make certain that our negotiating position is properly understood before the detailed discussions start tomorrow.

I want to review in a little more detail some of the issues involving total allowable catches and quotas that the Minister has mentioned. His party is fond of discussing openness. It is important that, in his winding-up speech, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland comments on how he views some of the genuine issues that the industry has put before him.

It is important that the Minister be held to account for what he achieves in the negotiations in Brussels. I hope that he will desist from the typical way in which a difficult negotiation is usually wrapped up: a press release, which was written before he left his new sumptuous premises in Smith square, is issued, which reads something like, "We had a terrifically tough negotiation." The Minister works out that any extra stock is worth X thousand or million pounds more, adds everything together and says that it is a tremendous result for the British fishing industry because the total value of the catch is going up; but that leaves people thrashing about if their sector has gone down or if it is the one for which the Minister has failed to meet his negotiating remit.

I want more a little more detail from the Minister about how he is to proceed. I am not accusing him of being a dishonest person, but will he assure us that he will be straightforward and honest when he reports the outcome of the Council?

I want to spend a little time examining the Minister's record on quota hopping, to probe him a little more on multi-annual guidance programme IV, to raise briefly the working time directive—a cause of deep concern in the industry, especially north of the border—to ask a question on behalf of the frozen food industry and its difficulties in persuading the Minister to talk to its representatives about supplies of fish from Russian sources, and to mention briefly the difficulties of the Thames fishing industry.

Mr. Morley

I must correct the impression that the right hon. Gentleman may have given. I recently met representatives of the frozen food industry to talk about the problems of Russian supply.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that he has had that conversation because when industry representatives came to see me, they were having great difficulty in getting more than eight vessels registered as approved sources. I appreciate that fish hygiene has to be taken extremely seriously, but the Minister, who has a constituency interest in the frozen food sector, will understand the industry's worries in ensuring a plentiful supply of fish. He will know that the UK is in deficit in its fish supply, and how important those frozen cod blocks are. I am grateful that he has met industry representatives and I shall not press him further on the matter, but I hope that he will make every effort to resolve the niggling and awkward problem that first led the industry to come to see me.

The Minister implied that his party's relationships with Europe were in such good shape that he could look forward to a warm and cosy Council where he will achieve all his objectives. He may have forgotten what happened yesterday. We awoke to find that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had, in the nicest sense, been well and truly rolled over by the Standing Veterinary Committee, which voted 14 to one against the British proposals in connection with specified risk materials and the adaptation of those proposals for beef coming into this country. I do not want to let the debate veer off into a surf and turf discussion, but that is an illustration of the fact that not everything in the European garden is lovely.

I deal first with the use, for the first time in advice from the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management, of the precautionary approach. The Minister will be aware of the implications of that and the way it is being used in the context of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea's advice.

The industry recognises that some severe cuts in stocks have been proposed by the ACFM, but I think that the Minister will agree that it recognises that scientists have not always taken their own advice into account. In fact, it has been left to the Commission, recognising that there is a 40 per cent. floor on total allowable catch reductions, to temper the view of the scientists. However, a reduction of 40 per cent. in stock represents a massive swing in availability. The Minister will recognise that it destabilises vessel viability and rational marketing, and places terrific pressure on quota management.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, especially as this approach can, in its own way, lead to a growth of discards, which is against the conservation objectives that the Minister wants to attain. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

Will the Minister consider forming for the first time a joint council of fishermen and scientists to give him a permanent standing committee to offer advice on the question of stocks? The debate on proper TAC levels and quotas at this time of year is typified both by scientists' up-and-down view, which I have described, and by the view of fishermen, who say, "It's not really like that. We're not seeing that situation out there." The time has come when both sides of the debate need to reach some agreement.

The Minister was right to point out that it is best not to postpone detailed discussion to just before the Council meets. Although his own scientists gave the industry a briefing on the subject a couple of weeks ago, they did so without knowing the Commission's final and full figures.

The time really has come when such a joint committee—perhaps sitting on a permanent basis, throughout the year—would be a much better way of trying to set the British position and of getting both sides to accept appropriate TAC levels and quotas. I shall be grateful if the Minister will consider it.

In sage interventions, hon. Members have pointed out that—to the industry's welcome—the North sea cod TAC has been increased substantially. I was delighted to hear mention of the conservation element of the increase, as a quantity of fish has been banked for the future. Nevertheless, although the cod stock has turned round remarkably in 18 months, one can imagine the industry's incredulity to learn that the very MAGP IV figures that the Minister presented to the House today were being formulated in a period in which that stock was said to be collapsing.

Substantial reductions in effort have been proposed using yesterday's stock information, whereas today's stock information shows substantial increases in the cod fishery. MAGP IV originally proposed that the cod sector of the fleet make a 30 per cent. cut in its fishing effort—demonstrating the real difficulty in people taking decisions with long-term implications for the industry on the basis of short-term and sometimes questionable scientific advice. I ask the Minister to comment on just how satisfied he is with the way in which scientific advice is being handled.

The reverse situation—of the North sea haddock TAC being reduced—must also be explored. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, haddock stock is inside its safe biological levels. As we question the science on quota sizes, so we should question the science dealing with cod and haddock as a mixed fishery. People do not understand how one part of a mixed fishery can increase when it is subject to the same fishing level as another part that has decreased. The Minister owes the House a better explanation for that, and should not simply rely on the good news about cod, so that he can avoid the bad news about haddock.

I should like also to deal with three other North sea stocks: whiting, saithe and hake. The industry faces a reduction in the whiting TAC of almost 20 per cent. Again, however, the stock remains inside its safe biological limit. May I press the Minister to assure the House that, in the Council tomorrow, he will discuss adjusting industrial by-catches to deal with the whiting situation—just as it has been proposed that part of the solution to the haddock situation might be achieved by re-examining industrial by-catches?

May I press the Under-Secretary also—if he is listening to this important point—to acknowledge and to give the House an undertaking that he will invoke the Hague preference on by-catches and on other crucial matters in which it would be to the benefit of the United Kingdom fishing industry to do so? There is a very strong feeling in the industry about that matter. I should be grateful if, in his reply, he would say on which matters the Hague preference will be invoked.

Will the hon. Gentleman also comment on saithe? Again, there is a sizeable reduction, from 115,000 tonnes to 97,000 tonnes. The industry feels that, in trying to meet the revised position on saithe, we will end up with a lot of dumping of fish from vessels that do not have a quota for saithe. That brings the issue of discards—which I know is of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)—into sharper focus.

When the Minister has studied the figures for the western Scotland waters, he will be aware that some of the small quotas in that area produce precisely the opposite effect. Reducing pressure mathematically results in increased pressure biologically and increased discard rates. That issue also requires a great deal of care.

I should like to raise two matters, one connected with herring and the other with horse mackerel. The Parliamentary Secretary said nothing about a significant change that resulted from discussions between the European Union and Norway. For the first time, the Norwegians have secured a permanent stock share of 29 per cent. of the herring in the North sea. [Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but if he had had meetings with the industry, he would not have been laughing when that point was raised. I would not like the Minister to damage his reputation with the industry by laughing.

Mr. Morley

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was an ironic laugh, given that that disadvantageous agreement was reached by the Conservative Government.

Mr. Jack

The present Government have been in power for nearly eight months. The Minister cannot for ever go back in time. I remind him that we are now eight months into the current fishing year. He has the responsibility of negotiating for the United Kingdom at the Council meeting tomorrow and raising matters on behalf of the UK industry. The industry has suggested that he was a little lax in that agreement, and that 29 per cent. is too high. He may like to comment on that.

Will the Minister tell the House whether he will probe the basis of introducing TAC for horse mackerel for the first time? He will be aware of the concerns over the misrecording of those stocks and he will understand that when those stocks come to be allocated by the Commission, catch recordings and the historic track record are crucial. The industry would like his assurance that the matter will be addressed.

There is concern that, in certain cases, mackerel may well have been recorded as horse mackerel. The matter obviously needs clearing up. They may be points of detail, but, if they are not properly evaluated at this stage, we will not get a result in the amount of fish available to the UK that will help our industry to be viable. When the Minister issues his written parliamentary answer giving us the results—it would be too much to ask him to make a statement to the House—we shall need to know what he has achieved, to hold him accountable for his stewardship of these matters.

A moment ago, I mentioned area VI in the west of Scotland. Will the Minister consider extremely carefully the stocks there—particularly the stocks of cod and whiting? The industry feels strongly that the result in that area will increase discards. The Mallaig fishermen undertook a scientific calculation which shows that nearly 4,000 tonnes of saithe could be dumped in pursuit of meeting the narrow, limited and reduced quotas that are on offer. I should be grateful if the Minister would consider cod, whiting and saithe in the context of my remarks. In respect of whiting and saithe, will he give the House an assurance that he will examine the credentials of using the Hague preference, should it prove necessary?

In the context of the seas around the shores of western Scotland, what will the Minister do to address the blatant manipulation by the Dutch during their presidency in achieving the result on Atlanto-Scandian herring? There is a real need for the UK to return to the issue and get the quotas sorted out. The industry feels very strongly that, in the nicest sense, the UK was taken to the cleaners on that matter. It would like to know what the Minister will do in the negotiations to try to put matters right.

Mr. Salmond

Which Government were in power when the United Kingdom was taken to the cleaners on that vital matter of herring?

Mr. Jack

I am looking to what the Minister can do in negotiations. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who will know of the Scottish industry's strong feelings, chooses to chastise me.

What will the Minister do about Irish sea haddock? It has come to the notice of the industry that that stock is now abundant. I should be grateful if he gave a commentary on how we will approach negotiations on the haddock quota in the Irish sea. The industry feels that the science of the cod stocks in that area has improved. Egg surveys, for example, which clearly affect the spawning stock biomass in that part of the ocean, are now positive, after being gloomy. I should be pleased to know whether the Minister will look at that matter.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) is present and will no doubt be advocating the same line on behalf of fishermen in Fleetwood. They have not had the easiest of times, so some reflection in our quotas of the improvement in cod and haddock stocks in the Irish sea would be much appreciated.

Will the Minister consider several other matters concerning stocks? Whiting in area Vila is again above its safe biological level, and a reduction is proposed. I should be grateful if the Minister looked again at industry representations on that and told us precisely what he will do.

I draw the Minister's attention to an anomaly in channel stocks of cod. The discussion at the beginning of the debate illustrated the fact that the quantity of North sea cod has increased. He will know that, biologically, parts of the channel stocks include North sea cod. Yet, bizarrely, due to the way in which the ICES areas are broken down, some aspects of the channel cod quotas are going down, while other parts of the same North sea stock are going up. The industry would be pleased to know whether the Minister will argue for consistency. It would also be grateful if the Minister considered plaice and sole stocks in that context.

May I raise a point that I outlined at the beginning of my remarks on the difficulties of some Essex fishermen in the Thames estuary who are trying to scratch a living by fishing sole? When I held the Minister's portfolio, I battled with that problem. I have great sympathy for fishermen in the non-sector who are facing extinction due to the very small quantities of sole. Will the Minister please have another look at that problem on behalf of those fishermen? Perhaps a new fishing regime is required; perhaps one that mirrors the cockles regime, which works extremely well for the Thames fishermen. The matter must be looked at very carefully.

I conclude my remarks on stocks by asking the Minister to examine very carefully the inter-relationship in area VII between angler fish and megrim. Will the Government take account of the fact that the reductions in TAC stocks of angler fish, megrim and whiting, which are taken together in a mixed fishery, will lead to an increase in discards in the next fishing period, not a reduction in fishing mortality? That mixture underpins the fishery in area VII and it is important that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replies to that point.

I should be grateful if the Minister acknowledged some of the concerns expressed in the interventions in his speech by several hon. Members when he commented about the areas for sand eels, megrim, monkfish, turbot, skate, rays and mixed flatfish in the North sea where new TACs will be imposed.

The industry is worried that the basis for the determination of those TACs will not be the full catch from 1996. Questions of misrecording must also be addressed and some proper scientific research undertaken in area VI to discover whether the figures are worth the paper they are printed on. Those are important points for the industry and I should be grateful if the Minister would consider them carefully.

On the broader issues, the Minister regaled us a moment ago with the situation on MAGP IV. He gave us a lot of detail and it was the first definitive reply to representations made on the matter by the industry in its letter of 23 September. The industry had been concerned by the lack of a reply and I hope that the Minister who is to reply will give an assurance that definitive responses will be sent to the industry's communications.

I was interested to read the comments of the Minister of Transport who, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench this time last year, told the House: I will protect the UK fishing industry and ensure that we continue with our basic premise—that there will be no further reduction in UK fishing capacity or fishing effort until the whole issue of quota hoppers is resolved. I hope that that is perfectly clear."—[Official Report, 16 December 1996; Vol. 287, c. 665.] It is not clear how the matter of quota hoppers is to be resolved.

The Minister put before the House a list of economic relationships that he hopes to have written into licences. He said nothing about what will be in next year's licences to advance the solution to the problem of quota hoppers. He told us nothing about any legal advice that he has taken on his proposals. That is like Chamberlain returning to the airport at Heston, saying, "I have an agreement", only to find that war broke out soon afterwards.

What legal advice has the Ministry sought to ensure that as soon as the economic relationship requirements are written into a UK licence, the Spanish do not whack the matter into the European Court? If that happens, the potential solution to quota hoppers, which is only a piece of paper at the moment, could be set back for three years. If the solution is set back in the European Court, how can the Minister rely on the assurance given to the House by the Minister of Transport, when he was the Opposition spokesman, that there would be no further reduction in fishing capacity or effort in this country until the matter was resolved? Several issues are still unresolved.

Mr. Morley

I am a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of the details of the proposed economic links, which were made very public in the exchange of letters. The economic links, as they were worded, were approved by the Commission and by the President of the Commission. As he and the Commission have responsibilities as guardians of the treaties, that approval counts for a great deal. In previous disputes, such as Factortame and the amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act 1988—when the Government were taken to court and lost—the Commission did not support the Government's approach.

Mr. Jack

It is all right the hon. Gentleman saying that the Commission helped design this set of words, but I understand that the Commission said that it would be happy to receive proposals based on a set of principles. The Government have made proposals, but have not yet subjected them to the testing experience of European law. I will gladly give way to the Minister if he will stand up and say that the Commission's legal advice—or, indeed, the legal advice available to the Council—has said definitively that these proposals are not able to be challenged in the European Court. Has he had any bilateral discussions with Spain and received an assurance from that country that it for one will not challenge us on the proposals?

Mr. Morley

Those discussions are still taking place with the Commission. Nevertheless, the wording will be agreed with the advice of the Commission, which is the guardian of the treaty. No matter how one words any licence condition, there is no guarantee that any member state or individual will not take one to court. We have to ensure that the conditions we put forward are in line with European law, and we are confident we can do that.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming to the House that there is no guarantee that these measures will work. That is very significant. [Interruption.] I will give way again to the Minister if he wants to clarify his words, but he has admitted in open debate in the House that there is no guarantee that the discussions are continuing, and he has not had the benefit of an opinion from the Commission, the Council or anybody else. He has had no bilateral talks with Spain to discuss the issue. At the moment, all we have is a series of paper proposals which may or may not deal with the issue. We have no indication of the Minister's fall-back position.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

May I inform the right hon. Gentleman that these measures on the economic link are working? Fishermen in my constituency have told me that one of the quota hoppers has taken on two British fishermen, when they did not take on fishermen before.

Mr. Jack

That is very interesting. When representatives of the industry talked to me, one of the concerns they expressed was the seducing away of fishermen from the British industry to work, for example, on Dutch boats. That is the industry's concern—not mine. The hon. Gentleman says that the measures are working, but he may find that they do not work because they are not worth the paper on which they are printed. The Minister has made that clear to the House tonight.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman being churlish, to say the least, in the way in which he is approaching a Minister who has achieved more in a few months than the previous Government achieved in years? Will he give the House a list of the nations that supported his proposal to have a treaty amendment? I should like to know who they were. His Government found no alternative and, although the measure remains to be worked through, this Government have done a lot more in the short period that I have been a Member of Parliament than the right hon. Gentleman achieved when he was a member of the Government.

Mr. Jack

At least we were going for a legally sound approach. I indicated that there was a precedent as, at Maastricht, we achieved an important protocol to the treaty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made clear how seriously he took the measure when he pointed out what our negotiating stance for the treaty would be. Sadly, the election did not allow him to test that out.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) perhaps shows little understanding of the way in which deals are done in Europe. Sometimes one starts off from a position of being 14-one down. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is currently 14-one down in terms of getting the specified risk materials ban introduced. However, he has persuaded the Commissioners to be on his side. Eventually, he may have to persuade other member states not to mount legal challenges. If he is terribly skilful and has enough time before Christmas, he may be able to cobble together an alliance that will suit his purpose, but when he has had a little more experience of negotiating he will see that sometimes a triumph can emerge from a difficult position, as was often the case when we were responsible for negotiating in Europe.

I do not want to prolong the Minister's agony, but it is clear that he is not able to give the House the assurance that we seek on quota hopping. That underpins his stance on MAGP IV, and he will find that in his rather broad-brush remarks dealing with the industry's requirements he has effectively subcontracted the effort reduction to the industry. He has not told us what specific help he may be able to give, and it is no use his saying that the Government are working within the spending limits of the previous Government, because that excuse runs out at the end of the period for which MAGP IV is required to run.

The Minister knows that there will be considerable concern, especially in the pelagic sector, as a result of what he has said. He knows something about the industry, so he will be aware that much new capacity is being invested in that sector, particularly in Scotland, and that those boats are now staring under-utilisation in the face as a result of what he has said.

I see that the Minister is conducting a private debate, but it is incumbent on him to listen to the points of Conservative Members, who at least are speaking on behalf of the industry. I should be grateful for an assurance that he will hold detailed and meaningful consultations with the industry about implementation and that he will give proper consideration to the economic impact of what he has said. He must recognise that there may have to be some compulsory element in a days-at-sea policy. I do not blame him for avoiding those difficult words, because we had enough problems when we were looking after the situation, but we managed to avoid compulsion by a sensible decommissioning policy, and he has not.

I have dealt with the paucity of weight behind the Government's position on quota hopping, and the Minister has failed to give us satisfaction on the matter. I seek an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that the Government will properly represent the interests of Scottish share fishermen, in particular, to avoid the excesses of the wholly unnecessary working time directive.

In signing up to the social chapter, the Government led us into this pretty mess, and we should like to think that they might have the sense to keep the fishing industry out of it. The industry has made representations on the matter, and I seek an assurance that Ministers will take it up.

Mr. Godman

The right hon. Gentleman has some reservations about the working time directive, but will he confirm that he supports whole-heartedly the directive concerning the occupational safety of fishermen and acknowledge that, as part of that directive, there is a requirement concerning the carriage of immersion or survival suits? I have campaigned for that for many years, but it was always rejected by his colleagues at the Department of Transport.

Mr. Jack

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest and involvement in, and campaign on, safety matters. We have had exchanges before on the subject, and I hope that I gave him a positive response. I would have to check exactly what I said. I cannot be responsible for what others elsewhere in the then Government said in my absence, but I certainly acknowledge that safety is a key element. The industry is concerned about the implications, and he and I know, from a previous discussion on Scottish share fishermen of two different varieties, that the issue is very important to the people whom he represents.

The Minister talked about enforcement. I should be interested to hear more about that in the reply to the debate. We hear the sabre of enforcement being rattled, but the Minister knows that proper enforcement requires resources, which he has told us that he is stuck for. What is this great package of enforcement? When will he come clean and publish the details? Does he intend to benchmark the efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement?

It is sad that the Minister was not able to confide in us what the United Kingdom's presidency priorities will be.

Mr. Morley

I did.

Mr. Jack

If he did, perhaps I did not hear properly. Perhaps those priorities could be put a little more sharply in focus in the reply to the debate. It would have been helpful if we could have spent a little more time hearing how the United Kingdom will pursue various priorities, because one of those could be the build-up to the reform of the common fisheries policy in 2002.

Crucial issues are to be decided in the coming years, on the retention of the six and 12-mile limits; on the Shetland box; and on access to waters. I seek an assurance—[Interruption.] I wish that the Minister would pay attention, because my remarks represent the concerns of the fishing industry.

I seek an assurance that the Government will find time in the next 12 months for a debate so that we can all discuss some crucial matters about the reform of the common fisheries policy. It is crucial that we should have a clear position as the debate develops. We know the lines of the Commission's views as set out at Greenwich, and the subject is very important indeed.

The Minister has not given the House a clear outline of his policy on quota hopping. The policy on MAGP IV is indistinct and, sadly, we were not told how the Minister envisages the way forward for the common fisheries policy. It will be up to him and his ministerial team to prove whether they have the confidence of the fishing industry. Conservative Members will continue to do our best to ask the questions that are of concern to this vital national asset.

5.16 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his first annual fishing debate. We spent many happy hours sitting behind him on the Opposition Benches when I was in the House previously. I especially welcome the much more constructive way in which these debates are now held; they were certainly bad-tempered, rancorous affairs under the previous Administration, but we are now talking constructively and purposefully about the industry.

In anticipation of his later contribution, I welcome the new Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), to the Front Bench. I think that this is his first appearance there. Like me, he has spent many happy hours in these fishing debates.

I suppose that I should also congratulate the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) on his remarks, and especially on the way in which he managed to persuade himself, if no one else, that the Conservative Government had no responsibility for the mess that the fishing industry was put into over the past 18 years; it is a happy delusion, but I hope that he will eventually come out of it.

I was particularly interested in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on the working time directive. As I recall it, it was introduced under health and safety provisions, not under the social chapter, as he was trying to suggest, and the previous Government had no alternative but to accept it, because it was part of the process of qualified majority voting, which they had accepted with the Single European Act 1985.

I especially welcome the Minister's statement, because it is good to hear such a realistic and constructive approach to the industry. For many years, those of us with fishing constituencies felt as though we were treading water, because the issue had become entangled in the previous Government's obsession with the larger issue of Europe and was not dealt with as a specific subject. We are making progress: I welcome in particular the comments on quotas and I hope that the matter will be successfully concluded at the Council meeting tomorrow. He described the package as a difficult one. Of course it is difficult because there are winners and losers, but that is inevitable given the nature of the industry.

I welcome the comments that my hon. Friend made on MAGP IV. That issue has been hanging over us like a dark cloud for some time now and it was never really tackled. It is now being tackled and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's announcement about progress. Again, it is a difficult package with winners and losers, but there is no doubt that we are making progress.

We all want to see stability in our fishing industry. There was no stability during all my previous years here. It seemed to be one crisis after another as quotas bit deeper and there was conflict about the proper methods to be adopted to reduce or limit effort. We are now taking a coherent approach to the industry and I am pleased with the progress being made.

My constituency interest is in the fish processing side of the industry. Stability is extremely important there. In Aberdeen city, 3,500 jobs depend on the fish processing industry and all those people welcome the progress that is being made. A number of issues facing that industry are causing grave concern and I should like to refer to them.

Fishing is a food industry and there are remarkable similarities between the problems of the fishing industry and the current problems in agriculture. This week seems-to have been dominated, certainly in my life, by the food industry. We had meetings yesterday with a beef producer and today we have had contact with the fishing industry.

One of the serious problems facing the processing industry is the European directive requiring the harmonisation of veterinary charges. That is causing immense concern. I was given some examples by the United Kingdom Fish Merchants and Processors Federation. The current charge for 30 consignments of fish is £197, which works out at about £6 per consignment. After 1 January, the figure will leap to £3,423. That is a massive leap in an industry that is fairly fragmented and where there are a large number of small operators.

There is also massive concern about the problem of urban waste water treatment as a result of directive 91/271/EEC. That is the concept of producer pays. The industry is a massive consumer of water and is facing real difficulties as local water authorities apply that directive to local industry.

Another major issue of concern—I have been lobbied on this recently by a number of companies in my constituency and outside—is the problem of imported fish. Our industry uses about 100,000 tonnes of cod a year, but our catch is only about 70,000 tonnes. The extra 30,000 tonnes is imported, the bulk of those imports coming from Russia. As a result of EEC decisions, there are major difficulties in connection with the Russian imports. A number of companies throughout the north-east of Scotland have no other fish but cod from Russia as their staple product.

The regulations that now apply to fish freezer vessels have meant that those vessels are no longer landing fish in the United Kingdom. The industry is finding it difficult to understand why the United Kingdom is applying those regulations much harder and tighter than any other EU country. In particular, we understand that all the other EU countries are still importing Russian fish. I have told the Minister that I want a meeting with him on this matter, but I would be interested to hear what he has to say on the issue.

Mr. Salmond

There is further irony in that point. As the hon. Gentleman said, other countries are still importing Russian fish, which means that the finished product—the processed fish—will then be imported. We shall be eating the same fish as the Government have disqualified. The difference is that the jobs will be in other countries, not just European Union countries. It seems ridiculous for the Government to allow that to continue.

Mr. Doran

I understand that point. It is important to examine the situation. As I understand it, Russian fish is still being imported into other EU countries. It is difficult for fish processors in north-east Scotland to obtain supplies from elsewhere, even at the high prices that some importers are prepared to charge because they know that there is a gap in the market. I would appreciate it if the Minister would comment on that.

I will be brief because I know that many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I should like to refer to the efforts being made by councils in the north-east of Scotland in relation to the fish industry. The three local authorities in my area—Aberdeen city council, Aberdeenshire council and Moray council—have recently formed a joint fisheries partnership. The aim of that partnership is to improve the area's ability to attract new industry connected with the fishing industry and to improve the safety, the image and the profile of the fishing industry.

The Lord Provost of Aberdeen city council has begun chairing a regular meeting with leading fishing industry figures. The city is contributing to a massive change in the image and servicing of the industry. For example, it has undertaken an improvement in the harbour area, in which the fish processing industry is situated. It is co-operating with the local harbour board to upgrade the Aberdeen fish market, mainly to improve the image but also to introduce health and safety measures that will place the city's facilities among the leaders in Europe in terms of the services provided and the quality of the fish that passes through the market. A new dress code and a new hygiene code have been introduced. The city council has taken the view that it is an important industry for the city. As I have said, about 3,500 fish processing jobs are involved there and the council is making magnificent efforts.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. As I said earlier, it is a novel experience for me, on my return to the House, to find the annual fishing debate to be constructive and reasonable. I hope that that will continue in the future.

5.27 pm
Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

In their election manifesto, the Government said that they would work for the reform of the common fisheries policy. For fishing ports such as Bridlington, which I have the honour to represent, that is vital. If there is to be a fishing industry after 2002, we need reform of the CFP.

The Government have been asked on several occasions what they intend to do for fisheries during the United Kingdom presidency. No answer was given by the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but the Parliamentary Secretary did give an answer on 3 November. When the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) asked about the Council of Ministers meeting on 3 October, the Parliamentary Secretary said: I made it clear that the United Kingdom would seek to reach an agreement during its Presidency of the European Union next year"—[Official Report, 3 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 37.] to phase out the use of drift nets. We know that the issue of drift nets is important, but when the British fishing industry is collapsing by the day and we are told that during its presidency the UK will concentrate on drift nets, one must question the priorities.

I suppose we should be grateful for the fact that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), was clear about what the Government are doing about reform because he said that there will be no opportunity to revise that fishing policy for some years. That is a lot of hope for the fishing industry.

Following discussions on quota hoppers, the Government have said that they intend to "strengthen the economic benefits" that countries derive from their quotas. It is time that the Government understood that the national allocation of quota is a discriminatory derogation terminating in the year 2002. That is a mistake that we Conservatives made. A derogation cannot be reformed; it simply expires. We are left with the task of trying to obtain a new derogation, which will become increasingly difficult.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman may have been daydreaming when I mentioned the priorities for the UK presidency, which included enforcement, marketing and preparing for the debate on common fisheries policy changes in 2002. The principle of relative stability is not a derogation and will not expire in 2002 unless there is a majority vote against it.

Mr. Townend

The question of fishing up to our coasts is a derogation. The Government say that they will apply effective controls of fishing efforts. That is probably why, in respect of decommissioning, licences have been split from track records. The Government know that the track record is the valuable part and want the industry to decommission itself or fall into foreign hands. Decommissioning is cheap, and will allow the Treasury to meet its targets for economic and monetary union. However, the track record is the fishing effort. Fishing effort will not be reduced by taking a vehicle out of service and allowing the catch allocation to go to others. That is nonsense.

The Minister talked about black fish. Lord Sewel, a Scottish Office Minister, has made it clear that the Government's aim is to clamp down on black fish. We should not forget what black fish are: the over-quota landing of species caught as part of a mixture of species. It is illegal, but what is the alternative? Dumping tens of thousands of fish into the sea to pollute the ocean is not conservation—it is nonsense.

It is Government policy to agree to more effective conservation measures. What went wrong on 30 October when for three species of fish the minimum landing size was reduced well below the breeding size? The reason given, along with the discarding rules, was the need to reduce the quantity of fish discarded—on paper, not in practice. Any fool can reduce discards on paper. One can make them nil if the minimum landing size is a tiddler. The Government made a big mistake by taking down the sizes for two flat fish: plaice to 22 cm and megrim to 20 cm. They should know that those fish have no swim bladders. If the juvenile fish they now want to market were returned to the water immediately under the present discarding rules, the majority would live. It is round fish with swim bladders that die, because their bladders burst coming up through the pressure zone. That is why they float belly up when discarded for seagulls to attack. The Government regard it as acceptable to catch juvenile fish below breeding size because they say that it is wasteful to require the discarding of fish that are unmarketable.

We talk about the common application of the rules. As a member of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, I go to Strasbourg and Paris regularly. One has only to walk around the fish markets to see the minuscule fish on sale there. The Danes were correct to vote against the conservation measures.

The Government say that they want to improve the way in which quotas are managed. The way the Government are going, there will be no UK quota. Whatever the Minister says, it will cease in 2003 because we shall have a permit system then. We have now accepted that.

Finally, the Government want a greater regional dimension to the CFP. I forecast that that will involve the same regions that the United Kingdom will be broken up into as we become a Europe of regions in a federal state. It is no good giving us nonsense about regional management being the same as coastal state control. The one hands over the competence to organise fisheries to Brussels, which the Government seem to agree with, while the other, which the industry wants, gives the competence to coastal states.

If they are honest, the Government see no possibility of reforming the CFP to the benefit of fishermen. On 11 November in the Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, the Minister questioned whether we could get Spain to vote for a package of measures that went directly against its interests.

Mr. Morley

It has a veto.

Mr. Townend

The Minister is right. The answer is that there will be no reform of the CFP for the benefit of the British fishermen. Nor will a further discriminative derogation be obtained, except perhaps for six-mile and partial six to 12-mile limits. The other nations will extract an enormous price from the United Kingdom for those 52 votes.

The Government have failed on another election promise. They are going to let the advantage of the six-month presidency slip through their fingers. They will let the British fishing industry sink because little can be done with 10 votes. They are merely office boys carrying out their master's instructions. For that, they are prepared to see a vital national interest disappear beneath the waves.

There is only one real culprit in the decline of the fishing industry: the European Union. The Minister mentioned that things were not always right in countries outside the CFP. He is correct. The Canadians mishandled the situation off the Newfoundland banks, but at least a nation state can impose a proper management system. If our fishing industry could enjoy the prosperity of those of Norway and Iceland, our fishermen would be much happier. It is a betrayal of this country, of our fishing industry and of a great national resource—

Mr. Mitchell

Who did it?

Mr. Townend

The guilty men are my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and the late Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. One accepted the fisheries policy when we came in and the other refused to deal with it when we renegotiated. Fish are an important national resource. It is nonsense that North sea oil is a British resource but that the fish swimming around the oil rigs are a European resource.

I hate to say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), but we lost every fishing seat of any size at the general election, with the exception of mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). If we are to win those seats back, we must change our policy. We must stop looking at Europe through rose-coloured spectacles. We must accept that our national interest is the repatriation of the CFP.

5.37 pm
Mrs. Christine Butler (Castle Point)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate. It is a privilege to speak in that House. I am proud to represent the people of Castle Point and greatly honoured by their will to have me serve as their Member of Parliament.

In 1992, my predecessor, Robert Spink, became Member of Parliament for what was considered a safe Conservative seat. He became a parliamentary private secretary and I know that he looked forward to a long parliamentary career. Despite his deep disappointment at losing his seat, he was gracious in defeat. He was the first to shake my hand after the result and I wish to put on record my respect for the dignity that he accorded public life that night.

I also pay tribute to Lord Braine of Wheatley, a former Father of the House, whom many of my constituents remember with affection simply as Bernard Braine. He was a Member of Parliament for more than 40 years, withstanding the boundary changes that saw the creation of the new seat of Castle Point from the former Essex, South-East constituency.

I would not like to forget another of my predecessors, Captain Ray Gunter. He was first elected to Parliament in the Labour landslide of 1945. Ray's service to this country during the second world war, his commitment to his constituents throughout his time as a Member of Parliament, and his later contribution to the trades union movement have become an outstanding testimony to his belief in a better future. From that line, I am the first Labour Member of Parliament in almost half a century to represent South Benfleet, Thundersley, Hadleigh and Canvey Island, all of which form the constituency of Castle Point.

The constituency of Castle Point and Castle Point borough council were created on conterminous boundaries in the 1970s. Their name is derived from the well-known landmarks of Hadleigh castle and Canvey point. My constituency lies along the east side of the Thames estuary. It is within the port of London, but just outside the Thames corridor. It has grown from tiny townships and villages to a present population of about 85,000 people. Its rapid post-war growth has been due in no small measure to the resettlement of people from east and north London, who wanted to live in more pleasant surroundings without entirely breaking their links with London. Every day, the London-Tilbury-Southend line carries thousands of my constituents in and out of London to work.

Castle Point now forms part of the larger conurbation of south-east Essex. Its post-war history has defined it primarily as a commuting area, without large-scale industry or commerce. It has one of the highest rates of home ownership and dependency on the private motor car in England. It has grown, however, and been left to get on as best it may without any foreseen need for help or intervention.

The time for change has come. Our roads are bursting at the seams; our young people need more help into training and post-16 education opportunities; we cannot meet the demand for affordable homes to rent; and 55 per cent. of our work force have to travel out of the area to make a living. Most of all, Castle Point needs a better balance between employment opportunities, patterns of transport and housing and amenity provision. I look forward to the challenge of renewal and regeneration while protecting those assets that we hold dear.

One of the jewels in our crown must surely be the ancient ruins of Hadleigh castle, which are perched high on the downs above Benfleet Creek. It offers unparalleled views over much of my constituency and across the river Thames to the fields of Kent. To the west of the castle, the great oil refineries of Shell and BP at Coryton dominate the flat landscape of Canvey Island. To the east, beyond the grazing marshes and saltings, is the wider estuary and the southern North sea. Whatever the season, it is always a wonderful place to be. Such an abrupt meeting of times past and present gives pause for thought to the future.

From that high point one can see, morning and evening, slowly moving convoys of cars attempting the daily journey to and from work. One can also make out the vast areas of housing on Canvey Island, developed from the old plotlands in a piecemeal approach to planning which is the bane of its current residents. My constituents know what it is to suffer from poor planning. We treasure the benefits that we have accrued through foresight and we bemoan the effects of the lack of it.

Hadleigh castle stands proud as a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the people who live in my constituency. They want changes that can bring a better quality of life and a more sustainable future. No borough can achieve on its own solutions to problems that have a regional dimension, be they connected with transport, planning or economic development. That is why I have such an unshakable belief in the invaluable support that a regional development agency, working within a national policy framework, can offer to smaller districts.

Castle Point needs to attract investment to provide work for a mix of skills and age groups. Through the local plan, we are beginning the process of regeneration. Acres of derelict land on Canvey Island are now designated for retail employment use and for amenity and environmental upgrading. An outward and forward-looking approach has been the key to that new planning framework. It is an approach that recognises the inherent possibilities within one's own area, understands its needs and looks for partners in a mutual venture.

A pressing task before us all is the creation of jobs within a sustainable economic and environmental future. It is no mean task, but I am excited by the steps that the Government are taking. At last, we have leadership aimed at the longer-term economic policy; we have leadership in transport; at last, we have leadership in tackling environmental problems at home and abroad; and at long last, we have a Britain that recognises the value of its people through its employment, training and education policies. The framework we are now setting nationally will give confidence to putative investors who are looking for stable economic conditions, good industrial relations, a skilled work force and a fine place to locate.

Change does not necessarily mean replacement. It is also about the growth of indigenous enterprise, renewed effort towards worthwhile conservation and a greater respect for nature and heritage.

Besides the container vessels and barges trading in the Port of London there are still small fishing boats, the defiant remains of a beleaguered industry. It is one of our oldest industries, which dates back to Saxon times, and we are determined to keep it and strengthen it. Fishing on the Thames will not survive without a joint approach, and that is why the inshore fishermen of Castle Point, along with those from Kent and the rest of Essex, are as one behind the strategy for coastal state management.

We owe a great deal to our intrepid fishermen, who refused to give in when their living became so precarious. They are encouraged by the efforts now being made on their behalf by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I know that there is a common understanding of the best way forward. As in many other policy areas, the watchword must be sustainability. That means better management of inshore fisheries and ecosystems so that in the long term we are replenishing stock and not decimating it through an outdated and inadequate approach that had more to do with political trade-offs than science and common sense.

The new approach must be based on co-operation within the industry between member states. There are signs that that is beginning to happen and I hope that sound arguments will eventually win everywhere.

I am encouraged by what my hon. Friend the Minister has had to say today. He has offered us an improvement on what we had and an improvement on what some might have expected. I am particularly encouraged by his focus on several dimensions that are important to fisheries policy. For example, I am encouraged by a sound approach designed to improve standards of enforcement, which will include better monitoring and tougher policies. I am also encouraged by the much more holistic approach to stock management than we have seen before and the more positive yet resolute approach within Europe.

I am delighted to have been included in this debate. I wish my hon. Friend well as he negotiates for British fishermen agreements based on sustainability and better enforcement in days to come.

5.47 pm
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

I am honoured to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) on her first-class maiden speech. I do not know that part of the country well, but I gained a clear impression not only of the eyesores but of the attractions of her constituency. I am sure that she will make a good job of representing the people of that area. I share her enthusiasm for protecting the interests of the inshore fishing fleet. She was right to emphasise the importance of that.

I should also like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on introducing this annual debate for the first time as Minister with responsibility for the fisheries. I join him in congratulating the industry on continuing to make constructive suggestions and on entering into constructive dialogue with the Government and the Opposition parties to bring forward positive proposals for future development of the industry. I welcome much but not all of what the Minister brought us in his statement, but I certainly welcome efforts to control industrial fishing—something which the industry has long looked for.

A fundamental point that will emerge from the debate, and which the Minister must recognise, is the fact that the industry will not welcome his proposals for the pelagic sector, as they will have a devastating impact on it. It is important that no rash decisions are made on the pelagic sector. The Minister must discuss the matter with the industry and make progress on the exchange of letters about quota hopping that he mentioned earlier. He must do that before he makes a final decision and statement on the future for the pelagic sector under MAGP IV.

The memorandum that underlies the debate—and indeed the debate itself so far—reads like a mouthwatering medley of fish from the menu of the many highly acclaimed fish restaurants in Cornwall. I strongly recommend that right hon. and hon. Members present visit the many and various restaurants there.

Mr. Jack

Which ones?

Mr. George

I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman after the debate. This is not an opportunity to advertise specific restaurants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, go on."] I recommend hon. Members to come to my part of the country and enjoy the many high-quality fish restaurants there. No doubt such restaurants are not confined to Cornwall but exist throughout the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) has already read, covered, digested and repeated much of the briefing from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. There is much detail about the proposed amendments to the total allowable catches for each species, on which the Minister will negotiate tomorrow. It is not possible to go through every aspect of that again.

I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Fylde said about the inconsistencies in some of the proposed advice, but I cannot agree with the Conservative amendment. As we are supposed to be living in a country that has not only a new Labour new Government but—as from this autumn, I understand—a new and apologetic Conservative party, is it appropriate for the Conservatives to debate fishing in the House without first offering an apology for its treatment of the fishing industry in past years?

There are some important points of principle concerning the proposals for total allowable catches. I shall mention two. The first is the scientists' two-dimensional assessment of the way in which the fishing industry operates. Much of the science is based on single-species assessment and fails properly to recognise the reality of a mixed-catch industry.

That is nothing new. If I may draw the attention of the House to my part of the world again, I might mention that next week in Mousehole we shall be celebrating what is called Tom Bawcock's Eve. At this time of year, west Cornwall celebrates the time when, after starvation and poverty because of storms in the western approaches, Tom Bawcock went out from Mousehole, braved the storms and brought back seven sorts of fish. There are songs to remember that time and to celebrate the seven sorts of fish that he brought back. The occasion will be celebrated next week in the village, with the baking of many stargazy pies. I am sure that the Minister will know about them; the fishes' faces poke out of the pie.

Things have not changed, so science must develop more to reflect the realities of the industry. I believe that the Minister is aware of that. It is important that the scientific assessment of the way in which the industry operates should develop and become more sophisticated, to reflect the fact that many fishermen now rely on what we know as mixed catches and that it is difficult to direct oneself at one particular species.

It is also difficult to react to changes in the quota that are too dramatic—and there are some dramatic changes in the proposed total allowable catches that the Minister has announced. We need a longer-term perspective on stocks. There may be a 40 per cent. floor for TAC reductions, but the Minister must recognise that 40 per cent. represents a massive swing—a massive cut—for the affected fishermen. Short-term stock assessments lead to what the industry perceives as imperfect and erratic advice.

As the right hon. Member for Fylde said, there are sometimes erratic interpretations in connection with the proposals for cod and haddock in the North sea. There are many mixed fisheries and, as has been mentioned in connection with the west coast of Scotland saithe, they may be forced to respond simply by altering their discard levels. That will not necessarily reduce mortality rates even if it succeeds in reducing catch rates. I hope that the Minister will appreciate that that is an important point to take to the negotiations with his colleagues in Europe tomorrow. He should seek to redress that balance and deal with the problems that will inevitably arise.

For example, in area VII, at the port of Newlyn in my constituency, the potential loss of up to 40 per cent. of the megrim catch will mean that up to £1.3 million will go out of the local economy. Moreover, megrim underpin a wide range of mixed fisheries. That elaborates on the point that I made earlier. Not only will £1.3 million be lost to the local economy—directly to British fishermen—but there will be a knock-on effect in the local community.

Meanwhile, it has been announced today that in the Penzance and St. Ives travel-to-work areas in west Cornwall there has been a further 15 per cent. increase in unemployment. In other parts of the country, unemployment is ostensibly falling and there is a problem of overheating, even in the so-called south-west region, of which Cornwall does not see itself as properly a part. In Cornwall, we still face the problem of continuing high and increasing unemployment. The news will hit the economy of west Cornwall harder than most other areas.

We shall have to look more closely at the Minister's statement on MAGP IV. I note that he did not use the phrase "days at sea" to describe effort control in the pelagic sector, but he must accept that there are implications for that sector and that, as a result of his proposals, days at sea could be restricted.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made the point effectively that, by using the review clause at the end of 1999, there will be an opportunity to review whether it is appropriate to manage the pelagic sector in that way. I know that the industry shares my concern about days at sea restrictions. If that is on the agenda, the Minister should realise that the pelagic fleet cannot be restricted in that way, because it must search grounds for days—even weeks—before it can start fishing. Such controls would be artificial, inappropriate and contradictory when the western mackerel stocks are to increase by up to 20 per cent.

I hope that the Minister accepts that decommissioning has been unequal across the fleet. Not only has there been a lack of pelagic involvement, but only two of the 600 vessels that have been decommissioned were Anglo-Spanish. What conclusions does the Minister draw from that? What action should we take?

That brings me to the issue of quota hoppers. The industry wants to know a great deal more about how the Government intend to deal with that problem. We must find a practical solution and not merely play games that fuel Europhobia or xenophobia. The Government should push this point very hard and use the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union to pursue the matter with great vigour.

We still do not know what progress has been made following the exchange of letters. I listened carefully to the Minister. He referred to the 1998 licences and suggested including clauses on the horsepower of boats. Clauses on the economic connection of boat to port could also be included. It is essential not to lose the opportunity to make progress, because this problem undermines the confidence of the industry and of British fishermen. We want to know what provisions the licences will contain and how soon such new clauses could be included. How does the Minister intend to implement and enforce his proposals? What is the likelihood of a legal challenge? How much support is there among other EU nations? What time scale does he propose? I hope that he will deal with those points in his winding-up speech, because the industry wants to know a great deal more.

I welcome the proposal to relate concerns about fishing management on a sustainable basis to the important issue of marine safety. I am deeply saddened to have brought to the House's attention the fishing tragedies that have occurred across the country. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) recently raised that issue to some effect.

I welcomed the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), who is responsible for shipping, while the Minister was making his statement. There should be increasing co-operation with colleagues in that Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and in the Department of Trade and Industry, given its role in registering the telecommunications agency.

This year, 11 lives have been lost at sea in the fishing industry. That is the seriousness of the problem in my constituency: we lose more lives at sea than on the roads. The problem is not just with the management of the industry, but with the management of sea safety. Four men have been missing for more than a month. They were on the Margaretha Maria, which is 75 ft trawler from Newlyn. The families of those men will be facing their first Christmas without their father or their husband. It is an incredibly difficult time, and sadly such incidents have occurred all too often. It is important for the Minister to work with his colleagues to find practical solutions to those problems.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the fishing industry in Scotland is voicing great concern about the proposed closure of the Oban coastguard station and the Pentland station in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)? I hope that the Fisheries Minister will be involved, on behalf of fishermen, in the consultation process that the Shipping Minister announced yesterday.

Mr. George

I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention, because it amplifies and supports my point. This problem should not be seen merely as a coastguard management issue, because it affects the management of the industry and it has a knock-on effect on sea safety. St. Ives has lost a number of coastguard look-outs in recent years, and that greatly concerns people in the industry.

The abortive attempt to produce a new code of practice for under 12 m vessels shows the importance of cross-departmental co-operation. Those proposals have gone back to the drawing board, but had there been greater interdepartmental co-operation and had the industry been able to give advice, we would have made progress on a new code of practice for marine safety.

The Minister mentioned the importance of developing still further satellite surveillance programmes. There is a connection, because it is not just a problem of fishing management, but of sea safety. An appropriate and well-managed expansion of the use of satellite surveillance will be of great interest to the Minister's colleagues in other Departments.

The debate should concentrate on and draw attention to the major and golden opportunity for Britain to push forward with and set the agenda for the reform of the common fisheries policy—and my goodness it needs reform.

Mr. Gill

In earlier fishing debates, the hon. Gentleman spoke about reform of the common fisheries policy. Has he considered that it is virtually impossible to get any meaningful reform of that policy because it is almost impossible to get enough nations to support radical proposals? The hon. Gentleman speaks of reform, but does he not appreciate that that is a complete cop-out?

Mr. George

That was a fascinating intervention. Meanwhile, back in the real world—

Mr. Gill

Tell us how we can get reform.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)


Mr. George

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

One sure fire way to ensure that we do not get the co-operation of our European colleagues is to take the hon. Gentleman's attitude. If such attitudes prevail, obstacles will continue to be placed in our way.

Mr. Salmond

Of course it is difficult to get member states to agree, but not long ago the Spanish Government managed to get our Government's support for accelerated access to western waters. If there can be movement one way can there not be movement in the other?

Mr. George

The hon. Gentleman's intervention is appropriate. Perhaps supporters of the previous Government should bear that point in mind when they speak about securing a better future for British fishermen. They should ask themselves why the Spanish fleet got access to western waters six years before there was any need for that fleet to have it. I should like to make progress because I know that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

As the Minister has said, if the common fisheries policy, with all its faults, did not exist, some international agreement or pan-European co-operation would be needed for fishing in international waters. In pursuing an agenda for the reform of the common fisheries policy during our six-months presidency, I hope that the Minister and the Government will not stand back with the usual British sense of fair play but will be robust in their efforts to secure fair play for British fishermen.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. George

No, because I want to make progress.

The agenda for reform must include equality in monitoring and enforcement by member states, and transparency in implementation by member states of MAGP IV. It must secure a practical solution to the issue of quota hopping and set an agenda for effective reform of the policy on the principles of sustainability, decentralisation, equality of monitoring and enforcement. It must promote and protect the interests of our inshore fleet.

The Minister spoke about the need to decommission the tuna drift net fishery. I have raised the matter with him before. Such decommissioning can happen only if the Minister recognises that there must be adequate compensation and retraining to ensure that people are not pushed out of fishing altogether but are allowed to develop other forms of fishing. They are pursuing species that are off quota.

Mr. Hayes

I was inspired to re-enter the Chamber by the length and honesty of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I must press him on how robust he is prepared to be. He spoke about a more robust approach and has given illustrations. His Cornish fishermen and mine in Lincolnshire will want to know how robust he and his party are prepared to be. For example, would they be prepared to say that there will be no treaty without an end to quota hopping? It is fine to play the game of being robust but people want to know how far the Liberal Democrats and people such as the hon. Gentleman are prepared to go in defence of the national interest.

Mr. George

My party would not support the hon. Gentleman's proposal. We took the seat in St. Ives because of Conservative Europhobia and Euroscepticism and not in spite of them. People have seen through that line.

I should like to draw attention to the importance of protecting the inshore fishery. Significantly, the south-west mackerel handline fishery in Cornwall closed down last night. The irony is that it is the most sustainable of all fisheries and such closures should not happen. If that fishery cannot be taken off quota, with conditions, which is what I should like, the Minister must hold back or set aside quota that can be made available later in the year if it is needed. I hope that he will address the importance of protecting not only the inshore fleet and the artisan fleet but the mackerel handliners which are the most sustainable of all fisheries.

We urge the Government forcefully to press for the optimum fishing opportunities for British fishermen and to base their demands on sustainable management, effective enforcement and a recognition of regional differences in the fisheries. In this traditional annual debate on the industry, we ask the Government to recognise their obligation to drive forward the fishing debate during their presidency to ensure equality of monitoring and enforcement by member states and transparency in the implementation of MAGP IV. They should clarify with the industry progress on the exchange of letters about quota hopping. We must set the agenda for the reform of the common fisheries policy and ensure that it is based on a decentralised system. We must incorporate closed areas, make effective use of satellite surveillance and protect the inshore industry.

I have raised some technical points on next year's proposed tax and I encourage the Minister to listen closely to the industry's views on his proposals. He should recognise the potentially devastating impact of those proposals on the pelagic sector and discuss that with the industry before he implements them. The next six months will present Britain with a golden opportunity to drive forward the necessary reforms to the common fisheries policy. We cannot afford to lose that opportunity.

6.18 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I compliment my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) on a fine maiden speech. I wish her many years of fruitful labour on behalf of her constituents, whom I have no doubt she will ably represent.

The Minister's opening speech was the proverbial curate's egg. Much was welcome, but some aspects caused great concern. On behalf of the Northern Ireland fishing industry, I particularly welcome the lack of further reduction in the demersal and nephrops fleet, and the apparent abandonment of the concept of limitation of days at sea. In the limited time that the House expects one to impose by self-discipline, I shall refer only to matters that particularly affect Northern Ireland fishing.

I remind the Minister that the Northern Ireland fishing industry is especially vulnerable in two aspects. First, it has already done its share in terms of conservation and the development of fishing stocks by contributing, from its own resources, a 40 per cent. reduction in fishing effort over the past few years. We would like the other members of the European Union to catch up before any further obstacles are put in the way of our local fishing fleets.

The industry in Northern Ireland is basically a coastal industry, mainly confined to the Irish sea. The communities that foster the ports of Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie are totally dependent on it, and if the fishing industry were to collapse, so would those communities. There is no other sustainable employment in those areas, so this is not a matter of a potential threat to one specific economic sector, but a threat to the entire economic life of such areas. That is why I emphasise the contribution already made to conservation by the Northern Ireland fishing fleet, and hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to further development of the industry, which is currently on a knife edge.

Of particular concern to the Northern Ireland fishing fleet is whiting in area VIIa. It would seem that, during 1997, fishermen have consistently reported large shoals in the western Irish sea. I know as well as anyone what a fisherman's tale can be, and, in reality, that is almost an unprovable experience.

Scientifically speaking, Irish sea whiting has been on a roller coaster for the past few years. In 1996, the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management recommended an increase of 22.5 per cent. in the total allowable catch; and for 1997, it recommended a cut of 28 per cent. Unfortunately, the scientific community now recommends a cut in the TAC for 1998 of about 49 per cent., from the present 7,500 tonnes to 3,800, although I know that that suggestion has been mitigated by the European Commission to a reduced level of 4,500 tonnes.

I cannot understand what made the ACFM and the European Commission take that course when, according to the ACFM, the stock is considered to be within safe biological limits and spawning stock biomass appears to be stable. If the ACFM says that, why is it recommending a 49 per cent. cut? That requires immediate further investigation. Irish sea haddock in area VII also seems to be more common than scientific evidence would suggest. The restrictions are imposed because of scientific evidence that seems to be at variance with the experience of local fishermen.

Although herring fishing is not a major factor in the overall industry, the local fleet is nevertheless facing a considerable and continuing problem relating to the closure of the Douglas box off the south-east coast of the Isle of Man. If some effort were made by the Minister and his Ministry to reduce the time and the extent of the closure, it might provide an alternative crop for local fishermen in Northern Ireland.

The other question I shall briefly address is the Hague preference—that annual problem afflicting Northern Ireland fishermen in particular. As in previous years, it is likely that the Government of the Republic of Ireland will invoke the Hague preference in respect of Irish sea cod, whiting and plaice. Given that an extremely low whiting TAC is likely to be set, that will mean even further erosion of the UK's Irish sea whiting allocation, and also the probability that the Republic of Ireland will have less whiting to swap in the coming season.

Will the Minister address that problem, which might be resolved by way of bilateral agreement between the UK Government and that of the Republic of Ireland? It should be possible to come to some rational arrangement that could be automatically put in train year by year, rather than the Dutch option, which offers unpredictability year after year.

I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to regional specialisation in the Northern Ireland fishing industry. I am not asking for special treatment for Northern Ireland's industry, as distinct from that of the UK, but for it to be looked at separately, in the sense that it has a dimension separate from that of certain other UK regions.

As I said, Northern Ireland's fishing industry is predominantly coastal, but it has been scientifically recognised that Northern Ireland's fishing grounds contain a biomass unique in European coastal waters. The confluence of the seas, both north and south, create unique conditions that have never really been recognised in terms of the availability of species within the main fishing grounds of the Northern Ireland fleet. Will the Minister take that aboard as a separate subject for investigation?

I remind the Minister of a statement made in 1992 in a European Commission report, "Regional Socio-economic Studies in the Fishing Sector". That report said in respect of Northern Ireland: There are currently very few alternative employment opportunities. Perhaps this is the one area where the maintenance of fish and the related industry employment should be a priority. In that context, and in view of the coastal nature of the Northern Ireland fishing fleet and the unique breeding and fishing grounds, will the Minister look at the possibility not of giving our fleet special treatment, but of making it the subject of separate assessment, distinct from other regions in the UK, in order to see whether a different viability attaches to the Northern Ireland industry?

Those are the highlights of the non-national points I wish to make. Time allows me only to pinpoint them on behalf of the Northern Ireland fishing industry. I should like to think that, when he goes to Brussels—I think tomorrow—the Minister will be accompanied by his noble Friend Lord Dubs, who is the Minister in the Northern Ireland Office responsible for agriculture and fisheries. That practice has proved successful in previous years, and I should be disappointed if Lord Dubs were not personally present to sustain and advance the special interests of the Northern Ireland fishing industry.

Finally, I ask again whether there can be a bilateral arrangement with the Republic of Ireland in respect of the transfer and swapping of quotas with the Northern Ireland fishing fleet, so as to allow a more measured and more permanent relationship in terms of that specific variation of the invoking of the Hague preference.

6.29 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) on her maiden speech. When she rose to speak, I and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) hastily compared notes to find out where Castle Point was. We need not have bothered, because in her excellent speech she gave us a tour d'horizon of her constituency. Those in the Chamber who did not know where Castle Point was, should now be very familiar with it because of the hon. Lady's eloquent speech about her constituency.

It is fair to say that fishing is not the dominant concern in the hon. Lady's constituency—but having achieved a 17 per cent. swing at the election, she is obviously excellent at fishing for votes. If she turns in more performances like this evening's, I am sure that her constituents will reward her with continuing and even more comfortable majorities.

I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about the loss of the Sapphire. I have said some deservedly harsh things about two of his Government colleagues because of their attitude to my constituents in this tragedy—but they would not apply to the Minister, who has a tremendous depth of knowledge of and is sincere about the fishing industry. His remarks were gratefully received and appreciated, and I will relay them to my constituents.

I suspect that the Minister has argued for a decent amount of time for this debate, so it is important that Front and Back Benchers show some restraint, to ensure that everyone who wants to speak gets the opportunity. I shall quickly run through a number of the points made in the debate and then raise two main points of concern, which I am sure the Minister will want to answer.

First, in an intervention in the Minister's speech, I raised the issue of the cod and haddock quotas. There is a clear inconsistency in the scientific treatment of those species. It is vital for the confidence that working fishermen have in scientific advice that the Minister clarifies the matter. From his quite sympathetic response, I take it that he will work to secure some improvement in the North sea haddock quota. A number of devices are available to him in the negotiations, so I send him off to them with the plea that he seriously considers the matter, as there appears to be a virtually inexplicable difference in the treatment of those species in the North sea.

Secondly, I hope that the Minister will confirm that there are a number of species in the North sea—whiting—and off the west coast where the Hague preference could be invoked. It is vital that it is invoked. That concession was won for the United Kingdom by the then Irish Foreign Minister, later Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald in 1976—if my memory serves me right. It has been extremely useful with a number of species over the years, so it should be well oiled and kept in use. I hope that it will be invoked in the negotiations for the relevant stocks.

Mr. Morley

On the hon. Gentleman's question about North sea haddock and the scientific difference in the treatment of cod and haddock, my information is that the increase in the North sea cod TAC reflects the considerable reduction in cod fishing in recent years. There has been an increase for haddock, and the TAC is now 115,000 tonnes, which is 5,000 tonnes more than the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management suggested. There has also been agreement on an increased quota transfer with Norway for haddock. On the hon. Gentleman's point about adjusting the quota by further adjusting industrial by-catch assumptions, that is something that we will do in the Council. I hope that that answers his points.

Mr. Salmond

I welcome that information, and I will leave the matter to the Minister, given his sympathetic response.

A number of issues have not been mentioned in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has been pursuing the question of the exclusion order that affected the Moray firth fishery. The difficulty appears to be that, although we have always had the principle of the polluter pays, in this case it has become impossible to identify the polluter. As a result, the fishing industry has had great difficulty with its compensations claims.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

This is a matter of deep concern, which must be dealt with by the Government. The oil and gas industries in the North sea are obviously important as well. However, where fishermen do not have the facility to claim compensation, could the oil companies establish a contingency fund to help? It is an important matter for the fishermen in my area.

Mr. Salmond

I shall relay my hon. Friend's question to the Minister; I am sure that he will answer it when he replies to the debate. I rely on my hon. Friend's ingenuity in these matters to get her point across.

Another point that I wish to raise cropped up earlier in the debate, in the remarkable, amnesiac speech of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). The Conservative party has got a grip on the fact that the Government have been in office for seven months, but it seems to have forgotten the 18 preceding years. The claim is that the UK has been taken to the cleaners over the Atlanto-Scandian herring distribution—and that is correct. However, as I pointed out earlier, it was a Conservative Government who were first taken to the cleaners.

I want to raise with the Minister the obvious point that it was the efforts of the Scottish pelagic fleet—which, on the basis of the Minister's remarks, will be under great pressure—that secured 30 per cent. of the whole European quota of the new stock coming into use. Therefore, to get only 19 per cent. of the quota allocation seems a considerable gap. Perhaps the Minister will use his good offices to argue that point strongly, especially given the pressures on the pelagic fleet.

I could raise a whole range of other issues, but they have already been dealt with by other hon. Members. I want to concentrate on two main issues, one of which arises directly from the Minister's statement. The other relates to the UK presidency, European representation and the way forward.

On the question of MAGP IV, apart from saying, as other Ministers have, that Tory spending plans have left this Government in a straitjacket, the Minister did not quite make an argument that this part of the Opposition could accept—or, I suspect, many of the Government's Back Benchers. The good news for the white fish fleet in the near-achievement of MAGP IV targets is that that should open the door once again to structural funding.

Scotland is at the cutting edge of the UK fishing fleet in its capital mobilisation and renewability, but on average the fleet is 25 years old. It has to compete with fleets across Europe that are much more modern and have had reinvestment in the industry, which many sectors of our fishing fleet have not had for some considerable time. There is a safety issue which should be recognised. Older boats and younger skippers are going to ever deeper waters, and that raises major safety questions.

There is also an economic aspect. I hope that the Minister will at least say that, despite the self-imposed spending straitjacket, the whole question of structural funding, which could be opened up in the Community, and the possibility of a scrap-and-build approach, which has been used successfully in other European countries—something which the Minister mentioned often when he was in opposition—could form part of the strategy for the white fish fleet now that the structural aspect opens the door to reinvestment.

Mr. Morley

I understand exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. We have looked into the issue of EU rules on structural funds for vessel improvements. Currently, the global MAGP target must be met before the member state is eligible for funds; so, although we have met our target in some segments, until we meet our global target we are not eligible.

Mr. Salmond

I understand that point. It bring me neatly on to the pressure on the pelagic sector. I can understand the encouragement that the Minister takes from the fact that he can lift the threat of a further-days-at-sea policy or other unpopular effort restrictions on the white fish fleet.

However, I have a tiny suspicion that the very small number of pelagic boats will be convenient whipping boys to carry the burden of capacity reduction. If my quick calculations are correct—and they may be wrong—and if I follow the Minister's logic, we are talking about capacity reductions of a third or more over the four years remaining in the MAGP target. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point.

As has been pointed out, in the North sea, herring quotas are up by 60 per cent. and western mackerel quotas are up by 20 per cent. People who work in the pelagic sector will find it virtually impossible to understand the huge capacity reduction in their fleet if the quota assessment is moving in the opposite direction.

I return to this important point. Considering the nature of the pelagic fleet and of the herring and mackerel species, and the wide fluctuations in those species, is it at all sensible to use the blunt instrument of MAPG targets? Is a more sophisticated approach possible?

If the Minister can find the ingenuity almost to spirit away the target shortfall in relation to the white fish fleet, I am sure that, if he examines how other countries in Europe address the question, he will not find it beyond the bounds of possibility to avoid the severe disablement of our pelagic fleet and its capacity to compete with other pelagic fleets at the cutting edge of the European Union fishing market.

This is very much a Scottish matter. Eighty-five per cent. of pelagic capacity is in the tank ship Scottish fleet. I would not like to think that this Scottish matter was being placed in the firing line because it squares circles elsewhere. Although the number of its boats is limited, the pelagic fleet is hugely important for a growing onshore industry, as processing has replaced the capacity that used to be taken up by klondykers and other processors.

We have at last been building an impressive home pelagic processing industry. If it cannot be guaranteed the supplies—much of the industry uses dedicated supplies—not hundreds of boats and hundreds of jobs in the pelagic catching sector, but thousands of jobs in the pelagic processing sector, might be at risk. I will leave it there, except to say that the pelagic fleet seems to be in the firing line. I hope that a way can be found to avoid the blunt instrument of widespread capacity reductions. On the face of it, if quotas were properly implemented, the fleet's capacity could perhaps be well sustained.

One thing was slightly missing from the Minister's speech. I understand that this debate has to go through the detail of quota assessments, but—this is not too harsh a criticism of the Minister—I was looking for a bit more vision in relation to the direction of Community policy. The Minister and I agree that, in 1992, during the last United Kingdom presidency, a magnificent opportunity was lost to tackle some of the fundamental underlying issues in the fishing industry. I would hate to think that hopes and opportunities are going to be lost again.

It is not comforting that one of my European colleagues has told me that the United Kingdom representation documents for the presidency apparently contain no mention of fishing as a substantive issue. That does not give me confidence that the Minister has succeeded in persuading his colleagues of the critical nature of the industry and of the fact that, in the run-up to 2002, the presidency should be used to try to shape policy.

I should have liked to hear a bit more about progress on quota hopping. I have spoken to the Minister about the suggestions from the Mallaig and North-West Fishing Association on whether the Marine Safety Agency and safety aspects could be brought into play in relation to quota hoppers.

I should also like to have heard a lot more about coastal states management—the decentralisation of fisheries policy—which many of us believe offers great hope for a much more sensible ordering of our affairs in terms of European fisheries. Other European countries substantially support that approach. I should like to hear a bit more about the Minister's thoughts on the matter.

Figures on the relative weight of the Scottish fleet in the United Kingdom fishing industry show that the Scottish fleet accounts for 67 per cent. of UK landings, 57 per cent. of the UK industry's value, and 46 per cent. of UK vessels over 10 m, against 45 per cent. for England and Wales. By any measurement and definition, the Scottish industry constitutes the bulk of the UK fishing fleet. As a percentage of gross domestic product, it is 14 times more important to the Scottish economy than to the UK economy as a whole. Fishing is a dominating powerhouse industry in Scotland, and should be viewed as such.

Tomorrow, we expect the publication of the devolution Bill. Press leaks tell us that the role that was envisaged for the Scottish Parliament within a European context is to be played down, diminished, or even removed entirely from the Bill. I therefore hope that a Scottish colleague will whisper in the Minister's ear and give me some reassurance that, within the context of the European negotiations, the new Scottish Parliament will above all have a significant, continuing and entrenched role in fishing policy. Despite the individual ability of the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, it is vital for Scotland's fishing communities that they are represented by the Scottish Parliament, so that they are never again subjected to the disarray and humiliation which has been their lot over the past 18 years.

6.45 pm
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

As one new Member to another, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) on her maiden speech. We have both attended virtually every meeting in the House on the fishing industry, adding to our local knowledge by understanding some of the larger complexities. I look forward to attending many more meetings with her.

I congratulate the Government on the progress made so far, and I welcome the Minister's speech. I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate, which is vital for my constituents in Fleetwood. It is especially vital that the Government negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for British fishermen.

I should like to outline why the debate is important for my constituents. Fleetwood bounced back from the loss of its distant water grounds. During the mid to late 1980s, it had a fleet of about 60 inshore and home water trawlers, which made a significant contribution to the landings at the port and utilised many local services.

Unfortunately, in the early 1990s, vessels were sold or decommissioned, or the owners of the vessels went into receivership. Now, there are fewer than 30 trawlers and a further eight have been the subject of successful decommissioning bids in the current round. Of those, three have already been decommissioned. Further contraction of the indigenous fleet will threaten the entire sector at Fleetwood. We are at the "critical mass" level of activity. That is why it is vital for my constituents that the Government negotiate a fair deal for them and ensure that the industry continues.

The issue of the availability of quota to the local fish producers organisation is vital. Against a background of losses of quota in recent years, it is working hard to make the most of the available quota. It is essential, therefore, that the track record attaching to decommissioned vessels at the Fleetwood PO is not lost to the organisation. It is hoped that the recently introduced facility of effectively trading in track record will not further reduce the quota available to the PO. However, I am disturbed to find that that appears to be happening already.

Some 40 per cent. of our entitlement to Dover sole has been purchased by an entrepreneur, who is interested not in the boats, but in their licence entitlement. He has taken the fish away from Fleetwood, although he lives in my constituency. He has transferred management of the fish to a producer organisation that is noted for acting for Dutch quota hoppers. I have already raised my concerns about the impact of the loss of track record with the Minister, and I am sure that he will take them into account in any future decommissioning schemes.

All that makes the new year allocation of quota a major concern for my constituents. Fleetwood has a low quota allocation. I understand that further reductions in cod, whiting and saithe quotas are proposed for area VI, with some increase in the haddock quota, and that reductions are proposed in whiting and sole quotas for area VIIa, with a welcome increase in haddock and plaice quotas. While there are clearly some concerns about reductions in some of the allocations, my fishermen welcome increases elsewhere.

Without sufficient landings, we will not sustain the port's various businesses. I make no apologies for my special pleading for Fleetwood. Other hon. Members can argue for their areas, but I am arguing for the fishermen of Fleetwood and the industries connected with their landings.

I believe that there are reasons for allocating additional quota to a port such as Fleetwood to prevent the total collapse of the fishing sector. One means of achieving that is being developed by my local fish forum. It concerns the quota released by vessels being broken up under the decommissioning scheme. Instead of being sold on or reallocated to POs on a pro rata basis, which in some cases means only a few extra cases of fish to each port, it would become the subject of a socio-economic bid, just as cash resources are bid for under the single regeneration budget or city challenge.

I hope that the Minister will consider a variety of ways to ensure sustainable fisheries management and effective enforcement and that he will acknowledge the special place of communities such as Fleetwood.

I welcome the Minister's saying that he is considering the possibility of designated ports. The issue has not yet been raised in the debate. I know that some of the catchers in Fleetwood object to the proposals for designated ports; nevertheless, the Fleetwood fish forum and my local authority—Wyre borough council—fully support the idea, to protect the future of the port and to develop far more effective enforcement measures.

The system would also make a significant contribution to the emerging philosophy of the regional management of fisheries, with designated ports becoming regional hubs, and their port assets and shore-based businesses being utilised more effectively. Certainly, the fish dock at Fleetwood is a designated facility, used exclusively by fishing vessels. That is not the case in all ports. I look forward to hearing more details of the Government's proposals in the new year.

Finally, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look positively at a variety of options available to halt the decline in my local fishing industry, especially given the previous Government's appalling record. Let us hope that we arrive at a solution while ports such as Fleetwood still have a fishing industry to benefit from them.

6.51 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on a first-rate speech. It was first rate because it lasted six minutes, not 30. In my experience, when an hon. Member makes a short speech, people listen. I hope to follow the hon. Lady's example.

Reference has been made to the Hague preference, which is the reason why the Conservative Benches are so empty. The leader of the Conservative party is holding his pre-nuptial party, which explains why this side of the House is so deserted. Otherwise, it would be crammed with hon. Members wanting to speak about fish. I hope that it explains why I am going to make a very short speech, which is not customary, and why I shall not be here to hear the winding-up speeches. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Minister understand that.

Brixham is in my constituency, which includes the coastline from Paignton to just outside Thurlestone. About 3,000 to 4,000 of my constituents are employed in the fishing industry. Brixham, which is the principal port, is the second largest fishing port in England and Wales. Fishing is a vocation, rather like being a Member of Parliament but a great deal more dangerous. I pay tribute to the courage of the fishermen. They have a tough way of life, especially in this sort of weather, but they still bring us fresh fish every day.

The United Kingdom fleet lands £637 million worth of fish each year. About £100 million of this is taken up by quota hoppers. We must get the facts straight. About 20 per cent. of the fish landed in Great Britain goes to another nation, or several nations, and is lost to UK fishing communities. About £95 million worth of fish is landed in Devon and Cornwall every year, but a high percentage of that—about 40 per cent.—goes to Spanish or Dutch quota hoppers. The boats are crewed by other Europeans, and the profits go to foreigners.

The real question is whether a country's birthright should be a negotiable asset. Quota hopping breaks our historic and traditional right as a seafaring nation to harvest fish in our own waters. However, it is not only the British fishing industry which is under threat, because the French industry is also being threatened. If the Spanish continue to be allowed to buy the quota of other countries, we will end up with a European fleet made up exclusively of Spanish boats. That strikes me as a major problem. It was not solved by the previous Government, but it provides an opportunity for the Minister to win his spurs if he can deal with it.

The main issue for the Government is how we get back our quota. Can some countries continue to take the quota of other countries? Will a quota be a saleable commodity? I understand that this is not the case with the milk quota and that each country can use only its own quota. Why then can one country buy another country's fish quota?

Mr. Morley

It was a policy supported by the previous Government who were keen on the tradeability of quotas.

Mr. Steen

Well, we have to put it right now. Quotas should not be tradeable; if they are tradeable, the Government should buy ours back. The Government may argue that British fishermen sold their quota in the first place, so why should public money be used to buy it back? The simple answer is because our fish stocks are a vital national asset. In many areas of the country, fishing plays a crucial part in the local economy and provides much local employment. In addition, the quota should be inalienable. When we were in government, we recognised the complexities of the problem. Even if we got it wrong at the outset, we realised in the end that we had to get it right.

The former Prime Minister rightly said that he would not complete the Amsterdam treaty without solving the quota hopping mess, but the new Government seem to have been hoodwinked into thinking that they have solved the problem. They have not. In fact, the Europeans—I use a mixed metaphor—have sold us a pup. The deal negotiated at Amsterdam brings with it no material benefit to the UK fishing industry. Even if it did, President Santer says that it is not enforceable.

As I understand it, the Government have negotiated a deal whereby vessels must land at least 50 per cent. of their catch in their country of registration, or visit that country at least eight times a year for eight hours. If I am wrong, I should be pleased to be corrected.

Mr. Morley

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The visiting qualifications are the present qualifications for licences. Our proposals cover 50 per cent. of the catch, 50 per cent. of the crew or 50 per cent. of the trips starting from a UK port.

Mr. Steen

That is quite helpful, but let us analyse those three points. The first is that 50 per cent. of fishing trips emanate from British ports. That simply involves a vessel from a Spanish port steaming up the channel, arriving at Brixham, and starting its log from there. It then leaves Brixham, returns and goes back to Spain. That may not be practical, but it is possible.

The next option relates to 50 per cent. of the catch being landed at a UK port. This is the option that concerns the fishermen of Brixham. If 50 per cent. of the catch has to be landed at Brixham, the fish will be loaded onto a 44-tonne refrigerated lorry on the docks without even reaching the local auction house. The lorry will then head for Spain, and the catch will in no way have benefited the people of Devon. Only the oil companies will gain. Shell and BP shareholders might be fortunate and benefit from those lorries being filled with fuel, but the public will not benefit. There will also be problems with the ozone layer because of the wretched lorries pouring out diesel fumes on their way to Spain. In other words, no one in the UK port will benefit. There will be more bureaucracy but no extra fish.

Although I want to keep my remarks short, I should like to explore one other issue: flags of convenience that are owned by the Spanish. Does the Minister thinks that the 50 per cent. rule will bring any benefit to people in British ports? I cannot understand how it will create any extra employment. There will not be any extra money. All that will happen is that the fish will not swim, but will be driven, to Spain. I cannot readily understand how our fishermen will benefit from that. Ministers talk about energy conservation, yet they sign up to an agreement that will increase the number of diesel-guzzling lorries loaded with fish—pounding through the English countryside, over the channel and down to Spain.

Fishermen also feel let down about decommissioning. I gather that the Government allocated £53 million, over five years, to ease the problems of fleet reduction. Of that, £36.4 million has been spent and a further £14.3 million has been allocated—leaving a £2.3 million shortfall. Has that money gone to Guernsey or been lost somewhere? Perhaps the Minister can explain what has happened to it.

The Minister will have to spell out—I know that he has to do an awful lot of spelling out in his reply, because every hon. Member has asked him to say something—the benefits of his negotiations at Amsterdam to the ports and people of the south-west. I am not being difficult with him or making a political point, but I cannot discern a benefit.

Perhaps there has been a secret negotiation in which the Minister has done a deal with the other European countries. We do not know about the deal, which is why we are puzzled about it and why the benefit to fishermen and to our ports is not readily seen. Perhaps that is also why there have been so many speeches in the debate about quota hopping. Given his interest in the subject, perhaps he will explain the situation to the House. I will read his explanation in tomorrow's Hansard, because he will excuse me if I go off to the prenuptials. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to hear the explanation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. will soon have to call for the Front-Bench replies to the debate, and can therefore call only four more Back Benchers to speak. I can do that only if hon. Members take no more than eight minutes apiece to speak. I cannot rule on the matter and am in the hands of the House, but I give that advice.

7.1 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

I will try to stick to your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Since May, I have noticed that one of the features of debates in the House is how often it has become absolutely clear that the new Government have received a terrible inheritance from the previous Government. There are few worse examples of that inheritance than the common fisheries policy, which was established many years ago with the aim of conserving fishing. This debate and debates on the policy in previous years have shown that that principal aim has not been achieved. Moreover, not only fishermen but the public feel that there is something wrong with a policy that requires dead fish to be thrown back into the sea.

The Conservative Government signed up to the common fisheries policy, and they were in power during its 10-year review. They also held the European Union presidency at the end of 1992, and failed to address the quota-hopping issue, although everyone had known since 1991 that it was a problem.

The Government have also inherited the legacy of the huge and unrealistic expectations raised among fishermen because of the anti-European froth spouted by the Conservatives in the months leading up to the general election. I believe that fishermen were used and exploited by the anti-European brigade—especially by the Maastricht rebels—for their own ends. The people of Lowestoft will remember the sight of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) clambering over trawlers in the port. They had not previously realised that she had such an interest in fishing—although I noticed that she sat through part of today's debate.

Everyone is now clear that those expectations would always be impossible to fulfil, unless we withdrew completely from the European Union. Even in this debate, however, I have heard hon. Members talking about "going to the line" and "pushing it to the limit". We saw what happened on beef. A policy of non-co-operation in Europe achieved only the creation of the acronym PONCE—which is also what the Europeans called Ministers who went to Europe on behalf of the previous Government, espousing their policy.

This Government have achieved more in a few months than the Tories achieved in years. The economic link established by the Government to deal with quota hopping is beginning to work. I mentioned earlier that there has already been an instance in Lowestoft in which a quota hopper has had to take on two British fishermen to fulfil requirements. It is true that those fishermen were recruited from a Lowestoft trawler company, but there are plenty of unemployed fishermen in Lowestoft to take their place. Surely that is the point of the economic link—to create jobs, livelihoods and prosperity for British fishermen.

Happily, since those PONCE days, things are settling down, and sensible discussions and meetings are taking place. In July, I attended a meeting in Lowestoft between East Anglian fishermen and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Fishermen said that they were impressed by him, because he was willing to listen and he showed commitment and understanding and had great knowledge of and expertise in the fishing industry. Their conclusion—which was published in the press—was that he was a man they could do business with.

Since the general election, the story for fishing in Lowestoft has been quite a good one, in relative terms. The fishermen of Lowestoft felt that there were more plaice out in the North sea than the scientists had calculated. Again in his listening mode, the Minister authorised the scientists to recheck the situation. Consequently, the plaice quota was increased from 80,000 tonnes to 91,000 tonnes. Although that figure has had to be reduced in the recent negotiations, the new plaice quota for next year is 87,000 tonnes, which is still well above the 80,000 figure that the scientists had originally proposed.

The huge variation in scientific observations is creating a problem. It is all very well to say at the beginning of the year that the quota should be set at a certain amount, and then to raise it part of the way through the year, but jobs will have been lost and livelihoods will have been wrecked in the meanwhile. I can therefore understand why fishermen call for greater consistency from scientists, and why they question some of their findings.

One matter on which I agree with the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is that we have to get scientists and fishermen together on agreeing what stocks are out there. An agreement will not be easy, but we will have to make a serious attempt at reaching one. If we do so, politicians will no longer be in the middle. As a local politician, the Minister is in the middle. One hears both from one's scientists and from one's fishermen. One cannot say that either group is not telling the truth, but which group does one believe? It is a very difficult situation.

Lowestoft is concerned primarily with plaice, so the news for next year is good. However, one realises—with today's announcement on MAGP IV—that there are difficult times beyond that. Although our small boat fleet will not be affected under MAGP IV, there will have to be a significant reduction in the beam trawler effort. That reduction, although not the nightmare previously feared, will be very difficult.

There are only 11 beam trawlers left in Lowestoft, and everyone feels that we need those 11 trawlers to sustain the Lowestoft fish market. Without the fish market, we cannot really have a fishing industry in Lowestoft. Pardon the pun, but the guts of the industry are in that market. I therefore request that Lowestoft may have serious talks with the Minister to decide what can be done to ensure that, in implementing MAGP IV, the Lowestoft fish market will be sustained.

We are stuck with MAGP IV, which is a consequence of the common fisheries policy. It behoves us all, however, to look ahead in deciding how we can reform the policy. I support what hon. Members have said this evening about the need for more localised regional management. That must be the way forward. Another way is for the Government to sit down and talk to the industry sensibly, with no froth and fire, and to give fishermen a stake in their industry. We have used the term stakeholding in many other contexts; fishermen have an interest in conservation and it is important to give them that opportunity.

The new Government have begun to establish a better relationship with the fishing industry. It is important that we work together in a responsive and responsible way to tackle the problems that lie ahead if we are radically to reform the common fisheries policy.

7.10 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

In view of the advice that you gave the House a moment or two ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall resist the temptation to argue with the contentious remarks made by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) about my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and, presumably, about myself and my other hon. Friends.

What we achieved by showing a particular interest in the fishing industry was to put that industry firmly on the political agenda where it had not been before. Had the hon. Gentleman been in the House at the beginning of the previous Parliament, he would have seen that there was a relatively low attendance at fishing debates, but, by the end of the Parliament, many right hon. and hon. Members showed a tremendously increased interest in fishing. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the action of the so-called rebels which put the fishing industry on the political agenda.

I agree with the hon. Member for Waveney about conservation. So much is said to justify the common fisheries policy in terms of what it does to conserve fish stocks, but, as the Minister will know, I have serious concerns about the proposals to reduce the minimum landing size of fish. I know that the fishing industry shares those concerns because fishermen are responsible people who want to look after the long-term interests of their industry. I believe that the British public would share those concerns if those aspects of the common fisheries policy, to which I shall refer in a moment, were more widely known.

It is a complete mystery to me why, when there are so many animal welfare lobbies showing interest in wildlife and animals, no public attention has been drawn to the fact that we are wasting a huge amount of resources by discarding perfectly saleable fish dead into the sea. The proposals that we are considering contain measures to reduce the minimum landing size of fish. That means that, quite legally, fishermen will be catching fish that will not have had an opportunity to breed; that is absolutely appalling.

I know that the Minister is constrained by the fact that we have to get agreement in Europe to any change. The hon. Member for Waveney should recognise that. The Minister talked about clamping down on black fish. That will lead to greater tonnages of discard and will add to the total loss of fish. It seems extraordinary that the fishing industry culls the young stock whereas in the case of animals, stock that have come to their end of their useful life, are old and have lost value are culled.

The Minister will not be surprised when I say that I wish to pursue the arguments raised in the fisheries debates on 9 and 23 July for, as he has conceded, I am nothing if not consistent. He might also recognise another trait—that of persistence. I should like him to know that I intend to persist in my endeavours to establish the truth. Indeed, if successive Ministers had told the truth over the past 25 years, it is questionable whether we would be in our current position.

The reason why the truth about fisheries is a truth that dare not speak its name is that had the British people been told the truth, they would never have voted to remain in the EEC in 1975. Had they been told that, as from 1 January 2003, fishing vessels of all member states of the EU would be able to fish right up to our beaches—or technically speaking, the base line—that there would be no such thing as a British fishing fleet, and that all the fish in the seas around the British Isles would belong to the EU, there would have been uproar.

For 25 years, the House and the people of Britain—not least the fishermen—have been fed a diet of half-truths, deceptions and downright lies. Article 38 of the treaty of Rome spoke only of a common market in agriculture and fisheries products, but, almost by sleight of hand, subsequent treaties have ensured that fisheries are now part of the acquis communautaire.

Which Minister drew the attention of the House to the clause in the Maastricht treaty which joined fisheries to agriculture and which Minister flagged up the inclusion of the EU fisheries permit system in the treaties of accession for Austria, Finland and Sweden? If the basic fisheries regulation continues indefinitely, as Ministers claim, why did they feel it necessary to include a permit system as a treaty obligation, given that article 4—which sets out the permit system—is already part of the basic regulation?

It is now clear that there will be no reform of the CFP. I hope that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) is paying attention. It was confirmed by Mr. John Farnell, director of Directorates-General XIV in his address to the Greenwich Forum on 16 October. In his reply to me in the House on 12 November, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that the Government now accept that reform is out of the question. All that will happen on that front, as the Minister himself admitted on 23 July, is that the Commission has to produce a report by 31 December 2001"—[Official Report, 23 July 1997; Vol.298, c.906.] It is committed not to a reform, but simply to a report. That is in accordance with article 14.2 of the basic regulation 3760/92/EEC which states: the Commission must produce a report on Community fisheries by the end of 2002, dealing in particular with the economic and social situation of coastal regions, the state of the fisheries resources and their expected development, and the implementation of the basic Regulation. So there we have it—the implementation of the basic regulation.

That is not what the Labour party was saying prior to the general election. Its election manifesto said: We will seek a thorough overhaul of the Common Fisheries Policy to conserve our fish stocks in the long-term interests of the UK fishing industry". Nor is it what Labour MEPs are saying. They have voted by an overwhelming majority to approve the Carmen Fraga Estevez report which states, among other things, that the decisions adopted by the Council throughout the 1970s on the creation of a common fisheries policy asserted the principle of freedom of access to Community fishing grounds. Secondly, it states that in the absence of a decision by the Council, the principle of equal access will apply automatically as from 1 January 2003 … if a fresh derogation is considered necessary, it will have to comply with Article 235 of the Treaty which requires unanimity within the Council. Thirdly, the report states quite correctly that exemptions from the general principle will be repealed automatically as from the year 2002, when the current fisheries policy expires unless otherwise decided (in which case unanimity is required within the Council). For the benefit of the hon. Members for St. Ives and for Waveney, those are the facts, the realities and the constraints within which our Ministers have to operate. More to the point, the Carmen Fraga Estevez reports continues: as we have repeatedly stressed throughout this introduction, the current common fisheries policy in fact constitutes a derogation from the principle of freedom of access, and this derogation will expire in 2002. Will the Minister recognise that what I am saying, what the Commission is saying, what the Carmen Fraga Estevez report is saying, what his own Members of the European Parliament are saying and what Save Britain's Fish has been saying for a long time is the truth? Personally, quite apart from the fact that it seems improbable that all those people have reached the wrong conclusion, I have no argument with what they are saying. However, I take exception to the craven refusal of successive British Governments to tell the truth.

For example, the new Labour Government, although at last conceding that article 6 of regulation 3760/92 is a derogation, apparently refuse to accept that the regulation is itself a derogation. By dint of its being a derogation, it will not continue beyond 2002 without further agreement. Will the Minister tell the House whether he can produce any documentary evidence that regulation 3760/92 will continue beyond 2002? In the absence of such evidence, it is a matter of fact that the regulation, including article 6, will have to be renegotiated. The question then is what the British Government will give in exchange for Spain's acquiesence. I invite the Minister to assure the House that the bargaining counter will not be the rock of Gibraltar.

The Government deny that, post-2002, we shall have, in effect, a single European fishing fleet, catching European fish in European waters. They do not understand that, as a result of the Maastricht treaty and the treaties of accession, the principle of equal access without discrimination is enshrined in Community law. It is not negotiable. Prior to those treaties, one could have argued that the CFP was open to renegotiation because its basis was in regulation. Now that it is firmly established as part of the acquis, that option no longer exists.

Which of the fisheries Front-Bench spokesmen participating in this debate will be the first to look British fishermen in the eye and admit the mistakes of the past? Will it be the fisheries Minister himself or will it be my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)? It may be of some assistance to them in determining their answer to bear in mind the old saying, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time". I accept that politicians do not like admitting mistakes and least of all having to apologise, but I assure the House that, on this issue, where a vital national interest is at stake, they will be hounded until they do.

7.21 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

It is wonderful to see so many Labour Members representing fishing ports and speaking up eloquently and articulately in defence of their local fishing industries—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler), who made her maiden speech and raised another voice for the fishing industry. It is even more exciting after 18 years to see in this annual December debate my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) as the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I congratulate him on having made himself such a master of the industry so quickly and on winning its respect and support in the way he has.

I do not want to say anything about total allowable catches because there is not much time. I want to make only two points. First, the cod quota, especially in the North sea, is up due to huge juvenile stocks. What proposals does the Minister have to conserve and protect those juvenile stocks so that they can grow into marketable fish? Secondly, will the Minister put off setting an allocation for horse mackerel? The record is incomplete and inadequate and it would be premature to do so.

On quotas, I shall make only two points. First, there is a great need to smooth out allocations, because scientific advice tends to work like a switch-back, a roller-coaster, amplifying trends. It is good at describing historical record but bad at predicting and dealing year by year on a single-species basis. We therefore need to smooth out fluctuations. I suggest adjustments of no more than 10 per cent. up or down. The economic viability of the industry and the impact on communities has to be taken into account as well as conservation. We need to take account of and do more to control discards. It is a simple fact of life that when quotas go down, discards go up, especially in mixed fishing, where there is an horrendous problem of discards. There are all sorts of ways of attempting to deal with such problems. The Canadians are making effective use of square-mesh panels, which gives them more selectivity in catching. We must approach the issue through mixed quotas. All such ways need to be considered because discards are becoming quite a serious problem.

Secondly, it is good to know that now that the multi-annual guidance programme IV has been in force for about a year we have some details of what it involves. It is good to know that there will be no reduction in the demersal fleet, although I must warn the Minister that reductions in the pelagic fleet and beam trawlers will be quite substantial and have a serious effect on the industry—too big to be handled on the basis of co-operative concession, particularly since many involved are not quota hoppers and will not give up just because the British Minister pleads with them to do so.

MAPG IV is not simple, clear and transparent. It is opaque because different countries use different methods to reach the target. It will be very difficult to compare and contrast who succeeds in reaching the targets, yet a good deal depends on it—allocations from Europe, for instance.

I thought that it was ominous when the Minister mentioned the strict financial review that is taking place. Decommissioning money will be necessary; there is no doubt about it. If we are to reduce effort, there is no other effective way of doing so. We cannot go back to the days-at-sea approach. Many of us, especially my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, have held too many verbal hostages to fortune over days-at-sea limitations. The only alternative, therefore, is money. That means money to modernise the fleet. Our fleet is very old in comparison with others, which have had European money to modemise. The average age of our fishing vessels is 25 years, in total contrast with fishing industries in other countries.

I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) on the need to maintain industry in ports such as theirs and mine at a critical mass which will sustain facilities and prevent the industry imploding. Most of the decommissioning in the previous round—in fact, 80 per cent. of it—was of English vessels. That is reducing our fleet to such a level that there has to be some means of allowing the producer organisation to purchase quota and track record in order to keep the industry local. Highlands and islands finance in Scotland has been a key element in allowing the purchase of quotas, so why cannot the regional development agencies that we are setting up allocate money through the producer organisation to keep the industry viable locally? There must be some financial basis for allocations.

I express only disappointment at the proposals on quota hoppers. While it is important to do something, what is proposed will be an annoyance to sections of the English industry without closing the door, penalising or controlling quota hoppers.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has worked hard to give the industry a stable prospect and a base for expansion and development, and I congratulate him on that. He has taken that purpose very seriously. However, we also committed ourselves in the manifesto to a fundamental review of the common fisheries policy. The presidency offers great opportunities. I hope that my hon. Friend will not merely use it to be an impartial defender of other people's interests or to concentrate on environmental matters, which are so close to his heart. It is right to deal with drift nets, and so on—I am absolutely 100 per cent. with him on that—but to concentrate on environmental matters and ignore the national interest would be dangerous.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) that there can be no prospect of a fishing industry for this country inside the CFP. I want to pull out, but there is an intermediate, transitional stage. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister should work to move the CFP away from equal access to one of a common resource, under greater national control and influence, allowing Europe—perhaps—to set measures of the lowest common denominator but giving coastal states more control over their own catches and waters, with a more focused control rather than the broad, sweeping, simple, lowest common denominator measures that Europe goes in for.

The common fisheries policy is the worst fishing policy in the world because it is not effectively enforced, it pits fishermen against each other in a competition to decimate stocks, and there is no incentive to conserve stocks. Any fisherman who adopts practical conservation measures immediately sees the fish looted and pillaged by fishermen from other countries. Fishermen are also not stakeholders in the policy, which is the only way that we shall see effective conservation in the industry.

It was nice of my hon. Friend the Minister to make jokes about policy no longer being dictated by Euro-sceptic rumps. I did not take it personally, even though I offer more Euro-scepticism and more rump than most of the Tories do. However, the Minister's comment is not an effective debating point. The fishing industry has been weakened because it has been sacrificed so often and for so long to Euro-enthusiasm.

To obtain concessions in other areas, we have made concessions on fishing because it is not a politically important or powerful industry. That must stop. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend will work to stop it, because he takes the interests of the industry seriously. We must assert the national interest because our interest is in conserving our stocks and ensuring that we have a viable industry to hand on to future generations.

7.30 pm
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

My constituency contains the historic ports of Hastings and Rye, where the fishing industry in recent years has experienced, in common with those elsewhere, a decline in its fortunes. Perhaps worse still, it has felt that the Government have not been listening. It is probably true to say that my very presence in the House is connected with the wrath felt by the fishing community towards the previous Government. It may also be connected with the visit by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to my constituency during the election campaign. The leader of the Liberal Democrats also visited, but my hon. Friend must have had more effect.

Because of the limits on time, I shall immediately raise the single issue that most affects my constituents. The resolution refers to the need to ensure that the regional differences of fisheries and their communities are fully recognised. I wish to relate that point to area VII, which covers my constituency. My constituents fish from vessels under 10 m and are limited to the locality of their port. With those smaller vessels, the quota for the area is allocated to the area and not to the boats. Therefore, the fish that the boats may take is dependent on the total number of similar small craft fishing in the area.

Two issues have arisen in the past few years that have caused my constituents some dismay and concern. First, fishermen from other areas around the United Kingdom are taking advantage of decommissioning grants, destroying their larger boats, purchasing 10 m licences—pocketing the difference on the way—and re-entering the industry, often in area VII, to take a share of that area's limited resources. Secondly, others have sold their licences for larger vessels and physically shortened their boats to less than 10 m. They are also coming to area VII and depleting still further the fish available to my constituents, who have historically fished there. I am told that at least eight boats from those two categories have entered the area in the past few months.

Within the past three years, the number of vessels sharing the spoils in area VII has virtually doubled. I am delighted that the overall quota remains the same for the coming year, but, with double the number of vessels, simple arithmetic shows that the catch for each vessel is effectively halved. In short, we have our own home-grown quota hopping, which is unfair and which, if allowed to go unchallenged, will risk the stability of the industry and communities such as those of the ports of Hastings and Rye.

There is a simple solution to the problem. If craft under 10 m were licensed to a particular area—to area VII in the case of Hastings and Rye fishermen—the number of area licences could be limited to those boats currently fishing in the area. If UK licences were exchanged for area licences, their numbers could be limited.

Historically, small ports such as Hastings and Rye have rationed their catch to ensure their long-term employment. This year, regrettably, the quota was exhausted this week because of the practices that I have mentioned. If yet more vessels move into the area, next year's Christmas break for my constituents will come even earlier and will be a holiday without pay.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister, who has done so much in his short time in office to benefit the constituents to whom I have referred, to visit my fishing constituents. They would make him very welcome and thank him for what he has done, but they would also be able to describe their concerns much more graphically.

7.35 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), to the Dispatch Box. I hope that he will not think that I am presumptuous if I say that he is there not before time. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) on her maiden speech. I understand that she is a sculptor in her spare time and she used her artistic powers verbally to paint a vivid picture of her constituency. I look forward to further speeches from her.

I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Mr. Townend), for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), who showed their usual expertise in this debate. I understand that they have a different Hague preference from some of us in the Chamber tonight and are not able to be present.

The Minister began with the now customary new Labour language about the new era that has been ushered in. He told us that the unrealistic expectations and policies of the Conservatives, designed for the Euro-sceptics, had been replaced by the lush landscape of harmonious relationships with the European Union. I paraphrase, but I wish him well when he goes to the Council because he will learn from experience.

I wish to put the record straight on what the previous Government proposed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made it clear that we intended to achieve a resolution to quota hopping or the Amsterdam process would not have been concluded. The Minister may be right to say that we were outnumbered 14 to one and that we might not have made much progress, but we had been in that situation before. We will never now know whether we would have achieved a settlement on that basis, because the present Government bottled out—or adopted different tactics, depending on which side of the Chamber we sit.

Where have we got as a result of the Government's new communautaire approach? The beef ban is still unaltered, because it is simply a protectionist trade measure; the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is outnumbered 14 to one and unable to manoeuvre; and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have had to eat humble pie over Euro X. The Government are learning from bitter experience what most previous Governments have learnt in the various European Council meetings.

The Minister gave us one or two answers on money issues, which followed the usual pattern that we have come to expect from Ministers recently. They say that they have a comprehensive spending review in train but that they have to follow the limits set by their predecessors. They say not a word about the £6 billion more in the Government coffers than the Red Book anticipated. The Government have far more manoeuvrability on spending than they tell their Back Benchers. However, the Minister added a few worrying comments. On the comprehensive spending review, he said that he would examine ways in which the industry could help to pay for any future decommissioning. That is worrying. He also mentioned the two-year implementation of the Conservative spending limits, but MAGP IV runs beyond the end of that two years. What are we to expect? Have we been promised anything or have we simply to hope for the best?

We need full industry involvement in the MAGP IV discussions. Sadly, the Scottish fishermen had to wait three months for a meeting to discuss it with a Minister. I agree with them that no conclusive view on the implementation of MAGP IV should be adopted, through any form of effort limitation scheme, unless there is full consultation with the industry.

We welcome the increase in the TAC for cod and haddock to 140,000 tonnes. A banking element is included, and the agreement of the industry is testament to the seriousness of the desire for conservation to succeed. However, the question of linked fishing remains. Notwithstanding the Minister's intervention earlier, I do not believe that there is any logic in increasing the cod TAC but not the haddock TAC. There has been a failure to achieve a TAC in the UK quota that reflects the abundance of fish present in the sea. Scientists have always told us that haddock and cod should be taken in common to protect cod, and I see no justification for breaking that link now. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) pointed out—following an intervention of mine—cod is still designated outside the safe biological limits, but haddock is inside. This shows a lack of concern in negotiations for a particular Scottish interest.

There seems to be a lack of will in making decisions, and I wish to refer in this regard to scientific advice. Ministers must decide and not just react. Scientists are advisers, not gods. They are not infallible. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) pointed out, it would make a great deal of sense—as the hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) agreed—to set up a joint council of fishermen and scientists; a standing committee to give information on fish stocks. There is a need to come to common agreement with common information, as this would help the Government and the industry. I hope that the Government will take the suggestion seriously, in the constructive spirit in which it is meant.

At present, we are dealing with MAGP IV and the figures suggest that there will be massive reductions, when we are told that the opposite is taking place. We must work on better scientific information than we have at present, and there is room for consensus on this.

I wish to refer briefly to whiting. I am pleased that the Government will discuss the industrial by-catch figure, hopefully for whiting and haddock. The 20 per cent. cut in the TAC for whiting is confusing, as whiting is also inside the safe biological limits. Why is that reduction being made? The UK has an entitlement, under the Hague preference agreement, to 29,000 tonnes of North sea whiting. This must be negotiated in the Council. It is what we are due; it is not charity. The court will shortly make it clear that it is legal and proper. We know that, the industry knows that and our European partners and competitors know that. The Government have a duty to fight for what is due to the United Kingdom. That is particularly important in the west of Scotland.

There are concerns about the scientific advice, and the 40 per cent. reduction in the TAC for whiting cannot be absorbed in one go. I hope that the Minister will take that on board. He must know that the TAC for next year will be 11 tonnes over the previous calculation, and this must be the Government's minimum objective. I expect an explicit commitment from the Minister who replies to the debate. Moreover, the current UK quota is exclusive of the Hague preference, and this again must be negotiated in at the Council. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde mentioned saithe in the west of Scotland. Some 1,500 tonnes have been guaranteed for the UK by the Hague preference in 1997. This also must be retained. I am pleased—along with the industry and other hon. Members—in terms of pelagic fisheries, the stock recovery and the increased TAC. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why Norway has achieved a permanent share of 29 per cent., when those in the know in the industry expected and suggested a lower Norwegian share. There is also a special concern that the TAC on horse mackerel should be allocated among member states in 1998. As the Minister well knows—he is familiar with the issue—the concern centres on the doubts about correct species identification.

One of the other issues raised in the debate was the working time directive, from which sea fishing is exempt. However, this is a clear case of creeping competence by the EU. The fact that it was brought in, disgracefully, under health and safety—which we opposed—as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) said, does not reduce the validity of the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. The social chapter will simply be more of the same, but in other areas.

Share fishermen are regarded in the United Kingdom as self employed. The Government must protect them from the directive. We cannot have continuing interference from Europe in areas in which it has no business. During previous negotiations, we believed, in good faith, that these fishermen would remain exempt. It is no use these measures being introduced by the back door.

I turn now to quota hopping. The Minister referred to continuing discussions, which confused one or two of us who thought that we had a deal. The Prime Minister said on 18 June: We also made real progress in Amsterdam … We secured an agreement … we are entitled to put into law a clear economic link between boats using our quotas and Britain. Economic benefits from boats flying the British flag should go to British ports, for example through a proviso that 50 per cent. of a boat's catch should be landed locally. We will, with all possible speed, introduce new licence conditions to reflect that … those agreements will mean a major disincentive to quota hoppers, present and future. Commission agreement to the new measures means that their vulnerability to legal challenge—a perennial problem hitherto—should be greatly reduced."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 315.] The deal is no more than an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and Jacques Santer. It says that 50 per cent. of fish caught in the United Kingdom quota will have to be landed at British ports, and that fishermen landing their catch abroad will not be able to escape the controls that British fishermen are subject to. It is barely more than a clarification of the current procedure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said in the same debate that the Spanish have already poured scorn on his claims to have solved quota hopping."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 318.] The truth, as the Government know, is that if they try to restrict the movements of existing quota hoppers, they will easily be defeated in the European Court. Therefore, Labour's deal, whereby quota hoppers will be made to land part of their catch in the United Kingdom, may be successfully challenged by the Spanish or Dutch fishermen currently fishing the UK quota. In any event, it does nothing to prevent the future purchase of British quota by overseas fishermen. It does not remove quota hoppers from the UK register; nor will it do anything to change the situation whereby part of the British quota is being caught by, and for the benefit of, overseas fishermen.

Finally, I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan about the Government's plans to be published tomorrow—but leaked yesterday—for devolution. At the moment, Scottish Office Ministers can lead for the United Kingdom at the Council. The former hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, Raymond Robertson, did so during the general election campaign. I understand that the Bill will say nothing about that, because it will not be acceptable to many Government Back Benchers—as it will not be acceptable to the Opposition—to have a Minister leading for the United Kingdom who is not answerable to the House of Commons. As a result of the proposals, an industry that is vital to Scotland will lose a powerful voice, and tomorrow we will ask the pertinent questions.

We wait with bated breath—if I may use that pun—for the three priorities of the presidency and the place that fishing will have among them. Government is not about mood music, it is about results. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are learning that charm is a limited currency in Europe. We do not blame them for trying to be charming—others have tried—but they must fight their corner.

The simple truth is that we in the House of Commons can huff and puff, consider and debate and make party points all we like, but control over fishing no longer rests here. The meaningful debate must begin from this point. The Government claimed that they wanted a full-scale overhaul of the common fisheries policy. Well, we are waiting.

7.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Calum Macdonald)

It is a pleasure for me to wind up the debate, which has ranged widely and—for the most part—constructively across many aspects of fisheries policy. This is my first opportunity as a Scottish Office Minister to speak on this subject—or, indeed, any other—and I am grateful for the kind words of welcome from various hon. Members.

Mine is not the only maiden. We had the pleasure of an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler), who painted a lovely and enticing picture of her constituency and expressed particular support for a greater regional approach to fisheries policy. This point was made also by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster), and the Government agree strongly—as is expressed in the motion tonight.

Like others, I acknowledge the special nature of the industry, which I know well from my constituency. Fishing is a harsh and dangerous occupation, and fishermen have regrettably paid the price for reaping the harvest of the sea. Our thoughts go to those who have lost relatives and loved ones in the fishing industry. The sinking of the Sapphire has been referred to, and I pay a personal tribute to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for his campaign and, more especially, to the Sapphire families for the dignified way in which they have conducted their campaign.

The question of safety naturally came up in the debate. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) spoke about the five-year strategy for coastguard stations that was announced on 17 November. The aim is to enhance search and rescue around the United Kingdom and to improve the safety of seafarers, and a multi-million pound investment is being made in digital technology.

Staff, trade unions and others are being consulted on the proposed closures. A paper explaining the strategy and its detailed implications will be made available and comments invited, especially from fishermen's organisations. The Minister responsible, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), will publish that document, and she has been with us for this debate.

As hon. Members can see from the pile of papers in front of me, many issues have been raised in the debate. I shall try to get through as many as I can. If I fail to deal with some I shall write to those hon. Members who made them with specific answers. The first point came from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is no longer here. He queried the delay in the publication of the various figures and statistics lying behind tonight's debate. We now understand that the European Commission is to publish the full figures for the multi-annual guidance programme IV decisions today. I shall ensure that they are brought to the attention of the House as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned the working time directive. As the former said, fishing is excluded from its terms; but the European Commission is considering the extension to fishermen of the directive's provisions for four weeks' paid annual leave; for health assessments for night workers; and for a guarantee of adequate rest and a maximum number of hours to be worked annually. We are aware of the industry's strong opposition to the application to sea fishing of working time requirements, and we shall seek to ensure that any arrangements introduced take full account of the realities of commercial fishing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) raised a couple of points, one of which concerned the Russian imports coming in through Aberdeen and the various hygiene requirements, which are causing difficulties. The Government are well aware of those concerns, and Ministers have met representatives of the processing industry to try to find a satisfactory solution. The Scottish Fish Merchants Federation has also made its concerns on the urban waste water directive clear to my noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but we are unfortunately unable to offer any prospect of relief from the costs.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) raised a matter that I remember from a Committee on which we both served not so long ago: the problem of an oil spill that affected the fishing interests in her constituency. She said that it did not appear to be from the source from which it was originally believed to have come. She made a serious point, and I shall make inquiries on the matter. Trying to ensure that the polluter pays is a United Kingdom problem, not just a Scottish problem.

On total allowable catches and quotas, several hon. Members have spoken of the need to secure increases in this or that TAC. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have listened to those points and they will be taken into account in the forthcoming discussions. The hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned the inshore sector, and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) made a similar plea. We are very mindful indeed of the regional differences in the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) made an excellent speech defending the interests of her port, and the Government are very conscious of the problem to which she drew our attention. Our proposals on designated ports will be made with her concerns very much in mind.

The right hon. Member for Fylde mentioned the allocation of Atlanto-Scandian herring TAC, and described it as a very poor deal. I fully agree: it happens to be a deal which the previous Government negotiated, and unfortunately it is difficult to secure change to that allocation, but if we see an opportunity to do so we will take it.

Several hon. Members spoke about the allocation of new TACs, and horse mackerel was mentioned a few times. We acknowledge that there are problems with the definition of species and we want to ensure that if any proposals are made on allocations they are fair and take account of UK interests.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, along with the right hon. Member for Fylde and others, asked about the Hague preference, and the hon. Member for South Down made the point that its invocation in the Irish sea by the Republic works to the detriment of fishermen in Northern Ireland, whereas its invocation in the west of Scotland and the North sea can bring considerable benefits to the UK when TACs are restricted.

We will invoke the Hague preference whenever it is in our interest to do so. We recognise that fishermen from Northern Ireland often lose out because of the Irish invocation, and the Government will seek to minimise the losses by counter-invoking and by swapping in additional quotas from other member states. The hon. Member for South Down also referred to bilateral communication and discussions between the UK Government and Ireland; those are happening at a senior level through the Northern Ireland Office.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) expressed concern about the impact of effort control on the beam trawl segment, and other hon. Members made the same point about the pelagic segment. I want to make the point as strongly as I can that we are talking about effort control, not about cutting capacity permanently. We want to sit down with the industry and try to work out a system of effort control. We hope that those in the industry will work with us and with each other to avoid a compulsory approach and develop one that is co-operative and has the flexibility that many hon. Members said that they wanted.

On ring-fencing the pelagic segment, it is important to make the point that the changes to the licensing system will be quite complex, and that some aspects will take effect from today, to prevent action by vessel owners who might try to undermine the effect of the ring fence. We will not allow that.

Opposition Members spoke about decommissioning and expressed surprised that we were not making commitments beyond a comprehensive spending review. None of them mentioned the fact that we have managed to provide an additional £2.6 million for decommissioning since May. That money has gone a long way towards achieving our targets under MAGP III. The scale of financing any future decommissioning, and the ways in which it will be funded, will be decided following the outcome of the comprehensive spending review on fisheries that is currently under way.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), mentioned discards. At the October Fisheries Council, we were able to secure a new regulation that will both change the rules on fishing gear construction and give fishermen greater flexibility in meeting catch composition rules. That will come fully into force in two years' time. We are pressing the question of square mesh panels, which my hon. Friend raised, as part of the conservation measures that we are pursuing.

I shall respond by letter to some of the other points that have been raised. In conclusion, we are taking serious steps to tackle the fundamental problems that beset the fishing industry. These steps have been set out by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On that basis, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 378.

Division No. 121] [7.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Browning, Mrs Angela
Amess, David Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Burns, Simon
Arbuthnot, James Butterfill, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Cash, William
Baldry, Tony Chapman, Sir Sydney
Beggs, Roy (Chipping Barnet)
Bercow, John Chope, Christopher
Beresford, Sir Paul Clappison, James
Blunt, Crispin Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Body, Sir Richard Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Boswell, Tim (Rushcliffe)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Brazier, Julian Collins, Tim
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Patrick
Cran, James Madel, Sir David
Curry, Rt Hon David Malins, Humfrey
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maples, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Mates, Michael
Day, Stephen Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan, Alan May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, Iain Moss, Malcolm
Evans, Nigel Nicholls, Patrick
Faber, David Norman, Archie
Fabricant, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Fallon, Michael Page, Richard
Flight, Howard Paice, James
Forsythe, Clifford Paterson, Owen
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Prior, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Randall, John
Fox, Dr Liam Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fraser, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Gale, Roger Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Garnier, Edward Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, Nick Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gill, Christopher Ruffley, David
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl St Aubyn, Nick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Sayeed, Jonathan
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gray, James Shepherd, Richard
Green, Damian Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Greenway, John Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Grieve, Dominic Soames, Nicholas
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Spicer, Sir Michael
Hammond, Philip Spring, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hayes, John Steen, Anthony
Heald, Oliver Streeter, Gary
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Swayne, Desmond
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Syms, Robert
Horam, John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, William
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tredinnick, David
Jenkin, Bernard Trend, Michael
Johnson Smith, Trimble, David
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Tyrie, Andrew
Key, Robert Viggers, Peter
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Walter, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Wardle, Charles
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Waterson, Nigel
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Wells, Bowen
Lansley, Andrew Whitney, Sir Raymond
Leigh, Edward Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Letwin, Oliver Wilkinson, John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Willetts, David
Lidington, David Wilshire, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Woodward, Shaun
Loughton, Tim Yeo, Tim
Luff, Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Ayes:
MacKay, Andrew Mr. John M. Taylor and Mr. John Whittingdale.
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Abbott, Ms Diane Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ainger, Nick Ashton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Atherton, Ms Candy
Alexander, Douglas Atkins, Charlotte
Allan, Richard Austin, John
Allen, Graham Baker, Norman
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Banks, Tony
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Barnes, Harry
Battle, John Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Bayley, Hugh Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Beard, Nigel Davidson, Ian
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Begg, Miss Anne Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Bennett, Andrew F Dean, Mrs Janet
Benton, Joe Denham, John
Bermingham, Gerald Dismore, Andrew
Best, Harold Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Blackman, Liz Donohoe, Brian H
Blears, Ms Hazel Doran, Frank
Blizzard, Bob Dowd, Jim
Boateng, Paul Drew, David
Borrow, David Drown, Ms Julia
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradshaw, Ben Edwards, Huw
Brand, Dr Peter Efford, Clive
Breed, Colin Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Ennis, Jeff
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Etherington, Bill
Browne, Desmond Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fatchett, Derek
Buck, Ms Karen Fearn, Ronnie
Burgon, Colin Field, Rt Hon Frank
Burstow, Paul Fisher, Mark
Butler, Mrs Christine Fitzpatrick, Jim
Caborn, Richard Flint, Caroline
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Flynn, Paul
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Canavan, Dennis Foulkes, George
Cann, Jamie Fyfe, Maria
Caplin, Ivor Galloway, George
Casale, Roger Gapes, Mike
Caton, Martin George, Andrew (St Ives)
Cawsey, Ian George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gerrard, Neil
Chaytor, David Gibson, Dr Ian
Chidgey, David Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Chisholm, Malcolm Godman, Norman A
Clapham, Michael Goggins, Paul
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clark, Dr Lynda Gordon, Mrs Eileen
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Gorrie, Donald
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Grocott, Bruce
Clelland, David Grogan, John
Clwyd, Ann Gunnell, John
Coaker, Vernon Hain, Peter
Coffey, Ms Ann Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cohen, Harry Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Coleman, Iain Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Colman, Tony Hancock, Mike
Connarty, Michael Harris, Dr Evan
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Healey, John
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cooper, Yvette Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Corbett, Robin Hepburn, Stephen
Corbyn, Jeremy Heppell, John
Cotter, Brian Hesford, Stephen
Cousins, Jim Hill, Keith
Cranston, Ross Hinchliffe, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoey, Kate
Cummings, John Home Robertson, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hood, Jimmy
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hoon, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna Hope, Phil
(Perth) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dalyell, Tam Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Martlew, Eric
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Maxton, John
Humble, Mrs Joan Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hurst, Alan Meale, Alan
Hutton, John Merron, Gillian
Iddon, Dr Brian Michael, Alun
Illsley, Eric Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Milburn, Alan
Jenkins, Brian Miller, Andrew
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mitchell, Austin
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Moffatt, Laura
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Moore, Michael
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Moran, Ms Margaret
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Jones, Ms Jenny Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
(Wolverh'ton SW) Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Morley, Elliot
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Mountford, Kali
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Mudie, George
Jowell, Ms Tessa Mullin, Chris
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Keeble, Ms Sally Naysmith, Dr Doug
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Norris, Dan
Keetch, Paul Oaten, Mark
Kelly, Ms Ruth O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Kemp, Fraser O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) O'Hara, Eddie
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Olner, Bill
Khabra, Piara S O'Neill, Martin
Kidney, David Öpik, Lembit
Kilfoyle, Peter Osborne, Ms Sandra
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Palmer, Dr Nick
Kingham, Ms Tess Pearson, Ian
Kirkwood, Archy Pendry, Tom
Kumar, Dr Ashok Perham, Ms Linda
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Pickthall, Colin
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Pike, Peter L
Laxton, Bob Plaskitt, James
Lepper, David Pope, Greg
Leslie, Christopher Pound, Stephen
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Powell, Sir Raymond
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Linton, Martin Prescott, Rt Hon John
Livsey, Richard Primarolo, Dawn
Llwyd, Elfyn Prosser, Gwyn
Lock, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Love, Andrew Quinn, Lawrie
McAllion, John Radice, Giles
McAvoy, Thomas Rammell, Bill
McCabe, Steve Rapson, Syd
McCafferty, Ms Chris Raynsford, Nick
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
McDonagh, Siobhain Rendel, David
Macdonald, Calum Robertson, Rt Hon George
McDonnell, John (Hamilton S)
McFall, John Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McGrady, Eddie Roche, Mrs Barbara
McGuire, Mrs Anne Rooker, Jeff
McIsaac, Shona Rooney, Terry
Mackinlay, Andrew Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Rowlands, Ted
McNamara, Kevin Roy, Frank
McNulty, Tony Ruane, Chris
Mactaggart, Fiona Ruddock, Ms Joan
McWalter, Tony Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McWilliam, John Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Ryan, Ms Joan
Mallaber, Judy Salmond, Alex
Mandelson, Peter Sanders, Adrian
Marek, Dr John Savidge, Malcolm
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sawford, Phil
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry Tipping, Paddy
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Todd, Mark
Shipley, Ms Debra Tonge, Dr Jenny
Short, Rt Hon Clare Touhig, Don
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Trickett, Jon
Skinner, Dennis Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Smith, Miss Geraldine Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
(Morecambe & Lunesdale) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Tyler, Paul
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Vis, Dr Rudi
Snape, Peter Walley, Ms Joan
Soley, Clive Wareing, Robert N
Spellar, John Watts, David
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Webb, Steve
Steinberg, Gerry Welsh, Andrew
Stevenson, George White, Brian
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wicks, Malcolm
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Stoate, Dr Howard Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stringer, Graham Winnick, David
Stuart, Ms Gisela Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wise, Audrey
Swinney, John Wood, Mike
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann Wray, James
(Dewsbury) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Tellers for the Noes:
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Mr. Clive Betts and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 360, Noes 150.

Division No. 122] [8.14 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ainger, Nick Bradshaw, Ben
Alexander, Douglas Brand, Dr Peter
Allan, Richard Breed, Colin
Allen, Graham Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Browne, Desmond
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Buck, Ms Karen
Ashton, Joe Burgon, Colin
Atherton, Ms Candy Burstow, Paul
Atkins, Charlotte Butler, Mrs Christine
Austin, John Caborn, Richard
Baker, Norman Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Banks, Tony Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Barnes, Harry Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Battle, John Campbell-Savours, Dale
Bayley, Hugh Canavan, Dennis
Beard, Nigel Cann, Jamie
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Caplin, Ivor
Begg, Miss Anne Casale, Roger
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Caton, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cawsey, Ian
Bennett, Andrew F Chapman, Ben (WirralS)
Benton, Joe Chaytor, David
Bermingham, Gerald Chidgey, David
Best, Harold Chisholm, Malcolm
Blackman, Liz Clapham, Michael
Blears, Ms Hazel Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Blizzard, Bob Clark, Dr Lynda
Boateng, Paul (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Borrow, David Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hancock, Mike
Clwyd, Ann Harris, Dr Evan
Coaker, Vernon Healey, John
Coleman, Iain Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Colman, Tony Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Connarty, Michael Hepburn, Stephen
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Heppell, John
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hesford, Stephen
Cooper, Yvette Hill, Keith
Corbett, Robin Hinchliffe, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cotter, Brian Hoey, Kate
Cousins, Jim Home Robertson, John
Cranston, Ross Hood, Jimmy
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoon, Geoffrey
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hope, Phil
Cummings, John Howarth, George (KnowsleyN)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hoyle, Lindsay
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davidson, Ian Humble, Mrs Joan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hurst, Alan
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hutton, John
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Iddon, Dr Brian
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Illsley, Eric
Dean, Mrs Janet Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Denham, John Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dismore, Andrew Jenkins, Brian
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Doran, Frank Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Drew, David Jones, Ms Jenny
Drown, Ms Julia (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Efford, Clive Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jowell, Ms Tessa
Ennis, Jeff Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Etherington, Bill Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Fatchett, Derek Keetch, Paul
Fearn, Ronnie Kelly, Ms Ruth
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kemp, Fraser
Fisher, Mark Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Flint, Caroline Khabra, Piara S
Flynn, Paul Kidney, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Don (Bath) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kingham, Ms Tess
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Kirkwood, Archy
Foulkes, George Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fyfe, Maria Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Galloway, George Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Gapes, Mike Laxton, Bob
George, Andrew (St Ives) Lepper, David
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Leslie, Christopher
Gerrard, Neil Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gibson, Dr Ian Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Liddell, Mrs Helen
Godman, Norman A Linton, Martin
Goggins, Paul Livsey, Richard
Golding, Mrs Llin Lock, David
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Love, Andrew
Gorrie, Donald McAllion, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCabe, Steve
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Grocott, Bruce McCartney, Ian (MakerHeld)
Grogan, John McDonagh, Siobhain
Gunnell, John Macdonald, Calum
Hain, Peter McDonnell, John
McFall, John Roche, Mrs Barbara
McGrady, Eddie Rooker, Jeff
McGuire, Mrs Anne Rooney, Terry
McIsaac, Shona Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Mackinlay, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Roy, Frank
McNamara, Kevin Ruane, Chris
McNulty, Tony Ruddock, Ms Joan
Mactaggart, Fiona Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McWalter, Tony Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McWilliam, John Ryan, Ms Joan
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sanders, Adrian
Mallaber, Judy Savidge, Malcolm
Mandelson, Peter Sawford, Phil
Marek, Dr John Sedgemore, Brian
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Shaw, Jonathan
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Shipley, Ms Debra
Martlew, Eric Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Meale, Alan Smith, Miss Geraldine
Merron, Gillian (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milbum, Alan Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Miller, Andrew Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin Soley, Clive
Moffatt, Laura Spellar, John
Moore, Michael Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moran, Ms Margaret Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stevenson, George
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morley, Elliot Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mountford, Kali Stoate, Dr Howard
Mudie, George Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Mullin, Chris Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Naysmith, Dr Doug Sutcliffe, Gerry
Norris, Dan Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Oaten, Mark (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Olner, Bill Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Öpik, Lembit Tipping, Paddy
Osborne, Ms Sandra Todd, Mark
Palmer, Dr Nick Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pearson, Ian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pendry, Tom Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Perham, Ms Linda Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pickthall, Colin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pike, Peter L Tyler, Paul
Plaskitt, James Vaz, Keith
Pond, Chris Vis, Dr Rudi
Pope, Greg Walley, Ms Joan
Pound, Stephen Wareing, Robert N
Powell, Sir Raymond Watts, David
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Webb, Steve
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) White, Brian
Prescott, Rt Hon John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Primarolo, Dawn (Swansea W)
Prosser, Gwyn Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Quin, Ms Joyce Winnick, David
Quinn, Lawrie Winterton, Ms Rosie (DoncasterC)
Radice, Giles Wise, Audrey
Rammell, Bill Wood, Mike
Rapson, Syd Wray, James
Raynsford, Nick Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Rt Hon George Tellers for the Ayes:
(Hamilton S) Mr. Clive Betts and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Johnson Smith,
Amess, David Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Key, Robert
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Baldry, Tony Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Beggs, Roy Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Bercow, John Lansley, Andrew
Beresford, Sir Paul Leigh, Edward
Blunt, Crispin Letwin, Oliver
Body, Sir Richard Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Boswell, Tim Lidington, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Brady, Graham Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Brazier, Julian Loughton, Tim
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Luff, Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Burns, Simon MacKay, Andrew
Butterfill, John Maclean, Rt Hon David
Cash, William McLoughlin, Patrick
Chapman, Sir Sydney Madel, Sir David
(Chipping Barnet) Malins, Humfrey
Chope, Christopher Maples, John
Clappison, James Mates, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
(Rushcliffe) May, Mrs Theresa
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Moss, Malcolm
Collins, Tim Nicholls, Patrick
Colvin, Michael Norman, Archie
Cormack, Sir Patrick Ottaway, Richard
Cran, James Page, Richard
Curry, Rt Hon David Paice, James
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Paterson, Owen
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Prior, David
Day, Stephen Randall, John
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Redwood, Rt Hon John
Duncan, Alan Robathan, Andrew
Duncan Smith, Iain Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Evans, Nigel Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Faber, David Ruffley, David
Fabricant, Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Fallon, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Flight, Howard Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Forsythe, Clifford Shepherd, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Fox, Dr Liam Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Fraser, Christopher Spicer, Sir Michael
Gale, Roger Spring, Richard
Garnier, Edward Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gibb, Nick Steen, Anthony
Gill, Christopher Streeter, Gary
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Swayne, Desmond
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Syms, Robert
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gray, James Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Green, Damian Taylor, Sir Teddy
Greenway, John Thompson, William
Grieve, Dominic Townend, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Trend, Michael
Hammond, Philip Trimble, David
Hawkins, Nick Tyrie, Andrew
Hayes, John Viggers, Peter
Heald, Oliver Walter, Robert
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Wardle, Charles
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Waterson, Nigel
Horam, John Wells, Bowen
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Whitney, Sir Raymond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Hunter, Andrew Wilkinson, John
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Willetts, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Wilshire, David
Jenkin, Bernard Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun Tellers for the Noes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. John M. Taylor and Mr. John Whittingdale.
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8th December 1997 relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1998 and certain conditions under which they may be fished; and supports the Government's intentions to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for British fishermen based on sustainable fisheries management, effective enforcement and the need to ensure that the regional differences of fisheries and their communities are fully recognised.