HC Deb 23 July 1997 vol 298 cc890-912

11 am

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

I decided to raise the subject of British fishing policy after 2002 because I strongly believe that it is time that debate on the fishing industry is refocused on the longer term. We need to raise our sights and give the Government every encouragement to set the agenda for the reform of the common fisheries policy.

I have a fishing background. I come from a fishing community. Members of my family and some of my friends work in the industry. It is both an industry and a way of life, in which my ancestors have been involved for many centuries. I hope that the product of the debate will be to ensure that it not only survives over the next difficult five years, but can look forward to a genuinely sustainable future beyond the review of the CFP and onwards for many centuries to come.

Before I explain what I believe to be the weaknesses and failures of the CFP and how the problems can be addressed, I want to describe the present state of the industry in my constituency. There is no more obvious a place to start than the port of Newlyn. Despite facing many setbacks and experiencing a reduction in local effort, each year Newlyn lands fish to the value of £23 million. It is bigger than any other port in Cornwall, England or Wales. It is fourth in the United Kingdom by overall catch value and 11th by volume. That illustrates the high-value, low-volume landing of the Newlyn fleet. Some 400 fishermen work from Newlyn, with a further 1,100 directly related onshore jobs.

Fishing is a vital component of the local economy. There are 110 beam trawlers, otter trawlers, netters, potters and liners, so 80 per cent. of the landings are exported as whole fish or live shellfish. However, people often concentrate on the offshore fleet and fail to recognise the importance of inshore boats. As against the 110 offshore boats at Newlyn, there are almost 400 small inshore craft in the many coves and ports around the coast of Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. As against the 400 fishermen of Newlyn, at least 700 people earn their living from inshore fishing. About 3,000 more are engaged in ancillary trades. Most of that trade is environmentally friendly and is unquestionably sustainable.

One month ago, David Chapple—a quiet, modest man, deeply respected by all who knew him—died at the young age of 68. He had to leave the local grammar school in Penzance at the age of 14, despite a promising academic future, because of the untimely death of his father—a mackerel handliner—and work the coast from Penberth. He was acknowledged as the leader of and spokesman for the mackerel handline fleet. He was also a member of the Cornish sea fisheries committee for more than 30 years. It is in honour of his memory that I ask the Government not to overlook the importance of retaining a viable inshore fishery.

Many of the inshore fishing methods are referred to as the lowest tier of fishing practice. In fact, gauged by the degree of sustainability of those methods, they are really the highest tier. In Cornwall, there are mackerel handliners, the Fal oyster fishery, crabbers, pilchard drifters and many others. The least we should do is protect the future of traditional fishing, which is of no threat to stocks.

I recognise that the new Government have been handed a poisoned chalice in most areas. However, it is no good looking back. It remains the intention of the Liberal Democrats to maintain a constructive dialogue with Ministers, within the development of our theme of constructive opposition.

One purpose of couching the debate in the way that I did is to override a worrying trend to hijack this important issue. During recent years, some have appeared happy to take advantage of the genuine fears of our fishing communities. I, like many others—no doubt including the Minister—was deeply saddened to see a few people use our fishermen and fishing communities as their front-line troops for their disturbing and xenophobic agenda—an agenda that had nothing to do with the genuine interests of our fishermen. Quite frankly, those people could not care less about fishing. The future of our industry is very important. I urge the Government to use the opportunity of the UK's forthcoming presidency of the European Union to set the agenda for the reform of the CFP.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about a certain tendency among some hon. Members. However, looking around the Benches today it is evident that that tendency is on the wane. It boils down to just the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill).

Mr. George

It would be beneath me to comment on that.

I hope that we can establish a consensual debate to promote a sensible, realistic and, above all, sustainable policy for the fishing industry. The consensus must begin with the unanimous agreement that the CFP has been a failure and desperately needs early reform. That process will be greatly assisted if we all speak with one voice.

The CFP does little to prevent quota hoppers. It joins together two principles that clash fundamentally—first, the right of establishment enshrined in the single market, and secondly, relative stability that enables us to calculate each member's share of fish stocks. There is a desperate need to reconcile national quotas with the interests of the beneficial owners of the fishing fleet.

The structural policy of reducing the fishing fleet has had only limited success and can be said to have directly encouraged quota hopping. That is in part due to the lack of an adequate decommissioning scheme. Foreign boat owners have been able to meet their reduction targets by transferring their boats to other member states.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why both the decommissioning scheme and the structural support for the modernisation of the fleet have been such a disaster in Britain, and far less effective than in our competitor countries within the EU, is the very late process of decision making by the previous Government? The Conservative regime simply did not take the issues—or, indeed, the industry—seriously.

Mr. George

My hon. Friend rightly reminds us that we are left with historical difficulties. However, I want the debate to look to the future. Although it is appropriate to dwell a little on the reasons why we are in such a parlous position, we must do our utmost to look forward.

The common fisheries policy has not been able to prevent the severe depletion of a number of fish stocks. There are fears that, in the foreseeable future, we could face problems similar to those experienced by the Canadians in the once-prosperous grand banks. The CFP has been highly wasteful. It is estimated that, in some cases, as much as 40 per cent. of a catch is discarded, which can only encourage fishermen to become law breakers. Enforcement is not even and penalties can vary widely. Also, the scientific data used to determine total allowable catches and quotas do not have the confidence of the industry.

The decommissioning schemes, which aimed to rid the industry of any excess capacity, have proved unsatisfactory. Fleets have been reduced unevenly and not in the areas where a reduction in the fleet would have been beneficial. The system is bureaucratic and paperwork is excessive. Moreover, no other industry has its annual level of production decided one week ahead of the beginning of each year. It gets worse as there is no form of appeal either. Above all, fishermen feel that they have little ownership of the management systems.

In comparison with alternative proposals for a more decentralised system, the CFP is notoriously inflexible and painfully slow to respond to areas of need or of opportunity.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

My hon. Friend has just touched on the key issue, which is the ownership by fishermen of the conservation measures. Unless they feel that they are working towards effective fish conservation, so that the next generation, or even the fishermen themselves for a year or two, can continue in the industry, the race to catch fish first and to make a fast profit is bound to dominate. Even if it does not dominate, for example, in our area of Cornwall, others will come in and make use of it. It is not easy to create such local ownership, but that is the key to a solution.

Mr. George

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will draw attention to the need to change the way in which the fishing industry is managed. We need to bring fishermen more centrally into the management of the industry and they should take responsibility for the management of their stocks.

Having outlined the problems with the CFP, it is now vital that we consider some of the alternatives and solutions to what will otherwise become a catastrophe for the industry in general. We all agree that the CFP in its present form should be scrapped. We cannot afford any longer to fudge the issue. The fishermen do not like the CFP because it fails to secure their industry's future. Fish do not like it because it threatens their very survival. Euro-sceptics do not like it because it emanates from Europe, and Europhiles do not like it because it gives Europe a bad name.

The previous Government did not like the CFP because it posed problems that they were either unable or unwilling to tackle. If the present Government do not take decisive action soon in setting the agenda, we will have missed the boat in influencing CFP reform. We now have an opportunity to put forward our arguments to the European Commission's task force, which has been set up to examine CFP reform in preparation for 2002.

When we examine the way ahead for the fishing industry, one principle above all others should provide the basis for achieving the aim of creating a properly sustainable industry: as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) has pointed out, that is the principle of empowering the fishermen themselves. Liberal Democrat spokesmen have long proposed to replace the CFP with a policy based on regionalisation, thus decentralising power away from politicians and empowering skippers with the responsibility of managing the fish stocks for themselves. Regionalisation would allow fish stocks to be managed around their own boundaries. It would also give fishermen, both in the UK and abroad, the opportunity to take control of their industry and to work together with skippers from an individual fishery and with fish scientists to consider ways of ensuring that fishing remains environmentally and economically viable. Regionalisation would allow all interested parties such as fish producers, scientists, port authorities, regional public authorities and enforcement authorities to come together and to co-ordinate a regional policy into which they would all have input and for which they would all have responsibility.

By regional, I mean that we need to consider the relative merits of natural regions such as the North, Celtic and Baltic seas, where boundaries coincide with the general range of a particular stock and coastal state management as favoured by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, operating up to the median line. The crucial point is that such semi-autonomous regions should be given the power and flexibility to determine the management systems best suited to their needs. That may include proposals in some regions for a restriction on days at sea, the use of a variety of technical conservation methods around net sizes and variations in their design, controls on fishing around spawning grounds or seasonal closures of spawning grounds or many other methods that have been debated.

The important point is that that should be decided by the real stakeholders in the industry—the fishermen—and not by politicians behind closed doors. The bottom line for me in all this is the reality that, with power, comes responsibility and if we give power to fishermen and the industry, and if they fail to protect their own stock effectively, it will be their responsibility. Conversely, if they succeed in reviving their stocks, as I am determined that they shall and as Norway has done, they should be allowed to share in the benefits of that in a sustainable way.

A crucial factor in all this is proper regulation, inspection and policing. I was very impressed by a recent discussion document from the NFFO, recommending the use of permanent and temporary closed areas. The Government would do well to consider that and to couple it with improved monitoring techniques such as satellite surveillance. It may be that, where some European nations are concerned about the ability of other European nations properly to police their stock, the Government might consider proposals for a strengthened policing role for the European Commission itself.

In addition, I urge the Government not to ignore the importance of the inshore dimension. It is vital that the Government seek to protect the industry by protecting the 12 and six-mile limits and by strengthening the role of sea fisheries committees. In my discussions with local fishermen, there is strong support for the protection of those limits.

Finally, I draw the House's attention to an aspect of EU fisheries policy that has received little debate here—its impact on the sustainable fishery of developing countries. In many developing countries, just as traditionally in Cornwall, it is widely recognised that fishing is one of the few resources available to the poor. In Senegal, for example, fishing employs 250,000 people, 17 per cent. of the Senegalese population and fish provides 60 per cent. of local protein intake. In March, contrary to the demands of Senegalese fishermen, the EU was granted access to fish in Senegal's coastal waters. My concern is about overfishing and the possible ruin of local economies. Surely it is time that we worked to secure some coherence between EU fishing policy and the development policies of the new Government Department of International Development.

We should be working to help to build and maintain sustainable fishing in developing countries, not plundering their stock. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that, in the CFP review, we take a responsible approach to that matter and press for a code of conduct to avoid irresponsible actions.

Many of those who come down to Cornwall from other parts of England and elsewhere and who might idly watch our boats set sail would be staggered by the legal and political complexities, the regulation and the pressure on the people engaged in what should be a straightforward occupation. Those visitors might begin to understand that there is a whole new language of TACs, MAGPs—multi-annual guidance programmes—quotas, PESCAs and so on, but, frankly, there should be no need to learn that new language because we all know what the fishermen know very well: politics is about not just interpreting policies and treaties, but priorities.

If our fishing industry is to have any future at all, it is time that it was given sufficient priority. That means being prepared to set the agenda, to use the UK presidency to give fishing priority at the next intergovernmental conference, and to ensure that the review for 2002 will provide for a sustainable industry. If we all fail in this Parliament to ensure that we give the fishing industry a future, there will be precious little fishing industry to debate in the next one.

11.19 am
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

I am very pleased to take part in this debate, which I hope will be constructive. I am sure that no one in the Chamber would disagree with the proposition that what we all want is a viable fishing industry for the future. A debate about how we will approach the review of the common fisheries policy is therefore important to us all.

The remarks made by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) about his constituency also apply to Fleetwood. Those who recall Fleetwood 20 years ago tell me that boats filled the entire harbour so that one could walk across it from boat to boat. Now, the boats are not there and the fleet has shrunk and shrunk. Nevertheless, the fishing industry is very important to the town. Almost 1,000 people are employed not just on the boats but in the auction market and processing plants. I am pleased that, in debates in Fleetwood and elsewhere in the country, all the disparate groups in the industry are working together—perhaps for the first time, since they do not all share the same agenda. If they do not work together, the fishing industry will indeed disappear.

I agree with many of the remarks by the hon. Member for St. Ives about the future. Clearly, we need proper regulation. Modern technology allows us to consider such things as satellite monitoring. We need to explore all possible avenues to ensure that fishing is properly regulated and monitored. The basis of any new fishing strategy and of the CFP has to be conservation. Without fish, the fishing fleets have no catch and the auction market has no fish to sell. We need to consider a conservation strategy that, on one hand, preserves our fish stocks, and on the other, provides opportunity for the future.

From speaking to fishermen in Fleetwood, I know that they are very anxious to get involved in debates on conservation because they realise that saving this year means having more fish to catch next year. They are considering new and imaginative strategies to ensure that fish stock is conserved and that they have a future.

Fishermen are also concerned about support for modernisation of the fleet, to which the hon. Member for St. Ives also referred. The previous Government withdrew grants for shelter decks, which many of my fishermen say are vital improvements to their boats that enable them to remain at sea for longer and catch more fish. We need to look at grants to help fishermen to improve their vessels to enable them to engage in the industry.

On the suggestion of a regional strategy, the local fishing forum in Fleetwood has worked with Wyre borough council on exactly such a strategy, which seems to have widespread support. Although there are differences of view on how it should be organised and implemented, I hope that the idea will be considered in more detail.

I compliment my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on what the Government have already achieved in their debates in Europe. For the first time, our Government have come back with some positive ideas on fishing, offering positive leadership and a way forward. With that positive leadership, I am sure that the Government will grasp the vital opportunity to ensure that our fishing industry will be preserved and viable in future. I hope that we can all work together and support the Government in that initiative.

11.23 am
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) said that having a viable fishing fleet for the future was very important. As a former naval person, I entirely agree. Indeed, as a former naval person, I am reminded of the political, industrial, social, commercial, environmental and—not least—strategic importance of a strong and vibrant fishing fleet. It might assist right hon. and hon. Members to remember those six points by thinking of the word pisces. All those dimensions are represented in the fishing industry.

I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) on two counts: first, on obtaining this important debate, and secondly, on highlighting the significance and importance of 2002. In what was otherwise an excellent speech, he fell into the trap into which so many politicians fall of thinking that the common fisheries policy can be reformed—although he went on to say that it should be scrapped. He enumerated a number of problems associated with the CFP, of which those of us who have followed these debates for several years are all too well aware. The great danger in these debates is that we all engage in platitudes. Of course it is important to conserve fish stocks; of course it is important to have a vibrant fishing industry, and so on. But, one has to consider the fundamental structure of the CFP.

Some hon. Members present will remember that, when we debated these matters on 9 July—just a fortnight ago—the Parliamentary Secretary said that I had been entirely consistent on the subject.

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

Yes, consistently wrong.

Mr. Gill

I was just about to make that point. The hon. Gentleman indeed went on to say that I had been consistently wrong. I want to debate that very point with him because he must demonstrate in this debate why I am wrong. It is simply not satisfactory to sit on the Government Front Bench and say that an hon. Gentleman is wrong without producing a single shred of evidence of why he is wrong. I shall be inviting the Parliamentary Secretary later in my speech to address two or three specific questions and to give the House answers to them. If he can answer those specific questions satisfactorily, he will be going some way to demonstrating that I am wrong, but in the meantime, I shall remind him of what I have been consistent about.

I have been consistent in saying that the fundamental tenet of the CFP is equal access to the common resource. I have also been consistent throughout the debates in pointing out that all the derogations that benefit the British fishing industry expire on 31 December 2002. It of course follows that the system of relative stability that we currently enjoy will end on that date. Thereafter, regulation 101/76 applies, just as it did for 26 days in January 1983, when, as the Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt recall, Kent Kirk was arrested for fishing inside British territorial waters. There will be more of that in a moment.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that I have been consistently wrong. I am not consistently wrong unless and until he produces proof or evidence to back up the allegation. The questions that I want him to answer this morning are as follows. Does he categorically deny that the principle of equal access exists? He looks puzzled, as though he has not understood the question. I shall repeat it.

Mr. Morley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Gill

Right. My second question is: if the hon. Gentleman denies that the principle of equal access exists, will he explain why his opinion is superior to the judgment of the European Court in the Kent Kirk case, which as he will appreciate, established a precedent in these matters? Thirdly—if he says that equal access will not apply after 2002—how will the non-discrimination conditions in article 2 of regulation 101/76 be satisfied?

The Minister must answer those three straightforward questions, and he will have to do so satisfactorily before he repeats his allegations that I am wrong. If he cannot answer them, the House will draw its own conclusions.

I have no wish to embarrass the Minister by demanding an apology for his allegations, but I want him to address the real issues and to divine the truth of the matter.

I well understand the dilemma in which the Minister and his predecessors have found themselves. I suspect that he dare not concede that, after 2002, regulation 101/76 will occupy the field. If he concedes that, after 2002, the regulation will occupy the field, the pretence that we can perpetuate the discriminatory relative stability that has existed since 1983 will be seen for what it is—a deception and device by which he and his predecessors have tried to postpone the inevitable day of reckoning, when, on 1 January 2003, the principle of non-discrimination is fully implemented.

What happens after 2002 will be crucial. We have to look beyond such immediate problems and short-term distractions as quota hoppers and relative stability based on 1983 percentage quota share-out. If the Minister is to retain any semblance of credibility, he will have to tell us what written guarantee or legal evidence there is to show that relative stability will be secure beyond 2002.

Unless the Minister can answer that question positively and convincingly, the House and everyone employed in the fishing industry will have to realise, before it is too late, the truth in the statement that there is no legal text stating the perpetuity of the principle of relative stability. Those are not my words but the words of Monsieur Laurec, the acting director-general of Directorate-General XIV, in a letter of 27 January 1997.

In his reply to this debate, I trust that the Minister will recognise the strength of the arguments that I have advanced and—rather than simply dismissing my arguments by asserting that I am wrong—answer the specific questions that I have asked, thereby enabling us to have a sensible and informed debate on a vital national interest.

11.32 am
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) on securing today's debate. Two weeks ago, he was unfortunate in not being able to speak in our debate on the fishing fleet. Today, however, he has more than made up for that lost opportunity by making an excellent speech on the industry. I shall not repeat my speech of two weeks ago, although—like the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)— I might continue one of the arguments made in that debate. I should like to refer the Minister to some current practical difficulties in the industry, which apply particularly in Scotland, but perhaps also elsewhere.

First, I should like to deal with the pelagic fleet, fishing for herring and mackerel. Since the start of the pelagic season, enforcement regulations have required pelagic boats to have on board only one licence, for either the east or the west coast. The boats must therefore make a 10-hour trip to west coast ports, for example, to obtain a west coast fishing licence. The regulations' inconvenience has been aggravated when boats have arrived, after a 10-hour trip, only to discover that a port's fisheries office is closed.

Such regulations do not apply to our immediate competitors. The Dutch pelagic fleet, for example, may hold various licences on its fishing boats. The Minister may give the House reasons for maintaining such enforcement regulations, but it does no one any good to require fishermen to make unnecessary fishing trips, at considerable time and expense. Moreover, although the fishing boats are large, any fishing trip—as the Minister knows—has an element of danger.

Surely there is a way in which to enforce the regulations, which is better than requiring boats to steam for 10 hours one way round Scotland and then 10 hours back again to their home ports, simply so that fishermen can pursue their livelihood. It seems to be a curious way in which to enforce fishing regulations, and I hope that the Minister will undertake to examine the matter sympathetically.

The current situation is not terrible. Certainly, the Minister should recollect the guarantees that he and I requested from the previous Government, that the regulations enforced on our industry would be comparable with those enforced on our competitors across Europe. Pelagic boats in Scotland have not benefited from comparable treatment. I ask the Minister to address the issue and perhaps to propose an appropriate solution.

The second matter that I should like to deal with perhaps continues an argument—although not in the same manner—made by the hon. Member for Ludlow. How confident is the Minister that the principle of relative stability can be altered only by the unanimous agreement of member states? Some reassurance has been provided both in the letter from the President of the Commission to the Prime Minister and also in a recent ruling by the European Parliament's legal committee. Does the Minister not, however, anticipate a danger in the Commission's current proposal, which seemingly creates a new legal basis for the Council to take decisions by majority voting, on specifically technical and other measures that are linked to International Fisheries Commission agreements? The proposal seems also to be part of the process of determining quotas and total allowable catches.

Does not the Minister anticipate that, if the proposal is accepted, there is a danger of it being expanded to encompass essential elements of relative stability? I ask him to examine the matter, even if he cannot deal with it in his reply to the debate. I think that the hon. Member for Ludlow would be the first to acknowledge that his enthusiasm for pursuing the policy is not shared—as demonstrated by their voting behaviour and the points that they have raised—by his colleagues in the European Parliament. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament seems to have been influenced inordinately in making some of its decisions by the Spanish component. I and some European parliamentarians anticipate a danger that an apparently innocent Commission proposal could be stretched wide enough to place the concept of relative stability in the sphere of majority voting rather than unanimous consent.

The third matter that I should like to mention is a serious one for the Minister, and follows directly from our debate of two weeks ago. As many hon. Members wanted to speak in that debate and the Minister had very little time to reply to it, he undertook to write to me on the issues raised.

Towards the end of that debate, the Minister was asked specifically whether he would adopt a stance of not proceeding with capacity reductions until such time as he was satisfied that assurances given on quota hoppers had had some effect in reducing the participation of those boats in the United Kingdom fleet. The Minister argued that he did not think that it was a sensible policy not to pursue the multi-annual guidance programme targets because of the ramifications for grants and other help to the industry.

Although I appreciate the Minister's argument, does he not also realise that—despite the comments of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble)—the fishing industry's assessment of the Government's achievements in Amsterdam can best be described as sceptical? The jury is still out on the matter—if it is not positively hostile—and the industry is fairly cynical about the Government's claims.

In an atmosphere of considerable debate about whether the Government's exchanges of letters, measures and assurances will be sufficient to deal with the quota-hopping problem, does the Minister not think that it is foolhardy to pursue capacity reductions before he is personally satisfied that those measures and new regulations will have the desired effect of pushing out some if not all of that quota-hopping capacity?

Mr. Morley

I shall deal with that point now, so that it does not get lost later. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the important principle that we have a legal obligation to meet the requirements of multi-annual guidance programme IV. Apart from the legal obligation, we wish to ensure that the economic link works, and we shall consult the industry on that point. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the real issues of sustainability and stock management, and we cannot ignore those in relation to the MAGP IV proposals.

Mr. Salmond

The industry does face real issues of stock management and capacity, but the previous Government assured the industry that they would not proceed with the capacity reductions until the quota-hopping difficulty was solved, precisely because of the fear of large capacity reductions in the domestic fleet, but none in the quota-hopping fleet.

Mr. Morley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Salmond

That is a reasonable fear in the industry. If the Minister does not acknowledge that, his contacts in government with the fishing organisations are not as close as they were when he was in opposition.

Mr. Morley

I must emphasise the point that the quota-hopping fleet is made up of UK-flagged vessels that come under UK regulations. They will be treated in the same way as any UK vessel. Indeed, as the MAGP IV reductions are on a segment basis and some of the big reductions are in the beam trawl sector, which contains many quota hoppers, they will take their share of the reductions. There will be no exemptions.

Mr. Salmond

The fear in the industry, as the Minister knows, is based on the fact that the quota hoppers' financial condition is somewhat better than that of many other elements of the domestic fleet. Therefore, however the Minister approaches the reductions—whether by effort limitation, by a further reduction in total allowable catches, or through a voluntary decommissioning scheme—it is likely that more people in the domestic fleet will be forced to the wall than in the quota-hopping fleet. The industry's reasonable fear is that the capacity reductions could increase the quota hoppers' 25 per cent. share—which, I know, is not uniform across the various categories in the industry—by a rapid shrinkage in the domestic fleet and only a modest shrinkage in the quota-hopping fleet.

I understand the Minister's position: I hope that he understands the industry's concern. I understand that he wants to achieve the agreement in the exchange of letters in Amsterdam, but he must acknowledge that there is much scepticism about whether that understanding will be enough to make a substantial difference. Is the Minister sensitive to that concern? What assurances can he give about monitoring the progress of the attempt to solve the quota-hopping problem? Does he understand that merely to say that the MAGP targets are necessary for various reasons, without being sensitive to the industry's concern, may result in the quota-hopping percentage increasing radically as a result of dramatic shrinkage in the domestic fleet? None of us wants to see that.

11.43 am
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I apologise to the House and to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), who was successful in obtaining this important debate, for not being here at the start. I was unfortunately detained in what one might call the bowels of the House, watching the debate through the periscope. It is interesting to come from a subterranean position to debate something even more subterranean—the common fisheries policy and the monstrous situation that it imposes on British fishing. I shall speak only briefly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) vividly described the common fisheries policy, and it is certainly a monstrosity. It is not good enough to say, as the Labour party manifesto did, that the policy needs drastic reform, because it needs ending. A system that takes political decisions, doling out paper fish and limiting catches by quota, cannot work. It is the enemy of conservation, because it puts fishermen in direct competition with each other. There is no point in the British industry conserving fish and introducing more effective conservation measures, because the fish that are saved by the British fishing industry will be scooped up by European competitors. [Interruption.] My speeches usually attract a lot of attention. I was not heckled during the election, because nobody turned up at my election meetings, so it is nice to have it happen in a new format.

As long as competition is the ethos behind the policy and fishermen are in competition with each other, conservation is not possible. The CFP, although meant to conserve, is therefore the enemy of conservation. It is not working, it cannot be made to work and it should be ended.

Mr. Gill

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the only effective way to deal with many of fishing's problems is to end the CFP, but that is not the popular view. That does not mean to say that those of us who represent the minority view are not right, but the popular view is that the CFP needs reform. We should ask the reformers how they will reform it. How will the reformers achieve unanimity, or a qualified majority vote, on any of the issues?

Mr. Mitchell

I would not describe the hon. Gentleman's position, or indeed mine, as a minority position. It is the position of the overwhelming majority of the fishing industry, certainly in England, if not in Scotland. Everywhere I have been to talk to fishermen, they have expressed a hatred for the CFP and a desire to leave it. We now have a benign Government with a more sensible approach to Europe, but if I were in charge of policy, we would come out of the CFP. That is legally possible, and the arguments that we could not come out do not stand up. We could do it, we should do it and, if I were in power, we would do it. However, in the current, practical situation, I recognise that no Government, Labour or Conservative, will do it.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) is smiling, but the previous Government were more grovellingly sycophantic and servile towards Europe than the Labour Government will be. Every time the previous Government demanded something for the British fishing industry and a sine qua non was reached in the negotiations, the Tory Minister was required to climb down because the Government were in conflict with Europe on another front. In order to win on the other front, the fishing demands were abandoned or diluted.

This Government will not come out of the CFP, but we are in the same position as Sisyphus—rolling a stone up a hill, only to have it slip back again. If we are not to support withdrawal as a strategy, we must have a clear alternative strategy for fishing policy in the new century. It is no good the Government saying that they will reform the CFP, because they have to be committed to a strategy that will get the British fishing industry what it needs. If we are not going to adopt what might be called the extremist approach of withdrawal, we should remember that the ability to do so is available to strengthen us in the negotiations. We should know that we could withdraw and, if we do not get concessions that would make the British fishing industry viable, we should do so.

What strategy should that be? I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is interested in the coastal state management proposals of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, and I hope that he will attach himself to them. We should aim at those proposals, because they seem to be the most effective way of approaching the problem, offering a viable system of management for the changes necessary in 2002.

I agree with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Ludlow and Save Britain's Fish about there being an intention to create a European fleet and end national effort. Alternatives to that are needed, because no British Government would accept such a proposal. The alternative has to be coastal state management, because it is the only practical proposition.

My hon. Friend the Minister attaches a lot of weight to relative stability, which is becoming the fig leaf of Governments. I doubt that it can be maintained. It was not maintained for the Spanish accession. We talked of relative stability, but British effort was cut, particularly in the south-west, to make way for Spanish vessels.

The same will happen when the big fishing fleets of eastern Europe come in. Room will have to be made for them. It will be very difficult to maintain relative stability.

It is no use just being attached to relative stability. We need alternative management proposals. The coastal state management strategy provides an alternative.

Mr. Salmond

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, particularly about coastal management. I know that he has read the Scottish National party's documents on that. If relative stability is not an important factor, guaranteeing protection for domestic fishermen, why are the Spanish fishing interests so concerned to overturn it?

Mr. Mitchell

I agree. That causes me to doubt what I am saying about relative stability, but I still think that I am right that it will not be a viable defence against changes. I have read with pleasure the SNP fishing documents. I am always amused by how such a passionately pro-European party can suddenly become so hostile to one of the three central common European policies—the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and the common currency. Now that the SNP has stood on its head and abandoned its opposition to Europe to become Euro-sycophantic, it is nice to see touches of the old nationalism coming out in the party's approach to fishing.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Mitchell

I am sorry to have provoked the hon. Gentleman to come back on that.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman is showing his age. It is more than a decade since the SNP re-oriented its approach to the broader European question. He cannot expect our sympathy and support for the European position to mean that we abide unquestioningly by every European policy. Every pro-European, of whom there are several on these Benches, reserves the right to criticise a policy if it is manifestly wrong, as the common fisheries policy most certainly is.

Mr. Mitchell

I agree. I should not have teased the hon. Gentleman. I have a long memory. I particularly remember the Liberal position when I was standing in a by-election in Grimsby. While the Liberal candidate was telling us that we had to work with Europe, in the middle of the by-election campaign the right hon. Member for Berwick—upon—Tweed (Mr. Beith) introduced a Bill to take control of Britain's 50-mile limit. People are curiously ambivalent on European issues such as the common fisheries policy—and so they should be. We have to stand up for our rights.

I was extolling the virtues of coastal state management, which we must aim at and move forward to. The central principle is destructive of the CFP—only the nation state has an interest in conserving its fish stocks and building up and protecting its fishing industry. For everybody else, our fish are a disposable resource to be looted and pillaged at will before sailing on somewhere else. For us, they represent the future of our fishing communities, our fishing families and our fishing industry. The nation state has the central interest. The only effective way to control the situation is a system of management that allows us nationally to impose mesh size and one-net rules and to close grounds.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me intervene briefly. It saves me making a speech in a minute. The nation state is not the only vehicle for such management. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), whom I congratulate on introducing the debate, made clear in his speech—for which, I am afraid, the hon. Gentleman was not present—it is possible on a regional basis, within the nation state, to ensure that fishermen have a direct stake in the conservation of the fish stocks on which they depend. That is a major issue of principle. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Liberal Democrats have argued for many years for more local control, so that people have a sense of possession over the policies that will affect their livelihood. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that the nation state is the only vehicle by which that can be achieved.

Mr. Mitchell

I was not saying that. I am grateful for that intervention, which allows me to make myself clear. I agree that there should be regional management within national coastal state management. I was positing the argument for coastal state management against the common fisheries policy, which is a policy of no effective management, because there are no uniform rules—there is no control at the port of landing, as there is in this country—and it is difficult to enforce the rules. Regional management is important within coastal state management.

Mr. Gill

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a wonderful precedent has already been established in the Falkland Islands? The Government declared a 200-mile exclusive fishing zone. They determine who shall fish in their waters. Those who do so pay for the privilege. They are told what they can catch and know that they have to cease fishing when they have caught up to the limit of their permit. That is a good precedent for the way in which we might manage our fisheries.

Mr. Mitchell

It could be done like that. The Fishery Limits Act 1976 disallows that power. We exempt European vessels. If we had that control, it would be possible to manage access and the fishing that could go on in our waters.

I was not going to give a long speech. I am sorry that I have spoken for so long. I want to make a couple more points. Coastal state management is the way forward. The Government should argue for it in the renegotiation. The industry also needs investment, because it is in a financial crisis. People argue that British skippers should not sell quota to quota hoppers, but they are forced to do so by dire financial necessity. Why are they in that financial situation? Because they have not had the same access to European funding that competitors have had. Fulfilling their targets by reflagging vessels as British, the Spanish have achieved the MAGP targets and have access to European funding.

The cuts required under MAGP III are, I understand, less than the 20 per cent. that we thought at the end of 1995. Apparently, those cuts are now marginal. I hope that we can get access to European funding, which the industry needs. It needs financial confidence. If we cannot get access to that funding, there has to be a national alternative. The money must come into the industry.

We are faced with a similar situation under MAGP IV, which will require more substantial cuts. I hope that those cuts will not be combined with a days at sea limitation of the kind that we all fought strenuously when it was proposed by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon when he was a Fisheries Minister. His attempt to impose that monstrosity brought the industry out in revolt to destroy the proposal. However, there must be some element not of set-aside, but of net-aside financing—not proposed by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon in his legislation—for the limitation of effort, and financing for decommissioning. National money is needed for that.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister accepts that he will have a fight either in Europe, to get a better deal and access to funding, or in Government councils, to provide a national alternative. From talking to my hon. Friend, I have more than just a hope that we shall commit ourselves to the vital principle of coastal state management, which is probably as near as we shall get to the national state management of our waters that we should have.

11.59 am
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

I, too, thank the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) for his constructive speech, which helps all of us in our fight for Cornwall. I should like to draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to a problem that particularly affects my fishermen in Falmouth and Penryn. They are concerned about the size of dredging equipment because the over-large size currently used damages the environment; I think that the Government will agree with that.

Unfortunately, there is a logjam, which means that measures to reduce the size of the equipment seem to have been caught up in the nets of Government legislation and various Departments. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary would investigate the problem, as it is seriously worrying my fishermen. I hope that he will seek to solve the problem.

12 noon

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

I should like to draw to the Parliamentary Secretary's attention a matter that has just been drawn to mine. Apparently, the Government have just decided to accede to the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and relinquish the Rockall fisheries zone. I should be grateful for the Parliamentary Secretary's clarification, because I received a fax this morning from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which has not been consulted—I do not suppose anybody else has. Given the Government's widely proclaimed intention of running an open system, this seems slightly curious. It would be helpful to all of us if the Parliamentary Secretary could clarify the position, either in this debate or shortly afterwards.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) succeeds in his constituency somebody who took a powerful and informed interest in fisheries, and I am glad that he intends to do the same. His proposals for regionalization have attractions, but there are many unanswered questions as well. I thought that he was hinting at some sort of multinational regional concept when he talked about North sea communities. As he knows, our fisheries are mixed fisheries with historical rights of access. Is he envisaging that the communities around the North sea will form one of those regional communities? That might be most obvious around the Irish sea. Is he envisaging that control will be exercised by groups belonging to different member states? There is also the channel, with historical rights on both the English and the French sides. The hon. Gentleman needs to define what he means by regionalisation.

The enforcement problems will be difficult if there is a series of immensely heterogeneous fisheries with immensely heterogeneous rules which are imposed by local communities. How does that deal with historical rights? How does it deal with people who are not based in that part of the world but who fish there and have long-established fisheries? An example of that is the Scottish pelagic fleet, which comes to the south-west. How would the rules be communicated and enforced? I see that as a recipe for great difficulty. I know that, every summer, there is the usual stand-off and fight between the Spanish and French boats in the tuna fishery in the Bay of Biscay. There is much that needs to be dealt with.

The hon. Member for St. Ives also knows that there is a very mixed fishery around the United Kingdom coast. I have great admiration for the way in which the Norwegians have run their fishery, and there may well be things that we can learn from them. However, we must recognise that it is a much more discrete fishery and is easier to manage than that around the United Kingdom coast. We should not assume that the transposition of Norwegian methods will necessarily be helpful in the UK context.

We can all probably agree that we want from the next phase of the CFP the two key objectives of relative stability in the quota shares and restricted access in the six and 12-mile limits. The measures that came out of Amsterdam seem to suggest that those are likely to be obtainable. The history of the Community has always been to try to roll forward and slightly modify things rather than to look at them fundamentally. Change based on the status quo is always more likely to come about than an ab initio alteration. Therefore, there is a reasonable chance of those aims being achieved.

Mr. Gill

I am sure that, with his great experience in these matters, my right hon. Friend recognises that there is a fundamental dilemma. How on earth can one preserve relative stability which is discriminatory in the context of regulation 101/76, which will apply from 1 January 2003 and which spells out clearly that we cannot have a discriminatory policy? Will my right hon. Friend pose the same question to the Parliamentary Secretary that I posed? Will he ask what evidence there is that relative stability will continue after 2002?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend has posed his question with such force that he hardly needs me to second it, especially as I have some questions of my own.

My thesis is that in the European Union the probability of a pragmatic solution being found with which everybody can live and about which nobody is particularly happy has such a long history that there is a sporting chance that that will occur again this time.

I want to address a broader issue in a deliberately speculative way because this is a wide-ranging debate. The present policy, based on total allowable catches and quotas, is massively dependent on control, regulation and intervention. It is applied, in theory, across the European Union. It means that the enormous interventionist and regulatory machine, which as the Parliamentary Secretary said, tells people what their annual catch ought to be, at least in theory, is applied to a traditionally freebooting industry—we might as well be honest about that. It applies at massive public cost and it does not work.

The policy is not delivering conservation and is not resting on any real consensus in the fishing industry. It is not a system of regulation and control that is willingly applied and observed by the industry. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to make it work. We all know that evasion, fraud and cheating are well nigh universal. The fishing industry would say that there is no real choice and no real way of making a livelihood, except by cheating. Other people might argue that the industry has not always broken its neck to apply regulatory methods and has not submitted itself to the necessary surveillance. That all adds up to an immensely complex system of control which is not delivering the goods.

What worries me is that the thrust of policy is to go even further down the same road. The Prime Minister came back from Amsterdam with various measures designed to address the quota-hopping issue. Whichever one of the three measures is chosen, it will be yet another element in the fabric of control. The Prime Minister has also proposed that we might have, for example, designated ports of landing. I remember talking eight years ago about the possibility of designated ports of landing as a way of getting round black fish, and so on.

The thrust of the policy is to multiply controls even further against an industry that is deeply unwilling to see them operate effectively. That means escalating costs and costs to the taxpayer. The costs deliver a poor rate of return if the investment in enforcement is set off against the achievement of sustainable fishing opportunities, and still less if it is set off against the development of the stocks.

We are all waiting for the next big stock crash. Will it be North sea cod? What will be the next big stock to crash? We all know that the spawning stock biomass is at a critical level. We talk about it every year. Every year, the Council of Ministers receives advice about the sustainable fishing quotas and there is a process of negotiation and barter which winches up all the quotas to reach a politically acceptable settlement. I know exactly how it works, because I have taken part in it. It will continue to operate, but it will not work. It will continue to be the method used to achieve some sort of deal.

The question is whether we can continue tightening the screws on a policy that is demonstrably not working efficiently enough. What are the costs of the policy? I intend to give some figures, but I readily admit that they are not all on enforcement. Significant elements may be on other matters; none the less, they show the total envelope of support for the fishing industry. The figures are startling and they all come from the annual reports of the various Government Departments. I remember compiling such reports and wondering whether anybody ever read them. I now have an answer, because I have read them. In fact, I have some advice on how they could be made more readily understandable.

On page 215 of the report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the figure for the conservation of sea fish stocks, which is mainly the British contribution to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, is about £5.75 million. The figure for fisheries structures and markets is more than £12 million and for fisheries management and enforcement about £13.5 million. That latter figure embraces the six Royal Navy vessels in the protection squadron.

I remember having detailed discussions with the Royal Navy about the costs of that protection, because the Navy regards it as an important training mechanism as well. Whether those costs are distributed actuarially is a matter for debate between the two Departments. There is also aerial surveillance of fisheries and those aircraft can be used for other purposes. None the less, if we add all that together, we have already got about £31 million of MAFF spending. There may also be odds and ends from sea fisheries committees and European Union structural funds which have to be added to that total.

We now come to the Scottish Office: in 1997–98, the Scottish Office spent £27 million on fisheries and another £12 million on the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, which I believe uses a mixture of Royal Navy and private vessels.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The Scottish Office does not use Royal Navy fishery protection services.

Mr. Curry

It is interesting that the Scots should use private vessels, which probably have a longer life at sea and fewer requirements to put into port for weekend leave than Royal Navy vessels. Those two together add up to £39 million.

It is interesting that, according to the Scottish Office, the value of landings of fish in Scotland by UK vessels in 1995 was about £295 million. In that year—I am comparing like with like—the Scottish Office spend, including capital expenditure on a new fisheries research vessel, was about £35 million; in other words, the financial effort from the taxpayer was equivalent to about 12 per cent. of the value of the legal landings, which is an enormously high proportion.

Mr. Gill

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that the title of this debate is "British fishing policy after 2002"? Will he address the issue of what happens on 31 December 2002 and what will be different after that date? All he has said so far is that there is a sporting chance that we will get our way on relative stability. I do not think that it is sufficient, either for Parliament or for my party within Parliament, to say that to the fishing community at this time. The fishing community must have something more positive. What is my right hon. Friend going to propose?

Mr. Curry

If my hon. Friend can wait a little, I am busy demonstrating that simply to roll the policy forward and to multiply the degree of control within existing structures would not be feasible. It would not be feasible for purely national reasons: we can see how much the system is costing and we all know the pressures on public expenditure. I shall shortly consider ways in which the issue might evolve and ask questions about that.

I was about to point out that £5.2 million was spent in Northern Ireland. There was also £12 million for fisheries from the European Union for the single programme document from 1994 to 1999. The value of landings in Northern Ireland is put at £17 million for about 20,000 tonnes of fish, so the ratio of public expenditure to the value of the catch is even higher in Northern Ireland.

Add together the amounts spent by those three Departments and the total is about £75 million of public expenditure supporting the fisheries industry. I would guess the value of legal landings in 1997 to be about £500 million, although that is only a ballpark figure. Public expenditure of £75 million applied to landings worth £500 million shows that the ratio of support is about 15 per cent. I cannot think of another industry where there is that commitment to sustaining a policy that does not work. That is the heart of the problem. While we operate fisheries on the basis of a universal system of tax and quotas, it is difficult to see how to get off that treadmill.

I am not attacking the Government—we have all been on that treadmill and we are seeking a way off. I suspect that there may be two routes down which we will necessarily be driven, or which we will at least have to explore. At this point in my speech, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will, no doubt, feel moved to revisit an indignation that is already familiar to us.

The first route is to move towards some form of simpler controls—in other words, to try to escape from a massively detailed set of regulations that cover everything from technical conservation to how long and where one can fish. As the hon. Member for St. Ives said, perhaps days at sea offer some opportunities. I have the feeling that days at sea may be with us in the end, because they offer an opportunity for enforcement that may take us away from some of the present systems of control.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby may dislike the other route even more. How long will it be before the Government ask the industry to contribute to some of the costs through charging for licences?

Mr. Mitchell


Mr. Curry

Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, I hasten to point out that that would have to be done on a Europewide basis. I do not recant what I did as Fisheries Minister: I made a serious attempt to get to grips with the problem of conservation and I accept that the fact that it was not done on a Europewide basis was at the heart of the problems we experienced. It has to be done on a Europewide basis if we are to maintain a common framework; a Europewide move is probable, because I do not see this or any future Government deciding to risk political capital by trying to withdraw from the CFP.

Mr. Mitchell

It is interesting to see that, in his reincarnation as fisheries spokesman, the right hon. Gentleman has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. The problem with the days at sea limitation was that it applied only in this country and did not apply to our competitors, who were therefore free to take our fish. In addition, there was no financing of the lay-up period—why should fishermen lay up their boats without compensation when farmers get compensation for set-aside land?

Mr. Curry

I anticipated the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and have already answered that point. He will recall that, in any case, many of the days at sea controls limited fishermen to no more than the actual period they already spent at sea.

Neither of the two routes I have described will work any better than the existing policy if the industry is deeply antagonistic to the controls. Technical conservation measures can operate only if the industry co-operates and perceives them as being in its own interest. The prerequisite has to be getting to grips with overcapacity through a fairly big-hit decommissioning scheme. That might well be followed by the introduction of more market mechanisms, for example, tradeable days at sea backed by technical conservation measures. Some of the measures, such as the closure of spawning grounds, seemed to work in the Norwegian fishery and were highlighted by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations in its most recent publication. That might give us the opportunity for rationalisation, once a step reduction had been taken, to be pursued internally in the industry.

I sketch that out as one of the possible scenarios. My thesis is simply that I do not think that we can continue on our present course, even if we were dealing with only a national fishery. That level of costs, without the system working, is not acceptable. The system is not demonstrably working, nor will it work at a European level. Therefore, we must either seek ways of getting off the treadmill through a simpler method of enforcement or consider a radically different structure for fisheries and a major attack on overcapacity in the industry. I should be interested in the Parliamentary Secretary's speculation about those outcomes. If my figures are wrong, I should be delighted to be corrected; but I suspect that, if they are wrong, it is because I have underestimated them.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) on obtaining the debate and on his sensible and mature speech on the fishing industry. His predecessor was well known for taking a view on the industry that often cut across party lines, because he argued for the needs of his local industry. The current hon. Member for St. Ives is continuing that tradition by advancing a well-reasoned case relating both to his own industry and to the future of the British industry after 2002.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) made an eloquent case for her own fishing industry and the regional needs of Fleetwood. I have met the hon. Lady and delegates from her local authority to talk about their port and their needs. That underlines the regional dimension of the fisheries industry in this country and the importance of regional ports such as Fleetwood.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) is consistent—that much is certain—but he is wrong on certain aspects of his assumptions. What exercises him and other hon. Members who share his views is their interpretation of what may or may not happen in relation to a future treaty in general and the common fisheries policy in particular. He is wrong about equal access, although he is right to say that that is enshrined within the CFP. He knows that I have argued that it is inconsistent and illogical in relation to the way in which the CFP operates.

My reason for arguing this—I have not changed my opinion at all—is that we now have the idea of relative stability, which has emerged over the years and is accepted by the Commission and by all member states. Under regulation 3760/92, the Commission has to produce a report by 31 December 2001—a report on changes to the common fisheries policy. But the principle of relative stability can be changed only by qualified majority voting by member states. If there is no agreement, it will continue in place automatically after 2002.

The President of the Commission, at the request of our Prime Minister, clearly stated in an exchange of letters: The key elements of the common fisheries policy are widely valued, and as the Commission has already stated, it seems unlikely that the fundamental principle of relative stability will be called into question, or that there will be a desire to modify present restrictions on access to waters inside Member States' 12 mile limits. We see relative stability as a key component of the common fisheries policy and its successor.

I still believe the hon. Member for Ludlow to be wrong, but I respect the fact that he has been consistent. Of all the so-called Euro-sceptics, he is the only one who has continued to show an interest in the fishing industry; he has made a valuable contribution to our debates. But his interpretation is wrong, and so is his approach.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that the Scottish pelagic fleet has to obtain east coast and west coast licences, and has to call into port to get them. His point is well worth considering. The hon. Gentleman must know the reason for the process: the measure was introduced because of widespread misreporting. In other words, it was an enforcement measure. Any administrative problems to which it may give rise—the hon. Gentleman mentioned steaming into port only to find the office closed—should certainly be looked at, to see whether improvements can be found.

Mr. Salmond

Will the Parliamentary Secretary acknowledge that there must be a better way to proceed than sending fishing boats, in a climate of cost pressure, on trips merely to pick up pieces of paper? Will he at least undertake to consider the issue to see whether it can be resolved more satisfactorily?

Mr. Morley

I will certainly undertake to do so. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that this was an enforcement measure to deal with what has been a serious problem.

The hon. Member for St. Ives is quite right to look ahead to 2002 and right to emphasise the importance of his home port, and how it will be affected. His port specialises in low volumes of high-value fish. There is a lesson to be drawn from that for the whole fishing industry: concentrate on quality and price, not on volume. That is a more sustainable way ahead.

I also acknowledge that the inshore industry is highly selective. I recently met the sea fisheries committees at their annual meeting; I believe that they have an important role to play in local fisheries management.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has also been consistent in his opposition to the common fisheries policy. I must concede that much of his criticism is spot on. There are serious failings in the policy—no one could disagree with that—but there is also a need for a pan-European fisheries management policy to look after fish stocks. The Falkland Islands offer a good example of the need for wider fisheries management. The zone to the north of the islands is in international waters and squid stocks are overfished there; that impinges on the whole Falklands fishery area, and it shows the necessity of international fisheries management.

Unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy of the kind for which some people argue is not a realistic or tenable option, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby will concede. That is my sincere belief. We need to concentrate instead on reforming the CFP. I believe that we can achieve that and are achieving it. The CFP is being reformed. Regional groups have been set up to cater for the desire for a more regional approach. As for a more general strategy, I shall deal shortly with how the Government see the way ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) discussed the dredging of scallops and the need for conservation measures for our inshore fleet. She has talked to me before about the needs of her fishing industry, on whose behalf she has been a strong advocate. I can only assure her that we will make it a priority to resolve this outstanding issue.

The Government's objectives are, first, to strengthen the economic benefits that countries derive from their national quotas. The moves we made at Amsterdam were designed to that end. We did not come back claiming a huge victory in respect of quota hoppers, and I willingly concede that the industry is disappointed with the deal that we struck. That is probably because the industry's expectations were built up to unrealistic levels by the previous Government. What we achieved, however, was realistic. It will bring benefits to fishing communities, and it will act as a disincentive to the fishing vessels that rarely call into United Kingdom ports. Most of all, our deal kept economic benefits at the top of the list of priorities.

Secondly, we need effective controls on fishing efforts. Here there are various options, among which days at sea measures are only one. We do not want to go for the sort of scheme that the Conservative Government advocated and the fishing industry fiercely resisted. That is not to say that there is no place for some sort of effort control of that type, but we want to discuss that with the industry and ensure that it is workable. We have made it clear that fisheries enforcement policy will involve tough decisions in the end. The Government are prepared to take tough decisions in the cause of conserving stocks.

Effective enforcement may involve satellite monitoring, which is admittedly an expensive option. I agree that designating ports is a low-cost option, and I am keen on it. During a high-level meeting chaired by the Minister responsible for agriculture and fisheries, the issue of industry contributions was brought up. Although that clearly needs discussion with the industry, it was not dismissed out of hand at the meeting. It is a controversial subject, and the industry rightly wants to know what it will get, in terms of restructuring, in return for its contribution.

We also need more effective conservation measures. In that context, I welcome the paper produced by the NFFO, dealing with technical conservation measures and containing some good ideas—

Mr. Gill

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morley

I am sorry, no. Improving quota management will of course embrace time scale and bureaucracy issues. I agree about the need to involve fishermen in the ownership and management of their quotas. We shall be discussing that, too, with the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby is concerned about greater regional management. We are very interested in the comments of the NFFO on coastal state management. There are differing interpretations of its meaning, however. There is certainly a role for more regional managing of the fisheries in our country—a point also conceded by the Commission in the letter from Mr. Santer to the Prime Minister.

After 2002 we want to extend the positive benefits of the CFP—relative stability, and the retention of our six and 12-mile limits. That is a Government priority.

Where third-country agreements are in place, it is important that the countries in question, generally developing countries, derive some benefit from the agreements, perhaps in the shape of joint ventures and some landings. The Commission must bear that in mind, and we will press for it.

Finally, I wish to answer the point that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) made about Rockall. The United Nations convention on the law of the sea made it clear that it was not possible to draw boundary lines from uninhabitable islands. We said that we would abide by that convention.

The relinquishment of the Rockall fishery zone will have no significant impact on UK fishermen. The level of catches in the Rockall zone is very low; it made up 0.1 per cent, of Scottish landings in 1996. In practice, UK fishermen will continue to have full access rights to 95 per cent, of the area in question and quotas will remain unchanged.

However, this country gains some tangible benefits, in terms of having internationally recognised boundaries, as a result of the ratification of the UN convention on the law of the sea. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon may remember that the Rockall boundaries were always disputed by Ireland—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. It is time to move on to the next debate.