HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 cc824-75

[Relevant document: Unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 7th December 1998 relating to the laying down, for 1999, of certain measures for the conservation and management of fishery resources applicable to vessels flying the flag of Norway and allocating, for 1999, catch quotas between member states for vessels fishing in the Norwegian exclusive economic zone and the fishing zone around Jan Mayen.]

7.16 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 European Union Document No. COM(98)680, relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1999 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 regional differences of fisheries are fully recognized.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), and also that Madam Speaker has decided that the 10-minutes rule should apply to all Back-Bench speeches.

Mr. Morley

It has become traditional for the House to hold a debate on fisheries in advance of the December meeting of the Fisheries Council, which sets total allowable catches and quotas for the following year.

I know that this is an important occasion for hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies, and, indeed, for all hon. Members who take an active interest in fisheries policy generally. In accordance with that custom and practice, I shall not just focus on the decisions that will be made at the Fisheries Council meeting later this week, important though they are. This is also an opportunity for me to review the key developments in fisheries policy that have occurred over the last year, and to consider the issues that we are likely to face.

It is worth recalling the hazards that fishermen experience, and the tragic loss of life that results all too frequently. This year has been no exception, with 24 lives lost to date. Let me express my condolences to the families of the four men who were lost in the Iona tragedy, and also to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I understand that the men involved in that tragic accident were from fishing families on the island, and I well understand how a small community such as that on Bute must have been affected. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in that regard.

Although I do not have direct responsibility for safety at sea—that falls to my colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—it greatly concerns all of us who are involved with the industry in any way that, all too often, such a high price is paid for the harvesting of one of nature's most generous resources. We have a duty both to improve safety standards and to ensure that we make the best possible use of the fish stocks that the industry puts such resources into harvesting. We need to achieve safe and sustainable fisheries for the benefit of all.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I certainly concur with what the Minister said about the debt that we owe the fishing communities.

Having compared notes with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I have established that this is the 16th year in which our debate has taken place. One thing has not changed, and I should like to hear the Minister's view. I do not see how any Government can expect the industry to respond to such short-term decision making. How can it plan a coherent future when, year after year, we give it so little notice to enable it to make arrangements for its work in the forthcoming year?

Mr. Morley

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and intend to touch on it later. The industry does need as much time as possible.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Let me offer the Minister a more precise illustration of the difficulties involved. A new quota system for non-sector vessels comes in on 1 January, and track records of their previous fishing must be submitted by 31 December. That is short enough notice, but the Ministry appears to be unable to make available the track records for relevant years until February. Can the Minister suggest a way out of the Catch 22?

Mr. Morley

Yes. I can answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions. As he knows, we are moving to a new system of quota allocation from 1 January next year. The quantity of fish that producer organisations in non-sector and other groups will be able to catch will be based on a proportion of the catches made by the vessels in each group during the reference period 1994 to 1996.

However, we are making special arrangements for the non-sector vessels joining producer organisations from 1 January 1999 and in subsequent years. Vessel owners will have the choice of taking into producer organisation membership quota units based on either the track record for 1994 to 1996 or the proportion of non-sector catch that the vessel took in the past three years. If the right hon. Gentleman would like the details, which are considerable, I would be only too pleased to write to him and address his concerns.

This year, there have been many new initiatives and I shall to touch on the more significant developments. However, they all contribute to pursuing our objective of improving the operation of fisheries policy.

There are four main themes to our approach. First, we wish to achieve more effective and consistent enforcement of fisheries rules across the Community. Secondly, we want environmental considerations to be integrated more fully in the common fisheries policy, to make it a more effective instrument for conserving fish stocks and the wider marine environment. Thirdly, we want structural and conservation measures to be applied in a way that achieves a sustainable future for the fishing industry and enhances economic opportunity in coastal communities. Fourthly, we would like increased participation by fishermen in the development of fisheries policy. In parallel, we wish to improve the regional dimension of the CFP so that it is more sensitive to local differences.

Those themes provide the broad framework within which the Government pursue fisheries policy. This year, we have taken important strides forward on all fronts. Of course, 1998 began in an untypical way, in that we assumed the presidency of the Fisheries Council for the first six months. Our primary function, as presidency, was to progress the general business of the Council efficiently and expeditiously. I believe that we did so successfully, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who was an outstanding chairman. Under his chairmanship, we made significant progress in a number of our priority areas.

For example, we secured the introduction of new total allowable catches and quotas for North sea stocks, so assisting their conservation as well as safeguarding large shares for UK fishermen. Agreement was reached to phase out the use of high seas tuna drift nets, which will end the unacceptable level of dolphin deaths attributed to those nets. We launched moves to improve enforcement measures which will culminate in the adoption of a new regulation at the December Council later this week. It is very important to the fishing industry to have a common standard and consistency of approach across all member states.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Does the Minister not recognise that, by imposing designated ports on the industry, he will force fishermen to dump more of their catch dead back into the sea? I know that the object of the exercise is to prevent the landing of black fish, but does he concede that those black fish, instead of being landed and possibly consumed, will now add to the huge quantity of fish that is already dumped back dead into the sea?

Mr. Morley

It is certainly true that quota management results in discards. I do not like the idea of discarding marketable fish any more than the hon. Gentleman does, but it is necessary to have some measure to control over-quota landings. It is difficult to distinguish between a fisherman who may have a small quantity of fish that he has caught by accident and one who is deliberately targeting fish knowing that he has exceeded his quota. I have made it clear to the fishing industry that I am always willing to discuss and consider alternative ways of managing quotas and effort, but at present quota management is applied by all countries, whether or not they are in the CFP. Although there are disadvantages, there are also advantages in terms of fisheries management.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

I am grateful to the Minister. Does he accept that, although Norway operates quotas, it is illegal there to discard fish and pollute the sea? Is that not a more sensible approach?

Mr. Morley

That is an issue for discussion with the fishing industry. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages. If we insist on landing all species, there are enforcement problems, which the Norwegians are facing. If someone's quota is used up by unmarketable fish, it is difficult to know whether it is being dumped over the side to make way for marketable fish. There are problems. I acknowledge that there is a genuine debate about the best and most efficient way of managing fisheries and quota, and I am always ready to have discussions with the industry and listen to new ideas.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Does the Minister accept that there is a danger of the reverse effect occurring? If we set a precautionary total which is a sharp downswing—for example, the North sea haddock quota this year—and stock is more abundant than is assumed or suggested by scientific advice, there is an automatic increase in discards and, instead of being a conservation device, the system wastes good fish.

Mr. Morley

I accept that that is a potential consequence of major reductions in TAC and quota, and I shall say a few words about that and my meeting with the fishing industry today.

Also in the past year, an agreement was reached to develop and extend the use of regional meetings that increase the involvement of fishermen in CFP discussions. We certainly want to develop that in the coming year.

This year also saw the Commission initiate preparatory work in connection with the review of the CFP which is due to take place before the end of 2002. I know that that is of considerable interest to many right hon. and hon. Members. In the spring, a questionnaire was distributed widely throughout the Community to allow fishing and other interests to provide initial views on the main issues to be addressed and the Commission received a weighty response from UK organisations and individuals. The autumn saw the beginning of a follow-up series of regional meetings to allow the Commission to hear at first hand the views of fishermen and other interests. Four such meetings were held in the UK in October and, as usual, our industry was not backward in putting forward its views and ideas in relation to 2002.

While we are on the subject of the 2002 review, I should like to dispel once and for all the misconceptions held by some about 31 December 2002. Many wild and somewhat reckless claims have been made about what will happen after that date. Let me make it clear to the House that I want to take on some of the most oft-repeated myths and, I hope, lay them to rest. I was tempted to say, "Read my lips," but as that is the expression of an American President it might not be appropriate. I was referring to President Bush, of course.

First, there are claims that the current CFP expires lock, stock and barrel at the end of 2002. Those making such assertions usually go on to raise the spectre that we will be held to ransom by southern member states who will block the adoption of a new regulation so that there is free access to all fish stocks in all Community waters. On that analysis, relative stability, access restrictions and all the other factors that we and the industry value in the present CFP will disappear.

Let me present the facts. The CFP does not lapse at the end of 2002. Under Council regulation 3760/92, member states are required to decide by 31 December 2002, by qualified majority voting, whether any changes are needed to the present arrangements. If no such changes are agreed, with one exception, all the existing provisions of the regulation will be rolled over automatically beyond 2002.

The one exception is the restriction on access by foreign vessels within national six and 12-mile limits. A further derogation will be needed to maintain those provisions beyond 2002. I know that there is concern among UK fishing and coastal interests that the arrangements will not be renewed. Indeed, it is the single most commented-on issue in my postbag concerning the 2002 review. It was raised in the questionnaires and at the consultative meetings.

Let me therefore make it clear that the Government are totally committed to maintaining those important provisions and are convinced that that will be achieved. The fact is that other member states are as interested in protecting their inshore fleets as we are. The restrictions were agreed unanimously when they last came up for renewal in 1992, and I see no reason why there should be any difficulty about their renewal in 2002.

Mr. Gill

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. The six-mile and 12-mile limits that we currently enjoy are part of the derogation to which he has referred. Why does he say that relative stability, in the form of the national allocation of quota that is part of that derogation, will continue in the future? There is no evidence that it will.

Mr. Morley

I made it clear that, in the interpretation of the regulations, the relative stability is not a derogation. That is the view not only of the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, but of the Commission, its legal advisers and other countries. There is no argument about that in the European Union. I repeat that, unless there is a majority vote to end relative stability, it will continue automatically after 2002.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

We should not listen to the prophets of doom; the review of the common fisheries policy after 2002 gives us an opportunity to give a more regional dimension to fishing policy. Will the Minister elaborate on that and say whether his discussions with his European counterparts are likely to lead to an increased decentralisation of policy to management at regional or zonal level?

Mr. Morley

Other member states are interested in regional management in the CFP; I shall say a few words about it later.

I am talking about those key elements of the CFP that the fishing industry wants retained after 2002. I hope that minority elements in the UK industry—and some hon. Members who should know better—will stop perpetuating myths that do the fishermen no favours, cultivate unnecessary fears, and distract attention from more meaningful issues. I want in this debate to lay those myths to rest once and for all.

Effort control has been one of the main developments in fisheries policy over the past year. Last December, I explained that, largely as a result of the progress made during negotiations with the European Commission on the UK's detailed plans for implementing multi-annual guidance programme IV, we were able to limit immediate further action in 1998 to the introduction of effort controls in the pelagic and beam trawl segments. The main demersal fleets were spared the imposition of limits.

I also said that our preference was for such controls to be managed by the industry itself, and that there would be detailed discussions with the fishermen on how that should be done. On 24 February, I announced that, as a result of those meetings, we were allocating fishing effort among the various producer organisations or groups of fishermen and inviting them to manage their own uptake within the allocations on whatever basis they and their members wanted.

I acknowledged that the introduction of those arrangements was a new departure in fisheries policy and promised that we would keep the position under close review. I am happy to say that, despite some initial delays and uncertainties, the arrangements have generally worked well—the UK fleet remains on course to meet its MAGP IV obligations.

We have today embarked on a further round of discussions with the industry on possible modifications to the arrangements for 1999. We are ready to listen to any reasonable suggestions that are consistent with MAGP requirements and the progress that we are making.

Mr. Andrew George

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. Because of unplanned lay-ups in the beam trawl fleet, the days-at-sea target has been undershot. In his negotiations with the industry and the producer organisations, will he allow the unused days to be carried over, as the industry wants?

Mr. Morley

We can consider that in the 1999 arrangements, although the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that the idea behind the restrictions is to reduce effort. The industry will have an opportunity to put its point of view about how the next phase should operate.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

When all the days at sea have been used, there may still be spare quota because of bad weather or illness, for example. Will my hon. Friend say whether the number of days can be extended to take up that quota, as my local producers organisation believes is the case in Holland?

Mr. Morley

I have heard the assertions about Holland, but they have not been not confirmed. All member states are legally obliged to operate effort controls in line with their MAGP obligations. If any member state does not abide by that legal obligation, the Commission can penalise it, and even refer it to the European Court of Justice. I assure my hon. Friend that we will not hesitate to draw to the Commission's attention any evidence that member states are not complying with their obligations.

I know that many in the industry are now asking whether the progress that we have made on MAGP III and IV is sufficient to make the UK eligible for vessel construction grants under the EU's financial instrument for fisheries guidance. I take this opportunity to make the Government's position clear on the issues involved. First, we would need to clarify with the Commission the progress that we have made on MAGP III and IV and how current performance on effort is to be measured against past performance in capacity terms.

There are much more fundamental issues to do with the justification for such aid and its affordability. I do not want to duck this point, so I shall make clear to the House the Government's feelings about the matter. On the justification of using public money to modernise the fishing fleet, we must assess our priorities in terms of the way in which the Department applies available resources.

We have made resources available within our budget for further decommissioning in relation to some of the overhang from MAGP III and IV. We have also ensured that there is funding for vessel safety grants, for harbour improvements and for marketing and processing grants. That has directed money to adding value, to marketing and to ensuring that fishermen maximise the value of their catch and secure the best returns from it. Directing available resources in the best interests of the industry is one of our priorities.

On the justification of scrap and build, we do not believe that subsidising capital investment in new fishing vessels is necessarily a sensible use of taxpayers' money, especially while effort controls are in force and stocks remain under severe pressure, and we are continuing to decommission capacity in other parts of the fleet. It would simply not be sustainable, either biologically or economically, to encourage the industry to invest at levels which it could not finance from its own resources.

Hon. Members may remember what happened in the 1980s, when grants were last given to improve vessels. As a result of the modernisation of the UK fleet, effort was increased, which meant that unsustainable pressure was put on fish stocks. Having spent large sums of public money on modernisation to increase the capacity of the fishing fleet in the 1980s, we found ourselves in the ludicrous situation of spending large sums of money in the 1990s on decommissioning vessels because of overcapacity. Unless the policy is carefully thought through, that is one of the problems that may arise if public funds are used for modernization.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I noticed that, although most of my hon. Friend's speech has been characterised by fluent discourse—he has been looking his audience straight in the eye—when he came to the language of priorities, he turned to the prepared text in front of him. That suggests to me Treasury talk: "There ain't going to be any money because we won't put up the necessary supplement." Does he accept that our basic problem is that we have an aging fleet—it is 25 or 30 years old—whereas other countries have modernised their fleets, using European money to which we have not had access?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend, who is experienced in relation to the industry, has raised an important point. It is true that other countries have modernised their fleets because they have met their full MAGP targets. We have not, but we are making progress to meet those targets—in a way that the previous Administration failed to do. I recognise my hon. Friend's point, and I do not want to duck the issue of the aging fleet. It is for that reason that, in my negotiations with the fishing industry today, I invited it to meet me and departmental officials to look at ways in which we can work together to address the need for investment and modernisation.

In relation to the changes in terms of fixed-quota allocation, fishing licences have acquired a significant value. That could be collateral for investment loans from banks, in the way that any business plans for investment. I have suggested that we explore this potential capital asset, and see how we can use it to underpin loans that the industry may wish to negotiate with banks to help finance the kind of modernisation and investment that any industry would carry out. That is what I am prepared to do with the industry to address those problems.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister has made an interesting statement, which will merit careful consideration. Has he discussed with the banks whether they will accept fishing licences as collateral for substantial loans? What guarantees would the Government and the EU have to give as to the longevity and value of licences over time?

Mr. Morley

We need to resolve those matters in discussion with the industry. I have had discussions with one bank about that very point, and, although I did not raise the matter formally, the indication that I received was that banks would be prepared to consider such an approach. There are issues to resolve, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and that is why it is worth looking at what is achievable, what is not achievable and how we can utilise what has become an asset within the industry. Anyone who knows the industry will know that that can work to the advantage of the industry.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

What is the point of modernising the fleet if the Minister continues to cut the traditional fisheries of the beam trawlers, so that the amount of fish that can be landed is less and less?

Mr. Morley

I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking for his constituents, and I respect that. However, he knows as well as I do that over-capacity must be addressed. That involves making difficult decisions, but those decisions must be made. Managing fishing stocks involves decisions about sustainability—some of which are difficult, too. However, our approach means that the investment decisions of individual fishermen would be linked to how they were fishing and the kind of effort that they were making. That would be a more sustainable and logical way of determining investment, rather than giving public money for such investment without any thought for the consequences.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Modernisation and support with marketing must be in the context of a business plan. Our fishermen feel that our competitors have a long-term vision and a sense of how much production and how many producers they want, but that we do not. What is the Government's long-term vision? How many producers will we have? What is the modernisation aiming towards? Where is the marketing taking us?

Mr. Morley

We must match the available capacity to the available fish stocks. Fish stocks vary from year to year, but it is possible for fishermen to make investment plans. I must emphasise that many fishermen in this country—from all sectors of the fleet—are already making that investment, and are identifying market opportunities and seeking returns on their investment. That is happening now—it is nothing new. I want to see how we can extend that.

Mr. Salmond

Twenty years ago, we had one of the most modern fleets in Europe. Now, we have an aging fleet—its average age is more than a quarter of a century. The Minister was accused by his hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) of reading from a Treasury brief. The Minister said that his hon. Friend was an experienced Member, which meant that he agreed with his hon. Friend, but had to go back to the Treasury brief.

The Minister is departing from one of his clear principles in opposition—that of parity for the fleet in this country with others. Our major competitors have had access to European funding. How will the Minister establish parity for the fleet in this country with what fleets in other countries have received?

Mr. Morley

I cannot go back to what has happened in the past. In terms of the debate about the future structure of fisheries funds, negotiations and priorities, I have already made it clear in the Council of Ministers that I do not believe that subsidising the modernisation of fishing boats is necessarily the best way forward. That should not apply to any member state. There is a role for public finance, on which I will touch in a moment, but there are far more productive ways of using that money than modernising the fishing fleet.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

First, may I thank the Minister for his kind words about the tragedy in my constituency, which I will convey to the folk on Iona?,lb/> In talking about modernising the fleet, the Minister presumably means that we can go for new build and repairs. Does he agree that that would make a huge difference to the shipyards that we have lost, particularly in Scotland—including the Campbeltown shipyard in my constituency? We need to be building our own fishing boats.

Mr. Morley

I accept that, and I hope that those fishermen who have placed orders for new build and repairs—not necessarily within the UK—have taken note of what the hon. Lady has said.

Mr. Gill

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am sensitive about taking up too much of the House's time when many hon. Members wish to speak. I have been generous in taking interventions, and I hope that he will forgive me if I try to make progress.

I understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made about the Treasury brief and Treasury priorities, but there is no point in denying that there are priorities, and that there is not a limitless pot of public money. Nor is there a magic bank account in Brussels waiting for us to use. Many of the EU funds are, in reality, money contributed by member states. As a net contributor to the EU budget—and despite the rebate arrangements—we pay, in effect, about 71p in every pound for any EU money spent in this country.

The comprehensive spending review, completed this summer, looked in great detail at all aspects of Government expenditure, and concluded that the priorities in the fisheries sector should be continuation of the existing infrastructure and vessel safety grants, together with a further £10.5 million for decommissioning in the fixed-gear segments over the next three years. Our priority is to add value.

In the year 1997–98, about £38 million was put into the fishing industry and fisheries-dependent areas from EU, central Government and regional government grants. These priorities extend to the period beyond the expiry of the current FIFG and PESCA schemes at the end of 1999. Future EU arrangement are under discussion in the context of the Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals, and we do not know what form they will finally take. We will consult the industry once detailed implementing proposals emerge. It would be wrong for me to allow a false expectation of grants for fleet renewal against the position that I have just set out. As I said in August, following the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, there are limits to what the taxpayer should be asked to support in the absence of a financial contribution from the industry itself.

I have referred to our priorities for fisheries policy and the future structure of the UK fleet. Effective enforcement has an essential role to play. The Government are committed to raising the standard of enforcement both at home and throughout the Community. As a result of the initiatives that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took at Amsterdam and the action taken during our presidency, the December Fisheries Council will adopt important measures to strengthen monitoring, inspection and surveillance arrangements throughout the Community, leading to much greater co-operation and transparency, which I warmly welcome as a key objective.

Action at Community level is being reinforced by action at home, where we shall continue to devote considerable resources—about £24 million a year—to policing fishing activity in our waters and in our ports. Last month, I confirmed that robust action would be taken to deal with the problem of under-declared landings through the introduction of new controls, including designated ports, for vessels over 20 m.

Our monitoring of fishing activity will be further assisted once satellite monitoring comes into full effect from 1 January 2000. We recently awarded a contract for the development of the UK's monitoring system, which should be fully operational by the middle of next year.

I know that many are concerned that the industry is over-regulated, and the industry certainly made that point in our discussions today, but fishing is a highly complex activity, and some regulation is inescapable. I can assure the House that we will make every effort to restrict additional controls and costs to those that are essential for conserving fish stocks and safeguarding the best interests of fishermen. Let us be clear: honest fishermen have nothing to fear from the controls that we are introducing.

Many of the measures are long overdue, and I regret that many changes have to be introduced in a short period: the industry must think that they are coming thick and fast. Some of the measures should have been introduced many years ago, and we made it clear that we would take action on black fish, enforcement and other problems, some of which the industry has asked us to tackle.

In talks with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and Northern Ireland organisations, I offered to set up a working party, on which the industry will be able to join officials to consider how to minimise the impact and bureaucracy of the measures that we will have to introduce. We will work with the industry to ensure that the changes cause the minimum of inconvenience.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the working party have access to the Commissioner?

Mr. Morley

We are introducing national measures as a member state, so access to the Commissioner is not relevant. We will discuss how to apply the measures, and we have some flexibility on the detail of how that is done. We want to hear the industry's point of view so that we can minimise the impact.

We will not shrink from taking difficult decisions. At the beginning of this month, I announced a phased programme of action to link the future registration and licensing of fishing vessels to the declaration of maximum continuous or permanently derated engine power. We must tackle the deliberate under-declaration of engine power if measures to restrict fishing activity and conserve fish stocks are to succeed.

I have heard forceful arguments from those who consider that the measures go too far and from those who consider that they do not go far enough, but I believe that we now have a balanced and proportionate package of measures which should put an end to the under-declaration of engine power without causing long-term hardship for the industry.

We have also acted decisively to resolve the legacy of unresolved problems of quota hopping, which I know to be of concern to many hon. Members. With the agreement of the Commission, we announced in July a package of measures designed to ensure that UK fishing vessels maintain a real economic link with this country. The measures will bring greater benefits to our coastal communities without threatening inward investment in our industry. That is a good deal for the fishing industry, and will achieve much more than the pursuit of unachievable goals such as the removal of quota hoppers from the register.

The measures, combined with designated ports and satellite monitoring, are having an effect on quota hopping and on black fish landings, which have declined. I warmly welcome that. A further area of progress has been the introduction of fixed quota allocations that will take effect from 1 January next year. The new arrangements will create much greater certainty in the industry, and will eliminate the incentive to catch fish simply to maintain quota shares.

That initiative came from the industry itself, and I welcome that involvement, which is an example of how we can take ideas from and hold consultations with the industry and, if there is majority agreement, implement them. The next high-level meeting with the industry, which will be chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, will take place on 3 March. We look forward to discussing an agenda proposed by the industry itself.

A great deal of work is still to be done. I am aware of the difficult problems facing our inshore fleet, whose operations are often restricted by factors such as weather conditions and the availability of fish on our inshore grounds. The vessels are hard hit when action has to be taken to close fisheries because quota allocations have been exhausted.

Following discussions with inshore fishermen, we are considering a range of options for improving the current quota management and licensing arrangements for the inshore fleet and I hope to be able to issue a consultative paper early in the new year, seeking views on the way forward. That initiative came up at a very constructive meeting in Hastings, organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster).

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are pursuing all the points that were raised about ways of helping the inshore fleet with its quota management without imposing stops, which I accept cause real problems. The problem that I face as a Minister is that, once the fish stocks are exhausted, we have no option but to close the fishery; but we are looking for alternative methods that the inshore fleet may find helpful.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that we are also investigating complaints about fishermen who have shortened their boats to get below the 10 m designation and then, allegedly, have lengthened them again. Action is in hand to identify the number of boats that fall into that category and to ensure that they comply. Let me make it clear that the owners of such boats face losing their licence and their livelihood.

It is unfortunate that, as in previous years, the Commission's proposals for total allowable catches and quotas to apply in 1999 have emerged very late in the day. I accept that criticism; we have drawn it to the attention of the Commission, and will do so again. Such lateness does not make it easy for any of us to prepare for the important decisions to be taken at the December Council; but to allow the fullest possible parliamentary scrutiny, we made available as much detail as possible before the formal proposals were published.

Mr. Wallace

Whatever became of multi-annual and multi-species TACs, which I think were agreed in 1992 but were never implemented? They may be a way of avoiding the huge swings that often happen.

Mr. Morley

I believe that there is a role for extending the number of stocks that are managed multi-annually. Of course, the stocks have to be sufficient to apply a multi-annual TAC. Some stocks are so low that it would be very difficult to do that at present. I accept the point, and we want to pursue it with the Commission. The multi-annual TAC on herring, for example, has been a great success, and we want to extend the system where appropriate.

There is no denying that, this year, deeper than usual cuts have been proposed in a number of TACs. To some extent, that reflects the more explicit application of a precautionary approach by the scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which has in some cases led to more cautious advice. But the blame cannot be laid at the door of scientists: the fact is that many of our fish stocks have deteriorated over recent years, and are now in a poor state.

There have been some welcome reductions in fishing mortality over the past couple of years, but too many stocks remain dependent on the strength of incoming year classes, so, when there is below-average recruitment, the stock size declines and TACs reduce. Irrespective of the application of the precautionary approach, substantial cuts in some TACs are, unfortunately, necessary to help to rebuild and secure stocks for the future. The fishing industry recognises that action has to be taken if there is evidence that stocks are in decline.

Let me make it clear that the Government are committed to the precautionary approach as the basis for managing fish stocks. Indeed, we have advanced that argument on issues such as increased controls on industrial fishing. A more cautious approach in the shorter term will lead to significant benefits in the longer term as fish stocks grow in response to more sustainable fishing levels. The North sea herring stock, which has just been mentioned, provides a vivid example of how short-term restraint can lead to long-term gain. Severe reductions in catches and fishing effort were imposed on that fishery in 1996 to prevent the stock's collapse. The restrictive regime has been maintained, with the result that the stock size will soon be above safe levels, and is predicted to continue to increase substantially over the next couple of years.

We need further dialogue among fishermen, managers and scientists to refine and develop the application of the precautionary approach. If cuts are violent and too changeable, fishermen cannot plan, and find it hard to adapt. However, it is difficult to fault the concept in principle, and the fishing industry accepted at the meeting today that it had a role to play. Sensibly applied, the precautionary principle offers a sound way forward for fisheries management.

I know that fishermen are concerned about the extent of cuts in TACs proposed by the Commission, and I share their concern for a number of stocks. I am mindful of the need to take into account the social and economic effects on the industry of excessive year-on-year fluctuations in TACs. I met the leaders of the UK industry this afternoon and we had a full discussion about their concerns and priorities. I was able to assure them that, at the Fisheries Council this week, we will argue for the TACs proposed to be increased if that is compatible with the scientific advice and the conservation of stocks.

However, I emphasised the need for our approach to be realistic and responsible if we are not to undermine the recovery of stocks from some of the low levels that now exist. The fishermen at the meeting made several helpful and constructive points in relation to the negotiations on TACs, and I will do my best to address those points at the Fisheries Council.

Mr. Blizzard

Although it is proposed that the TACs for many species should be reduced, an increase is recommended for some species. Can my hon. Friend assure me that, in the negotiations in Brussels, he will resist any attempt to try to trade off one species against another, so that, for example, an increase in plaice, which is caught readily by Lowestoft fishermen, will not be traded off for an increase in another species? Will he assure me that he will stick to TACs based on scientific evidence?

Mr. Morley

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There is good news on plaice for the fishing industry, in that the scientific advice has recommended an increase in the plaice TAC. I welcome that.

The Government's overall objective is to achieve sustainable management of fisheries so that stocks recover, fishermen's livelihoods are safeguarded and the wider marine environment is conserved. A good start has been made in the 18 months or so since we came to office. We are committed to providing the conditions for a prosperous, stable and sustainable fishing industry.

We have tackled our priorities in a way that the previous Government could not. I do not blame my predecessors as Fisheries Minister, because they tried to do their best for the industry, but they found it impossible to advance the case for the British fishing industry against the background of a party and Government riven by splits on Europe. They were paralysed when taking decisions and dealing with the outstanding problems with which we have had to deal in the short time we have been in office. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the splits that so disabled the previous Government have improved in the present Conservative party.

I have made it clear that, when tough decisions have to be taken on fisheries management, the Government will take them, but we will ensure that the long-term future of the fishing industry is maintained, that we have sustainable fisheries and that our actions—after consulting the fishing industry at every opportunity—are taken for the long-term benefit of the industry. We have seen some progress. This year, the black fish problem has declined, prices have improved for most of the fishing industry, and it has been a good year for many sections of the fleet. We want to ensure that that prosperity continues next year and for the future.

8.5 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

The Minister was right to remind us that, although this debate is taking place before the meeting of the Fisheries Council, it has traditionally been an opportunity to discuss the fishing industry in its entirety. I commend him for touching on a number of points that are clearly of great interest to Members on both sides of the House. However, I did not think much of his penultimate paragraph, and I can understand why he kept his worst point to almost the end. I shall deal with it in a moment.

The Minister was also right to remind the House what a dangerous industry fishermen work in. In some ways, it is almost an anachronism, with fatalities every year. In 1997, the report of the marine accidents investigation branch shows that 29 fishermen died. Because I represent a west country seat, I remember incidents that affected the west country, including, for example, the loss of the Margaretha Maria. Only last week, a fisherman died in Brixham and, in June, five Scottish fishermen died off the coast of Denmark when their ship was cut in half by a German freight vessel. Fishing is a dangerous industry and the Minister was right to preface his remarks by drawing our attention to that fact.

The Minister was reported in the press as having described the proposed cuts as "ferocious". After examination of the proposals, it appears that they will not be quite as ferocious as we feared, but the Minister was honest enough to admit that the cuts suggested under the precautionary principle will be deep. I shall deal with that point at some length.

This is the first time that I have spoken in a fisheries debate from the Front Bench, but I have spoken from the Back Benches on several occasions. Since holding this portfolio, I have made it my business to go round and see the fishing industry and find out what fishermen's concerns are. Sometimes, their concerns are precisely what I would have expected, and sometimes other issues come up.

The industry has raised several matters of deep concern to it. The first is the matter of the working time directive, which is a wholly inappropriate mechanism to be applied to the United Kingdom fishing industry. Originally, the directive allowed for an exemption, which was clearly right, but that exemption is now under threat because, when the Government adopted the principle of the social chapter, they sold the pass on their ability to argue that some industries cannot function under such a directive. Jim Porters, the widely respected member of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, said:

The implications of this Directive will have far reaching effects. Owners of larger vessels will have difficulty finding crews prepared to work strict patterns of working hours. Smaller vessels will be unable to operate and comply with the requirements. Where there are 2 men working, compulsory rest periods would be impossible. I think that it is quite clear that, if the working time directive goes ahead in anything approaching its present shape, share fishing as we currently understand it in the United Kingdom will simply cease.

Mr. Morley

I wish to update the hon. Gentleman on the progress that we are making on the working time directive. We accept that it does not reflect the patterns of work of share fishermen. The hon. Gentleman will know that the negotiations on the working time directive are not a matter for my Department, but I understand that the Commission has accepted the arguments and will, for example, exempt share fishermen from the four days compulsory holiday. The Commission is beginning to appreciate the argument that the share fishermen's working patterns are not compatible with the working time directive.

Mr. Nicholls

I am grateful to the Minister for making that point. For a moment, I thought that he was going to avail himself of the well-known "not me guy" defence. However, as far it went, what he had to say made interesting hearing, and clearly we shall want to study the detail in due course.

Another major concern, which the Minister touched on, is the rising cost of licences and track records. Prices that are already sky-high are given a further twist with the introduction of new rules to combat under-declaration of engine power. That will force many fishermen to buy extra licence units to match their real engine power. The prices for such units are spiralling far out of reach of ordinary fishermen, and fears are mounting that the fleet will rapidly fall into the hands of big companies.

There are also fears that the fleet will stagnate because so few fishermen will be able to afford the licences and no one will be able to build new boats or modernise existing stock. Clearly, a slump in building and modernisation affects the industry as a whole. Time will not allow me to deal in detail with the question of safety, but problems often arise with older fishing boats. Such factors must be taken into account when we consider the lack of modernisation of the fleet. In addition, fishermen have expressed to me their grave anxiety that speculators will move in and buy up quotas before renting them back to fishermen at inflated prices.

The Minister was fair enough to mention the real concern about policing and enforcement in the United Kingdom, and about the lack of overall uniformity and transparency among our European partners. We are aware that a European Union inspection force will be established to try and achieve that uniformity, but, although I do not for a moment doubt the Minister's good faith in relying on that, I do not share what I took to be his optimism. The cultural differences between the UK on the one hand and France and—especially—Spain on the other mean that it is difficult to have any great hope that greater uniformity and transparency will be achieved. Frankly, I doubt it.

The crushing weight of bureaucracy on the industry at times leaves individual fishermen feeling deeply depressed. The effects of that bureaucracy and regulation—and we all accept that there has to be some regulation—are so oppressive and burdensome that for some fishermen the problem has been the last straw and they have left the industry as a result. No hon. Member could regard that with anything other than extreme concern.

Mr. Steen

Is my hon. Friend aware that thousands of new rules and regulations come in from Europe every year? I am a member of the Select Committee on Deregulation, which has not managed to deregulate one new regulation. Is that because the Minister has not fed into the system opportunities to reduce the regulatory mechanism on our hard-pressed fishermen?

Mr. Nicholls

I shall answer for many things, but not for the Minister. There is clearly something in what my hon. Friend says. The industry is consumed by regulation. For reasons that I shall explain, the common fisheries policy is not a suitable vehicle for the protection of fish. It is not acceptable in terms of conservation and, as far as fishermen are concerned, it does not do the job.

I was pleased to hear the Minister address an idea that sounds almost comically bizarre but which I know to be true. Certain boats are reduced to less than 20 m in length by having bits cut off, then those bits are bolted on again afterwards. Interestingly, I received a letter from John Gale of Folkestone Trawlers Ltd. He said that, in September, the Minister told a meeting of fishermen in Hastings that he would address the serious problem of over 10 metre vessels fishing with under 10 metre licences. I am sure that Mr. Gale will be as pleased as we to hear that that problem will be dealt with.

Mr. Morley

It is under way.

Mr. Nicholls

The Minister says that the matter is under way. We look forward, in due course, to hearing more detail about that also.

I want to ask the Minister about fixed quota allowances and their legality. The Government now admit that vessels have been fishing during the reference period whose horsepower and vessel capacity units were under-declared with respect to their licences. The licence states categorically that it is invalidated if such details differ from those entered on the licence itself. It has been put to me on a number of occasions that, as the vessels involved were fishing illegally during the reference period, the validity of the FQAs must be brought into question. That strikes me as a fair point. If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is unable to deal with it when he winds up the debate, I should be grateful if he could write to me about it.

I am anxious that other hon. Members should be able to contribute to the debate, but the matters that I have raised are among the most important and salient points that people right across the industry have brought to my attention.

Initially, the Minister was quoted as describing the tax and quota proposals as "ferocious", and that has not been denied. However, I am afraid that there is a ritual element to debates such as this. The Minister of the day, whoever it is, allows it to bruited abroad that the quotas will be dreadful and ferocious. In due course, the Minister goes to Europe and battles away valiantly, with the result that he returns with a deal that, rather than being awfully dreadful, is merely dreadful. A great triumph is then proclaimed. I have been in politics long enough that, in opposition, I recognise that ritual as clearly as I did when I was a Minister.

The quota system is wholly unsatisfactory. We cannot begin to get to grips with what to do about it unless we acknowledge where it started. The problems are endemic to the origins of the common fisheries policy, and stem directly from the arrangements announced to the House as long ago as 13 December 1971. On that morning, a principle was agreed in Europe to ensure that the six original members of the European Community were able to have access to our waters. The principle was conceded that there should be equal access to a common resource.

I wish to make it absolutely clear that not for one moment do I impugn the motives of those Ministers at the time who came back with that deal and thought that it was right and proper, but if politicians cannot review matters with the benefit of hindsight, they are not making use of the tools available to them. However the solution may have looked all those years ago in 1971, it looks different now. Any deal based on the principle of equal access to a common resource lies at the root of the problems that bedevil the industry to this day, as—apart from a few derogations here and there—it meant that what used to be our well conserved waters could be fished out by our partners.

We have to be honest about that, and I accept that that honesty must come more from Conservative Members than others. Unless we are prepared to point out what happened, we cannot get to grips with the circumstance in which we find ourselves. The effect of that deal means today that, although Britain owns four fifths of what is now the European Union common fisheries stocks, it is left with just two fifths by volume and only one sixth by value. That is the measure of what has happened to our fishing industry since 1971.

What was represented at the time as a policy designed in the interests of conservation has proved to be a conservation disaster. The policy was based on the ludicrous proposition that fish stocks can be conserved by throwing dead fish back into the sea. That proposition is implicit in the quota system and no quota system that resembles in any way what operates under the common fisheries policy can be devised without it.

The situation is appalling. If time allowed, I could give the House a great many figures to show how bad it is, but I emphasise that the figures that I am about to give are not the fault of fishermen. When I talk about discards and the monstrosity that is involved when millions of dead fish are thrown back into the sea, I am talking about a failure of the political process, not of the fishing industry.

It has been estimated that, this year, about 45 million saithe will be caught wrongly because the quota will have been exceeded. What will happen to them? There are two possibilities. They will either be subject to an illegal landing and dealt with as black fish— we can all condemn breaches of the law, but fishermen consider that the moral point is that the fish are already dead—or the fish will simply be thrown back into the sea.

It has already been noted that it is all very well to speak of designated ports and about extra efforts to ensure that illegal landings are stopped. However, the consequence is that more dead fish are thrown back into the sea. If that were not bad enough, the common fisheries policy institutionalises the legal catching of fish that have not even reached the age of reproductive maturity. Indeed, the Ministry has stated: The large majority of fish discarded by fishermen are small and of low or no commercial value. Yet, at a meeting of the Fisheries Council on 30 October, the United Kingdom voted with all the member states except Denmark to reduce the minimum landing size of three species—hake, plaice and megrim—to well below breeding size. On that occasion, it appears that the Government's reasoning for the reduction was that they recognised that it was wasteful to require the discarding of fish that were marketable and which, in practice, were caught as part of a mixed species.

Anyone who wonders whether there is any validation for the idea—or any other way to go about it—that one can legally catch fish stocks that have not reached the age of reproductive capacity, could do no better than read the 1995–96 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, No. 25. The Committee was discussing European Union minimum landing sizes and fish maturity and said:

For many species of fish the minimum permitted landing size is set at or about the length at which 50 per cent. or more of the stock is likely to be mature. For some, however, the minimum landing size is such that well over half of the fish caught will be immature. This is a particular problem with species including cod, saithe and pollack. That is the position. Under our system, under-age fish can be legally caught and, if the quota has been exceeded, simply discarded and thrown back into the sea. One only has to consider the effects of throwing millions upon millions of dead fish back into the sea every year to realise what we are dealing with.

Mr. Morley

No one disputes the wastefulness of throwing marketable fish back into the sea, but that is a result of quota management and fisheries conservation. If the hon. Gentleman does not like quota management, what is his alternative? For example, is it days at sea?

Mr. Nicholls

That is a fair question, and I will deal with it in my speech. In the space of a few seconds the hon. Gentleman just talked of conservation, but noted that it is based on dead fish. Frankly, that approach is endemic in the policy. The common fisheries policy cannot be run as if dead fish were a regrettable necessity, as has been said in an intervention—on that occasion, the Minister agreed. The harder that one bears down on quotas, the greater the rate of discard, leaving fishermen with the alternative of black landing or tossing the fish back into the sea.

We can examine the effect of the proposals on the fishing industry, area by area, and other hon. Members may well do so. As I come from the west country, I shall deal purely with the situation in area VII, the western waters, to allow other hon. Members time to speak. In areas VIIb-k there would be a reduction of 22 per cent. for cod; in area VIId, a reduction of 20 per cent. for sole; and in areas Vhf and g a reduction of 18 per cent. for plaice. In the Bristol channel, that will mean a reduction in catches from 1,100 to 900 tonnes. The industry has suggested to me that the reductions in the Bristol channel catches do not seem to be driven by any particular principle, but are merely a macho gesture towards the precautionary approach.

The problem is that the situation is not all bad. An increase is proposed for area VIId. However, increasing the plaice catch automatically affects sole, as both will be caught at the same time, so more sole will be brought up and, once again, fishermen will be in the business of returning them dead to the sea or trying a black landing. I can do no better to illustrate how appalling the cuts would be for the west country, if they go ahead in anything approaching their present form, than to give the following example.

A French and an English boat could be fishing side by side in the English channel. The English boat brings up plaice that is in excess of its quota, so they are thrown back, dead. The French boat beside it can catch and land the plaice legally.

Mr. Morley

If it is within the quota.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman says that the French would be within their quota, and that is so. I am coming to the quota figures. The fact is that the west country has a dreadful deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) knows even better than I.

Mr. Morley

Who negotiated it?

Mr. Nicholls

The Minister is bleating from a sedentary position, but as I said at the beginning of my remarks, to some extent Fisheries Ministers from both sides of the House have found themselves in a not dissimilar position. The point is not merely to bleat from a sedentary position, "Who did it? It's not my fault, guy," but to face up to what is happening honestly and come up with a proposal that may offer some way forward.

I was revealing the fact that those two boats could be sailing side by side, but in area VIIb-k, the French would have a cod allocation of 76 per cent. and the English, an allocation of 8 per cent; for plaice, it would be 54 per cent. for the French and 29 per cent. for the English. In area VIId and e, there would be a 52 per cent. quota for the French for sole, but 23 per cent. for the English. In areas VIIb-k, there would be a 60 per cent. allocation for the French for whiting and 11 per cent. for the English. For hake, it would be 45 per cent. for the French and 18 per cent. for the English; and, for megrim, the allocation would be 36 per cent. for the French and 14 per cent. for the English. That is the effect that the cuts and the policy would have on fishing in the west country. It is a dire prospect.

The effect of effort limitation on the west country has been mentioned and other hon. Members may take it up. The United Kingdom fleet has a small hangover from MAGP III, which is added to the cuts of MAGP IV. That beam trawl segment is split between the North sea and area VII for the purposes of MAGP IV cuts. The combination of those cuts will amount to about 11 per cent. in western waters. The south-west fish producer fleet spends 13 per cent. of its time in the North sea. That effort must be cut by 21 per cent. The remaining 87 per cent. has to be cut by 11 per cent. Although the south-west fleet effort must be cut by 12.3 per cent., over four years that amounts to about 3 per cent. a year. That fleet has great economic significance for the south-west and catches about half the English white fish catch, but it is expected to absorb the effects of another cut in its prime source of income, Dover sole. That position is unsustainable.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred somewhat speedily—I can well understand why—to the fact that fishermen and scientists sometimes do not agree on the science of the matter. Over and again, if one really talks to the fishermen who are out there catching fish and whose livelihoods depend on it, they say that their experience is different from that of the scientists. One only has to look at some of the comments of scientists who have been putting their views to Ministers, which have been reported in recent days.

To understand that, one only has to look at some of the recently reported comments of scientists who obviously have something to say and have been putting their views to Ministers. Dr. Euan Dunn, a marine policy officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: We regard this as a watershed in fisheries management, a real sea-change. It may change the boom and bust cycle. You bet it will change the boom and bust cycle. I do not know where Dr. Dunn has been in recent times, but there will be no boom, and bust will be the order of the day. He goes on to conclude: Fishermen are certainly going to have to tighten their belts. I should like to meet a fisherman who has any belt-tightening left to do. After telling fishermen to tighten their belts, Dr. Dunn adds: But they should see better catches and bigger fish in possibly as little as five years. I do not mean to use parliamentary privilege to pick on a humble scientist, but if I or Dr. Dunn were to be told, "We might be able pay your salary in five years' time, with a bit of luck," we might conclude that we would not be around to draw it.

Considering the basis on which the science has accumulated, remarks such as Dr. Dunn's certainly make one think. What confidence can one have in figures that do not contain an accurate estimate of the amount of fish brought up from the deep? I can do no better than to quote from Michael Wigan, who is a well-respected writer on fisheries matters. He says: A scientifically led fishery, to which the CFP aspires, requires solid data. In the CRP the data is not in the least bit solid. He continues: Illegal landings are a bane of the CFP, or any fishery which aspires to scientific management. They were reckoned in 1996 to be around 40 per cent. of all North Sea catches. He concludes by asking:

If the take is relative guesswork, how can the forecasts be accurate? The fishermen to whom I talk have no confidence whatsoever in the science of supply. Time does not allow me to go into the subject, but hon. Members need only consider the gadoid outburst in the North sea during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when the fishermen's estimate of what was going on was proved right and the scientists' estimates were wildly out. It is asking too much of fishermen to ask them to accept that the scientists are always right. Fishermen tell me, and I agree, that if the scientific community took a little more regard of their experience at sea, we might be in a better position to make progress.

If we are to have any fish left in British waters, or any British fishermen left to fish those fish in British waters, we need an approach that is radically different from simply trying to operate the common fisheries policy, which has been fundamentally flawed from its inception.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am intrigued by the fact that he and his hon. Friends have not tabled an amendment to the motion. Why is that?

Mr. Nicholls

The motion is a take-note motion; that is what the Government are asking the House to do. I wanted to listen to what the Minister had to say and so discover not only what his negotiating tactics were, but whether he could offer any real ideas about how to make progress in future. I did the Minister the courtesy of listening to his speech, but all I heard was a defence of the indefensible, as he said that he would do the best he could with a thoroughly unsatisfactory system, but that he would not make any attempt to analyse the root causes of why the system is so bad, or propose anything that would address the problems.

We need a radically different approach. We need to bring back under national control our own fishing grounds, with sensible bilateral agreements and recognition of the historic rights of other countries—[Interruption.] Now we see the true face of the Minister and the depth of his commitment: the moment it is suggested that he should adopt a tough negotiating stance in Europe, he has not got the will to stand up. Until we bring our waters back under national control, be that achieved through zonal management, coastal management, or some other way, we shall be faced year after year with cuts that wreck what is left of the British fishing industry and do absolutely nothing to foster conservation.

Mr. Morley

I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. His solution to quota management is to repatriate the fisheries policy. That policy is subject to a veto by other member states, so that is hardly realistic. Norway has control of its fisheries management, but still applies quota management measures. That brings me back to the point I made earlier: in any form of fishery, there has to be some management, so what is his alternative to quota management? An exclusive fisheries policy is not achievable in the way that he suggests, so to raise it as a possibility misleads fisherman. In addition, it offers no solutions to the real problems of fisheries policy. What is his alternative?

Mr. Nicholls

There we have it—the authentic voice of the Labour party. The part of that intervention that matters was the part when the Minister said, "We can't do anything about it, because we do not have a veto." What he was actually saying is, "We can't do anything about it, because Europe won't let us." We saw no determination on the part of the Minister to tell Europe, courteously and carefully, "We shall not allow this situation to continue." That is why I say to him that, far from scaring the fishing industry, a policy of bringing back under national state control our fishing policy and our fishing stocks—[Interruption.] The Minister can barrack and heckle as much as he wants, but he will have to listen to what I say, even if he does not like it.

Mr. Blizzard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Nicholls

I shall deal with the organ grinder first.

My suggestion does not scare fishermen; it offers them some hope that a truly dreadful situation can be dealt with. We have to bring fisheries policy back under national control, so that we are responsible for conserving our own fishing stocks and making our own decisions.

Mr. Wallace


Mr. Nicholls

I see that there is another federalist in the Chamber. I will give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman in a moment so that he can say how Britain cannot possibly stand up to Europe or make progress in this area.

The Minister asked, in effect, whether that right will be ceded voluntarily. Of course the answer is no. If we turn to the Europeans and say, "Do you mind if we take back the management of our fishing grounds?", they will say, "No, that is not on". The Government must have the political will to tell our European partners that we cannot go on like this.

Mr. Blizzard

When the Conservatives were in government they tried exactly the same tactics with beef. The beef ban got them nowhere. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that any Government would be able to adopt the same approach successfully with fish?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman has not noticed that we are dealing with fish, not beef.

I do not think for one moment that a Labour Government would be successful in making such an approach to Europe. They are not prepared to stand up to Europe and say that certain demands and conditions must be met.

Mr. Gill

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I congratulate him on saying some things that have wanted saying for a long time. Is my hon. Friend aware that he is not alone in those views? Last year, the shadow Foreign Secretary, our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), said: There are several areas where the EU is exercising powers which could be devolved to the member states. He continued: Another candidate for repatriation is fisheries policy … Fishing grounds out to 200 miles or the median line could be brought back under national control, with sensible bilateral agreements and recognition of the historic rights of other countries.

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is right: it can be done. However, it requires an effort of will to bring it about.

The Minister put his finger on the problem without realising it when he pointed out that his Government will not make that effort of will. That is not my prediction: I am not being unkind to the Labour party when I say that it will not make that effort of will, because it has shown that it will not do so.

The Minister referred, rather unwisely, to quota hopping. The history of quota hopping in recent times is instructive. When the previous Government were in office, they stressed that they would not sign the Amsterdam treaty until that practice was reformed. They made it clear that no progress would be made at Amsterdam until quota hopping was dealt with. The previous Government said:

The IGC won't come to a successful conclusion until we are satisfied that among our other objectives the problem of quota hopping is resolved satisfactorily. What was the hon. Gentleman's response at that time?

Did he say, "No, that is completely impossible; we cannot possibly talk about quota hopping in that way to our partners?" No, he did not. The hon. Gentleman was not the only one commenting on the situation. The then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister, was asked whether he would adopt a similar position at Amsterdam if he were in office. He said: We certainly have not ruled out holding up IGC business in order to get the right changes to fishing policy in the British interest … Where Britain's interests are at stake, we are perfectly prepared to be isolated. Of course we are."—[Official Report, 9 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 969–970.] The point is not that the Government went to Amsterdam and failed, but that they did not even try. Instead of doing what he had said he would do only weeks before in opposition, the Prime Minister and the Government gave in.

Instead of making it clear to Europe that the Government would stand by the interests of British fishermen, the Prime Minister entered into an exchange of correspondence with Jacques Santer. It was a case of "Dear Tony" and "Dear Jacques". An argument was constructed off the back of that correspondence that quota hopping had been dealt with. When the Prime Minister tried to address the issue domestically and exploit it, Jacques Santer issued a reprimand by saying that nothing in the exchange of correspondence would prevent a challenge to the European Court if quota hopping were dealt with on the basis of economic effort, which it is not.

A number of criteria must be taken into account if quota hopping is dealt with in accordance with that exchange of correspondence. The Spanish are on record as saying that they reserve the right to challenge that, but it is possible to stand up for our position; we said what we would do, and they agreed that it could be done.

Mr. Wallace

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and he has not yet answered the critical question. If we had a national fisheries conservation policy, what would be his management tool, given that he has ruled out quota management? How would he manage conservation in our waters even with a national policy?

Mr. Nicholls

I am not ruling out quota management at all. If we are responsible for managing our policy and conserving our stocks and if decisions are made by Parliament, there is a far better chance of achieving conservation. It would be incredible if we tried to work for ever on the principle that there should be equal access to fish in British waters.

Mr. Townend

If our partners in Europe, who have pillaged our fish, refused to agree to our proposals and vetoed them, as hon. Members have suggested they very well might, should not the House amend the European Communities Act 1972 to regain control of fishing in our national waters so that we can have a strong fishing industry, such as those in Norway or Iceland?

Mr. Nicholls

It is sometimes suggested that the House has lost the ability to amend the 1972 Act. As a lawyer, I say that that is wrong, and lawyers who are a great deal more eminent than me have reached the same conclusion. My hon. Friend asked a straightforward question and I shall give him a straightforward answer—yes, it would be possible to amend the Act. However, there is no reason why it should come to that.

When we come back into office and are in a position to find out what is the precise state of the common fisheries policy, we shall make it clear that we have a number of irreducible demands that we expect to be met. We shall be as resolute in demanding and obtaining those requirements as Baroness Thatcher was many years ago when she insisted on the initial rebate. The Labour party told us at the time that it was simply impossible to go to Europe and insist on that rebate. When the Europeans believed that they were faced with a Government who were prepared to stand by their principles, they conceded the rebate. It would be the same in this case.

Mr. Salmond

A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman mocked an RSPB scientist for telling fishermen to wait four or five years before there was a change. How many years does he estimate fishermen will have to wait before the Conservative party forms an Administration?

Mr. Nicholls

For once, I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. It would be in the interests of the country and the fishing community if the Government admitted that they were wrong, went away and let us take over. I cannot envisage that happening, but I agree this far with the hon. Gentleman—there is not the slightest chance of the fishing community getting the deal that it needs on the basis of what we have heard tonight. That will not happen until a Conservative Government are returned, therefore—[Interruption.]

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

Order. There is far too much background noise in the Chamber, which is unfair to the hon. Member who is addressing the House.

Mr. Nicholls

Therefore, as I was about to say, the sooner a Conservative Government are returned, the better.

The Minister sought almost to explain away the question of territorial waters and the 12-mile limit and said that, as far as relative stability is concerned, that limit did not automatically lapse. We could have an argument about that, but I accept that we need not have it this evening. He admitted that the effect of article 14(2) of document 3760/92 was that, without a fresh derogation, the protection of the 12-mile limit will lapse at one minute past midnight in 2003. There is no doubt about that, and I see that the Minister is nodding. The line that he takes, in a very bright and breezy way, is, "There's no problem. We're bound to get a unanimous decision; everyone is in favour of it." However, everyone is not in favour.

If the Minister studies the record and stops talking so glibly, he will find that, when the Spaniards are fighting for what they want, they drive a very hard bargain. One only has to remember the way they behaved in 1994 when their consent was being sought to the enlargement of the Community—they insisted on being given extra fishing rights then as a condition of their co-operation.

There is not the slightest doubt that, if there is to be unanimity on giving us a new derogation, the Minister is going to have to pay a heavy price for it. It would have been a great deal better if, instead of pretending that a unanimous vote was a mere formality, he had told us what price he expects to pay, or, indeed, what price he may already have had to pay.

Of course, the reason that the Minister needs unanimous agreement, and that he will pay whatever price is necessary to get it, is that if the derogation is achieved only by a majority—whether a simple or a qualified majority—the countries that disagree will say that it is a discriminatory regulation, and they will challenge it before the European Court of Justice. No one knows what the effect of such an application would be, but it follows as night follows day that, if the derogation is extended without unanimity, it will discriminate against those who have not agreed to it, and a challenge can then be made in the European Court of Justice. It is clear that the Minister is not going to run that risk for one moment.

It comes down to this: what we needed to hear this evening was not just a statement by the Minister to the effect that he was going to do his level best in Europe, but that he had some understanding of why it is that, year after year, we find ourselves in this position. He had nothing to say about that, but there is a way forward. We need a Government who are prepared to be absolutely resolute in demanding what is necessary in the interests of their countrymen and in the interests of conservation. The Government need the sort of resolution that we showed when we got the original rebate. The Minister would have done the fishing industry some good had he been prepared to tackle that. Instead, when he was offered a way of ensuring that real progress could be made, all he could do was sit and jeer.

8.47 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

It is always a pleasure to take part in the annual fisheries debate, which seems to have acquired certain traditions—we are getting North sea weather and the traditional approach from the Conservative party, now in opposition. The Conservatives are rewriting history, pretending that they were not in government for 18 years. Judging by what we heard from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), we can take some comfort from the fact that it is very unlikely that he will ever be in government. He will have to go and swing his handbag somewhere else.

It is a matter of concern that this is the one occasion in the year that we have the opportunity to speak about fisheries. Those of us who represent fishing constituencies take the issue seriously. Looking at the clock, I think it likely that we will be lucky to have 45 minutes for Back Benchers' contributions. The rant from the hon. Member for Teignbridge took well over 40 minutes, which does a disservice to the fishing communities that want to be heard.

I welcome the Minister's important statement. He spelled out the tremendous progress that has been made in the 18 months since our party came to power. We are providing a stable framework for the industry, and real advances have been made in the United Kingdom and in Europe. Our policy of constructive engagement, rather than shouting from the sidelines, is paying dividends.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman says that real advances have been made in the past 18 months. Would he care to list them? What advances have been made in terms of the industry's profitability and production and the way the fishermen are being treated?

Mr. Doran

I shall not list them, because enough time has already been spent on such questions, but I shall give the hon. Gentleman one example. The hon. Member for Teignbridge spoke about the crisis in the fishing industry. I do not know what the industry is like in his constituency, but the catchers in my area are happy with the high prices that they now get on the quayside for their fish. One reason for that is that we now have a proper management policy, under which black fish is not the commodity that it was; it has virtually disappeared in my part of the country. The fishing industry now receives proper prices for its product.

The Minister acknowledged that the industry is disappointed by the cuts in TAC that are likely to be negotiated later this week. In the north-east, we are concerned in particular about the cut in the haddock quota, but a combination of enforcement and changes in market conditions has virtually eradicated the problem of black fish from north-east Scotland.

Although we all have to accept—certainly I accept—that the only way forward at the moment is the precautionary approach, we are worried that the scientists are being far too cautious in their approach to quotas. One of the issues that concerns me most is discards.

Mr. Gill

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise the tremendous contradiction between stopping the landing of black fish and increasing the volume of fish that is dumped back dead into the sea? Can he reconcile himself to the fact that less than half the fish caught by fishermen reach the plate? Is that a regime that he wants to go on supporting.

Mr. Doran

I do not think that any of us is happy with that situation, but we need a system that regulates the fishing industry and leads to a sustainable fishing industry for the longer term. At the moment, the quota system is the best we have. The way to improve the system is not to abolish it, which seems to be Conservative policy—despite the fact that the Conservative Government worked with that system for 18 years—but to ensure that it is properly managed. It is managing the fishing industry that is important.

Several positive developments were mentioned by the Minister. I do not need to repeat them, but there are a couple of worrying signs to which I should like to draw attention. One is the aging fleet. The Minister dealt with that, but it is a problem that needs to be tackled. Also, we have a major problem with the boom-and-bust nature of the industry, which is linked to quotas.

Fishing is a difficult business to run, no matter what part of the industry people are in. All the problems of other businesses are there, with the additional uncertainty over the availability from year to year of the primary product.

We have had several years of quotas based on scientific advice, and we have heard some controversy about the differences between the industry and the scientists, but for the long-term interests of our fishing industry, I would like us to move towards the goal of a sustainable fishing industry and also try to achieve some stability in quotas and TACs, so that the industry can start to do some long-term planning with a degree of certainty, which it does not seem to be able to do at the moment. I hope that that is part of Government policy; I would like to hear the Minister's reply on it.

Another worrying development is what seems to be the growing market in quotas. Some vessels are trading their quotas, or parts of them, like any other commodity. We appreciate the value that those licences and quotas have, but it was recently reported in the Scottish press that the quota owned by the inheritor of the licences that were operated by the Silvery Seas, another boat that was involved in a tragedy earlier this year, was sold for £5.5 million.

I have no way of knowing whether those press reports were accurate. The people to whom I have spoken in the industry cannot tell me, but that creates serious problems for the industry—one in particular: how are we going to attract new entrants to the industry if they have to face that hurdle? It will become an industry that is controlled by big business. It will not be the traditional industry that we all grew up with. Anyone whose parent does not operate an existing licence and quota is likely to find it virtually impossible to break into the industry.

My main constituency concern is for the other side of the industry: the fish processing sector. There are several problems. One of the paradoxes of the industry is that, when one side is doing well, the other tends to do not so well. In the past year, catchers have had a good year, with reasonable supplies of fish and good prices at the quayside. Reduced quotas will probably mean increased prices. Profit margins will be maintained, but the picture in the processing sector is a little less encouraging.

When the quayside prices that are paid by processors are high, they cannot always be passed on to customers. There are particular difficulties for businesses that are tied into larger supermarket chains. The typical contract does not allow for price flexibility. When quay prices rise, the supermarket still expects its product at the stipulated price, regardless of market conditions. I hope that, in the not too distant future, we will be able to have a full debate in the House about the serious effects that our large supermarket chains are having on the food industry.

The industry has only recently gone through difficult adjustments to the new hygiene regulations. Most of the larger companies were able to make the necessary investments, but many of the smaller operators fell out of the industry. The new hygiene standards are good for the industry because they help to improve the quality of the product, but the transition has been painful for many. A number of other European directives, all introduced by the previous Government, are in the process of being implemented by the industry. They include the packaging directive and the directive dealing with veterinary charges.

One of the most pressing problems that has been brought to me recently is the waste water regulation and the impact that it will have on the industry. Again, it is the result of the implementation of a European directive. We can all support the principle of polluter pays, but the problem for high-volume water users, such as the fish processing industry, is that, in a short time, they will face large increases in water charges.

I met my local water authority last week. It is still in public hands and it is taking a sympathetic approach to the industry. It said that there are 82 users in the industry with water accounts over £5,000 a year. They are facing increases in their charges of almost 24 times what they pay now, depending on the strength and volume of their effluent. That is a serious problem for a relatively poor industry. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about how he expects the industry to face those charges.

I have raised several issues and I have cantered through my contribution because I am mindful of the fact that other hon. Members want to speak. I want to tell my hon Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and Lord Sewel, that it is widely recognised, certainly in my fishing community, that they have done a tremendous amount of work in taking the fishing industry forward. There is more stability in the industry; it now has a future; and I congratulate them both on what they have done.

8.57 pm
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, at the end to add: recalls that the previous Government added to the burden of UK fishing communities, missed crucial opportunities to develop and enhance the industry, failed to take decisive action to reduce the loss of British fish quota to "flag of convenience" vessels and brought forward Spanish access to western waters by six years; welcomes the forthcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy as an opportunity to establish a decentralised system based on the regional management of fisheries which should aim to reduce the needs for discards and improve the accuracy of the scientific base for decision making, ensure equality of monitoring and enforcement across the EU, protect the six and 12 mile fishing limits and develop a policy to encourage low-impact and sustainable fishing methods; and recognises that the fishing industry should continue to be exempt from the EU Working Time Directive. It is surprising that there is no amendment from Her Majesty's Official Opposition. However, listening to the 42 minutes of entertainment and lack of any policy content from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), I can see why there is no amendment. It is clear that the Opposition have signed up as members of the Flat Earth Society.

In an attempt politely to compliment the Minister, I once said that he had done better than the Ministers responsible for fishing in the previous Government. I then realised that it was a little like damning him with faint praise. Merely having "done better" would imply that he had perhaps fallen asleep on the job or had been plotting the industry's downfall.

I am not here to praise the Minister, because he has no room for complacency. I discovered that earlier this year when I accompanied him on a visit to fishermen from Newlyn in my constituency. He was not pelted with paint, flour or fish guts or threatened with being barricaded in the fishermen's mission; he was merely shouted at and harangued and told precisely where to stick his fishing policy. He could easily misconstrue that as a Cornish fishing port's equivalent of a ringing endorsement. It is true that their response was a little muted on that occasion, but I think that they were giving the Minister the benefit of the doubt on his first official visit.

In the few minutes that I have—I want as many Back Benchers to contribute as possible—I wish to deal with quota setting, the meeting later this week, the reform of the common fisheries policy, sustainable fishing methods, the working time directive and the problems of meeting compliance costs in the industry.

If we are to spend £36 million on fisheries research, equivalent to about 7 per cent. of the value of UK fish landed, we have a right to expect something better for our money. Fisheries stock research is still an imprecise science and appears unable to help—or is restrained from helping—politicians, Ministers and the industry to plan the stock management over the medium term, say a five-year period. Having failed to take advice gradually to introduce a precautionary approach to the setting of total allowable catches in previous years, we are now faced with the prospect of draconian cuts in 1999.

The Liberal Democrats favour the early introduction of a precautionary approach to the setting of quotas. If the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—which was mentioned earlier in the debate—is right in its pre-debate briefing that TACs have become a "target for brinkmanship", we must have a cushion allowing for a reasonable margin of error if we are to avoid falling off the precipice, as the Canadian fishing industry has done in the Grand Banks. We do not want that to happen here. Although some information clearly requires verification, greater evidence that the experience of fishermen is being heeded would be reassuring.

As has been mentioned in the debate, there have been examples in area VII of fishermen reporting increased abundance of a particular stock long before that increase has been acknowledged by scientists. In area VII, in 1994–95, fisherman reported greatly increased numbers of both anglers and haddock. However, it took scientists two years to recognise that fishermen were right about the increases. A closer working relationship between fishermen and scientists must be encouraged so that some trust and co-operation, rather than confrontation, is achieved.

I urge the Minister to leave this debate and to go to the Council of Ministers with two arguments ringing in his ears. The first is that, although we should agree the introduction of a more precautionary approach in setting future TACs, the new approach should be introduced gradually and in phases, so that the industry will have the opportunity to plan and to adjust to it. If, like me, the Minister wants the industry to retain respect for the precautionary approach, he will surely appreciate that it is unlikely that that respect will be won if the quota restriction is implemented in a draconian style.

If the Minister can win an agreement stating that introduction of the precautionary approach should be phased in over three years, for example, I would be prepared to offer my support for it. I am sure that the industry's constructive and sensible representatives would do the same.

The second argument is that we have to secure a clearer foundation for future years' indicative quota. The multi-annual quota has already been mentioned in the debate. The quotas issue will have to be readdressed. The Minister will know that scientists' assessment takes account of species' age profile and recruitment into stock. It is surely not beyond the bounds of possibility to provide the industry with a report on the future indicative quota for particular species in a given area.

An earlier resolution of the subsequent year's fishing quota would also be appreciated, so that fishermen plan and invest at least two years ahead—not just two weeks ahead, which is all that they can do at this time of year.

On the future of the common fisheries policy post-2002, the Minister well knows that the Liberal Democrats' clear policy, which was adopted in 1986, is to create a decentralised regional framework for management of EU fisheries. As the arguments in favour of such a framework have been well rehearsed, I shall not make them again today. However, it is worth noting not only that there are encouraging signs that the United Kingdom industry is enthusiastic about a more decentralised approach but that much of the recent debate—including the Minister's comments earlier today—and comments by EU officials seem to endorse the framework's basic message, which we must drive home. It would be helpful if the Minister outlined how he believes the debate will proceed in coming weeks and months.

While the matter is being negotiated, it would be appreciated if some of the detailed keys of relative stability were revisited. One of many classic legacies of the Tories' 1983 negotiations, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), has been the remarkably poor share allocated to UK vessels in area VII. Cod—which has been mentioned in the debate—is an outstanding case of that, and has probably been one of the biggest sources of complaint among Cornish and south-western fishermen.

Cod are ubiquitous in much of area VII fisheries and—as the fisheries are very mixed—are practically impossible to avoid. Consequently, the discard rate of mature fish is unacceptably high. The UK share of quota for cod in area VIIk is about 8 to 9 per cent., whereas the French have 75 per cent. of the quota. Such anomalies must be revisited and renegotiated.

Part of the problem with fisheries management is that it is based entirely on tight regulation and negative influences, such as restrictions, quotas, restricted landing times and effort control. However, there should now be opportunities for policy makers to employ not only the stick but the carrot. Promotion of sustainable fisheries by lifting quota restrictions and providing other encouragements would be a good example of that. The Marine Stewardship Council is championing new approaches towards that and the definition of sustainable fishing methods.

One clear candidate—the Minister is well aware of it, as I have raised the matter with him previously—is mackerel handlining. The Cornish mackerel handline fleet can provide a living for 100 men and their families at this time of year. I am grateful to the Minister for helping to extend the quota for 1998; I am also grateful to the staff at MAFF for their help. However, we could do a great deal more.

A Scottish purse seiner can catch the equivalent of the total quota for the Cornish and south-western handliners in one week—about 1,800 tonnes. It means employment for no more than 10 men for a week. The same amount of fish would provide employment for 100 men for more than three months under the handlining method in Cornwall. Handlining is artisanal and has a low impact on stock, so it should be encouraged. The establishment of an EU-wide policy that would take handliners and similar fishing methods out of the quota system would send the right message to the industry. The Minister should be seen to be leading the fight for that in Europe.

On a connected issue, I should be grateful for the Minister's assurance that the mackerel box will be retained. He is aware that it may come under commercial pressure in the near future, and his support would be very much appreciated.

The working time directive—I appreciate that the Minister has said that it is a Department of Trade and Industry matter, but it still affects the fishing fleet—is a classic case of trying to fit a very round peg into a very square hole. Quite frankly, the concept is absurd. Fishermen cannot down tools and go home in the middle of a week-long fishing operation 200 miles off the Cornish coast.

It is not simply an issue about working hours. Even if fishermen opt out—which they would do in my area—they could still lose their share fishermen status with both the Inland Revenue and the Benefits Agency, thus leaving them worse off. The directive is supposed to protect workers, not undermine them, yet that is what it will do if such a crass idea is implemented.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the costs of safety and monitoring. I have already raised with the Minister responsible for shipping a large number of points about safety and I welcome the consultation paper on the subject which was circulated in the summer. I have welcomed the prospect of the increasing use of more sophisticated but potentially more efficient methods of monitoring, such as the gradual introduction of satellite surveillance for larger vessels, to which the Minister referred. However, the proposed improvements fall heavily on the industry.

I urge the Minister to recognise that Government money invested in safety now is money saved in search and rescue and in accident investigation later—quite apart from the immeasurable cost of human lives lost in what is the most hazardous of all industries. Indeed, it has had two of the worst years for accidents and loss of life for a very long time.

9.8 pm

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

Yesterday, I received a Christmas card saying "Christmas Greetings from Fleetwood." Father Christmas visited the Fleetwood fish auction. Those for whom I speak in the fishing industry in Fleetwood would prefer my hon. Friend the Minister to dress up as Santa Claus rather than as Scrooge. I hope that that will be the message from today's debate.

I can tell the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) that, when the Minister visited Fleetwood, he obviously received a warmer welcome from my constituents than he did from the hon. Gentleman's constituents when he visited St. Ives. That is possibly because, when he visited the Fleetwood fish auction at the crack of dawn, he was able to recognise all the different species laid out in front of him and so scored 10 out of 10. I hope that after today's debate he will continue to score 10 out of 10.

Fleetwood has a long tradition as a fishing port. Although 1998 has been a difficult year—largely because of the weather—that is set in the context of a much improved climate of opinion, never mind the weather. There is now an optimism that did not exist two or three years ago. It is vital for my constituents—and, indeed, those in other areas—that the Government get the best deal they can on Thursday. I welcome much that my hon. Friend the Minister said.

I do, however, want to refer to one or two specific issues. Before I deal with quotas, let me say something about the designated landing ports scheme. I am pleased to learn that Fleetwood has been confirmed as a designated port, but there is continued unhappiness about the specified landing times. I hope that the Government will reconsider.

As my hon. Friend the Minister will recall, I raised with him earlier the fact that the scheme, as originally proposed, seemed to apply only to British flagships. I understand, however, that following the October meeting of the Fisheries Council, which he attended, he has persuaded his colleagues that vessels from other European Union countries should also be required to follow the new rules. If that is indeed the case, I applaud his efforts, because the original arrangements have been a cause of concern in Fleetwood.

The introduction of the fixed quota allocations to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred will help Fleetwood and its fish producing organisation, certainly in the long term; but it was disappointing that the reference period for the FQA system could not be extended to reflect a more realistic picture of the fishing effort in Fleetwood. It seems to have coincided with a time when, for a variety of reasons, catches were lower than the typical level. Nevertheless, our fishermen and the industry generally welcome the system, which will lead to more effective quota management.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know of the speculation in the industry that FQAs may lead to individual transferable quotas. Other hon. Members have expressed anxiety about the possibility that large operators will buy up the quota of smaller operators, which is clearly undesirable. Concern has been expressed to me that speculators may buy quota and lease it to the highest bidder. People with no connection with catching fish could, with sufficient funds at their disposal, corner a proportion of the market and then price quota leases beyond the economic reach of vessel operators in need of the additional quota.

A letter from the Minister appeared in Fishing News on 4 December, a couple of weeks ago. Hon. Members may recall that, during the previous week, a letter had appeared from Mark Hamer, who, representing Fleetwood's fishermen, had expressed concern about remarks that seemed to clarify the financial basis of deals involving purchasing track record and quota units. I was pleased by reassurances given in the last paragraph of my hon. Friend's letter, in which he said—reassuring Mr. Hamer in particular— although the issue of fisheries licences is a matter for the fisheries departments, it is recognised that the industry has invested heavily in the acquisition of track record. Local initiatives to support the viability of ports within the framework of our quota management arrangements are to be welcomed and I have no plans to disturb these. That is especially welcome to me, and to Fleetwood.

Mr. Gill

Is the hon. Lady aware that the same Minister has said that he cannot give assurances to anyone who buys quota? Does she share my concern about the fact that that undermines the Minister's assurance—given to the House again this evening—that relative stability will continue?

Mrs. Humble

The letter that I have quoted seeks to clarify that very point. It is especially important in Fleetwood. My local council, Wyre borough council, Associated British Ports, and our local training and enterprise council, Lancashire West TEC, have offered a loan to our fish producers' organisation to help it to acquire more track record or quota units. Obviously, if it wants to proceed along those lines, it will need an assurance from the Government that such action is viable. That is why I referred to the assurances in the Minister's letter.

We need to distinguish between speculation by financial entrepreneurs who may have no links with the fishing industry, and local initiatives in which entire communities work together to support the fishing industry, as happens in Fleetwood. I urge the Minister to safeguard against the former and encourage the latter.

In the context of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for our fleet, I repeat the point that was made about our aging fleet. Of the 24 vessels in the Fleetwood FPO, only one is less than 20 years old. That is another issue that needs to be addressed.

I listened carefully to the Minister's speech, and I welcome the wide variety of grants that the Government have made available for health and safety and developing port facilities. He will recall from his recent visit to Fleetwood that that was a serious concern among local fishermen. They want to modernise their vessels in order to compete with other European countries. We know that the UK is ineligible for EU grants because the previous Government failed to meet the fleet reduction targets under MAGP III—the multi-annual guidance programme. Nevertheless, it is frustrating for our fishing industry.

In his forthcoming meeting with representatives of the fishing industry, therefore, will the Minister look at solutions that are not only imaginative but viable, as we need to convince fishermen that they can afford to undertake necessary improvements and that the Government will offer whatever support they can?

Given the time, I must rush through my speech. In Fleetwood there are encouraging signs that younger people are returning to the industry. For example, the local college is pursuing a variety of new training courses ranging from the techniques of fish filleting to NVQ level 4 in fishing vessel operation. That is a sign that people have some optimism and hope for the future, and we need to build on that.

Turning to quotas, there clearly needs to be a balance between the preservation of future fish stocks and the current livelihoods of our fishermen. Scientists have painted a bleak picture of existing stock levels—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


9.18 pm
Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

I have always found the annual debate on fishing and the review of the CFP rather depressing. I cannot remember a year under any Government when a Minister has been able to stand up and say that the CFP is a great success. Indeed, when we consider the criteria on which the CFP should be judged—whether stocks and quotas are increasing; whether conservation is improving; whether the British fishing industry is prosperous and expanding—the answer always seems to be no. Regrettably, this year is no different. Quotas have been cut again.

The North sea is the main area of concern for the Bridlington fishermen whom I represent. The major species fished is cod, so a 6 per cent. cut in the quota will have serious financial implications for the fleet. I suggest that the cut is unnecessary because, about three months ago, it was reported by people who know that the cod stocks have moved in great numbers out of the Barents sea and migrated into the southern North sea and the Grand Banks. Cuts of 23 and 27 per cent. for haddock and whiting show the extent of the failure of the quota system to deliver the goods.

We have heard tonight about the tens of thousands of discards that are put back into the sea. Only idiots could support such a policy, but that is the sort of madness that comes out of Europe month on month. I mentioned that the Norwegians have a fishing policy under which it is illegal to discard. Our Government have taken the madness further by appointing more inspectors to ensure that fish in excess of quota are not brought ashore, but destroyed by being thrown back into the sea. What stupidity, when half the world is starving.

Juveniles are being killed because net sizes are still too small. Rather than make net sizes larger to ensure that more young fish escape, the Government have acquiesced in the harmonisation of net sizes downwards for hake, plaice and megrim. We should note that the harmonisation is to European standards, not to ours.

As a result of industrial fishing, 1 million tonnes of sandeels and pout, which are the basis of the marine food chain, are caught. Despite their promises, the Government have done nothing to stop that wasteful practice—they are all talk, all spin and no do.

I shall not go into the history of quota hopping, except to say that the Government did not take the strong line at Amsterdam that the Conservatives would have taken. This Government are responsible for the level of quota hopping. Quota hoppers now make up 25 per cent. of the tonnage and they take 46 per cent. of the hake quota and 44 per cent. of the plaice quota. All that we got for that was an exchange of letters with Jacques Santer, which are not worth the paper on which they were written. Quota hopping has not delivered any benefit of substance. The Prime Minister is again all talk, all spin and no do.

I shall deal now with the state of the industry. As a result of the activities of the EU and the Labour Government, regulatory costs have soared out of control. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has cited 10 examples of that. I have not time to go through them in detail, but they include costs for satellite monitoring, hygiene inspection costs, tonnage measurement, which can be as much as £2,000 per boat, the western waters reporting, light dues, which are paid by only the British and the Greeks, the general marine distress signal system, EU health and safety directives, the increased fish vessel survey fees—a rate of £70 an hour is excessive—the under-12 m safety code, and the working time directive. When the dust settles, the Government will be held responsible for imposing the working time directive on the fishing industry; by accepting the social chapter, they enabled Europe to impose it on us.

As has been said, the average age of the fleet is more than 25 years. That has implications both for safety and for the industry's prosperity. We have heard that the industry has not been eligible for European grants. The previous Government bear some responsibility for that, but so too do this Government. We also heard today how low the industry is in the list of the Government's priorities. They are not prepared to pay taxpayers' money on building grants or to have a scrap-and-build policy. It is funny that, when the chairman of BMW wants £100 million, taxpayers' money can be found for him. Fishing is a low priority.

The industry's aging fleet has to compete with modern EU fleets that are partly paid for by EU funds and our taxpayers. As in so many cases involving Europe, our people are not on a level playing field. The industry has been reduced in size by quota hopping. It is slowly being squeezed by the EU, so that, by 2002, there will be no British industry, only a European industry that is run from Brussels. The CFP is not about sensible fish management: it is about European integration. We will have European fish, European waters and a European industry.

Is there a solution? I believe that there is, but that it has to be radical. I suggest that we look at the industries in Norway and in Iceland. I was delighted by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), which was the first positive speech we have heard from a Tory fishing spokesman—perhaps we shall now get a decent Tory policy.

We must go back to square one. We should follow the policy of Save Britain's Fish and leave the CFP, which decimates the food source, legalises the catching and marketing of fish that have not reached breeding size, and leads to thousands of tonnes of prime fish being thrown back into the sea.

We should return the competence of fishing to the House of Commons and reclaim British control of our territorial waters—200 miles or the median line, whichever is the smaller. That would enable us to manage stocks. We could stop driving British fishermen from our waters and perhaps have the most successful fishing industry in the world.

Hon. Members should not forget that Britain is an island, surrounded by what could be some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the world. We cannot be at the heart of Europe and have a prosperous British fishing industry. The Prime Minister said that I and some of my colleagues were headbangers. I suggest that, if he thinks that Europe will allow us to have a prosperous fishing industry or a bigger share of the fish from our own waters, he is the biggest headbanger of all.

9.25 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

People outside know that it is Christmas because they are beginning to buy turkeys. Members of Parliament who represent fishing ports know it because we are having our annual ritual of empowering a Minister before he goes to negotiate in Brussels. It is a pity that so little time has been left by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who got off his chest his suppressed feelings of 18 years. In saying the things that he was unable to say during that period, he has filled the time available to other hon. Members. I shall be brief, and I shall make about five basic points.

There is no point in looking at individual quotas, because the Minister has gone over them with the fishing organisations this afternoon. However, I hope that the Minister will try to avoid the wild fluctuations in quotas that have occurred from time to time. Just because the year class for cod in 1997 is down is no reason for the lurching drop of 23 per cent. in cod in the Irish sea and 22 per cent. in area VII. The industry needs stability, and those lurches must be cut out. If the Minister is to make the licence a negotiable instrument with a financial basis, it must guarantee some kind of quota, and some stability in that quota. I hope that he will try to moderate those fluctuations.

The precautionary approach is, in principle, a good idea. It is a good idea to create a buffer zone between the biological limit and the total allowable catch. I am in favour of that, as is the industry. However, bringing it in suddenly, without notice and on a substantial basis—we are looking at a buffer zone of 20 per cent.—is an unreasonable and unfair imposition on the industry. I hope that I am right in saying that the Commission has moderated the proposal, and I hope that the Minister will try to moderate it further. It is right in principle, but not tout d'un coup.

Our aging fleet worries me. The marine accidents investigation branch's report in 1997 showed that 31 vessels were lost, 23 of which were more than 25 years old and three of which were more than 30 years old. There is a safety hazard—it is not only a competitive problem. France and Spain, in particular, have been able to modernise their fleets with European grants that have not been available to our industry. Consequently, we have an aging fleet, and there is more of a risk to our fishermen. We are less competitive and more risky as a fleet.

It is important to draw down European money, if it is available. I understand that funding is not available because we have not achieved our MAGP III targets. However, surely we can meet the intermediate targets with effort control, and therefore funds could be available on a sectoral basis. I know that we will have to pay more as a national contribution because of the Fontainebleau agreement, and I know that the Treasury will oppose that. However, it is unacceptable to object to the proposal when safety is at stake and the lives of fishermen are at risk. The fleet needs modernising, and something must be done. It is no good just trotting out the Treasury arguments.

Is European funding available? If it is, we can apply our argument to the Treasury to get some recognition of the need to modernise and to keep the British fleet as up to date as we can. Thanks to the delay in decommissioning by the previous Government, we have a real problem with our aging fleet.

With the industry in its present state, it is wrong to impose extra charges in the way envisaged. Extra charges are coming from all directions—no one is supervising the process, or protecting the interests of the industry in the way that I hope the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will. Charges are coming from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and from the Department of Trade and Industry. Compliance costs are increasing, and those costs are not being imposed on our competitors in the same way. Light dues were introduced by the previous Government, and are not paid by anyone else. In addition, the cost of satellite monitoring is paid for out of European funding for other nations. There are also hygiene inspection costs; tonnage measurements, which will cost up to £2,000 a vessel; increased survey fees; and, hanging over it all, the threat of the working time directive, which will impose massive costs. I do not think that it will even be possible to enforce it in the industry, but it will be a huge burden.

The industry cannot afford all those charges, and needs to be protected. Charges should certainly be no higher than those imposed on our European competitors. There is a problem with charges on the processing sector. In Grimsby, we are about to lose 500 fish processing jobs. The Minister is well aware of the situation. There has been such an escalation in the price of fish in world markets—everyone is competing to get fish—that the charge to the consumer has had to be increased, so the consumer bought 9 per cent. less fish in the most recent quarter.

The industry is in real difficulties, and it is wrong to impose so many charges. The waste water charge will be crippling for merchants, and the sanitary inspection charges, at each stage of processing, will be a real burden for the processing sector. There is too much bureaucratic inertia in the system.

With the industry and the processing side facing such problems, it is unfair, unreasonable and wrong to impose such charges. Having said that, I express my confidence in the Minister, who has worked hard to understand the industry. He has listened to it and consulted it far more effectively than any other Minister. I am confident that he will fight for what is right for the industry. I wish him more power to his elbow.

Mr. Steen

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My constituency has the largest beam trawler fleet in Britain and the largest crabbing fleet. My constituents will not understand why, for the second year running, I have been unable to attract the attention of the Chair. I understand that, on this occasion, it is because Front Benchers took longer than expected. I wonder whether, when Back Benchers are allowed only 10 minutes to speak, Front Benchers could also be confined to perhaps 15 or 20 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have a great deal of sympathy for him. I have made it known to both the Minister and the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that the Chair would expect Back Benchers to be given due consideration in future in a debate such as this. It is unfair for Back Benchers to come in with their cases prepared on behalf of their constituents and be so disappointed. I am glad to be able to put that matter on the record.

9.33 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I applaud your remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have great sympathy for the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and other hon. Members who will be unable to speak. I have attended this debate for the past 12 years, and I have seen this situation occurring many times. I was rather hoping that the new Fisheries Minister, as he complained about the matter so many times in opposition, would ensure, with his colleagues, that we had adequate time for fishing interests to be represented. Not one Northern Ireland Member has had the chance to put his case, and I am the first Scottish Member to do so.

This is a valedictory performance for Scottish Members, as we are about to move to the Scottish Parliament, and I am certain that, whatever else it does, that Parliament will allow us more time than the House has done to debate the huge and major industry of fishing.

In January 1997, the Foreign Secretary promised at the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh that a Scottish Minister could lead the delegation in the European negotiations. Given the preponderance of the Scottish fleet in value and landings and its majority in tonnage, I should have thought that fisheries were a highly appropriate matter on which to live up to that promise. I hope that the Minister will answer that point.

I was struck, when listening to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), by the memory of that great story about Harold Wilson in Devonport. He asked, "Why do I say that the Royal Navy is the premier service?", and a heckler shouted, "Because you are in Devonport." Why does the Conservative party call for the national repatriation of fisheries? Because they are in opposition. I have attended these debates for the past 12 years and many other hon. Members have done so for even longer, but that departure from what the Conservative party said in government almost beggars belief.

It is true that, within the framework of the European Union, a determined country with a closely defined set of objectives can achieve great things for a particular subject matter, and that is what Spain has done with fisheries and with regional policy. However, the evidence of the Conservative party's 18 years in government was that, far from being the prime objective of European policy, fishing was one of the bargaining counters that was traded away to achieve other objectives. Spain achieved early access to western waters because that was negotiated away by the Conservative Government as part of their overall approach to European policy. The Conservative party must hope that fishermen have short memories, but I suspect that they will not be short enough for the political purposes of Conservative Front Benchers.

I wish to address two serious points to the Fisheries Minister. In opposition, he said that the hallmarks of his approach to fisheries policy would be consultation with the industry and parity with other fishing fleets in Europe. He said that he would not tolerate a situation in which the fishing fleet of this country was placed at a competitive disadvantage to other European fleets. We have had fly-by-night Fisheries Ministers in the past, and the Minister is certainly not one of those, because he has been involved in the issue, in opposition and in government, for most of the 12 years that I have participated in fisheries debates. Even though we had fly-by-night Tory Ministers, they still managed to outstay their welcomes.

I wish to press the Minister gently on those areas in which he has departed from the admirable objectives that he put forward in opposition. We had an historic event in fisheries policy earlier this year when the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishing Organisations, the two major bodies representing the industry, met and put together a document—which hugely impressed many hon. Members who represent fishing interests—on the zonal management approach to the new fisheries policy emerging in Europe.

Therefore, I was disappointed that the fishing representatives described the Government's approach to that document as "somewhat non-committal". The Minister lost the opportunity presented by that fine document and the six months of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union. I notice that the list of achievements did not get to the heart of the key areas of fisheries policy. When the Under-Secretary winds up, I hope that he will commit the Government to many of the excellent principles of the zonal management approach.

The Minister briefly alluded to the licence working group. My understanding is that three decisions on licences have been made almost without reference to the licence working group and, in one case, in direct opposition to its declaration of fisheries interests. I refer to the allocation of freezer trawlers to licences based on white fish licences. That was fiercely opposed by the licence working group, but went ahead by ministerial edict.

Given that the freezer trawlers south of the border are all flagships, someone in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must carry a torch for them. Otherwise, it is inexplicable that the licence working group should be consulted by the Minister, yet he makes decisions that are not favoured by the industry. I gently suggest to the Minister that the commitments that he made to a consultative approach have not always been fulfilled, and that civil servants seem to make decisions without always referring them to the Minister.

I associate myself with the remarks made about parity by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The Minister must make the connection between the aging nature of the fleet and incidents at sea. The safety record has deteriorated. There are many reasons why fishing boats are lost, and we cannot necessarily put our finger on one particular cause. However, it follows that an aging fleet will be more dangerous, and the Minister must make that connection. His remarks about the loss of men from Iona and elsewhere are much appreciated by the industry, but there is an inherent connection between the age and structure of a fleet and the safety record of the industry. It was as a result of parity questions that European fleets received investment over the past 10 years—a point to which the Minister must address himself if he is to live up to the claims he made when he was in opposition.

Let me offer one more example where parity does not exist. The boats of our pelagic fleet operate in Atlantic waters on restrictive licences. They need a licence for each species, but other pelagic boats do not face that problem. When he was in opposition, the Minister said that he would make sure that our fishermen did not operate at a disadvantage to other fleets. If he is to live up to those words, he must examine areas such as that.

Mr. Morley

indicated assent.

Mr. Salmond

I am glad to see the Minister nod his assent to that point.

In the interests of brevity, I shall make four quick references to points that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland might mention in his summing up. There is a serious danger that the decline in the quota for North sea haddock will re-ignite the problem that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) rightly said had been almost eradicated—discards and the black fish. If we press too hard on North sea haddock, particularly on the precautionary principle, there is a danger of the re-emergence of that problem, which we have worked hard to eliminate. Can the Minister tell us whether he will invoke the Hague preference to its full extent so that we can at least get some compensation in relation to the North sea haddock allocation?

Secondly, the Minister may wish to enlarge on points made about the working time directive. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke reassuringly on those points earlier.

Thirdly, the pelagic fleet has commissioned an excellent report by the Marine Resources Assessment Group, which I read today. Will both Ministers read the report carefully as it makes some excellent points about capacity in the pelagic industry? It is worth careful study.

Finally, I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central about the damage that water charges could do to the economically fragile processing industry.

I have been as brief as possible under the circumstances, but let me close with one last remark. I look forward to having adequate parliamentary time for debates on fishing policy and the fishing industry in the Scottish Parliament, and I hope that we can pursue those discussions through direct access to the leadership of the fisheries delegation on the Council of Ministers. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will refer to that point in his closing remarks.

9.42 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

I hope that both Ministers will note the number of hon. Members who have been unable to speak, and that we shall be allowed a longer time for a future debate.

We must ask why we have the annual debate on total allowable catches. There are two reasons. First, we require conservation of a vital national resource. Secondly, we require an economically viable fishing industry. Several questions must therefore be asked annually: how do we achieve those two objectives; what are the current problems of the common fisheries policy; what improvements are necessary, and how can they be made; what is the least we will accept; and what can we do if we cannot achieve that minimum?

Conservation is the first point to consider. The Parliamentary Secretary was quite right to say that conservation is dependent on scientific advice. He said that the precautionary approach was hard to fault in principle, and we agree with that. There are costs, however. That approach may mean that more fish are dumped at sea, and it may be anti-conservationist, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said. Under current policy, the dumping of prime fish continues apace, which is killing fish unnecessarily and polluting the sea bed. Worse still, further reductions in the already proposed minimum landing sizes—to below the size at which fish can breed—must have a dramatic effect on conservation. The policy is failing in one of its main aims.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Townend) raised industrial fishing, an issue that I am sure many other hon. Members would have brought up had they been able to speak. The latest TAC of 1 million tonnes for sandeels and pout gives only 5 per cent. to the United Kingdom, but it is the base of the marine food chain. Can the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tell us how how that will be controlled, as it is vital to conservation?

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), mentioned the aging fleet. We heard that money needed to be made available to help. The Government's defence is that other EU countries get access to money because they have met their multi-annual guidance programme requirements, but the Government know that they question the Commission's reliability on estimates of compliance as much as we did. Do they intend repeatedly to challenge the Commission's estimates and what is to be done about them?

In agriculture, we have seen the Government's unwillingness to claim agrimonetary compensation, yet the United Kingdom is substantially behind France, Spain, Italy and Portugal as a recipient of the financial instrument of fisheries grant—FIFG. It is a question of priorities. The Treasury line is that 71p out of every pound has to come from the Treasury, which I have always thought of as a bizarre way of saying that one gets 30 per cent. back for everything that one spends on a particular programme. It depends whether one is the Treasury, trying to withhold the money, or the Departments, which want it. The Minister said that the money available would not be best used to modernise the fishing fleet, yet our European partners, who get that money, are also our competitors. We must bear that in mind if our fishing industry is to remain viable.

I hope that the Minister will take up the safety argument in his response, and deal with the modernisation of an aging fleet. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations has said: Regrettably, the Government's approach to the issue so far has combined a sanctimonious high moral tone with a failure to focus on the age of the fleet as a central factor in the high casualty rate. I hope that the Government will tackle that.

On quota hoppers, my hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire made some powerful points. They make up only 2 per cent. of the fleet but, because the boats are typically more powerful and larger, they account for perhaps one quarter of the total national tonnage.

After the ridiculous throwing out of the Merchant Shipping Act 1998, which was overturned by the European Court of Justice, we were left with the Government's agreement with Jacques Santer, which is utterly meaningless in effect because quota hoppers need meet only one of the following criteria. At least 50 per cent. of the quota, by weight, must be landed in the UK, but that allows for fish to be landed and immediately placed on refrigerated lorries for transport abroad. Normally, 50 per cent. of the crew would be resident in a UK coastal area, but the definition could be said to omit klondikers from associated vessels—I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on that—while residency itself remains unsatisfactorily defined. Therefore, many fishermen could still effectively be resident abroad.

Another criterion is that the owner would incur a given level of operating expenditure in UK coastal areas for goods and services, but that ignores the reality, which is that some quota hoppers also own, or are associated with, food processing companies. Those are the real impacts of what was agreed. The policy has not created jobs or solved the problem.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) could not speak in the debate, as he would have loved to say a few things about compliance costs, which are ever growing. The NFFO has said: the ever growing battery of regulations to which the fishing industry is subject, are now spiralling out of control, posing a threat to vessels whose viability is marginal and imposing a massive burden on the industry as a whole. There appears to be no sensitivity within Government to this or even any attempt at an overview of the costs imposed by different departments. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) said how much he appreciated satellite monitoring, but the UK declines to part-fund it for all vessels over 24 m in length, thereby blocking the EU side of the grant. Our industry is being put at a disadvantage to its competitors.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire mentioned tonnage measurements. There again, extra costs are being imposed on the industry, and for what? Perhaps worst of all is the working time directive. Including the industry in it would ignore the factors that are specific to fishing. It is seasonal and entirely dependent on the weather. Furthermore, share fishing, resulting in what one might call co-operative earnings, makes up a considerable part of the industry. That is better classed as self-employment—if there is no cash, there is no pay.

The Government have opened the floodgates to all those rules by agreeing to the social chapter, and it is simply not good enough for them to attempt to wash their hands of the damage that will ultimately be done to fishing and other industries.

I want to give the Minister reasonable time to reply to the many points raised in the debate, but when the Parliamentary Secretary opened the debate, he painted an optimistic longer-term picture for the industry. What will happen in 2002? The derogation may be renewed, but at what cost? If it has to be done by unanimity, what legal challenges may lie ahead?

We need a firm bottom line for what is too high a price for the British fishing industry to pay within the common fisheries policy, and we need to keep all our options open. It is surely not our position that the maintenance of the architecture of the common fisheries policy is worth paying any price for. If it is, we have abdicated our responsibility and betrayed our fishermen. If it is not, then the job of this House is to put the British interest first. I caution the Minister against using the line that Europe is coming our way—boy, do we know that line.

We must hope that negotiation is successful, but we must be aware of the consequences of failure for the industry. Failure is not an acceptable outcome and we must ensure that, faced with that, we would rule out nothing at all in our response as a British Parliament.

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

I am very pleased to wind up the debate this evening. It has ranged widely, and for the most part constructively, across many aspects of fisheries policy. I shall respond to the specific issues raised by hon. Members, but first, I should like to refer to an important point that was made by several hon. Members. Like them, I acknowledge the special nature of the fishing industry which I know well from my constituency. Fishing is a dangerous occupation, and fishermen have often paid a heavy price for reaping the harvest of the sea. We should never lose sight of that.

Indeed, in my constituency during the past weekend, a 28-year-old fishermen, Donald Morrison, was lost in a tragic accident while fishing. I am sure that the whole House will join me in extending sympathy to his family and to the families of others who have lost their lives during the past year.

I shall now turn to some of the points made in the debate. I know that many fishermen believe that they have much to contribute to the management of the stocks, and even to the scientific assessment of the stocks. I know, too, that they are frustrated by the variations in the total allowable catches and quotas. They find it difficult to cope with such variations which disrupt their markets. Undoubtedly, they would like greater stability in the total allowable catches. Many hon. Members made that point, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran).

In managing the stocks, we need to take full account of those very justifiable concerns. However, at the same time, we need to take account of the scientific evidence about fish stocks and their future viability. We cannot just ignore that evidence, no matter how disappointing it might be for a particular stock in a particular year.

I can assure the House that the Government will do all we can in the negotiations ahead to get the best possible deal for British fishermen consistent with long-term sustainability of fishing stocks. We shall not hesitate to invoke the Hague preference, when that would be in the interests of the industry. However, we must also ensure that, once the Fisheries Council has decided the TACs and the quotas—which it will do with regard both to the scientific advice, which is important, and to the wider economic implications—they are respected in practice by all fishermen.

It would be appropriate to say something about devolution, given the significance of the debate as we are about to enter a new era for fisheries management within the United Kingdom. In previous debates, some hon. Members expressed the view that devolution will mean that Scotland will lose its voice in fisheries management, especially at the European level. Others fear that the Scottish Parliament will fail to respect UK obligations or, in pursuing the interests of Scottish fishermen, will discriminate against fishermen from other parts of the UK. I am sure that both those anxieties will prove to be unfounded. Devolution will help us to deliver local solutions to local problems across the United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond

Will a Scottish Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Parliament be able to lead a United Kingdom delegation to the Fisheries Council, as the Foreign Secretary suggested when he was in Edinburgh last January?

Mr. Macdonald

I assure hon. Members that Scottish Ministers will continue to be able to attend Fisheries Council meetings as part of the United Kingdom team. There is no reason why they cannot lead delegations, as appropriate. They can do that now, and the position remains unchanged.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Macdonald

I had better not, as I have further points to make.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central referred to important matters that affect the wider industry, particularly the processing sector. The industry has expressed concern about increased water charges in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere in the area. It is important to note that other parts of the United Kingdom have faced similar increases. The North of Scotland water authority is in discussions with industry representatives, and I hope that it will be able to clarify the options for the industry. I understand also that the Sea Fish Industry Authority is consulting the industry about practical ideas for reducing the volume of waste, which is the best way of tackling that problem in the long term.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), referred to the safety of old boats and the need for investment in new boats. The industry is concerned about the safety of older fishing boats, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary addressed that issue squarely in his speech. He made it clear that he and the Scottish Fisheries Minister are prepared to meet industry representatives to discuss practical ways of addressing the issue.

Hon. Members also referred to the provisions of the working time directive and how they apply to fishermen. I stress that the Government are committed to the principles of the directive on health and safety grounds. We believe that they are important. However, the Government have made it clear that any proposals to extend them to sea fishing must take account of the practical and commercial realities of the industry, including the share fishermen system. The Commission's latest proposals show that it is taking those factors into account. Officials from the various Departments concerned will continue to keep in close touch with the industry regarding the proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) called for better enforcement across Europe. She is correct to say that the Government looked for and welcome the improved control measures proposed for adoption later this week at the Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. Proposed amendments in the regulations provide for, among other things, a number of improvements in control at the point of landing and in relation to the sale and transport of fish. We welcome the European Commission's efforts to encourage co-operation and consistency of enforcement across the Union.

Several hon. Members referred to the precautionary approach. That is a sensible principle. It is the first year in which it has been advanced, and we recognise that more work must be done before we can rely solidly on that new approach.

Perhaps the most striking contribution to tonight's debate was the speech by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who opened for the Opposition. He launched a fierce and relentless attack on the past policies of his party in government but, unfortunately, offered no credible alternative to quota management. The problem is not the CFP, but the need to manage limited and finite stocks. We must face that reality, and we shall approach the forthcoming negotiations on that basis.

Mr. Andrew George

I beg to move—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not necessary for the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) to put the Question, as the House has agreed that the vote will be taken at 10 o'clock.

Mr. Macdonald

I have reached the end of my remarks. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 50, Noes 340.

Division No. 24] [10 pm
Allan, Richard Cotter, Brian
Beggs,Roy Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Fearn, Ronnie
Brake, Tom Foster, Don (Bath)
Brand, Dr Peter George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gorrie, Donald
Breed, Colin Hancock, Mike
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Burnett, John Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Chidgey, David Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Kirkwood, Archy Stunell, Andrew
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Llwyd, Elfyn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Thompson, William
Moore, Michael Tonge, Dr Jenny
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Tyler, Paul
Oaten, Mark Wallace, James
Öpik, Lembit Webb, Steve
Rendel, David Welsh, Andrew
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tellers for the Ayes:
Salmond, Alex Mr. Edward Davey and
Sanders, Adrian Mr. Phil Willis.
Abbott, Ms Diane Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Ainger, Nick Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Alexander, Douglas Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clelland, David
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clwyd, Ann
Ashton, Joe Coaker, Vernon
Atherton, Ms Candy Cohen, Harry
Atkins, Charlotte Coleman, Iain
Austin, John Colman, Tony
Barnes, Harry Connarty, Michael
Barron, Kevin Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Battle, John Cooper, Yvette
Bayley, Hugh Corbett, Robin
Beard, Nigel Corbyn, Jeremy
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corston, Ms Jean
Begg, Miss Anne Cousins, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cox, Tom
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cranston, Ross
Bennett, Andrew F Crausby, David
Benton, Joe Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bermingham, Gerald Cummings, John
Berry, Roger Cunliffe, Lawrence
Best, Harold Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Betts, Clive Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Blackman, Liz Darvill, Keith
Blears, Ms Hazel Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blizzard, Bob Davidson, Ian
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Boateng, Paul Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Borrow, David Dawson, Hilton
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Dean, Mrs Janet
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Denham, John
Bradshaw, Ben Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dismore, Andrew
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dobbin, Jim
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Browne, Desmond Donohoe, Brian H
Buck, Ms Karen Doran, Frank
Burden, Richard Drew, David
Burgon, Colin Drown, Ms Julia
Butler, Mrs Christine Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Caborn, Richard Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Edwards, Huw
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Ennis, Jeff
Campbell-Savours, Dale Etherington, Bill
Cann, Jamie Field, Rt Hon Frank
Caplin, Ivor Fisher, Mark
Casale, Roger Fitzpatrick, Jim
Caton, Martin Fitzsimons, Lorna
Cawsey, Ian Flint, Caroline
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Flynn, Paul
Chisholm, Malcolm Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Clapham, Michael Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Foulkes, George
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George Love, Andrew
Gapes, Mike McAllion, John
Gerrard, Neil McAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCabe, Steve
Godman, Dr Norman A McCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, Roger McDonagh, Siobhain
Goggins, Paul Macdonald, Calum
Golding, Mrs Llin McDonnell, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McGuire, Mrs Anne
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mackinlay, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce McNamara, Kevin
Grogan, John McNulty, Tony
Gunnell, John MacShane, Denis
Hain, Peter Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McWalter, Tony
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McWilliam, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mallaber, Judy
Healey, John Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marek, Dr John
Hepburn, Stephen Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heppell, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hill, Keith Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hinchliffe, David Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Home Robertson, John Martlew, Eric
Hood, Jimmy Maxton, John
Hope, Phil Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Meale, Alan
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Merron, Gillian
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Michael, Alun
Howells, Dr Kim Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Hoyle, Lindsay Milburn, Alan
Humble, Mrs Joan Miller, Andrew
Hurst, Alan Mitchell, Austin
Hutton, John Moffatt, Laura
Iddon, Dr Brian Moonie, Dr Lewis
Illsley, Eric Moran, Ms Margaret
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Jamieson, David Morley, Elliot
Jenkins, Brian Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mudie, George
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Norris, Dan
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jowell, Ms Tessa O'Hara, Eddie
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Olner, Bill
Keeble, Ms Sally O'Neill, Martin
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Organ, Mrs Diana
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kemp, Fraser Pearson, Ian
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pendry, Tom
Khabra, Piara S Perham, Ms Linda
Kidney, David Pickthall, Colin
Kilfoyle, Peter Pike, Peter L
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Plaskitt, James
Kingham, Ms Tess Pond, Chris
Kumar, Dr Ashok Pope, Greg
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Pound, Stephen
Laxton, Bob Powell, Sir Raymond
Lepper, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Leslie, Christopher Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Levitt, Tom Primarolo, Dawn
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Prosser, Gwyn
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Quin, Ms Joyce
Linton, Martin Quinn, Lawrie
Livingstone, Ken Radice, Giles
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rammell, Bill
Lock, David Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Stringer, Graham
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rowlands, Ted Temple-Morris, Peter
Ruane, Chris Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Ruddock, Ms Joan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ryan, Ms Joan Timms, Stephen
Salter, Martin Tipping, Paddy
Savidge, Malcolm Todd, Mark
Sawford, Phil Touhig, Don
Sedgemore, Brian Trickett, Jon
Shaw, Jonathan Truswell, Paul
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Singh, Marsha Ward, Ms Claire
Skinner, Dennis Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Watts, David
White, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Winnick, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wise, Audrey
Snape, Peter Wood, Mike
Soley, Clive Woolas, phil
Spellar, John Worthington, Tony
Squire, Ms Rachel Wray, James
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Steinberg, Gerry Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stevenson, George Wyatt, Derek
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul Tellers for the Noes:
Stoate, Dr Howard Mr. Jim Dowd and
Stott, Roger Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 377, Noes 129.

Division No. 25] [10.13 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Blackman, Liz
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Blears, Ms Hazel
Ainger, Nick Blizzard, Bob
Alexander, Douglas Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Allan, Richard Boateng, Paul
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Borrow, David
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Atherton, Ms Candy Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Atkins, Charlotte Bradshaw, Ben
Austin, John Brand, Dr Peter
Barnes, Harry Breed, Colin
Barron, Kevin Brinton, Mrs Helen
Battle, John Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Bayley, Hugh Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Beard, Nigel Browne, Desmond
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Begg, Miss Anne Buck, Ms Karen
Beggs, Roy Burden, Richard
Beith, Rt Hon A J Burgon, Colin
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Burnett, John
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Butler, Mrs Christine
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Benton, Joe Caborn, Richard
Bermingham, Gerald Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Berry, Roger Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Best, Harold Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Betts, Clive Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gapes, Mike
Cann, Jamie George, Andrew (St Ives)
Caplin, Ivor Gerrard, Neil
Casale, Roger Gibson, Dr Ian
Caton, Martin Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Cawsey, Ian Godman, Dr Norman A
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Godsiff, Roger
Chidgey, David Goggins, Paul
Chisholm, Malcolm Golding, Mrs Llin
Clapham, Michael Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gorrie, Donald
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Grogan, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Gunnell, John
Clelland, David Hain, Peter
Clwyd, Ann Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Coaker, Vernon Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cohen, Harry Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coleman, Iain Hancock, Mike
Colman, Tony Harris, Dr Evan
Connarty, Michael Harvey, Nick
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cooper, Yvette Healey, John
Corbett, Robin Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Corbyn, Jeremy Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corston, Ms Jean Hepburn, Stephen
Cotter, Brian Heppell, John
Cousins, Jim Hesford, Stephen
Cox, Tom Hill, Keith
Cranston, Ross Hinchliffe, David
Crausby, David Home Robertson, John
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hope, Phil
Cummings, John Hopkins, Kelvin
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Howells, Dr Kim
Darvill, Keith Hoyle, Lindsay
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Humble, Mrs Joan
Davidson, Ian Hurst, Alan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hutton, John
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Iddon, Dr Brian
Dawson, Hilton Illsley, Eric
Dean, Mrs Janet Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Denham, John Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Jamieson, David
Dismore, Andrew Jenkins, Brian
Dobbin, Jim Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Drew, David Jones, Helen (Wanington N)
Drown, Ms Julia Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jowell, Ms Tessa
Ennis, Jeff Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Etherington, Bill Keeble, Ms Sally
Fearn, Ronnie Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Fisher, Mark Kemp, Fraser
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Fitzsimons, Lorna 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 Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David Plaskitt, James
Leslie, Christopher Pond, Chris
Levitt, Tom Pope, Greg
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Pound Stephen
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Powell, Sir Raymond
Linton, Martin Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Livingstone, Ken Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Lock, David Primarolo, Dawn
Love, Andrew Prosser, Gwyn
McAllion, John Quin, Ms Joyce
McAvoy, Thomas Quinn, Lawrie
McCabe, Steve Radice, Giles
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rammell, Bill
McDonagh, Siobhain Rapson, Syd
Macdonald, Calum Raynsford, Nick
McDonnell, John Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Rendel, David
Mackinlay, Andrew Roche, Mrs Barbara
McNamara, Kevin Rooney, Terry
McNulty, Tony Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
MacShane, Denis Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Mactaggart, Fiona Rowlands, Ted
McWalter, Tony Ruane, Chris
McWilliam, John Ruddock, Ms Joan
Mahon, Mrs Alice Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Mallaber, Judy Ryan, Ms Joan
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marek, Dr John Salter, Martin
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sanders, Adrian
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Savidge, Malcolm
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sawford, Phil
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martlew, Eric Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Maxton, John Singh, Marsha
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Skinner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Merron, Gillian Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Alan Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Miller, Andrew Smith, Jonn (Glamorgan)
Mitchell, Austin Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Moore, Michael Snape, Peter
Moran, Ms Margaret Soley, Clive
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Spellar, John
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Squire, Ms Rachel
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mudie, George Steinberg, Gerry
Mullin, Chris Stevenson, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) Stinchcombe, Paul
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stoate, Dr Howard
Norris, Dan Stott, Roger
Oaten, Mark Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stringer, Graham
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Hara, Eddie Sutcliffe, Gerry
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pearson Ian Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Pendry, Tom Temple-Morris, Peter
Perham, Ms Linda Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pickthall, Colin Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pike, Peter L Thompson, William
Timms, Stephen Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Tonge, Dr Jenny Willis, Phil
Touhig, Don Winnick, David
Trickett, Jon Wise, Audrey
Truswell, Paul Wood, Mike
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Woolas, Phil
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Worthington, Tony
Wallace, James Wray, James
Ward, Ms Claire Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wareing, Robert N Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Watts, David Wyatt, Derek
Webb, Steve
White, Brian Tellers for the Ayes:
Whitehead, Dr Alan Mr. Robert Ainsworth and
Wicks, Malcolm Mr. Jim Dowd.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Horam, John
Amess, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hunter, Andrew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Bercow, John Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Beresford, Sir Paul Jenkin, Bernard
Blunt, Crispin Key, Robert
Body, Sir Richard King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Boswell, Tim Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Brady, Graham Laing. Mrs Eleanor
Brazier, Julian Lansley, Andrew
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Leigh, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela Letwin, Oliver
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Burns, Simon Lidington, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Chope, Christopher Loughton, Tim
Clappison, James Luff, peter
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
MaLoughlin, Patrick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Malins, Humfrey
Collins, Tim Maples, John
Colvin, Michael Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Cormack, Sir Patrick May, Mrs Theresa
Cran, James Moss, Malcolm
Curry, Rt Hon David Nicholls, Patrick
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Norman, Archie
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Ottaway, Richard
Day, Stephen Page, Richard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Paice, James
Duncan Smith, Iain Paterson, Owen
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pickles, Eric
Evans, Nigel Prior, David
Faber, David Randall, John
Fallon, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Robathan, Andrew
Fox, Dr Liam Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fraser, Christopher Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Garnier, Edward Ruffley, David
Gibb, Nick St Aubyn, Nick
Gill, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Shepherd, Richard
Gray, James Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Green, Damian Spring, Richard
Greenway, John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Grieve, Dominic Steen, Anthony
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Streeter, Gary
Hammond, Philip Swayne, Desmond
Hawkins, Nick Syms, Robert
Hayes, John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heald, Oliver Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wilkinson, John
Townend, John Willetts, David
Trend, Michael Wilshire, David
Tyrie, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Viggers, Peter Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wardle, Charles Yeo, Tim
Waterson, Nigel Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond Tellers for the Noes:
Whittingdale, John Mrs. Caroline Spelman and
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann Sir David Madel.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Union Document No. COM(98)680, relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1999 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 regional differences of fisheries are fully recognised.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government have been defeated yet again in the other place on the principle of the closed list. This succession of defeats on a policy repeatedly attacked by the Government's own Back Benchers is an unprecedented humiliation for the Government.

Will the Government now state their intentions? Will they reconsider, or do they propose to put on the statute book, using the Parliament Act, a measure that was not in their manifesto and that is an affront to democracy?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Beith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be possible for you to allow the Leader of the House to say whether the repeatedly expressed will of this House that there should be a proportional system will now be given effect by the Parliament Act?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for this evening's business, and therefore it is not a matter for the Chair.