HC Deb 06 December 2001 vol 376 cc498-565

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

2.13 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley)

As the House knows, it is customary to hold a fisheries debate each year before the December Council, which decides the total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is an important occasion that affords an opportunity for comment by all hon. Members from fisheries constituencies as well as those with a more general interest in fisheries management. I am very pleased that the House authorities have allowed us to have a full day's debate on the subject.

I should first make it clear that this is not a scrutiny debate and that some important European Scrutiny Committee recommendations for debate in Committee remain outstanding. Therefore, although this is an opportunity for a general annual debate, there will be further opportunities in that Committee to debate other aspects of fisheries management. I am sure that hon. Members will welcome the opportunity to discuss those issues in detail.

Before outlining the Commission's proposals for next year's TACs and quotas, I shall open the debate in the traditional way by reflecting on the dangers faced by fishermen at sea. This year, nine fishermen have lost their lives while at sea. Although that is an improvement on last year's truly appalling figure of 33 fatalities and 39 losses of vessels, it is nevertheless nine too many. I am sure that the whole House joins me in expressing sympathy to the relatives and friends of those who have been lost.

Training can help to instil a culture of safety. I know, however, that the industry has been concerned about the cost of training courses. I have therefore taken the decision that, for the next three years, fishermen should be able to attend basic safety training courses free of charge. The courses have been free since April. The grant aid comes from our new financial instrument for fisheries guidance schemes, with funding both from the EU and the fisheries Departments in the UK. It is important that all fishermen who are eligible take advantage of those courses, and I am sure that the various fishermen's organisations will be encouraging them to do so. Fishing remains a very hazardous occupation and it is important that all within the industry work to improve the safety culture on board fishing vessels. The Government will certainly play their part in working with them.

As for developments in the past year, the Commission has issued its Green Paper on common fisheries policy reform, about which I shall say a few words later. Additionally, the European Court of Auditors has published a detailed report on third country agreements, which I think are of some interest to hon. Members. Recovery programmes for cod and hake were also introduced.

Following the pressure that has been applied for years in our debates, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has issued its advice earlier this year than in the past, which I think that hon. Members will find most welcome. Additionally, for the first time, I organised a press conference to make the advice public and to discuss it in detail. We and the Commission have been pressing for the advice to be produced sooner. In previous years, it has sometimes not emerged until November; this year, it was available in October, which gave us valuable breathing space to analyse it. Unfortunately, the Commission has been late in producing its TACs and quotas, which were made available only on 4 December. Nevertheless, I am glad that they are available in time for this debate so that hon. Members can discuss them.

We have also been able to provide the House with a document outlining the approach to the proposals, and I shall refer to what has been proposed and will listen with interest to hon. Members' comments. As hon. Members will appreciate, however, more work will have to be done in formulating the United Kingdom's response between now and the Fisheries Council on 17 and 18 December. As they will also appreciate, I shall need an opportunity to discuss the proposals in some depth with the fishing industry, to hear its views and to listen to its priorities.

Hon. Members should also be aware that the Commission has to await the completion of various third country negotiations before it can finalise its proposals. The main case in point is the European Union-Norway fisheries agreement, which has not yet been finalised primarily because of the very difficult negotiations on the linked issue of blue whiting.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

We always enjoy the Minister's annual presentation on fish. He mentioned third country agreements. Is he concerned, as I am, about the Spanish-Moroccan agreement, which has not yet come into effect? If it does, the Spanish will want to come north rather than south.

Mr. Morley

I was going to touch on some of those issues later. However, the Spanish-Moroccan agreement is dead. The Moroccans made it very clear that they were not prepared to agree to the negotiations or to the proposals that were on offer. I think that they want to take control of those waters and are not really interested in a deal with the Spanish. Consequently, about 300 boats that previously fished in those waters have nowhere else to go. I realise that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the North sea and the fishing areas in which our own fleets operate. However, there is no chance of those boats fishing in other waters because most of them are designed for that particular fishery, which is a predominately coastal squid fishery. Those boats will therefore be decommissioned and a financial package has been agreed for the Spanish Government to take them out of their fishing fleet. It will also mean that some thousands of fishing jobs are lost in that country.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The whole House is grateful to the Minister for securing this debate at this time. He has encountered difficulties in respect of such debates and this is a valuable opportunity. I should like to press him on something that he said about scrutiny. He is right that the Norway bilateral agreement will not be secured until the end of the month. Will he use his good offices early in the new year, when the House returns after the Christmas recess, to ensure that a European Standing Committee can debate the outcomes when they are all known? That will enable hon. Members to consider the totality of what faces the industry next year. If he could say something encouraging about that, it would help us during this debate.

Mr. Morley

That is a very reasonable point. I shall certainly discuss the matter with the Committee. I am very willing to participate and give hon. Members the opportunity to consider the issues.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I congratulate the Minister on securing a full day's debate. Such a debate has been a long-standing ambition for him and a number of other hon. Members, so let us give him credit where credit is due for getting it out of the powers that be in this place.

The North sea has a number of stocks that are undergoing a strong recovery, as we know from scientific advice. It is to be hoped that the TAC that has been agreed will reflect that recovery and increase fishing opportunities. However, if the TAC for cod remains very low, it might be impossible for fishermen in a mixed fishery to take up opportunities in respect of haddock and other stocks. What thought has the Minister given to that problem and how does he see a way forward on ensuring that the maximum fishing opportunities are available to fishermen in the North sea?

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman is right that that is a potential problem. I shall comment on it when I deal with the Commission's proposals, its reasons for them and the reaction of the UK Government. The problem to which he refers relates to managing a fishery where some stocks are in severe trouble—there is no doubt that the cod stock is in trouble—but other stocks are not. Of course, that is in the nature of a mixed fishery, and I shall speak about the matter in a moment.

Let me spell out the Commission's broad approach. First, with regard to stocks for which the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea recommends a recovery plan—predominantly cod and hake—the Commission proposes to treat 2002 as the first year in a long-term process of reductions in fishing mortality and TACs. The stocks approached in that way include cod in the North sea, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) mentioned, as well as cod in the Irish sea, and west of Scotland, northern hake and nephrops in southern waters. The latter is a stock in which the UK has no interest.

A second category of stocks is subject to the same approach. These stocks are not recommended for recovery plans by ICES as they are not considered to be in a dire state, but are regarded as being fished outside safe limits and have very low biomass levels. We cannot ignore that scientific advice. Stocks that fall into this category include western channel sole, Irish sea haddock and west of Scotland whiting.

The third category—this is the difficult one identified by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan—covers stocks that are associated with those in the first and second categories. It could include, for example, species caught with cod and hake. With regard to such stocks, the Commission proposes to reduce TACs as a complementary measure. It made an attempt to do the same thing last year, although in that event it recommended a blanket 20 per cent. cut. We strongly argued against such a cut because we did not feel that the science justified it. The Commission then reduced that figure to 10 per cent. This year, it has adopted a more flexible approach, but many of the cuts that it is suggesting again relate to stocks that are not in difficulty, but are linked with stocks that are.

As I think the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, the matter needs to be carefully thought through. Account must be taken of the fact that we operate in a mixed fishery and that there could be a danger of displacement if fishermen are cut off from particular stocks that are not in difficulty and then move on to other fishing. Those issues are serious and not easy to resolve. In some cases, however, I do not think that the Commission itself has thought them through clearly, and we will have to discuss them in some detail at the Fisheries Council.

Andrew George (St. Ives)

The Minister rightly said that the first category included stocks that are in a very severe state. In certain areas, they are on the verge of collapse and will be destroyed if we do not take the necessary measures. However, with regard to hake, for which a recovery programme is being implemented, does he accept that fishermen are concerned that catches in area 7—where hake catches are still relatively good and catch sizes are reasonably large, although not by any means acceptable—are different from juvenile hake catches in area 8? There is considerable concern about the catching of juvenile hake by fishermen in other nations. As hake is a migratory stock, such fishing will clearly have an impact in area 7, so in the area where it occurs an increase is needed in minimum mesh sizes and minimum landing sizes should be increased by up to 40 cm.

Mr. Morley

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I concede that fishermen in the south-west are saying that there has been unacceptable juvenile mortality further south in relation to the hake fishery. It is for that reason that we agreed last year, as part of the hake recovery plan, that mesh size in the bay of Biscay would increase from 17 mm to 100 mm. That is a very big jump. It does not significantly affect our industry, which has traditionally used larger meshes, but is designed to reduce juvenile mortality. I agree that such reduction is one of the top priorities—indeed, it is probably the top priority—of the hake recovery plan.

The total spawning biomass of hake is at dangerous levels. In that respect, we must have an eye on overall fishing mortality. That is where the impact of our own industry comes into play, even though it is catching bigger fish. Minimum landing size is an issue, but it cannot be increased unless mesh size is also increased. That is rightly being done and I set great store on it following my discussions with fishermen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

The overall picture is one of seriously diminishing opportunities for a range of stocks, although there are one or two bright spots. When the EU-Norway talks are completed, we expect some increases in a range of quotas, although that does not go all the way in mitigating what the Commission is proposing. However, we must accept that the reductions in opportunity were inevitable to some degree. We cannot ignore the stark scientific assessment of some stocks, although I must point out that I am disappointed—the industry has already spelt out its disappointment—with some of the proposals, which seem to be inconsistent, to move away from the scientific advice that is available and to propose TAC levels without any clear basis being apparent. I have always tried to be consistent and I told the industry that when scientific advice makes it clear that we have to take action on reducing catches, we must take that action, even though it might mean difficult and painful decisions. On the other side of the coin, if proposals go beyond the scientific advice, we should question them very closely and demand justifications.

Some of the TACs that have been proposed do not seem to take account of the difficult and painful measures that the industry has already taken in good faith. It has taken such measures in the Irish sea and deserves to be congratulated on its co-operation with us on the Irish sea cod recovery programmes. There is a call for a blanket cut on a number of stocks of real economic value, despite a lack of scientific advice, while in one or two cases scientists have recommended increases. We need to challenge such proposals and I can assure the House that that will be one of my objectives in the Fisheries Council.

One of the prime examples of proposals that need to be considered further relates to nephrops. The Commission has proposed what seem to be inappropriate cuts that are designed to complement cod recovery. Again, the matter is linked with by-catch issues. By-catch problems are very serious—if the science and evidence exist. I am convinced neither of that nor that the Commission has understood our research, which we presented to it to back up our argument.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Does the Minister know that Spain is in a similar position to Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom on nephrops? Is he optimistic about an opportunity to find commonality of interest between Spain and various parts of the UK on nephrops in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Morley

Spain has an interest, but it is in different stocks. Our interests are mainly in the Irish sea and the North sea, where Spain does not have a quota for nephrops. However, I agree that one or two other countries have a joint interest with us on such issues.

We have always been responsible and argued on the basis of science. On last year's 10 per cent. reduction, we presented the Commission with scientific evidence to support our view that the cod by-catch in the North sea nephrops fishery was low and did not justify such cuts. We intend to challenge the Commission's scientific analysis on the basis of our considerably detailed work.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks about the Irish sea fishing communities, which have genuinely worked together. Will he consider the results for the past two years of the cod recovery programme in the Irish sea? Many Fleetwood fishermen do not believe that they have been given the time or the chance to prove its success. Instead, savage cuts have been introduced without consideration of the programme and how we can build on the past two years.

Mr. Morley

I accept my hon. Friend's comments. The industry has been responsible and has genuinely participated in the recovery plans, and we appreciate its input. There are encouraging signs for cod, and it would be helpful if the industry could experience some benefits from its sacrifices. We will argue for that strongly with the Commission.

We have asked the industry for its reactions to the proposals. We will take time to examine them all in detail and consider their implications. As I have said, we intend to work with the industry and other member states to ensure that we bring about a fair, effective, reasoned and reasonable end to the negotiations, which will be difficult.

The attitude in the Council of Ministers has changed for the better. There is a much more serious attitude towards following the science. The Commission is not in the game of bumping up figures arbitrarily so that they can be negotiated down and presented as an improvement. It will not be easy to get the Commission to move from the proposals because it is adamant that it is in the business of sustainability and protecting fish stocks. We share that ambition, but I repeat that the proposals must be based on good science, and a case has to be sound to convince the industry, which will ultimately have to make sacrifices for the recoveries. Persuading the Commission of that view will be one of our primary objectives in the negotiations.

Deep water species and TACs are of interest to some hon. Members. Last year, we rejected the idea of quotas for a range of species, although we accept that there is serious anxiety about the state of deep water stocks. We support management that is based on effort-control regimes rather than on simply allocating quotas. We believe that the latter would encourage increased fishing to bump up track records on quotas.

It should also be taken into account that some of the deep water fisheries are used by non-EU fleets. It would therefore be better to bring them under the control of regional fisheries organizations—the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission in the case that we are considering—to ensure proper management of the stocks.

The Government generally support third country fisheries agreements because they maintain traditional fishing opportunities for EU distant water vessels and provide socio-economic benefits for some regions that depend on fisheries. They also allow third countries to realise the value of fisheries resources that they do not wish or are unable to exploit. However, there is an important caveat. Third country agreements should provide value for money to the Community, promote environmentally sustainable fishing, which means proper enforcement and management, and be coherent in the context of Community development objectives for third countries.

Some agreements need to be examined closely for their benefits. We benefit from third country agreements such as the Greenland fishery agreement, which is especially important to the UK. We must ensure that the Community does not export its surplus fishing capacity to developing countries, which are often unable to monitor fishing effectively and/or do damage to marine ecosystems. For many developing countries, fish provides a substantial and vital source of protein. Fishing agreements must not jeopardise that source.

Developing countries increasingly want to develop their fishing industries, and we should support that. There are opportunities for co-operation and joint agreements between EU member states and fleets and those developing countries.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

I acknowledge the importance of the Minister's last point. However, if we are to have sustainable fisheries in our waters, the Government must recognise that they are part of the problem because they license more capacity than the waters can sustain. They should consider ways in which they can be part of the solution, and decommission the excess capacity so that there is a balance between our fishing fleet and sustainability.

Mr. Morley

That is a fair point, and I shall deal with this year's decommissioning round shortly.

The Commission has produced a Green Paper on the review of the common fisheries policy. Hon. Members are familiar with its contents. It goes a long way towards tackling many anxieties that hon. Members have expressed over the years and proposes the sort of changes to the CFP that we support. The Green Paper pulls no punches; it is a frank and well-balanced critique of the CFP. It points out its deficiencies, including poor stock conservation, the use of often inappropriate subsidies, and uneven control and enforcement, while making a strong case for a common policy on fisheries conservation, which is important in EU waters.

Recent difficulties in fisheries management mean that I am more convinced than ever of the need for a common conservation policy. We cannot manage fish stocks unilaterally.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister is enthusiastic about the Green Paper. I understand that because it is probably the best document from the Commission on fishing for a generation, although there is nothing much with which to compare it. None the less, his enthusiasm is noted. Is he enthusiastic about the Green Paper's reference to substantially enhanced payments not only for decommissioning but for tie-up funding? If he supports large parts of the document, will the Government consider that aspect of the Green Paper?

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman knows my views on tie-up money. Although I have an open mind about any approach, we must consider carefully the most appropriate use of public moneys, the priorities for its use and the justification for schemes. I remain to be convinced that tie-up grants are the best way forward. I suspect that the debate on that will continue.

I want some elements of the CFP to be retained. I am sure that that applies to other hon. Members. For example, the case for the six and 12-mile limits is so overwhelming that I have argued for them to be made permanent. They are important for safeguarding the needs of the inshore fleet. We need to take its needs into account. The limits also make sense from a conservation perspective. No one supports the end of relative stability, including the Hague preference. They are important elements of the CFP, which offer security to the industry, especially in difficult times. The Commission and other member states also support relative stability and I am confident that that will continue into 2003 and beyond.

Andrew George

Does the Minister agree that, following the publication of the Green Paper, future debates on fishing in the House should be considerably more mature? We spent much time in the past speculating on whether we would be able to retain the six and 12-mile limits and relative stability. We can now move forward and stop wasting so much time speculating on dire scenarios.

Mr. Morley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are far too many scare stories about what is going to happen after 2002. I suspect that, when we reach agreement, some of the darker stones that we have been hearing will be shown to have been yet more of the Euro-myths that we have had to listen to for many years.

We are arguing strongly for greater involvement by the fishing industry in the way in which the CFP operates—but not only the fishing industry. No one would dispute that the industry is the primary stakeholder in the policy, but there is also a role for environmentalists, consumers, sport fishermen and members of the general public, who have an interest in the health of our seas and in marine biodiversity.

One of the strengths of the new Department in which I serve—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—is that sustainability is at the heart of everything that it does and of all the policies that it is trying to develop. There is no contradiction between the objectives of environmentalists—healthy and strong marine biodiversity—and of the fishing industry, which has every interest in marine conservation and biodiversity.

For the House's information, the timetable for the review has shifted slightly in recent months. The European Parliament has been unable to complete its report on the CFP, and the Commission rightly wishes to hear the Parliament's opinion before proceeding. I therefore expect the Commission communication to be produced in January next year. The communication will set out recommendations for subsequent legislative proposals for decision by the end of 2002.

We do not yet have a full idea of the proposals that the Commission intends to produce, but it has said that we should expect them to cover multi-annual TAC setting—a policy that has been raised many times in debate, and one that the UK strongly supports. The proposals could also cover access, fleet structure, control and external issues. That shows that the Commission is moving in the right direction, and I shall offer it every encouragement in its efforts to forge a new, more meaningful, more flexible common fisheries policy that takes much greater account of the regional differences between the various fishing fleets of the European Union.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

With regard to the proposals from the Commission, has my hon. Friend been able to determine what level of consultation will take place in our fishing communities around the coast—the key stakeholders that he mentioned earlier? Such consultation would enable our fishing communities to feel that proper account had been taken of their feelings in relation to the Commission's proposals.

Mr. Morley

I know that my hon. Friend has been very much involved in this process, and that he is anxious to ensure that the views of the industry are fed through. He will be pleased to know that a series of seminars and conferences has been held around the country, to allow fishermen to express their views on the common fisheries policy and the post-2002 reforms. The industry has been very active in that process, and has made a range of proposals. The joint document produced by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation was extremely well argued, and it is clear from the Green Paper that it strongly influenced the way in which the Commission was thinking. That is a good example of the way in which the industry can feed through its ideas.

On decommissioning, one of the key problems faced by the fishing industry is the imbalance between the size of the fleet and the stocks available to it, as was mentioned earlier. To help the industry to address the problem, we have introduced a £6 million decommissioning scheme in England, which, taken with the schemes run by the devolved Administrations, means that £36 million of public funds have been made available to the industry this year for decommissioning.

While decommissioning has an important role, it should be seen as only one tool. The downside to decommissioning is that it takes vessels out of the fleet, which has an impact on regional ports. So, although there is an important role for decommissioning, we should not regard it as the only fisheries conservation management tool. It is one of a range of measures that we need to introduce. There is, however, no doubt that taking some of the capacity out of the UK fleet helps the viability of those who remain in it.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he was shocked by the fact that the decommissioning scheme introduced in Scotland has been oversubscribed by 100 per cent. in the north-east, an important area in which many of the newer, larger boats are based? Is that not a shattering blow to the Scottish fishing industry? Does he agree that it does not augur well for the future?

Mr. Morley

We need to be fairly shock-resistant when dealing with fisheries. I was not altogether surprised, because decommissioning has been very useful to the industry, not only in helping people who want to leave the industry. The evidence of the previous decommissioning schemes shows that a lot of the decommissioning money has been recycled in the form of investment in the industry. I am sure that some people see the decommissioning scheme not as a way of exiting the industry but as a way of reinvesting in different parts of it. I suspect that that is one explanation of the high level of interest in it.

Mr. Salmond

Is not the key to the effectiveness of the decommissioning scheme—which was long resisted by the previous Conservative Government—the question of whether the quota allocation of the decommissioned boats remains in the sector? Would it not be the worst of all possible ironies if boats were decommissioned, whether in the north-east of Scotland or elsewhere, and their quota allowed to leak outside their area or outside the country?

Mr. Morley

This is a difficult issue, and I have discussed with hon. Members before, both in the House and in Committee, how we should try to keep a fisheries quota within the region in which it has operated. I would very much like to do that. Unfortunately, all sorts of legal difficulties are involved in achieving that in practical terms. There has always been movement of quota around the country, and there is a need for some flexibility in the buying or leasing of quota, as that helps the producer organisations to manage their fisheries. The producer organisations are very well organised these days, and they are looking for opportunities to buy quota in their areas. That will keep the quota in the region and will be to the benefit of their members. I would be glad to see that, and I hope that it will happen.

Andrew George

Following the intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), may I ask the Minister whether he is prepared to intervene on the referral of the Shetland and Orkney quota schemes—and, by implication, the new Duchy quota scheme—to the European Commission? Those schemes support new entrants to the industry and protect quota in vulnerable fishing communities. That referral will clearly have a detrimental effect on the Duchy quota scheme in Cornwall, as it will delay its implementation. Will the Minister express a view on that matter and, if he is concerned about it, will he intervene to ensure that the investigation is completed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Morley

Yes, I shall be happy to give my personal view on that. It is a very good idea for local communities to come together in a co-operative way to ensure that their quota is kept in the area and managed for the benefit of the region. I must make it clear that state aid rules apply to this issue, and I would not want unfair subsidies going to one region to the detriment of another. That would not be fair. As I understand it, both the Duchy Fish Quota Company and the Shetland scheme are based on commercial operations, and the quota is leased at a commercial rate. I also understand that there are no plans to restrict this in a discriminatory way. On that basis, they seem to meet state aid rules. We take an interest in the matter, although it is one for the Commission. We shall certainly examine the Commission's concerns, but as long as state aid rules are not breached, there is no reason why the schemes should not continue to operate.

Mr. Steen

Has all the decommissioning money for the past couple of years been spent in the south-west, especially in Brixham? Was it at Amsterdam that the Minister negotiated to ensure that 50 per cent. of the foreign catch is landed in English ports, and does that help?

Mr. Morley

The decommissioning scheme was a UK scheme. It was not restricted to any one region and all the money was fully utilised. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Amsterdam treaty negotiations, which do not relate to the economic links conditions that we have negotiated and successfully applied. He may be interested to know that I shall say a few words about the outcome, although I want to conclude soon.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way to so many Members. I agree with the previous intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on decommissioning, but he made an earlier intervention on tie-ups. My clear impression of the joint meetings that the industry had with us down here is that it believes that decommissioning is a much better answer than tie-ups. Decommissioning is a long-term solution to the industry's problems, whereas tie-ups pour money into a potentially bottomless hole.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right. There were differences of view in the fishing industry, but there is a strong school of thought that decommissioning is a greater priority for available funds.

Mr. Salmond

I have here the Scottish Fishermen's Federation brief for this very debate. It expresses firm support for tie-ups as part of fisheries management policy, so I wonder whether the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) managed to attend the meeting at which he thinks the federation said something that it most certainly did not say.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that there was a difference of view in the Scottish industry over tie-up grant. He will find that there was a slight difference of view between the west and east coasts. I must move on.

On stock recovery programmes and technical measures, the UK has played an important development role and there is a great deal of scope for dealing with some of our conservation problems. We intend to take the measures forward in conjunction with the industry. On quota management generally, I appreciate that the reductions in total allowable catches and quotas for 2001 have resulted in many fishermen eking out their allocations and making difficult decisions about what to catch and when, although many have been successful. I am also pleased that good prices in general have helped in that respect.

We have tried to help the industry out through quota swaps and the Department has a good record of managing our fisheries effectively. Nevertheless, it is important that all sectors play their part in ensuring that measures designed to conserve fish stocks are respected.

Fixed quota allocations have been reviewed and they seem to be a success—that is certainly the conclusion of the review. They have achieved greater stability and have greatly facilitated the process of securing extra quota through quota swaps, both in the UK and internationally through the Department.

Economic links were referred to by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). Those arrangements are a further example of how we have tried to address a particular problem realistically and pragmatically. Last year, I informed the House of the economic links arrangements and the benefits that they have brought. The first full year in which they were used was 1999: landings in the UK by foreign-owned, but UK-registered, vessels increased by 70 per cent., an additional £3 million was spent on goods and services in our ports and more than 300 tonnes of valuable quota—sole, predominantly—was made available for redistribution to our inshore fleet.

I am pleased to tell the House that the benefits achieved in 1999 were maintained in 2000, and I am hopeful that the trend will continue throughout this year. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the trend in respect of foreign-owned, but UK-registered, ships has been downward in the past couple of years.

On grant aid, the principal aim of DEFRA is sustainability in environmental, economic and social terms, and one of our objectives is to promote sustainable management and prudent use of natural resources, domestically and internationally. Our sea fisheries are an important national resource, so we have involved the industry in the priorities that we want, and the schemes that we have identified for the financial instrument of fisheries grant programme involve such matters as increasing the value of fishermen's catch by helping them to maintain the quality of fish at sea and in port.

There are grants to help fishermen to transfer their fishing from pressure stocks to others, and that includes grants to switch to more environmentally friendly gear. There are also grants to help the processing industry to develop new markets, improve efficiency and minimise waste. I encourage all in the industry and environmental groups to consider how they can make the most of the grant aid available.

We have also encouraged the industry to benefit from adopting electronic working. DEFRA and other fisheries Departments want to encourage the industry to explore the possibilities, including electronic marketing and electronic transfer of information, with which it is becoming increasingly involved.

We commissioned a report on the impact of e-commerce on the UK fishing industry, using independent consultants, and in October we presented the findings to an industry seminar, sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry and organised by the Sea Fish Industry Authority. We also showed what a Government web portal for the industry might look like. The feedback is encouraging and we shall want to consult the industry further on the report's recommendation on how best to take the matter forward.

I do not underestimate the difficulties for the industry in the forthcoming Fisheries Council negotiations. Some cuts are justified on the science and some present difficulties, but we must remember that stocks need to be protected. We must achieve sustainable fisheries management and stocks that are below their safe biomass must be rebuilt.

It is fair to say that some decisions should have been taken years ago, as some catches have been unsustainable for a long time. It will take years to achieve recovery for those stocks, but it can be done. I emphasise yet again that I have been consistent and that I have followed the science. That consistency also means that we should challenge cuts that go beyond the science, and I shall ensure that that is done in the forthcoming negotiations.

The new atmosphere in the Fisheries Council means that the posturing of old has gone. We must concentrate on sustainability and responsible fisheries management, but I emphasise once again that the Commission is deadly serious about its proposals. The negotiations will not be easy and the Commission will not simply roll over because we disagree with it. We must make a strong and robust scientific case to the Commission, and we will.

There are bright spots. We expect some stocks to increase and I am pleased that prices generally have been good. Consumers are prepared to pay a good price for a top-quality product. The inshore sector has done well, particularly with shellfish, but clearly I recognise that there are problems in the industry. They key one is sustainability and the need to put in place management for the long-term, for the sake of the marine environment and a viable, sustainable, financially secure future for the industry. I believe that we can do that.

2.58 pm
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I welcome the debate, although I do not know how many fishing debates the Under-Secretary has introduced and wound up. He seems to have been fisheries spokesman man and boy, in opposition and in government. He probably feels that way too.

Lawrie Quinn

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton

I am delighted to give way so early in my speech.

Lawrie Quinn

I thank the hon. Lady. Perhaps I may offer some information. During a search on a website, I asked that very question and the answer is 191.

Mrs. Winterton

I am grateful for the information. The Minister looks very well on it: he is obviously eating a lot of fish, as I did at lunchtime.

Let me echo what the Minister said, and express our deepest sympathy for the families of the nine fishermen who lost their lives this year. We must also not forget those injured at sea during the past year.

As an island nation, we have a particular affinity with the sea and respect those that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters". For centuries, fishermen have braved the elements around our shores and further afield, and pitted their skills against the harshest and most unpredictable of elements, the sea. We politicians have added to the stress that they experience, not least by imposing stifling European Union regulations. While it is difficult now to find a customs officer, a coastguard or even a policeman around our harbours, fisheries officers can be found checking boxes of fish. That contrasts with the situation in the Scottish fisheries department, which allows over-quota landings to be policed by the pelagic sector itself.

Mr. Salmond

I think that we missed the full import of the hon. Lady's attack on the Scottish pelagic sector, which is generally recognised to be one of the most successful management regimes ever, and the most responsible. Will she explain in more detail why she is developing this anti-Scottish attitude? I should have thought that her party was in enough trouble north of the border.

Mrs. Winterton

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that he is talking to someone who is half-Scottish. He will have to do a damn sight better than that. Perhaps I should remind him of the minutes of the meeting of the pelagic sub-committee of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, which took place on 21 September. I shall quote from them—and I am sure that, when I have done so, he will say how pleased he is to have been put right.

The section from which I shall quote is headed "Control and enforcement" and it states: Josie Simpson reported his disappointment at a recent pelagic enforcement and monitoring committee meeting where it was made clear the fisheries department intend to leave it up to the industry to clean up over-quota landings. Will that do for the hon. Gentleman, or would he like me to quote more? There it is, in black and white.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton

I want to make some progress. The hon. Gentleman will probably want to intervene later, when I start dealing with the part of the world that he represents. [Interruption.] I know that he represents Orkney and Shetland. I shall deal with issues relating to that area later: that is precisely what I meant a few minutes ago. I wish that Labour Members would not get so excited. They should settle down and do a bit of listening.

The fishing industry's problem was summed up in Fishing News a few weeks ago. The Minister asserted: A single European fleet is just not going to happen. The UK will never agree to it". That is in the same vein as the Prime Minister's description of the European Union in a speech he made in Birmingham on 23 November. He said: We have a vision for Europe as a union of nations working more closely together, not a federal superstate submerging national identity. It appears to me, and to many others, that perhaps neither gentleman has studied existing European Union treaties, especially in relation to future fisheries integration.

The statement in Fishing News continues: Spain is totally isolated on this approach, which also fuels arguments for EU permits which we would strongly resist. The permit system—or call it what you will—is already an obligation under the treaty of Corfu. It is required to be operating before the end of 2002. Spain—this answers a point raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) earlier—can veto any issue when a discriminatory transitional derogation is sought, which includes the six and 12-mile limits. The Minister expressed support for that.

The situation today is exactly the same as that which was clearly explained here, during debates in 1971 and 1972, by Labour Members—the now Lord Healey, and the late Lords Shore and Jay. The Commission's press release of 4 December confirms its intention to reduce the TAC for associated stocks". That, and reducing fishing effort, that is time spent at sea by fishing vessels", will be controlled by special fishing permits.

The Prime Minister said: The tragedy for British politics—for Britain—has been that politicians of both parties have consistently failed, not just in the 1950s but on up to the present day, to appreciate the emerging reality of European integration. And in doing so, they have failed Britain's interest". There is some truth in that statement—the Government do fail to see the reality of fisheries integration—but, as usual, what the Prime Minister says and what he does are opposites. The experience of fisheries integration over the past 19 years has created the greatest social and environmental disaster that mankind could devise, the price of which our fishermen pay every working day of their lives.

Mr. Morley

I shall not defend the workings of the current common fisheries policy, which certainly need to be changed. Let me put the hon. Lady right on one point, however. I refer to the assertion, well known in the fishing industry, that we will all have to have European fishing permits. The permits required by the treaty of Corfu are already in effect, and apply to western waters management. They have not been used to supersede national permits or control, and they will not be: there is no reason why they should be.

Another issue that often causes concern is coastal limits. It is not true that there is a veto. Unless anyone challenges them, coastal limits will automatically be "rolled over" after 2002. Even if they are challenged, qualified majority voting will be involved—and I have no doubt that a qualified majority is in favour of retaining coastal limits.

Mrs. Winterton

I am sure that the fishing industry will be glad of those assurances—assurances about a matter that is yet to be decided. The Minister referred to qualified majority voting; I am pleased that he is confident of obtaining support in the numbers he requires, but I must admit to remaining concerned about the position. I shall wait to see whether he can deliver what he says he can deliver, but I believe that the case that I have presented is absolutely correct.

The Prime Minister surely cannot believe that wiping out the British fishing industry and marine stocks is in Britain's interests. No wonder the Liberal Democrats' spokesman for environment, food and rural affairs challenged the Government to put the environment at the heart of policy in an article in the September edition of The Parliamentary Monitor. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrat policy proposes a lot of mini-CFPs. We can only conclude that both the Liberal Democrats and the Prime Minister indirectly support the dumping of dead prime fish back in the sea—which will cause pollution—the breaking of the marine food chain, and the marketing of baby fish in southern Europe.

The present quota system has one more year to run. The system, which is in itself a derogation from equal access to a common resource, will have run its course on 31 December 2002. Today's debate takes place just before the Minister goes to negotiate the new TACs, and other matters, at the Council of Fisheries Ministers. As he said, the Commission has already announced further devastating cuts to quotas as a basis for discussion—cuts that fall below even what scientists have recommended.

There is an established pattern to those negotiations, which means that whatever concessions the Minister can wring out on behalf of the UK will be considered to be an improvement on the worst case scenario. Let us not be fooled. The situation is dire and we are witnessing the slow death of our industry by a thousand cuts.

The Minister has told us in the past that fishermen have to accept the continuing cuts in quota in the name of conservation. How, therefore, can the Commission justify the cutting back of quota for dover sole by 40 per cent., or 320 tonnes, in area 7E of the south-west coast of England, while allowing an increase in plaice quota of 6 per cent., or 330 tonnes, for the same area of sea, in order to conserve fish? It is well known that the species are caught together in the beam trawling fishery, just as cod and coley are caught in single and twin demersal trawls.

The direct result of those quota decisions will be yet further dumping. That unhappy practice, together with juvenile discards, was highlighted more than a decade ago by the industry and included in the Commission's 1991 report. Since then, little progress has been made because of the rigidity of the system. I hope that the editorial comment in last week's Fishing News is correct and a more balanced view will be taken. The editorial stated: There can be no greater indictment of the European Commission's failure to run the CFP properly than its own report on enforcement of fishery regulation. The inadequacy and patent lack of uniformity in the enforcement regimes across the EU have been apparent for many years. The Commission has been aware of these failures for years but they have still not been addressed.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

The hon. Lady mentioned a time a decade ago. According to my maths, the Conservatives were in government then. Why did they not do anything about it then?

Mrs. Winterton

The hon. Gentleman is new and perhaps he does not understand the cause of the problem, which is the rigidity in the system. It is the Commission that runs the policy and it is for the Commission to enforce it. [Interruption.] I have just read him a bit from Fishing News. Perhaps he read it, or perhaps he would like to go to the Library and read it again. If he did, he would see who is to blame.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

The hon. Lady may have forgotten that there was a Conservative Government 10 years ago, but I hope that she has not forgotten that it was the Conservative Government who took us into the CFP in the first place.

Mrs. Winterton

No, how could I have forgotten that? I am not trying to make cheap party political points—[Interruption.] I am trying to get to the truth of why our fish stocks are as low as they are, why our fishermen are going out of business because it is too difficult for them to continue and what we will do, in this country and elsewhere, to encourage good environmental management and to ensure that the ecosystems in the sea can recover so that the fish stocks can recover. This is an important issue. Hon. Members on both sides might guffaw about it, but it is not they who go out fishing every week: they sit around in a comfortable, warm and safe place.

Mr. Doranrose—

Mrs. Winterton

No, I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman because I am going to make progress with my speech.

Andrew Georgerose—

Mrs. Winterton

I am not giving way to that hon. Gentleman either. Let him make his own speech and he can give way to me.

On 1 January 1999, the Minister introduced a system of fixed quota allocations, on the basis that that was what the industry wanted—[Interruption.] Yes, a majority wanted it, although many indicated other views in their responses to the consultation paper. The introduction of that system has denied fishermen the opportunity to improve their businesses. They now have to pay money for the additional quota that they need to remain viable. Many fishermen have no financial means to do this and are being forced to leave the industry due to financial constraints.

Schemes using public funds for the benefit of some fishermen have been introduced. This time last week the Commission issued a press release: The Commission opens investigations into UK aid schemes involving purchase and leasing of fish quota". That is a very serious situation and refers to a purchasing company supported by the Shetland and Orkney islands councils. When that project was formulated on the recommendation of John Goodlad, chief executive of the Shetland Fish Producers Organisation and also secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, who is due to step down from those posts at the end of this month, certain Shetland fishermen suggested that the Commission's authorisation should be sought before proceeding.

In the fisheries debate on 15 December 1998, the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), whom I am delighted to see in her place this afternoon—

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

As usual.

Mrs. Winterton

Indeed. The hon. Lady is a keen attender of fisheries debates for the simple reason that she has a strong constituency interest. In the debate in 1998, she quoted from a letter the Minister wrote in the 4 December 1998 edition of Fishing News, which gave support to that kind of scheme. In fact, the Minister visited Shetland and when he appeared before the Agriculture Committee on 22 June 1999, he confirmed that he fully encouraged such schemes. The Liberal Democrats also encouraged that approach.

In the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 30 November 2001, John Goodlad is quoted as saying: I am perfectly satisfied that the scheme does not breach any Community aid rules whatsoever. All the discussions we have had with the Scottish executive and the Commission confirm this to be the case". However, Shetland councillor, Drew Ratter, was quoted as saying: I am absolutely stunned. The European Commission had a very good look at this before and there was an in-depth investigation. Everyone was informed". In the same report, Alan Coghill, chief executive of the Orkney Fish Producers Organisation is quoted as saying that he suspects that a jealous Euro MP may be behind the investigation". I understand that it was indeed a Member of the European Parliament who initially prompted that investigation. I believe that that MEP is a member of the Labour group. Indeed, I understand that it was Mr. Gordon Adam.

Mr. Carmichael

I am loth to interrupt the hon. Lady but she has now singled out no fewer than four constituents of mine for particular comment, all of whom are well respected in the fishing industry. With every moment of her speech I can feel the Tory vote in Orkney and Shetland ebbing away. Would the Conservative party be prepared to be as fulsome in its support of the Orkney and Shetland islands councils' position on the purchase and leasing of quota on commercial grounds as the Minister has been this afternoon?

Mrs. Winterton

Of course we would be equally supportive, as long as we know—I am sure that the Minister agrees with this point—that it has not broken any rules or regulations. I will shortly describe the procedure that must be followed, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to intervene later on that point. I am sure that he would not support knowingly breaking the rules, because that is not the way forward.

The establishment of a similar enterprise, the Duchy Fish Quota Company, which is backed by Cornwall county council, has been seriously affected by the investigation. Advice about setting up the scheme had been obtained from the organisers of the Shetland scheme. In the Western Morning News of 3 December, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, Nathan de Rozarieux—a good Cornish name—was quoted as saying that the Commission investigation was a shock and a setback that could cause up to two years of delays.

Unfortunately, the matter is far more serious and goes much further than the Commission's investigation. Applications for such schemes must be made in advance. When an application is received and approved by the Commission, notification of approval is published in the Official Journal. If that process is not completed, the Commission will open an investigation, as it has with the Orkney and Shetland scheme, that can take up to 18 months to finish.

Annual reports have to be submitted to the Commission for such approved schemes. Have any annual reports been filed for the Orkney and Shetland scheme? It is puzzling that the scheme should have been operating for some time, and one wonders whether the Commission has turned a blind eye to its existence. If Community rules are found to have been broken in respect of a scheme operated without the Commission's approval, the member state is charged with the responsibility of taking back the money given in state aid, plus interest.

It will not escape the House that if the Commission finds against a scheme, the amount of money involved is considerable. It will have been paid over several years and will run in advance for the 18 months or so that the investigation may last before it concludes. That is a serious issue for the fishermen concerned. If the Commission finds that the rules have been broken, it will expect the Government to take full responsibility. Indeed, they have a moral duty to do so, as in the past they have publicly supported the scheme.

Save Britain's Fish and the Fishermen's Association Ltd. have warned for years that the devil was in the detail, and attracted much scorn from all sides in the process. Those who support the common fisheries policy must base their judgments not on wishful thinking, but on fact.

I wanted to speak at length about the effort restrictions that apply to western waters and the Baltic, and to ask how many kilowatt days the United Kingdom is to lose next year. The Minister knows that we are exceeding the kilowatt days allocation, but how does he believe that vessels will obtain the necessary licences to rectify the under-declared overcapacity in engines by 2004? However, I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, so those matters will have to wait for another debate.

In fisheries debates, we often hear the cry that too many vessels are chasing too few fish, yet, in the name of conservation, we are told that vessels must be decommissioned. That is strange, given that the quota is left intact to be reused. The Government—except for the Treasury—do not support a tie-up scheme, because that is all about getting rid of British vessels, not conservation.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)

Will my hon. Friend throw some light on the practice of klondiking? We in land-locked Leominster would be grateful to know more about the process, which allows a vessel to unload its quota or catch on to other vessels and thus to continue to fish 24 hours a day.

Mrs. Winterton

The fishing industry has all sorts of wheezes to deploy in the system of quota management. My hon. Friend gave one example, and I could give him others. The important matter is how we can restore fish stocks sufficiently to allow a viable and sustainable fishing industry in the future.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

Does my hon. Friend accept that klondiking strips the seas of our fish stocks and so prevents recovery? In respect of reform of the CFP and other matters that will arise in the next year, should not the Government's policy be to prevent that and other practices, which are destroying our fish stocks?

Mrs. Winterton

My hon. Friend is right, and makes his point clearly.

The primary issue at stake is the development of sustainable policies to guard the marine environment and ecosystems, and thereby increase fish stocks. We know that different stocks are in flux as a result of global warming. The rigidity of the present quota system means that fishermen will catch species that are different from those specified in the 1974 to 1978 reference period. That problem will be exacerbated by the Minister fixing the quota for each vessel. As a result, catches will either be landed as black fish, or dumped.

The Minister has indicated his dislike of industrial fishing on numerous occasions. We share that dislike. I accept that he secured a restriction for the birds around Wee Bankie, but the three vessels allowed in for scientific purposes seem to have had a field day with sand eels and juvenile haddock. It is nothing short of a disgrace that the sand eel total allowable catch has been reduced by only 20 per cent., to 816,000 tonnes. I hope that he makes sure that that TAC is no more than 200,000 tonnes for the next year. The present proposals are an insult to the demersal fishermen, and we must remember that industrial trawlers are not even catching their quota. The potential for even more damage to fish stocks is therefore inherent in the system.

Another saying often heard is that fish know no boundaries. How right that is, as fish clear off to better waters when there is no food. How can fish stocks be expected to increase when the food chain is being destroyed? In the Barents sea, cod turned to cannibalism and took longer to grow, and the same is happening now with North sea haddock.

Industrial fishermen were even allowed into the areas closed for spawning cod earlier this year. To catch sand eels, they used nets through which it would be difficult to push a knitting needle. Moreover, the closed areas for cod were designated using British vessel log books and past records, but they did not match the spawning grounds and were applied only after half the cod had already spawned.

Where were the demersal vessels to go? They had no alternative other than to go to the very areas that the fishermen wanted to avoid—those with juvenile haddock stocks that needed to be conserved for the 2002 catch.

Parliament has allowed this system of integration in order to fulfil treaty obligations. It has resulted in fishermen being criminalised, and it has been the reason for decreasing fish stocks. It is no use our blaming European fishermen for making the most of every opportunity that is handed to them on a plate.

As we enter the final year of the integration process, I hope that the Minister will not continue to believe that a derogation permanently overrides a treaty. I trust that he fully understands the aces that nations such as Spain hold. The Government and the Liberal Democrat party would like the 12-mile derogation to be made permanent, but I challenge the Minister and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for St. Ives to say how such permanency might be secured. Given that they want to make the 12-mile limit permanent, the Minister should also explain what happened to the 12 to 200 mile median-line limit established by the then Labour Government with the Fishery Limits Act 1976.

The problem for European marine stocks is political, stemming from the move for political integration to establish the superstate. The Prime Minister asserts that that will not happen, but page 34 of volume 1 of the Commission Green Paper refers to ensuring that the governance remains compatible with the legal and institutional framework of the Treaty". It is there in black and white.

Let me make very clear the difference between the political parties' policies. The Scottish nationalists cannot wait to sign up to the acquis communautaire, handing what they deem a Scottish living marine resource to the European Union, to be shared equally with all the present and future member states, including Austria and Luxembourg, which are landlocked countries.

Mr. Salmond

I do not believe that Austria poses a mortal threat to the Scottish fishing industry at present. Nor has the Scottish National party ever supported the acquis communautaire. We are strong supporters of relative stability, which I hope is being secured.

Can the hon. Lady confirm that it was a Conservative Government who, only six years ago, unnecessarily traded accelerated Spanish access to western waters in return for support from Spain on qualified majority voting on a matter that had nothing to do with fishing?

Mrs. Winterton

The hon. Gentleman says that Austria is not a threat, but my point is that countries such as Austria and Luxembourg, which have no sea, will be able to buy in an equal part of the fishing in the European pond.

Mr. Salmond

Scotland is not represented equally or often at all.

Mrs. Winterton

I will ignore that remark.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the previous Conservative Government. Has anything changed in the meantime? It is still all about horse trading, which is what the problem will be at the end of 2002.

Mr. Savidge


Mrs. Winterton


I have known the Minister for a number of years because we both served on the Agriculture Select Committee. I often think that he must feel uncomfortable in his present position because he is a tremendous environmentalist. I hope that he will hold his views to the fore and come round to a situation in which we can save the marine environment. My goodness, at the rate it is going, there will not be one left to save very shortly.

The Liberal Democrats fully support the acquis communautaire but think that they can break the common fisheries policy down into smaller chunks. That, in theory, could be achieved now and need not wait until 2003. Ensuring that competency is given to those regions is a different matter. The Government go along with the concept of reform, which is disingenuous. How can reform be achieved to benefit British fishermen when, by definition, it means disadvantaging other countries? Reform is a smokescreen for doing little but tinker at the edges.

Andrew George

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Doran

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton

I am going to make progress. I have been generous in giving way.

The Conservative party believes in returning fisheries policy to national control to enable us to get to grips quickly with a very fluid conservation situation. We can achieve genuine co-operation among member states, for everyone's benefit, with reciprocal arrangements. That is the only way forward for the survival of not only the British fishing industry but of all the fishing fleets of other member states. Conservative policy has at its very heart the conservation and sustainability of fish stocks.

The present policy is a travesty under the guise of conservation and a prime example of the abuse of a valuable national resource. Such a sacrifice must not be allowed to continue. We have a duty to ensure that our national interest is protected with the restoration of competence to the place where it traditionally and rightfully belongs.

Andrew George

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. She is attempting to explain Conservative policy, after her rather vain attempt to rubbish the policies of others. Could she dwell a little longer on Tory policy as explained in the Conservative manifesto? It says that the Conservatives will seek national or local control over our waters, to be established through zonal management, coastal management or in some other way. I am sure that that is clear to everybody. Will she elaborate on how that is to be achieved?

Mrs. Winterton

I always believe that one good quote deserves another. How does the Liberal Democrat party propose to achieve its policy? I remember the hon. Gentleman speaking in a fishing policy debate on 23 July 1997. I wonder whether he has a selective memory. He said: By regional, I mean that we need to consider the relative merits of natural regions such as the North, Celtic and Baltic seas, where boundaries coincide with the general range of a particular stock and coastal state management as favoured by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, operating up to the median line. The crucial point is that such semi-autonomous regions should be given the power and flexibility to determine the management systems best suited to their needs."—[Official Report, 23 July 1997; Vol. 298, c.893.] When he speaks, perhaps he will explain how he and his party will acquire the power to carry out his policy.

Bob Spink

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Winterton

No, I intend to continue with my speech.

I want to look elsewhere in the world for a moment. Global warming moved the cod from Canadian waters, not overfishing—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for St. Ives listens, he might learn something. Because of the bloom of shrimp, scallop and crab, the landings there today are far greater than they ever were with the cod. The Canadians developed from a Norwegian idea the separator grid, which gave them a virtually clean fishery. The lessons to be learned from their experiences are that we have to move quickly with gear development for the changing global circumstances and not build vessels or processing plants that depend on one species alone.

The world's great success story is Namibia. Three years after gaining independence, the hake recovery was hailed as simply miraculous. That is an example of what national control can achieve.

I regret that the fisheries debate this year could not have been held after the Commission's report. I understand from the Minister that the basic fisheries conservation regulation is due to be introduced in January next year. It will be interesting to see, under article 43 of the treaty, whether the Commission recommends any further transitional derogations in the run-up to 1 January 2003, which is only a year away. I rather suspect that it will, and the ensuing horse trading—seahorse trading—will leave plenty of blood on the carpet.

The price of agreeing to renew the six and 12-mile limit derogation for a further period may be extremely high. It might even include Spain securing the right of a European Union-wide trading system for quota—with, of course, Gibraltar thrown in for good measure—leaving the Spanish industry in a predatory pole position to take over, for example, a further weakened Scottish fleet. After all. Spain always manages to gain financial advantages from European Union funds. It recently benefited from a further award of £122 million, so it has plenty of money with which to achieve its long-term aims.

I trust that a further debate will be secured to consider the implications of this important matter so that the House does not fail Britain's interests. We wish the Minister well in his negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

3.40 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

As someone who has attended and spoken in even more fishery debates than the 191 claimed by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), and given my even more frequent attempts to become the Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to win his approval, I note that this annual fish fest occurs in a more difficult and uncertain atmosphere than ever before. Usually, the Minister attends the debate and then goes off to negotiate an agreement, but at present there are so many uncertainties that the situation has become extremely complicated.

Much attention has been devoted to the review of the common fisheries policy that will take place next year. That review opens up huge issues such as zonal management, which of course we all support, and relative stability. With regard to that, I draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to the problems of Spanish and Portuguese access. They will eventually have access to the North sea for non-quota stocks, but as there are bound to be by-catches, the fishing organisations are worried that the Spanish and Portuguese will establish a track record in quota stocks as by-catches to the quota stocks that they catch, thus giving them a foothold in that area. There are implications for the new entrants: for example, the Poles will eventually have access on the same basis as Spain and Portugal. We should consider that question.

There is also uncertainty because so many aspects have not yet been settled, largely due to the breakdown of the talks with Norway on blue whiting—a necessary form of currency for exchange with Norway. It is pointless to catch blue whiting merely for industrial purposes and to grind it into fishmeal. The fish is edible and can be used as a currency swop for cod—to obtain increased cod quota from Norway—which is vital for the big Humberside industry that we hope will be maintained. It is a shame that the talks have broken down and I hope that my hon. Friend can give us some reassurance about that. Will the 2.9 per cent. EC share of north-east Arctic cod—small though it is—be maintained? That, too, is crucial to the Humberside industry.

A further uncertainty is the conservation problem. We do not know what is happening. As yet, there has been no study of the effects of the cod and hake preservation plans. We are making decisions about TACs and quotas before we know about the reduction in the scale of the industry. Scotland generously allocated about £25 million for decommissioning while the English Government scraped together a pathetic £6 million for the English industry after emptying every piggy bank in DEFRA—and after foot and mouth, DEFRA does not have many piggy banks left. What effect will that have on the conservation problem?

What effect will the reduction in the fleet have on the multi-annual guidance programme? The industry is losing faith in that programme and it needs to be revised.

In addition, the Commission chucked a bombshell into all that uncertainty on 4 December. The industry had been looking forward to a minor increase in catches—certainly in the North sea—based on scientific advice. Although it was a small increase, it was helpful, but the Commission announced, in effect, that it was going to cut back on what had been recommended. I can see no reason for that, unless the Commission is anxious to safeguard its position by saying, "We are more virtuous. We are purer than pure, and if anything goes wrong we are not to blame because we recommended cutting back on what the scientists proposed." Why has that happened?

My hon. Friend said that he will oppose that cut. The whole industry will be grateful for that. We cannot have these unilateral excursions, whereby the Commission decides unilaterally to abandon scientific advice. We have taken great trouble to establish a proper working relationship between fishermen and the scientists. That is developing especially well in Scotland—the relationship is healthier there than in the rest of the country. Having gone to the trouble of developing that relationship, it is pointless for the Commission to torpedo the scientific recommendations. Some scientists say that that decision is nonsense. They will not say so publicly, unfortunately, but it is nonsense.

The Commission is moving to an ominous new basis for drawing up its management policy for fisheries. The basis for its judgments is now to be the optimum biological solution. That sounds good and indeed it is good—that is what we all want—but fishing is also an economic activity. We must emphasise that: it is an economic activity on which communities depend and which produces a living for fishermen all over the country. If it is to be viewed solely in terms of optimum biological solutions, it will be only one factor in a biological matrix. However, it must also be considered from the economic point of view. That is crucial. Unless the economic importance of fishing is recognised in the conservation measures, they will be circumvented.

A bankrupt or failing industry will not obey the rules—it will try to cheat. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations put that more politely in its submission to its members by noting that there would be "circumvented measures". That means that people will cheat. There will be black landings and illegal practices. Stocks will be damaged. Fishermen will be driven to those practices by their financial situation. We must acknowledge the importance of economic factors in keeping the industry going.

Conservation must take account of the economics of fishing. Any measures that the Government or the Commission adopt must be properly financed. For example, technical measures will be introduced next year as part of the cod and hake preservation plans. There will be an increase in mesh sizes. There will be regulations on the thickness of twine—we are getting down to details like that. There will be regulations on catch composition. All that will not only be difficult to enforce, it will inevitably mean a loss of marketable fish. If fishermen have to use a larger mesh size—as they should, because it is good practice—their catches will go down. The fish will be bigger and more marketable, but less will be caught.

The Scottish industry tells us that trials in Scotland have shown that the economic loss through those measures will be twice as much as the Commission has suggested. There must be financial support from the Government or from the Commission. The industry does not care where the money comes from as long as it comes. The Industry needs that incentive to help it to implement and comply with the measures and to ensure effective enforcement.

If the industry does not receive help, it will be hit by the same double whammy that has been described over the years in all those 191 fishing debates. Measures are constantly imposed on the industry from Europe: cuts in quota; regulation of days at sea; attempts at reduction and various conservation measures. No doubt they are all important. However, it does not receive the financial help from the Government—it certainly did not under the Conservatives—that comparable European industries receive.

My hon. Friend referred to the ending of the Moroccan agreement. The Spanish industry will be generously compensated for that and we shall pay towards that compensation. If there was a similar rundown in the British industry, British fishermen would receive no compensation because the British Government will not pay out the money. Because of the problems of the Luxembourg agreement and the threat to the rebate—

Mr. Morley


Mr. Mitchell

I hope that my hon. Friend will not complicate the matter—I do not understand the Luxembourg agreement.

Mr. Morley

The loss of the Moroccan fisheries agreement is very comparable to the United Kingdom's loss of the Iceland fishery, in which case it is a complete fishery gone—there is nowhere for the boats to go. In those circumstances, there was a lot of Government compensation for the distant-water fleets. The compensation for the crews was not very fair, but my hon. Friend and my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) played a very important role in putting right that wrong under this Government.

Mr. Mitchell

That is certainly true, and the fishermen and the industry are grateful that that happened; it was right that it should happen. However, the point that I am making is that Spain is getting compensation from Europe now because the fishing has stopped now, and that compensation is more generous than that paid to the British industry. It is certainly more generous than that paid to the British fishermen—they got nothing when that happened in 1976. We did not get an allowance for the loss of those waters in subsequent quotas and catches.

There is a need to support and help the industry. When the industry is forced to obey European measures, it should not be hit by a refusal to pay European compensation or British Government money. The Treasury shows no sign of understanding the economic importance or the relevance of fishing.

Bob Spink

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority and passion and I always enjoy listening to him. Of course, the Opposition agree that we must adequately compensate our fishermen, but he is avoiding the root cause of the problem. Surely he, above all people, will accept that the cause of the problem over the past 20 years has been the common fisheries policy, which has failed. It has failed our fishing communities and the fishermen themselves, and it has failed to conserve fish stocks. Our industry has been decimated by Europe. Is it not about time that he came clean for his constituents and agreed that the best way forward now is not to tinker with that policy, as the Labour Government will do—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. Interventions should be brief. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could come to the point.

Bob Spink

Instead, the Government should follow a Conservative policy by establishing area sector controls and national controls for this country so that we can conserve our stocks.

Mr. Mitchell

Flattery will get the hon. Gentleman a long way, but it will not get me to support Conservative party policy. I have to point out to him that the Conservative Government did nothing about this issue. In 1972, the Conservative Government sold the pass on the common fisheries policy, as the memoir written by the appropriately named Sir Con O'Neill showed at the time. He was asked to abdicate the fight over the common fisheries policy so that he could move towards getting the greater good, which was entry, and nothing has been done since.

In passing, I have to agree that life would be much easier if we could control our own destinies—I would like that, too—because we controlled our own waters. That is why other industries have been more successful than ours, and why it has faced those difficulties. The hon. Gentleman's flattery has got me to admit that much any way, but the point that I am making is more simple than that. When those measures bite and are successful, catches will begin to increase, the preservation plans will work and we shall have more cod and hake, but if we are to encourage the industry to survive, we have to help it financially through the transition.

I am delighted that the NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation have co-operated with the World Wide Fund for Nature in its cost-benefit study on the benefits of investing in fishing. I emphasise the word "investment", because my hon. Friend the Minister has said that he will not support vessels to do nothing or tie-up schemes, but this is about investment in the industry's future. That study shows—this is a preliminary indication only—that investment of £590 million over 10 years will produce a return 14 times that sum in the increase in the British industry's catches.

The value of those catches will increase to £7.638 billion as a consequence of that investment. That really is investment, and we should make an intelligent case for it. Such a case will not necessarily appeal to the Treasury—muscle is more important there—but the industry is producing an intelligent case for that investment, and I hope that my hon. Friend and the Treasury will consider it seriously.

Usually, in fisheries debates, I urge my hon. Friend to take a strong stand. I know that he will; he has committed himself to doing so and the industry trusts him. It is fed up with Europe, true, but it trusts him because it knows that he understands the industry and that he will fight the cuts, but he has to do other things as well. He is as concerned about industrial fishing as I am and he will oppose it. Industrial fishing is a disaster when we are trying to build up stocks because of the by-catches.

An item in the Fishing News, about which I wrote to my hon. Friend in October, states that one Danish industrial vessel was tied up for catching too much immature haddock in its by-catches. The Grimsby Fish Producers Organisation worked out that that 114-tonne industrial catch of juvenile fish, which was landed illegally in Denmark, would have amounted to 912 tonnes of mature fish if they had been allowed to grow. That is a third more than the entire Grimsby haddock quota of 600 tonnes.

Those are the figures, and they show what was ruined and the damage done to the stocks by industrial fishing. If that estimate is increased to cover 40 vessels, to make allowance for the scale of other catches, the fish that did not grow to maturity would have equalled the United Kingdom's entire 40,000-tonne haddock quota. That is terrible and frightening, and it is a direct consequence of industrial fishing, so I hope that we can ban such fishing because we cannot have effective conservation without stopping industrial fishing.

I also hope that my hon. Friend will invoke The Hague preference to protect our catches. The very small increase in the total allowable catch for North sea cod will leave the share of United Kingdom cod below the trigger point, so we can invoke The Hague preference and should do so for those areas that are dependent on fishing. Unfortunately, they are north of Grimsby, but I am making an altruistic gesture.

My hon. Friend knows the importance of research, but we should attach enormous importance to more research. Frankly, we do not know what is going on. Other hon. Members have mentioned the warming of the waters, but the Grimsby FPO says that in the 1980s the English fishing fleet was reduced by 50 per cent. It was reduced by another 75 per cent. in the 1990s, yet we still have a conservation crisis, so something more than the fishing effort is causing the problem.

The scientists inform us that the fish in the North sea stocks under survey—those that they are researching—are not now reaching the size and weight appropriate to their age. Why is that? The explanation that is most often put forward involves climatic change and global warming. The food source for the cod larvae—the phytoplanktonhas—decreased because the waters are warming. The fact that the waters are warming is causing the cod to migrate north, so there are more cod further north.

We are finding unusual species even in the North sea. There are increases in red mullet, bass and strangers. A swordfish was washed up on the Lincolnshire coast—the costa del caravan. I read in Fishing News this week that a barracuda has been caught off Cornwall—it probably has not yet joined the Liberal Democrats there—and that suggests that the waters are warming.

We need to examine the problem so that we understand what is happening, how much can be done through changes to fishing practice and how much is due to circumstances beyond our control. We cannot have a proper policy unless we understand the problem.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), with whom I usually work closely, will object, I must mention the fact that the Grimsby FPO says that there is a seal population explosion and that something must be done about that. I know that she is an animal lover but, if fish catches are down and quotas are to be reduced, why should the seal population not be culled to its previous level? A growing seal population is targeting a smaller number of fish.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)


Mr. Mitchell

I knew this would happen, so I give way.

Shona McIsaac

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way, but I was probably more incensed by the reference to the costa del caravan.

My hon. Friend mentioned the seal population explosion, but what scientific evidence does he have for his claim? What evidence from scientific research shows the impact on fishing stocks?

Mr. Mitchell

I must admit that the evidence is a priori and largely in my head, but it is reinforced by complaints made by fishermen. Seals are a problem and I am asking for more research to be carried out. It stands to reason that an increasing seal population must have an effect on the number of fish.

Other problems need to be considered in the round. For example, aggregates dredging must damage fishing. I noticed that the Dutch have banned aggregates dredging entirely and that they import their aggregates from us. We dredge them up in the North sea with consequent damage to the fishing grounds.

I have also written to my hon. Friend the Minister about power stations and industrial complexes. Fish are killed in the intake pipes of the power stations on Humberside. That is a problem and we need to understand all aspects of it, so that we can devise an overall policy that supports fish stocks.

Shona McIsaac

My hon. Friend has mentioned the power stations on Humberside. As he is well aware, they are mainly located in my constituency. They take fresh water from the River Humber, which is obviously not as saline as the water out at sea. Therefore, different species are involved, so he cannot blame the power stations in my constituency for reductions in cod stocks.

Mr. Mitchell

Loth as I am to disagree with my hon. Friend on any occasion, and closely as we always co-operate, edible fish, including haddock, are found dead in the intakes to the power stations. The problem goes wider than riverine fish, and we need to have a policy on the issue. If we are to build more power stations and if it is possible to prevent fish stocks from being destroyed, we should surely act because we have a conservation crisis on our hands.

We cannot regulate in the dark, but we are being asked to accept arguments that we do not know can he supported and that are based on fairly shaky evidence. There is a genuine dispute not only between the fishermen and the scientists, but between the Commission and the scientists. My argument is for more light to be shed on the problem. Because there are so many generators in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, I am sure that she will not argue with that. There is a measure of common ground between us on that at least. Ocean research cannot be left to the BBC. Such work is an important part of the role of DEFRA.

I am sorry that I have gone on for so long, but the discussion is based on an uncertainty that is bad for fishing. The industry has been badly battered over the past few years, and it is in a desperate financial state. Many of the vessels fishing are not viable in that they do not produce a return or support the fishermen who operate them. Some improvement will result from the decommissioning that will take out vessels in Scotland and England, but I fear that that will not be enough to return the industry to viability. We expected a slightly better deal for the North sea and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) has pointed out, we have a damaging status quo in the Irish sea.

I wish my hon. Friend the Minister all power, because he carries a major burden in trying to bring certainty to an industry when the Commission pulls one way and the scientific evidence is not available. The industry needs a national plan and the confidence that the Government will sustain it through the difficulties that it faces. It wants to be assured that the Government will resist the mercurial ups and downs of the Commission and support it by investment so that it will be seen through the problems that will undoubtedly arise. If British vessels go bust, fold up or leave the industry, we must not allow licences to be bought out by better financed industries that are supported by their Governments in a way that ours is not.

4.6 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives)

I congratulate the Minister on securing this debate.

I associate myself with the sympathies that the Minister extended to the families of the nine fishermen who have died in the industry this year. As he knows, I have pursued this issue inside and outside the Chamber, because it is unacceptable that the fishing industry appears to accept far higher fatality levels than any other industry. Further measures are certainly needed. The training and training grants that he mentioned are very welcome.

The debate focuses on the Green Paper on the reform of the common fisheries policy in a climate in which, as the Minister knows only too well, difficult negotiations are due to take place on 17 and 18 December. Therefore, it is inevitable that the debate will concentrate on how we can carve out a long-term future for the industry through the renegotiation of the CFP while dealing with the short-term issues relating to the stock numbers and species that the Minister highlighted in his speech.

Despite the doom-and-gloom merchants, who are mainly on the Conservative Benches—all one of them at present—it is encouraging that we now have the best opportunity in a generation for sensible reform of the CFP. All sensible political parties are concerned about the future of the CFP, and we now have an opportunity to renegotiate it.

We welcome many elements of the Commission's Green Paper. The fact that it recognises that the CFP has not delivered sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources acknowledges the policy's fundamental failure. Since 1986, the Liberal Democrats have published our policy on the matter and we were the first political party to argue for devolved powers within the CFP through a reformed mechanism. The Green Paper also clearly recommends devolving serious powers to regional coastal fisheries committees. We must encourage that, and I was pleased to hear the Minister again welcome it. We must push for that in the reform of the common fisheries policy.

We welcome the recognition of the need to introduce technical measures to achieve more selective catches. The Minister welcomed multi-annual quotas, for which, as he knows, I have pushed for some time. We need to break out of the annual eleventh-hour brinkmanship that takes place when we carve up quota. The ability to plan is important. The continuation of the six and 12-mile zones and the retention of relative stability, which are recognised in the Green Paper, should be welcomed. I hope that with the Minister's support we have reason to be optimistic that we will achieve that in negotiations by the end of next year.

Having said that, we need a clearer statement of effective and stronger devolution. That needs to be spelled out in policy so that we know how it will be achieved. If we give fishermen in the regions power, we also give them responsibility. As it would be down to them if they got things wrong, it is important that they are genuine stakeholders in the regional management committees. It is essential that they work with representatives of Departments from all nation states that have an interest in that area and with fisheries scientists so that it is possible to focus on a natural fishing region and to plan for its future with clarity.

I welcome the Green Paper. It is important that we move away from the doom-and-gloom view expressed mainly by Conservative Members. The industry needs a long-term policy. History shows that fishermen and politicians do not always go together well, and it seems inevitable that there is a process of short-term reactive and piecemeal policy making for the fishing industry. That is why the Agriculture Select Committee, of which I was a member, was right to recommend in July 1999 that the Government establish a clear long-term strategy for the United Kingdom's fishing industry. That recommendation received an enthusiastic response from the Minister and the Government two and a half years ago and was welcomed in a written answer on 4 December 2001, just two days ago. However, little progress has been made.

I hope that the Minister will ensure not only that we get strong and effective renegotiation of the CFP, but that we have a clear UK strategy on where the industry is going and how it will get there. There is a general consensus in all parties on the need to have a sustainable industry, and it is encouraging that environmental bodies and fishing industry representatives are coming together to achieve a common accord, which was not the case some years ago.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who has left the Chamber, referred to a recent Commission report that followed requests to all member states to provide information on the success or otherwise of their enforcement measures and on what infringements were committed and what fines imposed. She was right: the report does not make good reading. Of the 15 member states, only Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria met the March deadline to submit information. The Dutch and the Spanish supplied sections that were illegible; there were serious omissions in the reports of several states, including the Italians and the Spanish; and the French refused to send a report.

The Conservatives criticise the fact that the system is failing, but go no further. We differ from them in that they do not propose a constructive solution. We have argued for some time, as the Minister knows, that there is a choice. Either we can have central European policing, which we oppose, or we devolve the matter and give nation states greater powers to make bilateral arrangements with other fishing nations so that we can carry out spot checks at any time of another nation's inspectorate and its enforcement regime. Rather than creating another centralist policy, with more centralised bureaucracy, we have a great opportunity to create common accord between nations if we are confident that the enforcement measures are transparent to everyone.

Mr. Steen

I agree entirely about the need to avoid more centralised bureaucracy, because we would end up with another layer in the Commission that would be involved in enforcement in all member states. However, we need cross-border enforcement: for example, British fishing inspectors going to Spain and vice versa. We have been talking about that for years, but nothing ever happens.

Andrew George

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If he was listening, he would have heard me recommend bilateral agreements between nations such as the UK and Spain. I apologise if I did not use terminology that he could understand. We would like bilateral arrangements between the UK and other nations implemented. I understand from discussions with the Minister that arrangements are in place for reciprocal visits by enforcement officers, especially with the Spanish. That is welcome. We need to hear more about that. The visits should be unannounced so that spot checks can be made, and that will reinforce the confidence that people have in the inspection systems of other nations.

The end of year negotiations on TACs and quotas are based on science. The Minister was right to say that if the science is clear and robust, it is important that all decisions, including difficult ones, are stuck to so that we do not jeopardise the health of fish stocks. I associate myself with those remarks. However, as he said, the science is at best flimsy, and in some cases non-existent, on a number of stocks. Fishermen would clearly want to recommend responsible increases in quota. If there is disagreement between fishermen and scientists, there must be a method by which the veracity of their evidence can be tested, which is not the case at the moment. Although scientists report to fishermen and there is some discussion—I accept that the relationship between them has improved in some ways—there is still disagreement, which results in a dialogue of the deaf. Fishermen who should be involved in the process end up as bystanders, having to make appeals to MPs in order to be heard, and that is a matter for concern. We need structurally to reform the process; for example, by appointing fishing industry representatives to the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management and other bodies. The industry should be formally represented in the process of collating evidence and testing its veracity. It is essential that it is allowed to use its own evidence in negotiations.

A great deal has been said about this year's quota allocations. The Minister knows that he will have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House if he robustly defends the science and pursues his arguments on nephrops, on the North sea cod quota and on matters where he believes that the European Commission recommendations do not reflect scientists' advice. He has our support for the agenda that he set out today.

I turn now to hake, which I mentioned in an intervention. The experience of fishermen in western waters does not match the scientific evidence. It is important that a proper recovery programme is introduced, but we must listen closely to the industry. I know that the UK industry will welcome the increased mesh sizes in area 8, in the bay of Biscay, because of deep and proper concern about the catching of juvenile fish, but that does not go far enough. Catching juvenile fish is unacceptable, and a minimum mesh size of 100 mm is not good enough. It will not protect the species, and a great deal more needs to be done. The UK industry in area 7 accepts and welcomes an increased landing size of 40 cm, and that should apply to area 8 as well.

On cod, also in area 7, once again the experience of the industry over the past year does not match the scientific advice. There is concern that the shape of monkfish, or angler fish, means that it is inevitable that large numbers will be caught as a by-catch and will need to be discarded dead, which is clearly an absurd waste. I recommend that the Minister reconsiders that issue.

I welcome the comments made by the hon. Member for Congleton, who has still not returned to her place, about the industrial fishing quota on sand eels. The UK must take a robust attitude to industrial fishing, which is the scourge of the industry as a whole and needs to be kept properly in check. I wish he well in his negotiations on 17 and 18 December.

Earlier this year, the Minister introduced welcome consultation on shellfish licensing, which has not yet been mentioned. I want to put it on record that, in a written answer to me last week, he indicated his intention to introduce measures on shellfish licensing by the end of the year. I know that almost the entire industry, and particularly the inshore sector, will welcome that. If he introduces those measures as soon as possible, he will find that he has a very supportive audience.

The Minister knows that mackerel hand liners, particularly in Cornwall and the south-west, were concerned when, only a couple of months ago, 300 tonnes of their quota were removed without any apparent negotiation. At that time, the industry was particularly buoyant, and there had been significant increases in the catch. I understand that the Minister has had further negotiations on that point.

Mr. Morley

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with the mackerel hand line industry, which is a very select and sustainable fishery. That is reflected in the generous guaranteed underpinning of the industry's catch. It is true that some of the mackerel was included in international swaps, which we have to do to ensure that we have sustainable fisheries all around the country. However, as the uptake has been higher than expected, I assure him that we will ensure that that amount of mackerel is reinstated up to the maximum amount of guaranteed underpinning.

Andrew George

I am grateful to the Minister for that welcome reassurance. I hope that in meetings to discuss the future of the mackerel box, he does not allow anyone to persuade him to consider relaxing the rules on that. There is no point in opening up trawler activity in the mackerel box. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

As the Minister knows, there has been a great deal of talk in this debate and others about the fact that the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the industry, in the shape of the NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, are keen to safeguard, through an investment programme, the long-term viability both of the industry and of fish stocks. I know that the Minister is sceptical about the figures provided by the WWF and the industry, which show about £500 million of investment generating over £7 billion of return in 10 years. I hope that he will carefully consider that programme and other forms of transitional aid to support the industry in tackling a difficult issue.

The hon. Member for Congleton went into some detail about the difficulties of quota companies. In an intervention, I spoke of the importance of ensuring that the European investigation into this matter is concluded as quickly as possible. She named a Labour MEP as the source of the subject's referral to the European Commission. I hope that the Conservatives have checked whether their representatives, whether in Europe or in local councils, raised the possibility of referral.

The Conservatives have made great play of criticising others but they have not been prepared to defend their record or explain their policy. I gave the hon. Lady an opportunity to do that. I know that many hon. Members are still unclear about what the Conservatives stand for. Do they want to pull out of the common fisheries policy and repatriate fishing with a return to national control? That is unclear, and all their statements simply add to that lack of clarity. However, we know what their record is, and if they could not achieve their aims during 18 years in government, we should take their claims in opposition with a significant pinch of salt.

I encourage the Minister to argue strongly with his counterparts in Europe for a satisfactory outcome according to the agenda that he has presented to the House today. In the coming months, he should also consider long-term measures to secure the future of the British fishing industry.

4.29 pm
Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)

I shall keep my contribution fairly short, as I know that other hon. Members on both sides want to get into the debate. I shall focus on the main issue that concerns fishermen in my constituency.

I welcome the announcement by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary this afternoon of payment for safety training courses. The matter was raised in the debate last year and 1 am pleased that it has been dealt with. I am interested in his comments about the knock-on effects of cuts in quota in some species and some areas, and the disregard for the scientific advice which suggested otherwise.

The immediate concern of fishermen in North Shields is the proposed cuts in nephrops and the proposals that might follow cuts in North sea cod. Last year's debate was dominated by the imminent closure of the cod areas. There was a clear warning from both sides of the House that that would inevitably lead to pressure on other fisheries. In particular, prawns along the North sea coast were mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) had already been informed of the intention of some of his fishermen to make that transition. I do not say that to provoke civil war between Yorkshire fishermen and Northumberland fishermen; we are all in the same boat—if the House will excuse the pun. Dennis Clark, one of my fishermen, said at the time that in his view, we were trying to solve one problem but were in danger of creating another. That has been borne out by events.

North Shields, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, is one of the top prawn ports, if not the top prawn port. There has been a great deal of activity this year. It has been quite a good year for fishermen in North Shields in that respect. Many Scottish boats are currently in port, but there is a question about whether the activity is sustainable. Prawn stocks appear to be relatively good. I was given anecdotal evidence to that effect by fishermen, but it seems to be the position taken by UK scientists as well. There was even speculation that there was room for an increase in quotas.

Hon. Members will understand the surprise and dismay among North Shields fishermen when there was talk of a cut in the nephrops quota in some areas, especially when that seemed to be against official advice. Such cuts are unexpected and unacceptable. I am heartened by the statement from my hon. Friend this afternoon about the strong line that he intends to take in the negotiations. I strongly support him in that.

It was inevitable that diversification from cod fisheries would put pressure on other fisheries. There is concern about how far that will go. Since the last debate, the worst scenario has been painted by the WWF report entitled "Now or Never", which suggests the possibility of not just a temporary problem for cod stocks in the North sea, but a permanent problem. I am not as blasé as the Conservative spokesman about the Canadian example. The wipe-out of cod stock should not be seen as an opportunity. If the situation in the North sea mirrored what happened in Canada—heaven forbid—why should we live through it, when we can read the book?

I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about the cost of action and of inaction. Whether or not we act, there will be a bill left at the end. We must address the issue of over-capacity not just in the UK fleet, but across Europe. It is a depressing prospect if only the UK and Denmark accept the need for a reduction in fleet size and in capacity. In the long term, we run the risk of running up financial and environmental costs.

These debates must be more than an annual plea for more money for the fishing industry, although we inevitably get round to the question of money. I welcome the £6 million for decommissioning this year and the £5.5 million for the fisheries regeneration initiative, but if there is a longer-term and potentially a bigger problem than the one that we face now, that figure falls short of the investment needed. I do not blame my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in any way. Fishermen have a great deal of confidence in the way that he speaks up for the industry. If the blame lies anywhere, I suppose that it lies with the Treasury. I hope that the comments from all parts of the House lend weight to my hon. Friend's arguments when he enters into discussions with the Treasury about the amount of money available.

Successive Governments have ducked the question of investment for the longer term and of how much is enough for decommissioning. Although that is only one tool, it is a necessary and important tool, but money also needs to go into fishing areas for alternative employment. The danger for the Treasury is that if we do not face up to the cost now, that will add to the cost in the future. Governments have not been good at recognising that.

Decommissioning has a knock-on effect on the facilities and infrastructure of our fishing ports. I welcome the fisheries regeneration initiative, but it is not enough, particularly if the money came, as we understand it did, from the regional development agencies' existing budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby spoke about the NFFO and WWF study on the costs and benefits of fishing, but we need a proper assessment of the economic costs and benefits of fishing and of fishing communities in a regional context in the economic strategy of the RDAs, which have a key role to play. In saying that, I may be straying beyond the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and into that of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and also, perhaps, into the realm of longer-term issues.

The immediate concern of North sea fishermen is what will happen to the quota and the pressure that they feel is being brought to bear. My hon. Friend the Minister has a difficult task and we wish him well.

4.37 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

I have spoken in most fisheries debates in the past 18 years. Such debates are a little like saying bon voyage to the Minister—waving him goodbye on the steps of the docks as he sails out to Brussels and wishing him well in his travels. The Minister is part of the fabric of the fishing industry—in fact, I think that he is the fishing industry. He has been the best fishing Minister, if not the only fishing Minister, that the Labour Government have found. Perhaps they cannot find another one.

It does not matter how long the debate runs, although I am grateful to all hon. Members for pushing for a full day's debate. Fishing policy has virtually nothing to do with the House of Commons. The whole thing is a charade. Everybody knows that fishing is to do with the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, and is subject to qualified majority voting. The Minister will no doubt remember that a few years ago, we had the debate in January, after he had come back from Brussels. That did not seem to make much difference.

The Commons has become a sort of focus group for the Minister before he goes off to the Fisheries Council, from where he returns every year with similar results—cuts in quotas and other bad news for the fishermen, but he is lifted shoulder high by fishermen who, I think, are brought in by his party. Shoulder high he goes along the docks, saying what a wonderful job he has done for the fishing industry. He tells us that the cuts would have been far worse if he had not argued so vigorously, and we all say that it did not matter anyway.

We enjoy the annual pantomime just before Christmas. I am not sure how the Minister is cast; I do not know whether he is the sugar plum fairy or plays another role. However, that rerun has been going on for 10 years or longer; it was going on when we were in office, and has continued now that we have swapped sides. It is like going to the cinema and watching the same film over and over again. The Minister makes his points and hon. Members on both sides of the House make theirs. As a result, we all say the same as we said the previous year and many years before.

The Minister knows my views on the fishing quota and the impact that cuts to it have on fishing communities such as Brixham in my constituency, where we have a fleet of about 100 ships. In spite of all the cuts, disasters and catastrophies, we still have a substantial and successful fleet. We have more than 100 boats, 1,000 fishermen and 3,000 to 4,000 industry-related jobs; it is a going concern and a great industry with a big turnover. Whatever we and the Minister do here does not seem to matter much because the fishermen go on fishing.

What is the problem with the common fisheries policy? We know that it has not worked. The deal struck in 1982 locked Britain into the highly dubious process of total allowable catches, which has run for 20 years. There was a mid-term review in 1992 but, by and large, the policy of total allowable catches has been rigidly adhered to. The Commission is now compelled to come up with proposals for the Council of Ministers on the reform of the common fisheries policy in 2003; 2002 will therefore be a significant year, as there is a genuine chance to reform the CFP.

We all know that the aim of the CFP was to ensure a fair standard of living for those in the industry, to stabilise markets, to ensure the availability of supplies and to ensure that those supplies reach consumers at a reasonable price. The policy stipulates that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into Community policies, with a view to promoting sustainable development. The CFP has fundamentally failed in nearly every one of its aims. On the conservation of fish stocks, for instance, the number of fish in the seas around our shores has decreased year by year, even though they have put up a spirited fight. Scientists have warned that, with new equipment such as sonar and new, more powerful boats, many species of fish are under threat of extinction. I remember going to meetings in the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at which experienced, erudite scientists explained why fish would not survive if we did not continue to make cuts. The fish have managed to survive. Ever more draconian cuts have not decimated the fishing stock or the fishing industry.

The whole thing is therefore a case of posturing—the fish posture; the fishermen posture; and we posture. I am not sure what the result is, but it is clear that there is an obscene situation in which, I am told, more fish are caught and thrown overboard than are landed. We do not know the exact number, because no one has weighed the whole catch. However, when there is a shortage of fish and a shortage of food in many parts of the world, it is appalling that we have a system in which more fish are thrown back into the sea than are landed simply because they do not fit a category in the total allowable catch. The CFP has therefore got to be changed so that, whatever fish is caught, it can be landed; we do not necessarily need a quota of that species.

I have discussed the matter with the Minister before, and we would go back to the tie-up proposals and consider the number of days at sea. There would be fewer boats, but fishermen would be allowed to keep all the fish that they caught; they would not have to throw them overboard before landing. Obviously, there are problems because there are 17,000 to 18,000 fishing vessels in Spain. There will be difficulties with European countries with a large number of boats that are subject to the same process. We have to move to a new process which, I believe, should be based on days at sea, vessel tie-up and being able to land all the fish that are caught.

The Commission's Green Paper is pretty good; it shows that the CFP is unworkable and many aspects of it are welcome. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and visited Spain before it assumed the presidency of the EC a few weeks ago. I was impressed by the Spanish Minister with responsibility for fisheries, who is a professional and says all the right things. He is well briefed and said all the things that we wanted to hear; he agreed that the current policy, which allows hundreds of thousands of tons of dead fish to be thrown back into the sea rather than allowing them to be landed on shore and sold is economically unjustified and immoral. He also agreed that the reform of the CFP is necessary if we are to protect fish stocks and, at the same time, ensure that maritime industries and all the onshore industries associated with fishing remain viable. He supported the proposal that the CFP should move towards regional management. The key question is whether the Minister, his Spanish counterpart and others have got the will to replace the CFP with something better. That will be the test.

I wish to touch on some areas of concern. Monitoring and control are essential and I hope that the Minister realises that they are important. We have talked about cross-border enforcement and other things, but we do not want more bureaucracy from the Commission. As I said, the Spanish fleet has about 17,000 to 18,000 ships; I am told that Spain has about 90,000 fishermen and 500,000 people in the Spanish fishing industry, which is a big part of the country's infrastructure. The standard joke is that there are 60 fishing inspectors, all based in Madrid, but I was assured by the Minister that they are not; they move around the ports. Our dealings with Spain will therefore be critical.

Regional management is a good idea provided that the regions are given real power. In the interests of that much forgotten concept, subsidiarity, which I greatly support, it is important that regional committees have power delegated down and can do what they want for their region. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) recognised that limiting effort was the way forward. I may be wrong, but I believe that the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill became law in 1992, but was not enforced. It is therefore on the statute book waiting to be used. The Minister should not feel that he has to spend time in the House introducing a new Bill; the Conservatives have done it for him already. I am quite sure that—with the consent of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—the Opposition would be very happy for the Minister to use that legislation in the manner that he thinks is most useful. That would be a useful thing to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) was going to say something on that issue, but he could not attend the debate because of important constituency engagements.

I have simply gone round the course on the issues. I have travelled back from New York to make this powerful speech—I was at the Inter-Parliamentary Union and thought that they could probably do without me for a day. I did not want to miss this debate because it is always important. I also wanted to hear the Minister rehearse the same words and mouth the same platitudes that he has been saying for so many years, and he has not disappointed me at all. Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, ahead of all the other Conservative Members. I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

4.49 pm
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

Given the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I shall try to represent the views of two organisations operating in the north-east Lincolnshire area, the Grimsby Fish Market and the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association. I thank both Martin Boyers, the chief executive of Grimsby Fish Market, for taking the time to give me his views on CFP reform, and Steve Norton, the chief executive of the association. They would like the Minister to take several messages, which I shall outline, to the Fisheries Council.

The two organisations feel that the industry itself will have to be much more involved in decision making on CFP reform. They also feel that the European Union has not taken sufficient action to protect fish stocks, and that that issue could be resolved if the industry were more involved in the decision-making process. They also feel that fleet over-capacity must be addressed because of the adverse effect on the marine environment.

The organisations also believe that in the current climate, the review must deal with stock conservation, which is the most important issue facing the CFP. They believe that the industry and other stakeholders will have to be involved in the decision-making process and that sustainable fisheries and environmental protection are aspects of that. The objective is an economically viable and self-sufficient fisheries sector.

The organisations feel that cuts in fleet size will have to be made sensitively and should not penalise those who depend for their living on the fishing industry. Not only should financial aid be sufficient to ensure that those leaving the industry are well compensated for loss of livelihood, it should be made available to address various educational issues.

Although compensation for those who lost their livelihood in the cod wars had been agreed, no payments were made until, I think, just before Christmas last year. In the past year, however, thousands of those men have been compensated. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for all that he did to support the campaign, which has helped the men to get justice. Although there are still a few problems to iron out, all of us who were involved in the campaign thank him for his help. The campaign has also highlighted the sensitivity of the compensation issue. We have been campaigning for compensation for those who were affected by the cod wars, but we do not want future generations of hon. Members to have to campaign to address compensation issues arising in today's industry. That is a particular fear.

Earlier this year, my hon. Friend announced assistance for fishing communities, which was much welcomed by hon. Members who represent fishing communities. However, as has been pointed out in some excellent research by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), there are concerns about how that money is allocated. If there is another such initiative, I hope that we will ensure that assistance goes to the fishing communities that are most affected by quota cuts.

The previous Government did not serve the fishing communities well on a related compensation issue, providing almost no assistance in the attempt to obtain compensation for those communities after the cod wars. Moreover, British taxpayers are still paying for the action that the Thatcher Government took against Spanish fishermen. That situation angered fishermen across the United Kingdom, and people should remember that it demonstrated that Conservative Members are no friends of the fishing industry.

The speech by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) did not reveal what the Opposition would do to assist Britain's fishing communities. The Tories did nothing to address quota hopping, which resulted in the payment of damages of, I think, more than £50 million—it was certainly millions of pounds. Indeed, I believe that they also illegally removed the UK fishing vessel register. What they did to the fishing community was scandalous. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister has done about quota hoppers. The problem now seems to be declining because of the action that the Government have taken.

On compensation and decommissioning money, we must consider all the small businesses such as fish producers and smokeries in Grimsby docks. Such businesses are also affected by the reduction of quotas and by decommissioning—issues that can have an severe knock-on effect in the community and on small businesses. That must be considered more. When we discuss fisheries, we talk far too often only about the men and boats, rather than about all the associated industries on which our communities depend for employment. I should also like fishing communities' local authorities to be regarded as stakeholders in these matters. They should be more involved in decision making and discussion. The other matter that the organisations in my area would like my hon. Friend to take to the Fisheries Council is industrial fishing. Anybody who looks at the evidence will see that the Danish industrial fisheries are doing particular damage and are probably undermining the cod and hake recovery programmes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) mentioned concern expressed by the Grimsby Fish Producers Organisation about climate and the fact that red mullet and swordfish have recently been found off the Lincolnshire coast. He said that that obviously related to global warming and climate change. There could be something in that suggestion. We must be very careful about climate change, especially with regard to the hydrodynamics of the ocean. If the ice caps melt and fresh water is released, salinity and water movements will be affected. The effect would be to switch off the gulf stream and the north Atlantic drift, to make waters here much colder—

Mr. Morley

And to drown Cleethorpes

Shona McIsaac

Indeed, most of my constituency would probably disappear under the sea.

We must be very careful when talking about climate change. Grimsby's fish producers are not happy with the scientific research. They feel that it is flawed and that the vessels are returning to the same grids year after year, while the changing hydrodynamics, currents and temperature of the ocean mean that the fish are moving to different areas. They believe that we might be getting false data, so they would like the scientific research to be reconsidered.

I believe that changes in quota allocation and the reduction in quotas will probably not have a severe effect on Grimsby. I am sad to say that many fishermen are taking the opportunity to decommission their vessels. If all those who have applied to decommission do so, the changes will not have much of an effect on the fleet because it simply will not exist.

I should like quickly to mention two final points to my hon. Friend the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned by-catch, in relation to which I want to raise one specific issue: harbour porpoises. I think that 7,000 harbour porpoises are probably killed by the Danish fleet every year and 1,000 by our fishing vessels. I hope that the Minister will express concern about the matter when he attends the Fisheries Council, as there are EU regulations that relate to it. Perhaps measures such as the use of acoustic devices could be introduced to try to reduce unwanted by-catch.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to disregard totally the comments of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby about culling, shooting and decimating the seal population of our islands. The biggest consumers of young fish are other fish. The seals are visible, and therefore some people, like him, try to blame them.

5 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I say to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) that I shall present some evidence on the migration of fish. She thought for a moment that I was going to talk about seals. I am sure that she will find the evidence interesting; I have already discussed it with the Minister, and I shall read out an extract. It is the first detailed evidence to support the view that cod stocks in particular have substantially moved and that that might undermine some of the methods of current scientific research.

First, I want to outline some of the politics of the industry. When I listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) about the Minister's longevity, I could not help thinking about the transience of Tory fishing spokesmen. They come and go and leave their speeches behind them. I have heard it all before. She speaks with some vigour, but as she developed her speech, I could not help reflecting that there was something to be said for the laid-back approach of her predecessor, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss).

Conservative Members do not want to talk about the history of the common fisheries policy and their involvement in it. Given the vast expanse of green Benches with no Conservative Members to fill them, it would be unfair to put the boot in too hard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] It will not stop me. Let us remember that the Conservative Government sold fishing down the river on entry into the then Common Market. In the words of the famous Scottish Office memo of the time, in the overall importance of the negotiations, fishermen were "expendable". For 18 years, not only did the Tory Government refuse to concede generally agreed sources of aid, which the EU would have accepted, for the fishing industry, but they traded its interests at every opportunity.

The hon. Member for Congleton said that horse trading—perhaps seahorse or horse mackerel trading—was part and parcel of the CFP. There was never any doubt in 18 years of government who was traded first. Time and again, the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland and elsewhere was subordinated to other policy objectives in the wider European structures.

If we consider other fishing nations, the lesson is not whether they are in or outwith the CFP, but the priority that they allocate to fishing, whatever structure they operate. Norway, outwith the EU, allocates a huge priority to its fishing industry. Year after year, it secures a good deal for its fishermen in the Europe-Norway negotiations. In the EU, Spain and Denmark accord a huge priority to fishing. Year after year, in aid or, in the case of Denmark, protection of the abomination of industrial fishing, they secure a good deal for their fishermen because of the priority that they attach to the industry.

The priority that the Conservative party accords to the fishing industry is shown by the vast expanse of green emptiness behind what remains of the Conservative Front Bench. With the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who has attended almost every fisheries debate—although perhaps not as many as the Minister—not one Conservative Member, let alone the party, expresses an avid interest in the industry.

Let me consider the Government briefly. The Minister knows that I admire him greatly, but my comments constitute a warning. He confirmed in a debate in Westminster Hall earlier this year that his previous boss had complained in a letter, which was leaked to The Herald, that he had been "holding the line" against allocating decommissioning grants across the fishing industry. He then wrote—[Interruption]. I am sure that the those on the Tory Front Bench would be interested to hear this. If they listened to it, they might be able to make better speeches on the industry.

The previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wrote: We now face a development in Scotland, where the executive has responded to mass demonstrations by fishermen by offering a decommissioning scheme worth up to £25m for next year. The English industry is arguing strongly that this puts them at an obvious disadvantage and that I should offer a similar package. This is a most unfortunate situation. I am glad that the mobilisation of the fishing industry in Scotland secured some sort of financial package, even if it was not the one that I would have chosen for the industry. I am equally glad that that motivated the Minister—or his former boss—to secure something for the fishing industry. Would it not be better, though, if we had Ministers who were prepared and able to secure a package for the industry without being embarrassed by the success of the campaign in Scotland, or who were prepared to listen to the industry as a priority?

Mr. Doran

This is the third or fourth time that I have heard that letter read out in a debate, either here or in Westminster Hall. It obviously still has quite a bit of life left in it. The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous, so far as the fishermen's demonstration is concerned, because my recollection is that the money had already been offered, and was on the table, before the demonstration started. It was not offered as a consequence of the demonstration.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman is confusing a series of demonstrations at fishing ports—which he chooses to remember because he likes to embarrass fishermen—with the demonstration that involved 180 fishing boats being photographed sailing under the Forth bridge. That was the largest mobilisation of fishing effort that we have seen in recent times, and it occurred before the announcement of the package—

Mr. Doranindicated dissent.

Mr. Salmond

Yes, it did. I was in the Scottish Parliament and at the fishing demonstration—

Mr. Doran


Mr. Salmond

Will the hon. Gentleman sit down for a second? The fishing demonstration on the River Forth occurred the week before the announcement of the package in the Scottish Parliament. The Government were then defeated on that package because the Parliament at that stage wanted a tie-up scheme. He should not complain to me but to the former Minister, who said clearly in the leaked letter that it was the mobilisation and the campaign—to which the Executive responded in Scotland—that resulted in the package being offered. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should pursue his argument with his colleagues rather than me.

The lesson for the Minister is that there was a Fisheries Minister in Scotland who resisted the justified demand for a tie-up scheme, and she is no more. The Minister's former boss resisted the demand for a decommissioning scheme, and he is no more. If this long-serving Minister wishes to stay in office, let him listen with an open mind to these justified arguments from the fishing industry north and south of the border. I hope that he will.

I have many difficulties with the case advanced by the Conservatives. My main difficulty is that they do not address where we are at present, or how to get the best deal that we possibly can in the current political context. If the Conservatives were proposing to leave the European Union, of course they could adopt a new fisheries policy, although it would then have to be negotiated with other people, new arrangements would have to be made, and all the rest of it. But that is not their policy, so their argument has no meaning whatsoever.

Those of us who do not like the CFP—including the fishermen's organisations, whatever their standpoint—who see its faults and limitations and who have made speech after speech and argument after argument against it, have managed to engage with some aspects of it. We can now see a glimmer of light, at least in certain areas, such as in the growing acceptance of the concept of zonal management. We are not there yet: not everybody has agreed to it. There is still resistance across the European Union, but there is majority support for it, so far as we can judge. As the Minister knows, it was at least mentioned favourably—let us say no more than that—in the fisheries policy Green Paper. My late colleague, Dr. Alan McCartney, should be mentioned in despatches as a pioneer of that approach to fisheries management, in which fisheries organisations north and south of the border engaged. They can now see a possibility of the policy coming to fruition.

The engagement of scientists and fishermen in exploratory and research voyages is very much in its infancy, but the Scottish Fishermen's Federation told us yesterday that it hopes that it will make the scientific research more meaningful. The Scottish industry in particular has pioneered certain technical measures. I know that they are not the Minister's specific responsibility, but I hope that he will do his level best to ensure that they receive their proper reward in terms of the allocation of quota. The industry has been told, "Use technical measures to conserve fish." so those measures cannot be ignored when questions of quota are decided.

I must refer to what I promised the House is interesting research and evaluation that I hope will help the Minister in arguing about cod migration in the coming negotiations. Unless there is at least an increase in the cod quota, the recovery in other North sea stocks and nephrops stocks or quotas in particular will be badly affected. Any benefit that fishermen should take from a recovery in stocks or a well sustained industry such as the shellfish industry will be ruined by what may be done to the cod allocation and quota.

The Scottish Fishermen's Organisation has carried out a study of boats fishing for northern cod in particular, and I shall give the Minister the full report for his evaluation, but I want to read the House a few paragraphs. It states: The reduction in the cod total allowable catch for the North Sea in the current year was amongst the most savage reductions ever imposed in any fishery. The 2001 TAC is some 45 per cent. lower than the 2000 TAC. And this reduction was on top of significant reduction in the previous year when most of the Scottish groups undertaking sectoral quota management responsibilities took their full allocations of zcod. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the spatial distribution of cod in the North Sea is in the process of changing and in particular the distribution of cod is moving in a northerly direction. This is highlighted by the fact that the Scottish groups have taken a far greater proportion of their cod allocations in the North Sea than those groups based further south. And an examination of individual vessel landings who concentrate on cod suggest that they have not seen much of a reduction in their cod catches in the current year. The reality of the current year has been that despite the cod closure areas, the reduced fishing year resulting from the fishermen's tie up, the reduced vessel allocations necessitated by reduced total allowable catches, vessels have actually maintained their cod catches in the northern sector of the North Sea. What this does suggest is required is a reappraisal of the way in which the sampling of North Sea cod stock is carried out. Taking samples from the same area over a long period of time is in accord with scientific discipline. But when the anecdotal evidence suggests that changes have taken place in the spatial distribution of a stock then the strict disciplines of comparability have to be revised. If the Western mackerel stock was still being assessed on the basis of catches in the Minches which was the main catching area 20 years ago, the scientific assessment would be that the stock had … vanished. The reality is that the stock has seldom been larger but is in a different location. It is essential that the cod stock in the North Sea be treated as one that may have been over fished but has responded to environmental and other factors and may very well be in …better condition than a narrow interpretation of the known facts suggests. The fact is that all the facts are not known because yesterday's science has not taken account of all the changes that are taking place within the marine ecosystem within the North Sea. To back up that detailed analysis, the fishing results from 22 vessels specialising in catching cod in northern waters produced significant evidence: those vessels are suffering less of a reduction in catch than would otherwise be expected.

I know that the Minister will take that evidence on board and, if the worst comes to the worst and he is unable to negotiate a satisfactory cod quota in the first round at the European Council, he might go for a mid-year review based on a special scientific assessment of those areas in spring, which is the next available period.

I hope that he takes that evidence on board, because, following the decommissioning victory, if that is what it was, a huge number of Scottish boats applied for decommissioning. That in its turn shows how depressed the industry is. Young men in my constituency are being asked to go to sea for £10,000 a year: there is thus a shortage of experienced seamen and crews, with all the consequent dangers.

The processing sector cannot survive without a steady supply of fish. We have evidence that many stocks are on the way to recovery: in many areas, the fish are there. It would be a tragedy if we could not manage the difficulty that we are experiencing, certainly with cod stocks, in a way that allowed full access to fishing opportunities, and enabled as many as possible of our constituents to retain their livelihoods.

The fishing policy is not just about the conservation of fish, although that is vital. It is not just about the conservation of one species—cod—however important that may be. It is about the conservation of fishing communities. I trust that the Fisheries Minister—a long-lasting Fisheries Minister—will bear that in mind as he takes our case to Europe.

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

I apologise to both my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) for being unable to stay for the winding-up speeches. I wish the Minister well in his efforts at the Fisheries Council. He is well respected in fishing communities for his knowledge and understanding of the industry, and if there is anyone who can take our message away and argue the case forcefully it is him. However, none of us underestimates the difficulties that that may involve, especially in the context of the savage quota cuts that are having a particularly dramatic effect in the Irish sea and on Fleetwood's fishermen. I shall concentrate on the impact on Fleetwood

. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona Mclsaac) pointed out, we are talking not only about catching effort, but about fishing communities and about all the jobs in the onshore industry. We are talking about the auction hall, the processors, the retailers and the wholesalers. Many more jobs onshore depend on the catching effort. The CFP was introduced to safeguard fishing communities, but it has not done very well in that regard. We must ensure that it does rather better in future.

Franz Fischler, the European Fisheries Commissioner, visited Fleetwood recently. I think that it was the first time that a European Commissioner had done so. I thank my friend Terry Wynn, MEP for facilitating the visit, which was much appreciated by the local fishing community and all representatives of the local fishing industry. In the past, they had gone to Brussels to put their case—this was the first occasion on which Brussels had come to them. Commissioner Fischler not only listened to what they had to say, but engaged in a constructive debate with them, and his Cabinet member Maya Kirshner remained the next day to take part in even more detailed discussions.

I am pleased that Commissioner Fischler recognises the substantial shortcomings of the CFP. In an article in the 21 September edition of Fishing News, he said: We have to end the cycle of short term measures which are detrimental to both fish resources and the fisheries sector. That reflects what happens annually here. We have a relatively short debate, and then the Fisheries Minister goes to Europe. Everything is done in a rush. We need a much better system of organising quotas and organising the industry.

Commissioner Fischler went on: There is no doubt in my mind that the fishing industry must be more involved in fisheries decision making. That is why local fishermen welcomed his visit, but there has been disappointment in Fleetwood at recent announcements by the Commission, both about the substantial cuts in quota—the 55 per cent. cut in the haddock quota is huge—and about the operation of the Irish sea cod recovery programme for next year. I hope that at this late stage the Government will press the Commission and the Council of Ministers further on some aspects of the conservation plan for next year.

My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of many of the issues that I shall raise, because I have raised them with him over the past two years in detailed correspondence. I am pleased to say that he has, on occasion, been able to respond positively. However, we are now addressing those issues against the backdrop of substantial cuts and an industry that is looking for some sort of help for the future.

With regard to the cod recovery programme, I wish to raise the issue of the closed area in the Irish sea. The eastern Irish sea—Liverpool bay and Morecambe bay—was included in the 2000 closure programme but not in this year's. However, the eastern Irish sea is recognised as a major cod spawning ground. Fleetwood fishermen requested of Commissioner Fischler that it be brought back into any future programme closures. They also asked that it should include any closure that had a significant by-catch of cod. The derogation to beam trawlers working in the eastern Irish sea is unacceptable to Fleetwood fishermen.

My constituents are disappointed that neither of those requests was met in next year's plan for the Irish sea. That is especially bewildering because the explanatory memorandum to the proposed new Council regulations acknowledges that cod stocks have reduced to such a level that they cannot readily replenish themselves by reproduction. If stocks are so low, why will not the Commission listen to Fleetwood men who say from personal experience that spawning cod are being caught in the eastern Irish sea in large numbers by Belgian and Dutch beam trawlers? By mid-September, in area 7a Belgian beam trawlers alone had caught 235 tonnes of cod, or 11 per cent. of the total allowable catch. The total Belgian and Dutch cod quota for area 7a, including swaps, is now 310 tonnes, which accounts for 15 per cent. of the TAC. The information that the Fleetwood Fish Forum has from the surveillance carried out by the enforcement agency is that the main effort of those vessels in January, February, March and April 2001 in area 7a was carried out in statistical rectangles, including those for the eastern Irish sea that were included in the first cod recovery programme.

Because of their cod catches, Dutch and Belgian beam trawlers are included in the recovery programme in the North sea. Their combined quotas account for 15 per cent. of the TAC for that area. At the cod and hake meeting in Brussels on 19 October, they were included in the measures to protect hake. They asked for a derogation to use 80 mm nets in The Hague boxes to the south-west of the UK, but were refused. During the proposed closed season in the western Irish sea—11 February to 30 April—the beamers come into the eastern Irish sea and catch fish heavy with roe, swimming along the bottom of the sea. That is not conservation.

Fleetwood men are not anti-Dutch and Belgian beamers per se, but they want fair treatment. They want the Dutch and Belgian vessels to be incorporated in any cod recovery programme in the Irish sea, as they are in the North sea and to the south-west of England. The Fleetwood men think that beamers should be brought into the programme as well as recognising that small local boats with low horsepower must be allowed to continue to fish in the so-called Blackpool box. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall the problem in 2000 when those vessels were not allowed to fish and had nowhere else to go. That caused problems. Their effort is very small and they do not affect the cod recovery programme or the viability of the fisheries.

My hon. Friend the Minister and I have corresponded on mesh sizes. Fleetwood fishermen tell me that mesh sizes should be linked to horse power. They see beam trawlers exploiting regulations on mesh sizes and mixed fisheries and catching a wide variety of fish. That undermines the effort to conserve stocks in the Irish sea.

Information from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea shows that cod, whiting and sole in area 7a are being fished beyond biological limits. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will re-examine the issues of mesh sizes and the quotas that are allocated in mixed fisheries. I hope that he will also look into the way in which vessels such as beam trawlers, which specialise in catching sole, can catch substantial amounts of cod as well, even though they are using a much smaller mesh size. Moreover, I am told that the mesh size for sole catches many fish that are not yet mature and have not yet reproduced. Clearly, that is another serious conservation issue.

I understand too that the Commission is looking at the possibility of introducing a uniform mesh size of 120 mm for cod fisheries around the whole of the UK. This is a very technical matter, and my fishermen sometimes show me the size of the mesh and the twine that they use in their nets. They tell me that the thicker twine that they use in the 100 mm mesh works in exactly the same way as thinner twine in a 120 mm mesh. I understand that that is accepted, and I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that when the Commission considers introducing a uniform mesh size.

I come briefly to the matter of governance. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the recommendations from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation on regional fisheries management. They are widely supported, with the proviso that the particular needs of sub-regions around the country must also be taken into account.

All parties involved accept that decision making has been too remote and bureaucratic. The Commission's Green Paper acknowledges that fishermen have not been sufficiently involved in developing acceptable technical measures. We need the advice and expertise of local fishermen, scientists and administrators if we are to formulate a policy that will deliver a sustainable fishery, and which will also be acceptable to those who work in the industry.

Several hon. Members have commented on decommissioning, an issue that excites very different opinions. Previous schemes led to a large number of vessels being taken out, and meant that no new investment was made. Seven years ago, 40 local boats were registered with the Fleetwood Fish Producers Organisation, but today there are only 20. We could end up with no local vessels fishing our local waters in the Irish sea. That would be dreadful, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise the impact that decommissioning can have on fishing communities. At the same time, however, some fishermen regard decommissioning as an opportunity to leave the industry with some dignity.

Finally, I shall sum up by thanking Tom Watson and the members of the Fleetwood Fish Forum for their hard work in supporting the local fishing industry. I am also grateful to them for the many hours that they spend briefing me and keeping me updated on issues of local concern. Their plea to my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Council of Ministers is that they work to protect the British fishing industry and to support the needs of our local fishing communities, so that when—and if—stocks recover, Fleetwood fishermen will still be around to benefit.

5.29 pm
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

I apologise to the Minister for having to leave the Chamber during his speech. This was no discourtesy to the House or the Minister but, as a member of the Committee dealing with the Proceeds of Crime Bill, I found myself in mid-sentence when the Committee was adjourned at 11.25 this morning, and was left with no option but to return. I welcomed much in the Minister's speech, and shall make every effort to familiarise myself with it in its entirety in the Official Report.

I welcome this debate, as many other Members have done. It has struck me, as a fairly new Member, how difficult it is to get the opportunity to discuss fishing matters. The Minister is no doubt aware that at the last Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time there were no fishing questions. On the previous occasion, the one question on fishing—about total allowable catches and their effect on Essex, that great fishing community—was given less than two minutes. Therefore, I am glad to take part in this debate.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of fishing to my constituency, especially to Shetland. Some 33 per cent. of the Shetland economy—£180 million—is derived from fishing and some 20 per cent. of the active Shetland population is employed directly in fishing. The Minister knows that because he attended a seminar in Shetland as recently as May this year. His attendance was greatly welcomed and I hope that he will return there soon to keep up to speed with what the fishermen in my constituency are saying.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) has ever been to Shetland. I suspect that after her contribution to the debate, if she were minded to make the journey she might be given a rather hotter welcome than would previously have been the case. We have long felt that the 18 years of a Tory Government damaged the fishing industry in Shetland and elsewhere in Scotland because of their indifference towards us. I was intrigued to see from her contribution that their policy has moved on from indifference to downright hostility.

I was particularly concerned that the hon. Lady—who, unfortunately, has not had the courtesy to stay for the rest of the debate—felt it necessary to quote from the minutes of the Shetland Fishermen's Association in trying to support her contention that the Scottish pelagic fleet was given the benefit of a different enforcement regime. She referred to one of my constituents, Josie Simpson, and quoted the part of the minutes that said: Josie Simpson reported his disappointment at a recent pelagic enforcement and monitoring committee meeting where it was made clear the Fisheries Department intend to leave it up to the industry to clean up overquota landings. That would be a fairly flimsy justification, at best, for the hon. Lady's remarkable assertion. However, I have obtained the whole minute, and from what follows it occurs to me that the hon. Lady may have come very close to misleading the House with regard to the position of the Shetland Fishermen's Association and my constituent. The minute continues: A discussion took place and it was agreed that the Association should continue with our existing policy of calling for black fish to be eliminated across the whole of the EU. Disappointment was expressed that the Fisheries Department did not appear to show the will to eliminate overquota landings while actively trying to eliminate mis-reporting of fishing grounds. It was agreed the focus of their enforcement was wrong. It was reported that new satellite monitoring rules recently introduced require a manual report to be sent to the Fisheries Department every 2 hours rather than 24 hours if the equipment breaks down. That does not sound like an enforcement regime that is in any way lax or indifferent. I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) will address that matter and put things straight when he sums up. The hon. Lady has just returned to the Chamber, but I shall not take interventions at present.

The Minister made reference in his speech to the elements of the common fisheries policy that he considers work well. I commend him for that and hope that he will give his blessing to the continuation of another element of the current policy—the position with regard to the Shetland box. That is crucial to the fishing industry in the northern isles. It has worked exceptionally well and might indeed serve as a prototype for zonal management under a reformed common fisheries policy. The licensing scheme limits the number of vessels of more than 26 m in length, and it is extremely important as it also allows unrestricted access for smaller boats.

The scheme is an important element in sustainability. It encourages small boats and it is crucial that inshore fishermen in Orkney and Shetland have such unrestricted access. They must be able to continue landing in Shetland and Orkney, as their contribution to the local fish processing industry is also of immense importance.

Several hon. Members referred to decommissioning and tie-up. The Scottish decommissioning package of £25 million is most generous. I ask the Minister, however, not to shut the door on tie-up and not to close his mind to it. I commend to him the report issued by the World Wide Fund for Nature, "Now or Never", which makes a strong case that short to medium-term financial assistance of that sort is a sensible long-term precaution and a conservation measure. I urge the Minister to use every available opportunity to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that funding will be available for a tie-up scheme in the future.

I thank the Minister for his support—unlike the support of the hon. Member for Congleton, his was unqualified—for the case being put by the Orkney islands and Shetland islands councils for the supremely important leaseback schemes for quota that they are operating in the northern isles. I have no doubt that they are doing so properly. I urge the Minister vigorously to pursue at every opportunity the case for maintaining such schemes. They are of crucial importance to one of the most fragile industries in one of our most remote and peripheral communities.

Sustainability for the Shetland fishing industry is not some high principle or a great ideal to which we must aspire. No community depends on fishing as we do. For us, it is essential to our continued survival and economic prosperity. I urge the Minister to remember that when he goes to Brussels.

5.39 pm
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). As I come from the community of Scarborough and Whitby, I can appreciate that he has a complete grasp of the strong wishes of his community in respect of the fisheries debate. I welcome him to this debate, and hope that he will make speeches in many such debates.

We experienced a sense of deja vu during the contribution of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I am sorry that he is no longer in his place. In fact, it was not so much deja vu; his approach to this annual debate was more like "Groundhog Day". Obviously, I am sure that all hon. Members were pleased to hear that he had flown back specially from New York to make his contribution, but I had a feeling that I had heard his speech many times before.

Unlike many of the other hon. Members who have spoken, I feel that the agenda is moving forward. I commend to the Minister the contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Shona Mclsaac), for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), and I commend them for the fact that the agenda is moving on.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Gentleman does a disservice to the one Tory Member who has been here for most of the debate. I have listened to many speeches made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), and the one that he made today was the most practical, most up to date and most open-minded that I have ever heard him make. I think that he is changing his mind.

Lawrie Quinn

I bow to the hon. Gentleman's wisdom on the issue, but from my perspective, having replaced a similarly minded gentleman in the Scarborough and Whitby constituency in 1997, it certainly sounded like "Groundhog Day". For those who are not aware of that movie, the point is that when the principal character wakes up in the morning he has forgotten what he learned the day before. He finally gets there, but it takes a long time. Surely if the Conservative Benches are to be filled in future annual fisheries debates, they have a long way to go and many more groundhog days before them.

I regret that, once again, the editorial line taken in today's Yorkshire Post—the principal newspaper in Yorkshire and the Humber region.—involves a sense of "Groundhog Day". I hope that the Minister will have an opportunity to read that article if he has not already done so. The headline is "Fishermen fear scrap heap in quota cuts". I recall seeing that headline as a preface to the debates that we had last year, the year before and the one before that. In any case, I suggest that the media need to play their part in the wider national debate on the economic, environmental and socio-economic issues that are important to the fishing communities. They need to get down to the quayside more often..

I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for visiting my constituency on numerous occasions in recent years. He has met my constituents, who rely on the industry for their incomes. He has listened to them and engaged with them, and he goes from strength to strength in their minds, especially given his record of representing the industry, which is very important to my constituency and many coastal communities around the country..

On most of the visits that my hon. Friend has made to my constituency he will have met Mr. Arnold Locker—a well-known fisherman in Whitby, the principal fishing port in my constituency. I am glad to say that he is now the NFFO's chairman-elect. I very much look forward to receiving the national briefings that he may send to those of us in the all-party fisheries group next year. I hope that Arnold will take the time to come to London to help to brief us for next year's annual fisheries debate, and I hope to see him then..

Like many fishermen, Arnold Locker is very good at communicating verbally. Having previously heard from Arnold an awful lot, I was very pleased that he has now put pen to paper. He has written a very interesting article in the current edition of NFFO news, which is an important newspaper for the industry. In many respects, Arnold's "View from the wheelhouse", as it is called, reflects the current opinion, which may be dangerous to my hon. Friend, that the great esteem in which he is.

held in Scarborough and Whitby and other fishing communities may be affected and that the choppy seas that he may face in the negotiations may be even rougher than any of us had previously thought.

Arnold Locker's article is entitled "Why the cod plan must be scrapped" and it conveys the message that I have heard on the quayside. Fishermen in Whitby are suspicious of the Commission because, as the Minister said, its recovery plan for the North sea chooses to ignore key parts of the science.

Arnold writes: It is ludicrous that this cod recovery plan is still going ahead at a rate of knots despite the fact that we don't know why there is no cod in our part of the North Sea. It seems unlikely that overfishing is the reason, given the fact that the fleet in Yorkshire and Humberside has been reduced by about 80 per cent. in recent years. The real reason is probably due to global warming, which is well illustrated by the good catches of red mullet our boats are now getting. This is further backed-up by catch statistics … which reveal that cod catches are much higher in the northern North Sea compared with areas off the English coast. Such areas include Yorkshire. He adds: Nobody seems to care. It also seems crazy that our Yorkshire boats, ranging from 200 to 480hp and with a small bollard pull, have to work to the same mesh size regulations as much bigger 2,000hp stern trawlers. Conservation policy, or the lack of it, means that the whole industry is on a roller-coaster at the moment. We need to get some sense into everything and the first step should be a far-reaching investigation into conservation policy. And until that is done, the pointless cod recovery plan should be shelved". Arnold Locker is not only putting pen to paper but talking to many people in my constituency and up and down the Yorkshire and Humber coast. The fact that someone like him is doing that means that the immense credibility of the long-term sustainable approach to fishing policy that scientists have been able to generate in the fishing community is being questioned. We must be able to demonstrate to the industry that the science is being applied, so, as many Members have said, I hope that the Minister will stress in the Council meeting on 16 and 17 December that the science cannot be ignored.

If the science is ignored, short-term damage will be done to the delicate relationship between the quayside, the scientists and this place. Furthermore, longer-term damage might be done to a conservation programme that fishermen and key stakeholders can buy into. The problem is not just the short-term one of quotas, but the long-term credibility of the Minister and this place when we talk about the national interest.

People on the quayside have asked me to raise several other specific questions in the debate. If the Minister does not have time to respond in his closing remarks, I hope that he will be able to write to me.

Does my hon. Friend accept that effort control in the form proposed by the Commission for the recovery plan will be both brutal in effect and uncertain in its benefits? Does he accept that the short-term losses associated with the North sea mesh size increase to 120 mm will be crippling for the industry? Does he accept that there is manifest agreement for public investment in recovery measures that will allow the fishing industry to rebuild its stocks to optimum levels? I stress to my hon. Friend that many Whitby fishermen have benefited more from the recovery package in Scotland than from the English scheme. Those fishermen are sceptical about what the public purse is managing to achieve.

Access to the North sea—my hon. Friend has heard us get on this old hobby horse many times before—is pertinent to the debate in which he will engage in Brussels in the next week or so. What steps will the Government take to ensure that Spanish access to the North sea from 2003 will not result in a by-catch of quota species and an overall increase in the fishing effort?.

Other hon. Members mentioned industrial fishing. Every fisherman finds it abhorrent that Denmark and other north European countries can still use industrial fishing for non-human consumption purposes. Will he ensure that he is seen to press for that to change?.

On a local issue, a few salmon netsmen still fish out of the River Esk. My hon. Friend is aware that there is great concern about how long it is taking to conclude the negotiations on a compensation package to buy out the netsmen's licences. Obviously a tendering process is going on and I would appreciate it if he referred to the conclusion of that delicate negotiation.

I wish my hon. Friend well on behalf of the fishing communities of Scarborough and Whitby. I hope that he comes back with a headline settlement that is far better than the bleak prospect that we currently face, and that the next time he visits my constituency he is held in the same regard.

5.51 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire):

I am pleased to participate in the annual debate on fisheries. It has been of a high quality, and I hope that the Minister appreciates the assistance that we are trying to give him in his difficult job as he takes his arguments into Europe on 16 and 17 December. In fact, I think that we should have an annual dinner each year in which mugs are cast. The Minister could be the honorary patron of the organisation and I might even buy some of the drinks

The debate has been valuable. The Minister has done well to secure a full day. I have much more confidence that the industry is in his hands rather than those of some of his predecessors who have sat on the Treasury Bench during my 18 years in this place. That is good. We hope that he will build on his reputation and use his experience to great effect on 16 and 17 December

Although I concur with much that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I fear that the situation in my constituency is as bad as it has ever been. We cannot avoid that, and it is not the Minister's fault. I have noticed for the first time that any sense of hope is beginning to disappear, especially among young skippers. That is very bad. In larger coastal communities and bigger sections of the industry, such as in Peterhead and the places represented by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), there is a higher critical mass. A village-based industry or a small coastal community reach a level at which skills, and the investment, go

There are two things that are different this year and that worry me. The volatility of scientific advice makes it harder for people to plan investment, marketing and processing. We have had long battles. The Minister has led the argument, with some success, that science is the thing to follow. Cod recovery plans and so on are the only way forward in the longer term. However, there are deeply worrying wild fluctuations in scientific advice and the statistics on which we base policy decisions. As a lay person, one would think that they cannot be right every year. On top of that we have to deal with the Commission's new complementary measures, which do not have anything directly to do with science and produce more difficult TAC situations with which we have to cope.

In addition to those difficulties, we face an uncertain year come 2002. Everybody understands that the common fisheries policy needs reform. I know that the Minister understands that, and that he is aware of crucial issues such as zonal management and relative stability in the six and 12-mile limits, but they represent yet more uncertainty, and that does not help. We must all work harder still to address those issues..

I am very worried about the level of discards in 2001, which other hon. Members have mentioned. It seems to me, from my experience and from what I am told, that there is a big biomass of undersized fish, and catching them is leading to discards on a scale that we have not seen for a long time. That may get worse next year. I do not know what can be done. In my constituency, 250 boxes of haddock that were just above minimum size were left unsold, so it is clear that even if one lands this stuff, there is no market for it. We need actively to address the issue of discards, and if the Minister can get better scientific advice and support on that, so much the better

I agree that transitional protection, to which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and many others referred, needs urgent consideration. I think that I can win an argument in my coastal communities that with the industry in a state of flux, if sensible scientific advice is consistently followed for five years, there will be better times ahead. However, fishermen will not be able to survive for that time, so some support is necessary. In Scotland, £25 million for decommissioning has gone a long way, and that programme has allowed people to exit the industry with dignity. Fishermen, particularly those with smaller boats, will find it hard to deal with the technical conservation measures that will come in early next year. The Government need to work harder and harder to provide the support that the fishing industry needs to survive until, we hope, the cod recovery programme and other measures come on-stream and come right.

I subscribe to the view about ambient temperature changes that the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan and for Cleethorpes (Shona Mclsaac) usefully put on the record. We need to understand those important issues, but it is difficult for us, as policy makers who are laymen, to do so. I hope that we will not ignore the advice that we are being given.

As I said, decommissioning is important, and industrial fishing must be dealt with, but 1 want to leave the Minister to consider two other issues. The first is the effect of the proposed cut in nephrops in my area, which will be very difficult to sell to fishermen. It is almost impossible to convince the sector in my constituency that such cuts are necessary. There has been a huge diversion of effort, which we all expected as a result of the cod recovery programme, so it is impossible for me to return to my constituency and defend nephrops cuts on the scale suggested by the commissioner. We produced evidence on that, and I was surprised by it because I thought that in the north-east sector there would have been a bigger cod by-catch. If the Minister takes any message from me to the negotiations on 16 and 17 December, it is that he should fight his hardest to try to inject more common sense into them.

Secondly, as someone who spends quite a lot of his time in this place considering social security issues, I know that there are big changes ahead in the social security programme. The Government are sensibly moving towards working tax credits, but the way in which the fishing industry works, with days at sea determined by the weather, makes it difficult for people on jobseeker's allowance to try to get any sustainable help coherently delivered by the benefits system. It would be sensible if the Minister could spend half an hour with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. He could then explore whether the introduction of tax credits, later this year and beyond, will provide better support and ease access to the benefits system, particularly for crewmen.

Of all the resources, fish are probably the main one on our minds in this debate, but if we do not have the skilled labour to go to sea, we are all wasting our time. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that young people are not prepared to contemplate any career in fishing, and it is becoming harder and harder for share fishermen north of the border to find crews to go to sea.

Let us hope that the Minister can keep in mind all the points that have been raised. If, after the resolution of these difficult matters on 16 or 17 December, he can secure a meeting of the European Standing Committee under the scrutiny process, that would be appreciated by all.

6 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in a fisheries debate, especially as it is the first time that I have been able to speak in one for more than two years, having served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That experience gave me some insight into the role of the Department in dealing with fisheries.

I am sure that we could not have a more committed Fisheries Minister than my hon. Friend. As has been said, he is clearly the most knowledgeable Fisheries Minister we have had. He has become irreplaceable, even if after four years of fishing and floods, some of us may feel that he deserves promotion, or perhaps relief. It was said earlier that he was the best Fisheries Minister in a Labour Government; I think that he is the best in any Government. I know that he has a hard task in government carrying the flag for fishing, which is why I begin my contribution by saying why I believe fishing is important in national terms.

First and obviously, fishing is a source of healthy and nutritious food—non-fattening food, as I have discovered in recent months, by focusing my diet more on fish. It is also an extremely popular food, though not always in the least fattening form. Fish and chips is our national dish. If hon. Members have not tasted them at their best, I invite them to sample the fish and chip shops of Lowestoft. It is inconceivable that we in the UK will not want to eat fish.

We are an island nation, so it is unthinkable that we will not want to catch a substantial proportion of our fish ourselves. We expect to be a top fishing nation. We know that we are now catching much less than we did and that there are fewer fish to catch. Governments cannot conjure up more fish, but our industry is becoming weaker, relative to that of other countries that fish our waters. I shall return to that.

All round our island are fishing ports and fishing communities. Fishing is especially important to places such as Lowestoft, where I live. It is not easy to find other work in such peripheral locations. Fishing in those communities is in people's hearts, as well as their minds. We know that there are only a fraction of the jobs that there were and that fishing is no longer the major part of those local economies as it once was. However, it is still a substantial part of the economy in Lowestoft, and it is an emotive issue.

Everybody in a fishing community knows a fishing family and sadly, everybody knows a fishing family who has suffered a bereavement at sea. Fishing is rather like mining. When we see it in those terms, fishing has political importance, like mining. We should recognise that.

Other hon. Members referred to the recent WWF report, "Now or Never", which is one of the most significant reports that we have had for a long time. It is significant because it resulted from a partnership between the WWF, an environmental organisation, and the fishermen's organisations. This is the first time that that has happened, as far as I know. It is the first of two new partnerships that I shall mention.

I do not have time to dwell on the report, but it paints a grim picture. It notes that our fishing industry is disintegrating before our eyes. It charts the decline, and points out that the financial assistance to the UK fishing industry is among the lowest in the European Union: 850 euros per fisherman in the UK, compared with 3,532 in Belgium, 3,524 in Germany, 1,222 in the Netherlands and so on. As I said, the Government cannot conjure up more fish, but those figures suggest that we could do more. All countries face the same problem of stock depletion, but the Dutch and Spanish industries seem to be in a stronger position than ours.

My principal contention is that this country needs a comprehensive plan for fishing, which will be achieved only by the Government and the industry working together in a formal taskforce. There should be a plan not just for conserving fish, vital as that is, but for the industry as well. The plan for the fish is obviously the common fisheries policy, which we are trying to reform; it certainly needs to be much better. We come to the House annually to discuss the usual measures—tax, multi-annual guidance programmes or MAGPs, recovery programmes, technical measures and so on—but what about the fishing industry? As other Members have said, if we succeed in conserving our fish and achieving a recovery of stocks, what shape will our industry be in? We must ensure that there is still a worthwhile industry to catch the fish.

I want to put to my hon. Friend the Minister the views of my local fishing industry on measures for the year ahead. In Lowestoft, the fleet of North sea plaice fishermen agrees with the scientists' recommendation of a total allowable catch of 77,000 tonnes for North sea plaice. The fishermen make that suggestion, despite knowing that there has been a better year class for plaice this year; they have asked me to urge my hon. Friend not to agree a higher quota in the Council of Ministers. They accept that the Dutch may try to push it up to

86,000 tonnes, but they do not want that because they want to conserve the fish. There is therefore a second remarkable partnership; fishermen and scientists agree on what the level of fishing should be. That came out yesterday in the meeting between the all-party group on fisheries and the NFFO, which is at one with the scientists. In those circumstances, the Commission should not disregard the science; I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that on 17 December, the politicians do not disregard it either.

My plaice fishermen do not want closed areas, whether for North sea cod or other fish; they regard such areas as unfair for plaice fishermen, who have a tiny by-catch of cod. Last year, they were prevented from going to catch plaice by the cod closure programme. They appreciated the extra little box that my hon. Friend negotiated, but last winter was extremely tough, especially with high fuel prices. Like them, I feel that they could be allowed into closed areas under satellite monitoring, with their catches validated on landing. If there has to be a closure period this year or in future, I do not see why they cannot be allowed to do that. We would know exactly which boats are fishing; my fishermen do not catch much cod and must be allowed to carry on catching plaice when those fish are there to catch. They do not want proposals for tie-ups or days at sea, which would be impossible to manage because of their difficult circumstances.

Mr. Carmichael

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that closure plans alone, without a measure of funded tie-up, simply lead to displacement of the overfishing problem?

Mr. Blizzard

I certainly agree. My fishermen say that if there are tie-ups and closure periods without compensation, the industry will simply be unable to manage and will be brought to its knees. If that happens, we fear for the future.

The Lowestoft plaice fishermen voluntarily use nets with a larger mesh, which is a key point for CFP reform. Why do we continue to allow smaller mesh sizes? How can fish recover if young fish are still being caught? It is madness not to address that crucial point. I want to emphasise that we must not penalise the plaice fishermen, whatever we agree we need to do for cod. I also have long-line fishermen in my constituency. Long-lining is an environmentally friendly and sustainable fishing method, although my fishermen cannot find any cod at the moment. They fear that stocks have already collapsed in the southern part of the North sea. They, too, are now at one with scientists. Last week, they came to see me and said that the "scientists were horrifically right" all along. Now they are looking for radical action to enable the cod that they fish to recover.

We hope that a reformed common fisheries policy will deliver more fish. However, what about the industry? Some people in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say that they are concerned only with the fish, not the industry. If so, which Department sponsors the fishing industry? For my money, DEFRA is the only possibility.

We need to do more. We know that £11 million of the £22.5 million which my hon. Friend the Minister announced in April was from the previous grant regime. On a small point, while I am dealing with that, I should say that there are grants to encourage long lining, which is a more environmentally sustainable fishing method. However, long-liners are asking whether they will have access to a further grant, to try something else, if they cannot find any fish by the use of long lines. I make that request to the Minister.

There is £6 million for decommissioning. However, my trawler industry has told me that, in practice, it is difficult to decommission because environmental controls have resulted in ever fewer scrap facilities to chop up boats. Trawlermen feel that they may not be able to decommission to the required standard within the proposed time scale. They are therefore looking for sufficient flexibility to allow them, more simply, to put their boats beyond economic repair so that they cannot take to the water, but also to receive interim decommissioning money so that they can finish off the boats later. Smaller fishermen are also asking for decommissioning to apply to vessels under 10 m where there are too many such vessels.

I shall not dwell on the next element of the £22.5 million package as I had an Adjournment debate on that in Westminster Hall. However, the £5.5 million fishing communities regeneration initiative was a travesty at every level. It was shared out between the regions, and certainly within the eastern region, in the wrong manner, and the money was often spent on the wrong things. Lowestoft lands almost 10 per cent. of England's catch, but it was offered a mere £65,000, out of £5.5 million.

We have, however, had a bit of a breakthrough: we were offered another £60,000. That is being spent on some jolly good measures, and I wish that I had enough time to tell hon. Members about them. Nevertheless, I urge Ministers to dig into that regeneration money and try to ensure that it is spent on things that relate to the fishing industry, not on some of the things that it is being spent on that do not relate to the industry at all.

The failure of the fishing communities regeneration initiative shows the need for a proper plan for the fishing industry. However, how can we work out such a plan when the industry is not nationalised but is a collection of private businesses? The Government have already developed such a model in the oil and gas industry. Three years ago, the oil and gas industry taskforce was established, comprising the leaders of that industry and officials from three Departments including the Treasury, and it was chaired by the Minister with responsibility for energy. It set itself a deadline and developed a plan for how that industry could get more resources out of the North sea, rather than closing down the operation more quickly than was necessary. The taskforce met the deadline and is now implementing the plan through another body called Pilot.

I believe that we could do in fishing what we have done in the oil and gas industry. If we do not, our fishing industry will simply wither away. Pieces of it would fall off haphazardly, which would be no good for fishermen, for the communities in which they live or for the country. I doubt that we would ever recover from it.

The WWF and NFFO report shows how investment in a transitional package can reap a rich return. If my hon. Friend the Minister can achieve such a plan and such a partnership, we shall have a future; we could look ahead with confidence. We have seen partnerships between scientists and fishermen and between fishermen and environmental organisations, but let us now see a

partnership with the Government. If my hon. Friend can achieve that, I am sure that I would not be the only one saying that he is the best fisheries Minister we have had.

6.14 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

I certainly endorse what the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) said about fisheries regeneration funding and the need to get the best deal possible for his constituency. We will support him on that, because there are obviously important implications for King's Lynn as well.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) spoke about industrial fishing. I concur with what he said 100 per cent. I note that the Minister has visited his constituency; I hope that he will visit mine and talk to my fishermen. Indeed, I hope that he will come to Conservative-held constituencies. I do not know whether he is prepared to do so, but he has an open invitation to come to west Norfolk to speak to our local fishermen.

I do not know why we are having this important debate on an Adjournment motion. We should be debating a substantive motion that would enable us to have a vote at the end. I am sure that the Government have nothing to fear when it comes to putting their case to a vote, but we obviously cannot have one this evening. None the less, I welcome the fact that we are having a full day's debate on this important subject.

As most hon. Members whom I have heard have pointed out—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was not present for the whole debate; I had to move some amendments in a Standing Committee—the background to the debate is the reform of the common fisheries policy. In the course of the next year, the Commission will have to table a proposal for reform of the CFP. I am pleased to see that it is beginning to accept the arguments for a radical decentralisation of the CFP. I note especially that Commissioner Fischler now appears to be convinced that the new regional committees should hold real powers and responsibilities, rather than act merely in an advisory capacity.

That is good news, but I still feel that the policy is fundamentally flawed. Hon. Members have spoken much about the cod and hake fishery, which is in crisis. We have heard about a proposed programme of savage cuts in quotas for the Irish sea, the western approaches and the channel. I think that there is also probably a genuine threat to the six-mile limit in terms of open access. The abandonment of that limit would have a devastating effect on the Wash shellfish fishery. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby mentioned the very important point about Spain and Portugal having access to the North sea from 1 January 2003. He rightly pointed out that their quota share arrangements will limit their catch to non-quota species. However, there will, of course, be a significant by-catch of quota species, which is a serious concern.

I believe that the time has come for us not merely to reform the CFP, but scrap it completely and replace it with a series of bilateral arrangements between member states. If we continue to proceed as we are now, it will not work. We will be tinkering with a system that is fundamentally flawed. We must now move forward with a much more radical policy. That view has been expressed to me by most of the fishermen in King's Lynn and west Norfolk.

In the short time that remains, I should like to say a few words about the Wash inshore fishery, which is crucial to our local community. The main species of catch are shrimps, cockles, whelks, mussels and crabs. Forty boats and about 100 crew are involved in the King's Lynn fishing fleet. I think that the Minister knows that, as he visited the fleet during the previous Parliament. He will know that for every job at sea, there will probably be four jobs on land. On that basis, about 500 jobs in total are dependent on the fishery, which is crucial to the local economy.

As the hon. Member for Waveney pointed out very eloquently, we are not talking only about pure economics. The fishery is of huge symbolic importance. Some fishing families go back many generations. The Wash fishery and fishing folklore are deeply entrenched in the local psyche. He summed that up well.

There are various threats to the fishery. Resources in the Wash are being depleted, especially the shrimp fishery. The Minister knows that, under current regulations, white fish boats that meet their quotas are allowed to diversify into the shrimp fishery on their existing licence. There appears to be widespread support for a licensing system for inshore fishermen. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

Another important point relates to the structure of inshore fisheries. The legislation is too old. The Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966 and the Sea Fisheries (Conservation) Act 1967 need updating. The Minister knows that the 1966 Act is a rehashing of a 100-year-old Act. The legislation is therefore out of date, and the funding of sea fisheries committees badly needs reconsidering. Since 1966, extra responsibilities have been placed on the fisheries committees, especially environmental responsibilities, with no extra resources to accompany them. It is time for a new Bill to amalgamate legislation on sea fisheries boards so that they can address those extra responsibilities.

Other serious issues affect the Wash fishery, especially dredging, cable laying and the potential development of offshore energy in the form of wind farms. All have serious ecological side effects for marine ecosystems. They unsettle the sea bed and the silt-over of breeding grounds has a profound effect on shellfish habitats.

There has been much controversy about dredging. Although everyone feels strongly that dredging to replenish sea defences, for example the Skegness to Mablethorpe section of coastal defences, is acceptable, it is not acceptable to dredge sand and gravel for export. Roughly 30 per cent. of all offshore dredging is of minerals and sand for export. That is unacceptable. We are considering a delicate marine ecosystem. If dredging helps to support local communities and to sort out sea defences, that is one matter. But the commercial export of minerals is another.

As the Minister knows, the Crown estates have been through the pre-qualification process. The wind farms need permission from the Department of Trade and Industry, and I presume that there will be a public inquiry and that the Secretary of State will have the final say. However, on the pre-qualification site allocation, King's Lynn wind farm will have 60 turbines and the Cromer site will have 30. I accept that the benefits in renewable energy will be substantial. We must look increasingly to renewable energy. However, there are serious drawbacks for the Wash fishery.

We must consider the construction phase for 60 large turbines. It will mean substantial disruption to fisheries. The completed turbines will be surrounded by exclusion zones. I have not worked out the exact square mileage for 60 turbines, but we are considering a substantial area of fishery in the Wash. The location of the turbines will therefore be crucial. If they are located in the wrong position, we could do irreparable harm to the shrimp fishery, the whelk, cockle and mussel fishery off King's Lynn and the crab fishery off Cromer. That damage would have a profound effect on an important community in my constituency. I ask the Minister to look carefully at that.

I said a moment ago that this resource is vital to the local economy. It is essential, particularly, at a time when the wider economy is starting seriously to suffer from the downturns in manufacturing, and in the telecoms and tech sectors. Jobs are being lost across the board in those sectors in west Norfolk, and elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk. We are also suffering from an appalling downturn in agriculture. It is crucial that this local fishing community is given maximum priority. It is part of our local heritage, and also forms an important part of our national heritage, which is why it is essential that it should be protected and maintained. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

6.25 pm
Vera Baird (Redcar)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), because I cannot stay for the end of the debate.

I, too, want to scale down, and I invite the Minister to take the view from my constituency, Redcar, which has one of the smallest fishing fleets. We have nine cobles, which are less-than-10-metre boats that are launched afresh each day from the beach. They fish primarily for shellfish, but also for cod, Dover sole and nephrops.

For my briefing, I owe much to Mr. David Horsley, an executive member of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations from my locality. I am also indebted to him for a well learned bit of wisdom. When I said to him, during what he must have suspected was one of my early fishing conversations, that I knew that nephrops were important to him, he said, "Why, pet, if you're going to talk to us, you're going to have to learn to call 'em prawns, like we do."

The fleet fishes using gill netting, and long lines, and some of the small boats trawl. The less-than-10-metre boat fleet gets an annual quota from DEFRA of the TAC for each relevant fish. It has already received notice that this year's quota has run out. From 14 January to 30 April 2002, it will be banned from landing any Dover sole. There is a proposed further cut of 25 per cent. in the TAC for Dover sole and, unless there is a variation in the DEFRA quota to the less-than-10-metre boat fleet, that will have a great impact on it.

This argument has to be put into the economic context in which the fleet works. It has an approximate annual catch value of between £20,000 and £40,000. That is an annual input before any costs such as diesel, maintenance, shared hard-standing—because the boats are often out of the sea—and security from urban risks. Let us compare and contrast that with larger boats, which can catch up to £50,000 worth of fish from four or more days at sea. The larger boats obviously have higher costs, but the relative economic positions are clear from those figures.

Relatively and absolutely, small-boat fishermen in Redcar live hand to mouth. In that situation, they could easily be unbalanced and tipped into inviability, and they therefore merit particular consideration. A sustainable fisheries policy means taking measures to sustain fish stocks. It also means taking measures to sustain the fishing industry, so that its contribution to the local and national economy can continue.

A further problem that my constituents see on the horizon is the increase in mesh sizes in January from 100 mm to 120 mm for trawling. Large modern trawlers can drag their huge nets faster than an unladen coble can steam at full power. The mesh, heavy enough to remain rigid at a gauge of 110 mm, cannot be towed by a small boat at a speed sufficient to keep it rigid. The weight of the mesh does not allow the boat to get sufficient weigh on, so the mesh is not rigid but opens and closes, allowing the catch to slip through. Thus, for a small boat, the effect of an increase in mesh sizes goes beyond that for a large boat and it has a particular and perhaps unforeseen, but certainly disproportionate, effect on small-boat men.

In January, mesh sizes for gill nets will be upped from 4.75 mm to 5.25 mm. That will have a much more straightforward impact on those fishermen, because, inshore, they take smaller fish. There will also be a significant and deep impact on their takings. They are concerned, too, about the revival of the Minister's intention to impose shellfish licences on static gear at a cost that, at their subsistence earnings level, is meaningful.

A primary concern is that those fishermen fish for prawns, as I am learning to call them, at the west edge—a location in the North sea 15 miles offshore and hence not protected by the 12-mile limit. Access will soon be available to the French and the Spanish, who will not pay the costs of a British licence and will therefore be given a worrying economic advantage.

I must mention the importance of the fishermen in Redcar, which is primarily not a fishing port, but a small seaside resort backed by a poor, post-industrial area suffering from economic decline and social deprivation. The Redcar fishermen sell their fish direct from the coble, having been tractored up to the back of the sands on the esplanade. That is an attractive feature of Redcar's appeal as a resort.

People travel from further south and east in Cleveland and from Teesside, south Durham and north Yorkshire to buy freshly caught fish and, of course, to enjoy the picturesque spectacle. They stroll along the esplanade and are attracted to the shops, cafes, garages, amusement arcades and museums. They also pay to park and drink in the pubs. The point is clear: the fishing industry is, first, an integral part of the culture of a sea town and, secondly, engenders business for the town far beyond the value of the fishermen's earnings in a location in which every pound of local income is important to local people.

I must say again that there are general and specific problems for such a small fleet of small-boat inshore fishermen and I invite my hon. Friend the Minister,

on behalf of everyone in the community I represent, to give all possible assistance to Redcar's highly valued fishermen.

6.32 pm
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

Like the hon. Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), I represent a small fishing port, which is in the heart of my constituency. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember when Arbroath was a bustling fishing port, but it has been in decline for a number of years to the extent that few boats fish out of it. Of those, three have applied to be decommissioned under the Scottish scheme, leaving very few still working. However, Arbroath still has a vibrant fish processing industry, and when we discuss the future of the fishing industry we should not forget that it sustains a great deal of onshore employment. Any Member who represents a fishing area also represents many fish processors.

My constituency is famous for the Arbroath smoky, the raw material of which is the haddock, so I am interested to note that the scientific evidence going before the Commission contains a recommendation for a considerable increase in haddock quota. That is welcome, but given the way in which the Commission has used other scientific evidence before it, I am apprehensive about whether it will ever come to pass. It should also be noted that, even if the haddock quota increases, levels would return to those fished in the mid-1990s, which were far below historic levels, so there is hardly cause for great celebration.

Over the past few years, there has been a problem with the continual supply of fish to the fish processing industry because of quota difficulties. That has affected my constituency, as some processors have been unable to obtain supplies and a main Arbroath smoky producer stopped making them because it could not obtain a consistent haddock supply. As a result, Arbroath smokies are now produced by small outfits.

We should bear it in mind that quotas are important not just to offshore fishing, but to onshore industry. A steady supply throughout the year is, perhaps, even more important to processors than to fishermen. Much of the fish coming into Arbroath comes from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), and from Aberdeen. It is transported by road, but that involves considerable cost.

I hope that when he discusses this in Brussels, the Minister will remember that for every job at sea there are numerous jobs on land—many in rural communities—that rely on those jobs at sea for a sustainable future.

6.35 pm
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

We have been fortunate enough to hear, I think, 14 excellent speeches from Back Benchers, some of which had to be short. There was a common theme: the speakers represented fishing communities, and spoke on their behalf. A number emphasised the fact that we were discussing not just an industry but a community. One referred to mining. I come from a farming rather than a fishing community, but I too appreciate the point.

Members have put to the Minister the view from the fishing ports, and we all hope that he will convey that view at the important meeting that will take place on 17 December.

Strong views were expressed, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), about the general nature of the common fisheries policy. Undoubtedly there must be reform at the very least, if not radical change. I do not want to concentrate on that because she made the necessary points. In the short time available, I want to ask the Minister two or three specific questions, because it is important for him to flag up Members' concerns at the meeting.

The first of those concerns, which the Minister himself admitted was causing anxiety, is the proposal for cuts in quotas. He rightly emphasised not just that we should question it for the scientific reasons adduced by a number of Members, but that it was unacceptable to fishing communities whom we, the politicians, must persuade of the efficacy of a policy proposed by the European Union as well as our Government. It is possible to put a lot of force behind Government policy and EU policy, but if the fishing communities reject proposals out of hand we are in dangerous waters. I know that his time is limited, but I hope that he will specify at least some of the arguments that he may advance, apart from his questioning of the science.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton expressed strong views about the CFP's appalling impact on the environment. It not only affronts tens of thousands of EU citizens but is totally counterproductive. I suspect that, with the exception of one or two bad fishermen, the fishing community rejects it as well. I should like to know what the Minister will say about that.

Finally, there is the whole business of compensation for fishermen, particularly in relation to the decommissioning of fishing vessels. The Minister and I were on a Committee debating a statutory instrument dealing with that. Our Scottish colleagues touched briefly on compensation in Scotland today, but perhaps the Minister will say whether all the compensation relating to English vessels has been taken up, and whether there is a queue for future compensation. That will be an issue that will come back and hit us again.

I wish the Minister well on 17 December and I hope that he will be able to address the problems raised by hon. Members. I look forward to further debates in the House next year on the issue and I am sure that we will have a robust discussion of the common fisheries policy. He will have had notice of some aspects of the argument from our side.

6.40 pm
Mr. Morley

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their kind remarks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The Minister should ask for the leave of the House to speak a second time.

Mr. Morley

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to the debate. I am not used to both opening and winding up these days.

One thing that does not change about the debates is their seriousness. Of all the debates in which I participate, this is one of the few where we have a genuine, thoughtful discussion about serious issues, such as fisheries management and conservation, the importance of the fishing industry in a regional context and all the other points that we have heard in the course of the debate. Not least of those was that made by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) about onshore interests, which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and other hon. Members.

I have so many points written down that we could have another whole debate on them, but I shall do my best to address them. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has a long history of involvement in the fishing industry and great knowledge of it. He, and several other hon. Members, asked about what would happen with regard to access in 2003. We should not forget that the quota is the key issue and that that is why the issue of relative stability is so important. There is very little in the North sea that is not a quota stock. It would not be economic for any fishing vessel that does not have a real commercial quota to take all the trouble of steaming all the way to the North sea to fish. By-catch is monitored and would not count in that fishery towards establishing a track record, so there is no advantage in a by-catch. I cannot see any commercial inducement for anyone to enter the North sea when that changes.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the 2.9 per cent. cod allocation from north Norway, which is part of the European Economic Area agreement. That is a legal agreement and forms part of the relative stability for the range of quotas that we have. I hope that that reassures him. He also raised the important issue of rising sea temperatures, which we take seriously. We are carrying out research on such matters as the decline in plankton, but it is important not to try to look for scapegoats.

We cannot escape the fact that the biggest pressure on fish stocks comes from fishing. That is not to say that we do not take into account, for example, the impact of seals, although that impact is complex, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes stated. We have little evidence that seals have much impact on commercial fish stocks, but the research is being done. The same is true of power stations. I have been looking at some figures on power station intakes—that is the kind of person I am—and considering the fish by-catch that is sucked into the intakes. The figures are fairly low, but measures can be taken—such as bubble streams—to minimise the problem. I expect power stations to implement those measures because I take the problem seriously.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) questioned whether the demonstrations on fishing were before the aid package was announced in Scotland, and I have checked the facts in the Library. The flotilla sailed on 6 March and the aid package was announced on 8 March. I know that the Minister wanted me to put that on the record. Will the debate or the information that I have supplied help in his examination of the migration of species, especially cod? Will that information be useful in establishing whether that migration can be substantiated or whether it is anecdotal? It is a widespread belief among fishing communities.

Mr. Morley

The migration of species is a widespread belief—and I had made a note to myself to reply to the hon. Gentleman on the matter, which I know that he was very keen to get on the record. All I can say is that, from my close and friendly contacts with the Scottish Executive, I am aware that the package was being discussed for some time. I suspect that it was being discussed even before the flotilla, of which the hon. Gentleman was part, sailed down the Forth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby also referred to aggregate dredging, as did a number of hon. Members. These days, any new application for a licence must go through a thorough environmental impact assessment. That will take account of the impact on the local fishing industry and whether the area is a spawning area or important for shellfish. If the study finds that the impact would be detrimental, the application is turned down. Applications have been turned down for that reason, and I emphasise that we take into account the impact of activities on the fishing industry.

Finally, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we have commissioned a new research vessel for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. It is under construction at present—and in a British shipyard, I am glad to say.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) always takes a sensible and pragmatic approach to reform of the CAP, which is a matter of what is achievable. He also emphasised his support for multi-annual quota, which I share. I support, too, the concept of banking and borrowing, which has been used quite successfully in the south-west.

The hon. Gentleman also emphasised the need for the industry and science to work together. I agree, and believe that the industry's involvement is important. It has an important contribution to make, which I take very seriously, as do the scientists in my Department. We have worked hard in the past few years to involve the industry more in discussions and decisions. Recently, we invited industry representatives to sail with CEFAS on our research ships and to work alongside our scientists. I am sure that that experience was mutually beneficial: the industry representatives watched the scientists work and saw the techniques that they used, and I understand that the scientists found very helpful the representatives' advice about matters such as net repairs and setting nets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) emphasised the importance of the prawn fishery to his port in North Shields. I know that port and the industry well, and I repeat that I think that the Commission's suggestion about the scale of the cut in the nephrops quota is not justified by the science. It would have a devastating effect on the prawn industry, and I assure him that I take very seriously the points that he made. They will certainly guide me in the negotiations to come.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) is a fixture in these debates, as he has been a Member of Parliament for a long time. Although it is fair to say that the process of these debates is largely similar year to year, different issues and priorities arise every time. I am used to seeing hon. Members posture in debates, but the hon. Gentleman's description of posturing fish—although interesting—was new to me.

However, I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that things have changed in the Council of Ministers. Less of the horse trading—or sea horse trading—mentioned by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) goes on. It will not be easy to get the Commission to shift position on some of the matters that have been raised, as it is acting according to what it believes to be the basis of sustainability.

There is a genuine motivation behind what the Commission is doing, and I would not want to criticise that. I simply believe that it is not interpreting the science correctly on a number of points and not thinking through the implications of moving beyond the science in a range of stocks, particularly in a mixed fishery. We want to emphasise those issues to the Commission so that it will think about them and, I hope, make changes.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Commission can deliver now when it has failed to do so over the past 19 years?

Mr. Morley

It is hard to put the blame completely on the Commission. It has to take its share of the blame and, indeed, it was open and honest in the Green Paper about the failures of the common fisheries policy. The people who should take the blame are Fisheries Ministers from a range of countries who have refused, over the years, to follow the science. They have been reluctant to go against the undoubted impact on their industries and have talked up the quota over and above the scientific advice. That has to stop. That attitude has changed within the Council of Ministers because it is not sustainable and we are still paying a price for it now with regard to the desperate state of many stocks. Even stocks that are not in their recovery position are on the borderline of sustainability in relation to their biomass. Every year, what is being taken away for the commercial catch should be increasing the biomass.

We must address these tough issues. Over the years, people have ducked them because they are so difficult. If we are not careful, we will have no fishing industry in this country and will be in a situation similar to Canada. Whatever has been said—and there are some unknowns in the Canadian situation, which I would not dispute—the principal reason that the cod stocks were wiped out was overfishing.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made some pertinent points about the history of the common fisheries policy and the involvement of the previous Government, which we all noted. He raised the issue, which has been put to me by a number of fishermen, about whether cod have migrated further north because of changing sea temperatures. We do not rule out any kind of environmental change. Our scientists have a whole range of sampling points, including the northern North sea, and they will take these figures into account.

I take the views of the fishing industry seriously. They are the ones out at sea and they have a valid contribution to make. Indeed, much of the science is based on catch records and the fishing patterns of the industry. I will ensure that the figures that the hon. Gentleman presented are considered very carefully by our scientists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) raised a number of issues about the industry in the Irish sea. I understand the worries about the scale of the proposed cuts in haddock. I also understand the concerns about twine thickness, although I can reassure her and her industry that we are not looking to apply standards that mean that her industry would have to have a different twine thickness. They can continue to use their present twine thickness, which is environmentally friendly.

All the evidence that we have and the surveys that we have carried out, including surveys in the eastern part of the Irish sea with British and Belgian beam trawlers, show that the main spawning cod concentrations are in the western side of the Irish sea. That will be closed in the coming spawning season, and it will be closed to beam trawlers as well—so they will be kept away from the cod concentrations. However, we have little evidence that the concentration is on the eastern side.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) spoke about the Shetland box, which is of great regional importance. I was glad that the Commission, in its Green Paper, accepted the continuation of the Shetland box and, indeed, the Irish box. I recognise the regional importance of the fishing industry to Orkney and Shetland. As he said, I have visited the islands on a number of occasions and had a chance to talk to his industry. I always appreciate the opportunity to go there and chat to the very far-sighted and progressive industry.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's points about a co-operative venture to buy up quota and lease it on commercial terms, which has also been considered in Cornwall and other areas. As long as it is a commercial operation and does not discriminate against other regions, I am sure that it can meet state aid rules and I look forward with interest to the outcome of the current investigation. I am sure that the Commission will be sympathetic to the way that it has been operated in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) represents two important east coast fishing ports. Cod is, of course, an important catch there. He raised several points, including the impact of horsepower and I wholly accept the comments of his constituent, Mr. Arnold Locker. I shall be seeing a great deal of Mr. Locker in his NFFO role in forthcoming months. No doubt he will make his case clear to me.

Effort control has not yet been agreed. It has not been decided whether it will be a feature of the cod recovery plan in the North sea. I realise that people are worried about that. We shall need to talk to the industry about the issue and keep it involved. I also know of my hon. Friend's concerns about 120 mm nets in a mixed fishery. Mesh size is important and we should think about it carefully, but it will be difficult to move to 120 mm in one go. That is why I have argued for a phased approach.

I understand my hon. Friend's point about industrial fishing. I am a long-standing opponent of industrial fishing and my views have not changed. Human consumption should always take precedence in fisheries management. I expect to see a reduction in the TAC for sand eels in the negotiations. I support the 20 per cent. reduction. There may be attempts to raise it again, but I assure the House that I shall support the Commission on that particular reduction, because we need to introduce it.

We are working with the Danes on by-catch. I accept the dangers of excessive by-catch as reported in Fishing News. I notice that the Danes suspended the licence of the vessel concerned. That is a draconian power that we do not have in this country, and I was pleased to see the Danes using it.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) also spoke about scientific advice and withdrawal. It is important that the industry concentrates on quality, not quantity. We want to encourage that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) stressed that the fishing industry has a cultural and social importance. The industry is important to him locally. He raised the issue of the plaice quota, and I was pleased to hear of the responsible attitude of the industry in his area. I shall certainly take that seriously.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) spoke about CFP reform. It is important that we try to address that realistically. At present, all inshore boats must have a licence—we are very keen on that. I understand the pressure for review of the legislation on sea fish committees. I am sympathetic, but it is a question of finding parliamentary time. That discussion will continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) made an excellent speech on the needs of the inshore sector. She spoke about the differences in the horsepower of large vessels and expressed the concerns of fishermen in her area about shellfish licences, although I think that such licences are in their interest. The majority of the inshore sector support them.

The hon. Member for Angus expressed concern about Arbroath smokies. I should not want them to be threatened in any way. He made an important point about the impact on the onshore industry if supplies were limited.

The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made several points, some of which I shall have to deal with on another occasion. There has been enormous interest in the decommissioning scheme; the money will certainly be fully utilised. In fact, it is likely that the scheme will be oversubscribed—as, I suspect, will the Scottish industry scheme.

I point out to the hon. Member for Congleton—as I did to her predecessors—that it is all very well to talk about national control, but what does it mean? I have never been clear about the meaning of the Conservative concept of national control, and nor has the industry. The industry believes that sensible reform—in which it is engaged—is the way forward. That is why it supports our position and that of other parties.

We are seeking that reform pragmatically and sensibly. Unless it is undertaken in that way, we should be completely isolate—like the hon. Lady's party during the last Parliament. There would be no support and we would make no progress. I believe that we can address some of the serious weaknesses of the CFP. We can make it better. We can take into account the needs of the industry and bring about that reform.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.