HC Deb 13 December 2001 vol 376 cc990-2
6. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What progress she has made towards producing a long-term strategy for the future of the UK fishing industry. [20559]

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

I welcome the contribution being made by the industry towards development of a strategy, through the Fish Industry Forum. The outcome of the common fisheries policy review that is now beginning will also be an important influence.

Andrew George

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Does he realise, however, that more than two years have passed since the Select Committee's report? In his response, he accepted that we need a long-term strategy for the future of the industry; and that there is clear evidence that the piecemeal and reactive response to the problems of the industry for more than a generation does not address those problems. They need to be addressed. Today's announcement that the decommissioning package has been oversubscribed more than five times is further evidence that the fishing industry is in crisis. Piecemeal responses are no longer acceptable.

The World Wide Fund for Nature and the industry are making useful and intelligent long-term proposals for the industry. When will DEFRA produce a strategy for the future of the industry?

Mr. Morley

We asked the Sea Fish Industry Authority to make proposals for a strategy on behalf of the industry. It produced a document that I very much welcome as a contribution towards that strategy. I have also held discussions with the Fish Industry Forum, the industry itself, the WWF and other interested parties. It is fair to say that we would have made more progress, but the foot and mouth epidemic has had a devastating effect on the Department's work load—as it has on other parts of the rural economy. We are committed to taking the matter forward and will hold a high-level meeting when we intend further to develop the policy. We welcome the work done by the forum and its suggestions and will respond accordingly.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as devising plans to enable fish stocks to recover, we also need a plan to ensure that the fishing industry itself survives in the best condition to catch those fish? Will he look at the success of the oil and gas industry Government taskforce, which set out a clear 10-year strategy that is being implemented? Will he set up a similar taskforce for our fishing industry?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend has been a great advocate of a regional approach to fisheries, and I will certainly take his suggestions seriously. The important thing to recognise is that the most important strategy for the fishing industry is to ensure that we have a sustainable fisheries industry, with sustainable management. That involves addressing some of the problems in relation to the state of our fish stocks and the pressure on them.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

The Minister will be aware that, under the Scottish decommissioning scheme, some 20 per cent. of the fleet has applied to be decommissioned. Although that is good for the industry, it has long-term economic consequences for fishing areas. Will he therefore consider a tie-up scheme to ensure that there is still a fishing industry when stocks recover?

Mr. Morley

A tie-up scheme would not address the problem of the effects of decommissioning on regional areas. The arguments for tie-up schemes are phrased in a different way, and I am not altogether persuaded by them. Funds are available through the regional development agencies and the Scottish Executive to help regions affected by job losses and changes in industry restructuring, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and I also say to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) that decommissioning has consequences and should not be seen as an end in itself. Decommissioning should be seen as only one of a range of options to deal with the industry's structural problems.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I am sure that the House would want to wish the Minister well with his negotiations in Brussels next week, but will he confirm that his approach to those negotiations will be based on sound science, sustainability, especially for areas such as the North sea, and a long-term approach that will deliver for fishing communities such as Scarborough and Whitby?

Mr. Morley

I can certainly confirm that, and I know that my hon. Friend is very concerned about the fishing fleets in Scarborough and Whitby, but the fact is that if we do not follow the science, even though that, on occasion, might mean taking very difficult and tough decisions, there will be no fishing industry. It is fair to say that, in this round of negotiations, the Commission's position on a range of stocks goes beyond the science and does not appear to have sound scientific justification. In those circumstances, I will most certainly challenge its position.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will the Minister confirm that the long-term strategy for the United Kingdom fishing industry depends on the European Union treaties ratified by the House?

Mr. Morley

The European treaties certainly have a major bearing on fisheries policy, but the hon. Lady should be aware that the way in which we manage our fisheries in our own waters and the strategies that we apply to our own fishing fleet are matters for the House and the Government.