HC Deb 02 December 1999 vol 340 cc117-62WH

[Relevant documents: Eighth Report from the Agriculture Committee Session 1998–99 HC 141 and Seventh Special Report (Government Reply).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

2.30 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

It is a great privilege to be opening the first debate on a Select Committee report to be held in this place. I believe that it is also the first debate to compete with the main Chamber, so I am pleased to see so many colleagues from all parties here this afternoon.

I confess to some reservations about this experiment, but the widespread welcome received by our report from all parts of the industry and the lobby groups around it perhaps suits this less confrontational style of debate. I am reminded that in New York, the best plays are often off Broadway. I have reservations about the name of this place, but I hope that the best debate this afernoon will be off Westminster Hall.

There is nothing new about a horseshoe style—Select Committees have used it for years—but I understand that Madam Speaker has instructed that there should be some segregation in the Committee, and we are obeying that ruling. Sitting just to my left we have the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ).

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

And the Liberals on the far right.

Mr. Luff

As my right hon. Friend says, we have the Liberals on the far right, which makes a change.

The Government's response to our report was one of the best that we have received, and I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for it. To use a fishing metaphor, it does not look as though the Government will be discarding our report; it was certainly not undersized. With around 90 pages and 58 recommendations, it is one of our larger reports. Its combination of quality and quantity owes everything to the Committee staff and advisers, and I am grateful to them. I commend the photographs on the front cover, which were produced by me and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who is in the Room. That is the only compliment that he will be receiving from me this afternoon.

During my first year as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, we held a wide range of inquiries, but the nearest we got to sea fishing was flood and coastal defence. It is interesting that that report also received a fine response from the Minister.

I must strike one note of sadness this afternoon. Three of the key members of the Committee who worked on our report on sea fishing have left or are shortly to leave the Committee. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), who is in his place this afternoon, has a deep knowledge of the industry and contributed greatly to our considerations. He has already left the Committee to take on the onerous responsibilities of speaking on social security for his party—

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

And fishing.

Mr. Luff

And fishing.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), whose exploits in Vigo fish market are probably best forgotten—for reasons which I shall happily share with the Minister at a later date—also contributed greatly to the work on the report. He is sadly missed, although he is now doing great service in Kensington and Chelsea and elsewhere.

We are also to lose the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, who will be replaced if a motion in the House is passed today. It is sad to see her go because she has contributed greatly to our Committee. She was a lively and intelligent questioner and we shall miss her very much.

The real reason for holding an inquiry into sea fishing was that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby would have made my life a living hell if we had not. I share with him a constituent who operates a fish stall in Droitwich Spa market, but at weekends lives in Grimsby, from where he brings all his fish. I feel that I am a kindred spirit with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, although his constituents have shown little gratitude for the effort that we made in the report to protect their interests. The Worcester Evening News stated on Wednesday 24 November under the headline "Fishy sales warning" and "'Grimsby traders' are bullying OAPs": Pensioners are being bullied into paying hundreds of pounds for fish by tradesmen claiming to be from Grimsby.… The fish sellers are described as driving a red or orange-coloured Transit van and speaking with northern accents. I hope that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will call the troops off and let the pensioners of Worcestershire buy their fish wherever they choose.

I do not claim to have had a deep understanding of the industry before we began the inquiry. Like most Committee members, I approached the inquiry with an open mind and a largely closed mouth, which is perhaps unusual for a politician. I freely admit that, as we conducted our inquiry, I discovered much that surprised me. My first big surprise was that it was possible to inquire into the United Kingdom fishing industry without becoming bogged down in the high politics and intricacies of the common fisheries policy. Others shared that surprise, which many continue to articulate to this day. We set terms of reference that expressly excluded the common fisheries policy from our deliberations, and our report, which was widely welcomed, proved that we were right to do so. Indeed, that great Labour Eurosceptic, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, told Fishing News that our report was the best overview of the industry for years. Like most of my party, I do not like the common fisheries policy. It is far from the ideal tool for managing fish stocks, but it is the best that we have. British fishing policy must not resemble a startled rabbit that is caught in the headlights of the common fisheries policy and unable to focus on anything else. A great deal can be done by the Government to help the industry, as our report clearly demonstrates. The Committee put the common fisheries policy to one side because the Europhiles and Eurosceptics—to use those crude terms—understood that simple fact. Moreover, we knew that, on such an important political question, it was unlikely that agreement could be reached on anything worth while. Select Committees are at their best when they operate on the basis of consensus, and I took pleasure from the Government's analysis of our report. They said: The Government welcomes this thorough and constructive report". Today's debate should concentrate not on the common fisheries policy, but on the real and substantive issues raised in the report.

As I said, sea fishing was our major inquiry last year. We began taking evidence in November 1998 and held our final session with the Minister in June. I am glad to see that he holds the same post that he held when the inquiry began. That is a rare feat. Our inquiries were not limited to London; we travelled the length of the country. In February we travelled to Newlyn, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for St. Ives. In May we travelled to the Shetland Islands, via Grimsby, of course, and Aberdeen. I admit that we also made a detour to Brussels. We visited fish markets and processing plants, and saw for ourselves the industries in Spain and Iceland.

Most important, we listened to the views of enforcement officers, scientists, fish merchants, processors, producer organisations and, of course, fishermen themselves, both individually and through their representative organisations. I believe that I speak for the whole Committee when I say that we were grateful for the warm welcome that we received everywhere. For many of us, our view of the industry changed dramatically. As we travelled, rather like a travelling circus, from a Committee Room in Westminster via a hotel ballroom in Cornwall to a council chamber in Peterhead, we learned a great deal.

I learned that the industry's image is often substantially at odds with the reality. That was my second big surprise. As the report states, although the industry is often represented by itself and others as an industry of victims", many in it have broken with the past, leading to an important political conclusion. Having set out the five essential fishing policy objectives—I refer hon. Members to the report—we said that our overriding concern is that the Government establish a settled, transparent long-term strategy for management of fisheries which takes into account the competitive position compared to other EU countries and within which the industry can plan, confident that any necessary changes will apply equally and be introduced fairly, with proper consultation and with regard to clear and agreed objectives. There is a very bright future for the UK sea fishing industry and the Government has to play its part in helping to bring this about. That conclusion is of fundamental importance. I believe that the people whom we represent in this place like to back winners. Support for the fishing industry would grow if people realised that many fishermen are winning, and that many more could do so in the right environment.

The Committee was pleased with the Government's response to that recommendation. The Government said: The Government notes the Committee's suggestion of drawing up an agreed long term management strategy, covering inter alia rationalisation of the fishing fleet and fishing ports, and will consider this with the industry. Judging from our earlier discussion, the Minister has anticipated my first questions. What has been done in respect of that recommendation? Have those joint considerations begun? How will progress be reported to the House and to the Committee?

The more we travelled and the more we saw, the more we became convinced that the sea fishing industry had a bright future. People are investing in boats, embracing new, modern equipment and adapting to the demands of the consumer. As in all other industries, whatever their activities, that is the way to succeed in the modern world. I should say to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that we were very impressed by the fishermen whom we met in Grimsby. They had overcome their traditional hostility to the supermarkets and were entering into new kinds of contracts, which should bring real advantages to both consumers and the industry. We were especially impressed by the industry in Shetland, although I accept-as I am sure that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby would wish me to point out—that the financial situation there has been helpful in supporting changes in the fishing industry.

Our central strategic conclusion is that the industry must be allowed, as far as is humanly possible, to take charge of its own future. To help it to do so, we made many individual recommendations to encourage cooperation between the different links in the chain from the sea to the supermarket shelf, including scientists, administrators, processors and retailers. We called for a better exchange of information between all parties, measures aimed at encouraging mutual trust and concerted market-led strategies.

My third big surprise was the often low level of trust between scientists and fishermen. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, but I was. In other countries, scientists and fishermen are far more obviously allies in the battle for their industry's success. That is a culture that we must create in the UK. It is not a uniformly disappointing picture—there are some shining examples of good practice in the UK—but the general situation struck me as dispiriting.

As we stated in recommendation 14, We recommend that MAFF consult with the scientific community and the fishing industry on the best way to establish a permanent formal procedure for collaboration and consultation on fisheries research. The Government responded: The Government agrees this recommendation and Fisheries Departments and scientists are already in touch with the industry to improve contacts on science and to establish a more formalised approach. The Minister may have anticipated my next question. What is happening in respect of that recommendation?

My fourth surprise was the lack of multi-species modelling. Our report shows that more than half the fish that disappear from the North sea are eaten by other fish. In that context, multi-species modelling is tremendously important in working out the state of stocks. I was a little disappointed with the Government's response on that. They stated: Multi-species work poses considerable scientific and practical problems and"— I suspect that this is a clue— is expensive. It is being advanced in the North Sea to develop the range of scientific methods necessary to understand, and predict, the consequences of management actions in a multi-species context. As such work bears fruit—and as resources permit—it can be transferred to other regions where it is believed multi-species interactions are significant to our fisheries. I do not find that a confident enough statement about the profound importance of multi-species research.

I emphasise the Committee's overriding concern that the Government should take full account of our competitive position compared to that of other EU countries and apply necessary charges and regulations equally and fairly, with proper consultation with the industry. Given the long-term interest of the industry and the state of stocks, we understand that some regulation is, and always will be, inevitable. However, the Committee felt strongly that more attention could and should be paid to the cost of compliance and the overall regulatory burden when the Government considered new measures for the industry. Both the cost and complexity of the regulatory regime must be minimised.

The Committee also felt strongly that greater account must be taken of our competitive position abroad. That does not mean that UK fishermen should automatically receive extra money if fishermen in another member state receive it, but the Government should increase their awareness of how regulations are implemented and enforced in other countries to ensure that our fishermen are not competitively disadvantaged. As we stated, We recommend that the Government prepare an audit of all regulations and their compliance costs relating to the UK fishing fleet".

That leads me logically to my fifth surprise, which I have also experienced in other areas of MAFF's work. The Government do not seem to think that embassies—and, where relevant, high commissions—are there to find out what our competitors do. I regret that, in their response to our report, the Government insisted that it was the responsibility of the European Commission to gather the necessary information. I do not understand that. Why will the Government not use their embassies to monitor implementation and compliance issues in other EU states? It would require very little effort to do that. Keeping an ear to the ground and reading the specialist and local press would suffice.

That line has softened recently in other areas. I welcome that. I hope that the new approach will be extended to fishing. Our posts overseas are best positioned to find out what other Governments are doing. When we impose costs without knowing whether our competitors are doing the same, it is worse than doing it in the full knowledge that they are not. A conscious act of policy to disadvantage a UK industry is generally wrong, but it is a scandal not to know whether one is doing so.

However, I am sure that officials at the Ministry would welcome receiving any evidence of breaches from fishermen and from the fishing industry. The Government have undertaken to investigate any breach, when hard evidence is provided, and I urge fishermen to provide the Minister with that evidence. However, I do not propose to let the Government off the hook. Their response to our concerns about regulation was inadequate. Why will they not agree to a proper, full-scale audit of the regulatory burden facing fishermen?

A sixth surprise is the fact that the trade in licences and quotas—a very valuable trade—is built on sand. What is the legal title to these phenomenally valuable commodities? Whatever one's point of view on individual transferable quotas, it is difficult for someone on the outside looking in to believe that so many millions rest on trusting politicians not to change the policy. We are not normally so easily trusted. MAFF's response to us on that point was a little lame. It may suit Ministers to keep the waters murky, but it does not suit a modern industry. The Government have promised to seek the views of the industry on managing the trade in licences and quotas. They stated: There are no plans to change the existing position whereby licences and quotas apply at the discretion of Ministers but with fishermen's interests protected by the legal concept of legitimate expectation. Nevertheless the Departments"— that is Departments in the plural; it includes the devolved Departments in Scotland, Wales and now, I presume, Northern Ireland— will consider, in consultation with fishermen's representatives, if any further steps might be taken to clarify entitlement to licences and quotas under present legislation. That is better than nothing, but I should like to know what progress has been made on that consultation. What is the timetable for action? Decisions need to be made urgently, and speed is of the essence.

The Committee was not unanimous on the larger question of tradeable quotas, as the report shows, and our recommendations were modest. I suspect that other members of the Committee may speak on this later. Our report stated: We recommend that, in conjunction with representatives of the fishing industry, the Government devise proposals for managing the existing trade licences and quota, with a view to introducing them as a matter of urgency. We recommend that the Government consult the fishing industry on the merits and drawbacks of tradeable quotas and the most appropriate form for their introduction in the UK, including the future management role of the POs"— the producer organisations— and the extent of safeguards, for example to protect fishing-dependent communities, and report on the outcome of these consultations within a year. The Government's response was encouraging, but no time scale was given. They said: In the light of the Committee's recommendations the Fisheries Departments in the UK will seek the views of the industry on whether further changes should be made to quota management and what measures might sensibly be taken to manage the existing trade in licences and quota.

Others who speak after me may wish to explore this issue in more detail. It goes to the heart of the question of what structure we want the UK fishing industry to have. There were those outside who expressed doubts on this score, but our trip to Iceland, where the trade in quotas is further advanced, did not blind us to the problems that such systems create. We saw the deep controversy that surrounds the system there.

The Government will have to grapple more openly and honestly with the issue than they have before, and I would like to know how those discussions are progressing. We have to make explicit choices and develop clear policies to address the often conflicting objectives of policies in this area, such as helping the more remote fishing ports, encouraging young people into the industry and building an efficient and internationally competitive industry.

I should not have been surprised by how unprepared the Government seemed to be for devolution, but I was. That is the final surprise that I shall mention today. The Government talked about concordats, when they stated: The Government notes the Committee's wish for urgency in concluding the subject specific concordats on fisheries management … Publication of these documents must be subject to prior agreement … bilateral departmental concordats between MAFF and the devolved administrations … have yet to be finalised. The concordat was published on 1 November, which was several months after devolution. I should like to know the background to that issue, to find out how it is developing and how the relationship with the devolved administrations is working in practice.

I should like to discuss many other matters, but other hon. Members are interested in the report and I should let them speak. I suspect that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will discuss the urban waste water directive. Other subjects that may be mentioned include the scrapping of the vessel safety equipment grant, the level of discards, coastal and zonal management, the marketing, processing and port facilities scheme, new marketing initiatives by the Sea Fish Industry Authority, a range of environmental issues, the role of sea fisheries committees and, above all, the proposed national institute for fisheries in Grimsby. However, I leave those matters to other hon. Members.

The Agriculture Committee wanted to present a positive image of the industry, and I am pleased that the report appears to have been accepted in that spirit. The sea fishing inquiry was one of the most interesting that the Agriculture Committee has undertaken. We hope that we have done something to bring about changes for the better and to focus attention on what—paradoxically—appears to be both a neglected and an over-regulated industry.

Perhaps the most famous thing ever said by a British politician about fish was the comment that Aneurin Bevan made at the Labour party conference at Blackpool in 1945. He said: This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time. We are getting pretty short of coal mines these days, but there is no reason why sea fishing should share a similar fate.

I assure the Minister that, although the inquiry has been concluded, we shall continue to monitor developments in the industry closely. We are determined that the bright future that we predicted will come about.

2.51 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who was the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, and I am glad that in this Chamber we are seated in a semicircle trying to persuade each other. We had a similar experience on the Agriculture Committee. People from all parties and, more importantly, of all views on Europe worked together to produce a good report on fishing. I believe that we succeeded in doing so. The fishing industry's reaction has been very good—fishing organisations and fishermen have congratulated me on the report. That was a novel experience for an hon. Member whose constituency is based on fishing and whose party is in government. Perhaps that shows how well members of the Agriculture Committee worked together.

The Agriculture Committee produced a good overview of the fishing industry's needs and problems. That was necessary because people do not know much about the industry. It is divided because different interests pull in different directions. Although it suffers from an inferiority complex, it is not paranoid—it has been badly treated, which tends to confuse the issue. Our overview assessed the present situation and considered how the industry could progress to a better future.

With effective conservation, the harvest of the seas could be stabilised and looting and pillaging would end. There has been a desperate need to catch any size of fish just to survive, although that approach has done much damage in the North sea and elsewhere. There is a worldwide overcapacity in fishing, and problems with conservation. Unless we correct those problems, the fishing industry will cease to be effective. We want it to move away from a continual process of improvisation, which involves trying to catch as much as possible, towards an organised and structured system. The industry should co-operate with Governments rather than continue in its antagonistic relationship with them. That was one of the aims of our report.

Fishing has been neglected because it has been low among the Government's priorities. I praise the efforts of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is an effective Fisheries Minister. He made a conscious effort to listen to the industry and he earned its respect. However, where does fishing come in the Government's priorities? It is not as high a priority as it is for other European Governments, who regard fishing as an important industry. More people are employed in the industry in other European countries and it receives more support from European Governments than from the United Kingdom Government. In this country, it makes awkward—and, in a European context, disruptive—demands. The UK Government do not pursue those demands properly because they have to make progress in other areas.

Quota hopping, for example, tends to be moved down the list of priorities to achieve a deal on other matters that, for understandable reasons, are more important to the Government. That is a problem. The Select Committee was impressed by my hon. Friend the Minister's stewardship, by the clarity and straightforwardness of his evidence and by his concern for fishing. I can now hit him with all the things about which we had reservations.

We stayed off the European issue because it would have been divisive in a Select Committee. There is a real problem, however, because fishing was sacrificed in the initial entry negotiations. The deal provided for equal access to a common resource and it is difficult, on that basis, to ensure proper conservation of our waters. The answer always given to those who, like me, whinge on about the common fisheries policy is that co-operative arrangements with European countries would be required. However, if we had not accepted equal access to a common resource, we could have imposed our own common agreements and policy and we could have followed our own conservation needs.

Conservation measures, such as the introduction of square mesh panels and closing off grounds—which we can do against our own fishermen, but we cannot do without agreement against other fishermen—are difficult to achieve because of Europe. It is difficult to reach an agreement on technical conservation measures, which are the way forward and increasingly necessary, because Europe agrees on common, basic, across-the-board, minimal measures. Other countries have been better at building up and retaining their fishing industry—Iceland, Norway, the United States and New Zealand—by imposing a conservation regime that suits their national purposes. The odds are against the regime in which we have to participate because of the basic disparity of equal access for other nations to a common resource. That resource is at its richest in British waters, which in value terms provide three quarters of the catches.

Although the Select Committee stayed off the European issue, it is a genuine problem. As the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said, it makes Governments prone to impose costs on fishing that are not imposed on competing fishing industries. They are inclined not to support fishing as the industry wants and, I think, needs to be supported, because such assistance is provided through European measures. Our fishing industry falls between stools—for much of the period, it has not had European financing on the scale that Spain and other countries have had. Spain has had considerable European finance to rebuild its fleet. We lost Icelandic waters, but we were not given compensation in the fishing grounds of third parties. Spain, however, benefited from Moroccan waters and a whole series of African waters as compensation for the consequences of entry. Compensation has never been given to this country, even though other fishing regimes receive considerable aid.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Whose responsibility is it that the UK industry in England and Scotland has not had access to such grants, while the industry in Spain and other European countries has?

Mr. Mitchell

That is an opportunistic point, which I might have made two and half years ago but do not make now. It is partly because there would have to be a Treasury contribution to European funding, and partly because we have not achieved the multi-annual guidance programmes that we were set, so we have not qualified for European funding. We have not achieved those multi-annual guidance programmes partly because other nations were transferring their fishing fleets to the British register. By reflagging their vessels as British, they solved the problem of reducing their efforts, but at the same time they were increasing our problem of reducing our own efforts.

I do not want to engage in a party political argument with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), but it is an objective fact that the industry has not been supported by either Europe or the Government to the same degree that other fishing fleets have been. Our industry now relies on an ageing fleet. We were told in Spain that the Spanish had problems with an ageing fleet too, but their big catching fleet—the large vessels that fish in our waters—is extensively modernised in a way that our fleet is not. The overall figures indicate an ageing fleet, which is not only a danger to safety—I think that my hon. Friend the Minister recognises that—but makes the industry less effective than its European competitors.

We must constantly bear in mind the need to give our fishing industry a deal that is equal—a level fishing ground, as it were—to the aid and support that its competitors have. It is unreasonable to impose extra burdens on it. As we emphasised in the report, we need to keep the matter constantly under review. MAFF must know what costs are being imposed on competitor industries. Why should we put up with the tendency constantly to impose extra burdens on our industry that are not imposed on competitor industries? Waste water charges are a classic instance. Competitiveness means a level playing field, but we do not have that in the fishing industry. That worries me.

While I am discussing the neglect of fishing, we note in the report the way in which safety grants—as well as processing grants, harbour grants and harbour safety grants—were suddenly ditched because MAFF found itself in a difficult financial situation. It came quite out of the blue with terrifyingly short notice. "Sorry," MAFF said, "there is a black hole in our accounts and we cannot pay these grants for safety and other aspects of deep concern to the industry, including processing." The industry should now be applying for support for processing to cover the cost of re-equipment and meeting the standards of the waste water directive, but the grants have all been cancelled, just like that. It indicates an appalling sense of priorities. The low position of fishing in the Government's priorities is unacceptable. I hope that our report does something to redress that by highlighting the problems of the industry.

I do not want to go on because there is no point in repeating the entire report, but its general tenor was that fishing needs to upgrade its game. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister shares that view because we have talked about it constantly and it is in the nature of the evidence that he gave. Our report is written with this question in mind: how can we turn fishing into a more efficient and effective, better skilled, better trained and more stable industry with better investment? Training and education are ways of upgrading the game and I am glad that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire mentioned the Committee's recommendation, which I want to emphasise, in that regard. Our report states: We commend such far-sighted ideas"— on training— to the Government and urge MAFF to explore with the Department for Education and Employment the possibility of establishing a National Institute for Fisheries, on the basis set out in the Grimsby submission".

That is what we need. Training and education have been drastically cut, university courses have been closed and the number of places available on them has shrunk, and there has been a failure to establish a national centre. We were impressed in Shetland by the—

Mr. Luff

The North Atlantic Fisheries college.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that.

The college is impressive. It trains people from all over Scotland. A similar training institution is needed in England. We believe that it should be in Grimsby and we are preparing submissions on that for the Minister. The Government's response to our suggestion for a national institute of fisheries was a little disappointing. They said that it would have to be considered in the light of other existing facilities. We took that into account and there are no adequate existing facilities.

The Government went on to say that the scheme was considered in July 1997 and referred for European funding, which was not taken up because the scheme was not developed. However, now it is developed and our recommendations will be sent to the Minister. As the report says, the Minister's Department and the Department for Education and Employment need to coordinate to provide an institution that will upgrade the industry.

Marketing needs to be tackled. Co-operative arrangements with the supermarkets, which are selling more fish, would help to bring their strength and power to this industry. The role of the supermarkets is in contrast to that of the jobbing people who are plaguing constituents elsewhere. The report that I read said that they were posing as coming from Grimsby. People pose as doctors and perform operations, but that does not mean that they are qualified. To come from Grimsby implies a weighty role and a sense of honour and integrity that is alien to the people who have been selling lorry loads of fish to poor pensioners for thousands of pounds—although it is interesting that pensioners are able to buy lorry loads of fish for such high prices.

Marketing needs to be upgraded to involve the supermarkets, which are an unexplored resource. We need their commitment. The co-ordination of markets, in particular the supermarkets, with the catching of fish needs to be upgraded. That would mean better catches of bigger fish and would cut out the discards. We could cut down on fishing that is not for human consumption. The plague of industrial fishing continues. It is damaging the stocks by killing and catching young immature fish on a scale that is unacceptable when the resource is so depleted. Where do we draw the line? We need to stop industrial fishing.

Fishing needs to be put on a higher level so that it is a more efficient, effective and better invested industry. We emphasise that in our report. The fishing industry cannot do that on its own. I realise that it is convenient for Ministers to say that catches are down but prices are up, and a viable industry is able to provide for itself. But fishing cannot do so; it needs Government leadership and a measure of Government support.

Committee members can argue about how much support the industry needs. When we wrote the report, there was a divergence of view between the free marketeers, who believe that industry should not be supported by Government, and those members who were acquainted with the needs of fishing and who wanted some Government support. Both views were held by people at either end of the political spectrum; it was a cross-party argument. The free marketeers won on too many issues. It is interesting to hear those same free marketeers, whose farming constituents are clamouring for help, say that it is important to sustain that industry with Government support. They were not prepared to give that support to fishing. However, I do not want to make a party political point.

Mr. Luff

I must leap to the defence of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) whose intellectual analysis of every situation is rigorous and consistent, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will confirm.

Mr. Mitchell

I heard my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire, who has agricultural constituents, say something about the need to give temporary financial support to farmers in difficult marketing conditions, who were affected by the rise in the price of the pound and the collapse of eastern European markets. The argument becomes one of self-interest.

It is diffcult for the fishing industry to act on its own without leadership and without Government involvement. We were impressed by the way in which the Shetland industry has developed, the way in which it has bought quota, the way in which funding is given and the way in which the industry is trying to provide entry for young fishermen, who find it increasingly difficult to enter the industry because costs are so great and because the banks are so reluctant to lend the necessary money, given the uncertainties. The Shetland industry has been able to do that because it has had money available—initially highlands and islands development money. More important, oil revenues have been invested and loans have been provided from that money to keep the Shetland industry going. The rest of the industry does not have such a resource and, without it, upgrading such as has occurred in the Shetlands is difficult to achieve.

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

I was interested in the Shetland scheme—I have discussed with the industry how it achieved that. I was anxious to be assured that such a scheme, which has the advantage of being underpinned by oil revenue, was not unfair to sections of the industry without that advantage. The argument that I heard there was that the scheme amounted to a business arrangement—the quota was held in trust and was leased by the fishermen. They were paying a commercial return. In fact, they complained that the return that they were paying was more than a commercial return.

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is right; annoyingly, he usually is. However, the issue depends on timing and stages. Previously, many of the quotas bought from Grimsby were purchased with highlands and islands funding when that was more widely available. Now, there is a commercial loan system. The important point is that Shetland's local authority has money available that can be used by, and has been offered to, the fishing industry; banks in many other parts of the country will not make money available on the same commercial basis.

Mr. Morley

I apologise, but I must point out that Grimsby's producer organisation has bought a fair amount of quota recently on a completely commercial basis.

Mr. Mitchell

Of course that has happened—everyone is rightly in that game. However, that purchase occurred after a disastrous loss of quota—mostly to Shetland, but also to other parts of Scotland—which was in danger of making the size of the Grimsby fleet unviable. A fleet of a certain size is needed to support a centre for excellence in fishing. We arranged that scheme to buy back and to keep quota in the port because the loss of quota was putting the fleet in danger of falling below that size. That was a sensible precaution which everybody has to take. Shetland has advantages in that game that the rest of the country lacks.

My hon. Friend said—I am sure that he was right—that the Shetland industry was not given a commercial advantage. However, it is more difficult for other sections of the fishing industry to raise from commercial loans and from banks money equivalent to that available in Shetland—the struggle is tougher.

I have been diverted from coming to my conclusion; I was going to have a ringing conclusion. However, I wish to consider the waste water directive. The Select Committee recommended that that directive should be phased in. It will apply to the Grimsby fishing industry first. Anglian Water Services has been able to build a waste treatment plant outside the town at Pyewipe. A plant will eventually be built at Hull and others will be built in other ports, but Grimsby is on the front line. At first, charges increased by 500 per cent. or, in some cases, by 1,000 per cent.—they were massive. By a series of negotiations, we had the charge brought down to a two and a half times increase—still a massive increase for small processing firms. I am talking not so much about the big processing firms which will face an isolation of costs as about small firms and fish merchants who process on the premises. They have invested considerable sums to install treatment equipment. That is a big burden for a small firm—a big firm may be able to bear such a cost, but Government help should be available. An expression of horror has just crossed the face of my hon. Friend the Minister.

Help is given in other countries. The industry in France benefits from 75 per cent. financing of the cleanup machinery. We do not benefit in this country. I accept that the increase is down to two and a half times, but the amount is still massive. In the light of our report, the Chairman of the Select Committee and I wrote to Anglian Water Services, which has since then maintained a stunning silence. Further letters to it from fish merchants suggesting that the charge should not be applied have been referred to its legal department. That seems ominous, but it is unfair and unacceptable that the charges should be imposed at a higher level on Grimsby when a new system of reviewing the charges will be introduced, as the Government said in their reply. Why should the costs be imposed in Grimsby before then? They will distort competition and hit the town, where a large number of merchants need to be maintained to set a better price for fish.

I commend the report to the Government. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will examine it seriously because it represents many of the lines along which he is thinking. The industry needs sustained help and support from Government if it is to move forward in the way that the report suggests.

3.16 pm
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak in this important fishing debate. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), on the way in which he not only chaired the debate and inquiry, but presented the findings of the Select Committee this afternoon. I welcome to the debate the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). I think that this is his first time speaking on behalf of the official Opposition on this subject and, given the comments of his predecessor, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about the industry.

We embarked on the inquiry with some trepidation. There are at least two inevitable outcomes when a politician pops his head above the parapet to get involved in fishing matters. First, the usual handful of head-bangers are provoked on to their high horses to go on about Europe and, secondly, the media usually ensure that several angry fishermen are wheeled out to tell the politicians in no uncertain terms how out of touch they are with the industry and that they should give up and go away.

On the first point, fish may not be bright, but at least they do not have any hang-ups about their nationality. As for the second point, fishermen are, of course, right. Politicians cannot understand entirely the realities of the fishing industry. We are not out with fishermen all the time. We cannot experience what they experience, but we can and should begin to recognise their problems. Discussions with the fishing industry usually result in a fudged stalemate until the next time an unwary politician or political committee stumbles inadvertently on the subject. It remains a political no-win area, which is probably why the leader of the Liberal Democrat party gave it to me. It is usually avoided, preference being given to issues over which spin doctors can exert more control.

The problem is that fishing policy has become piecemeal and reactive. As they always rush for the politically sunlit uplands of health, education or law and order, politicians do not generally understand the problems faced by fishermen—and fishermen do not understand the problems that politicians have with the fishing industry.

If one were to contrive a position from which to establish a really bad fishing policy, one could do no better than the current one, and the unhealthy stand-off does not help, because it results in a short-term, reactive, piecemeal fishing policy. I do not criticise the Government, because the Select Committee tried to be apolitical, but under successive Governments our reaction to the fishing industry has been instinctive and we inevitably react to short-term problems rather than look at the medium and long-term solutions to the problem. I endorse the main recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be a coherent, joined-up vision of where British sea fishing policy is heading in the medium and longer term.

The country must know where its fishing industry is heading in the next five to 10 years. Some argue that we do not give the fishing industry sufficient importance. I agree. In political terms, priority is given to consolidating the regulations on sea fishery committees and so on, but the Government cannot find sufficient parliamentary time to introduce primary or secondary legislation to tidy things up.

The Select Committee found that £108 million per annum is expended on research, enforcement and so on, which represents 7 per cent. of the value of the fishing industry to the UK. That is a phenomenally large proportion of its overall value. We cannot argue that we devalue our fishing industry in financial terms.

If we were trying to plan a successful fishing industry, a good starting point would be Spain. Compared to the UK, Spain operates a relatively successful fishing industry. A fisherman in La Coruna was asked why he was successful and we were not. He answered, "You need three things for a successful fishing industry. You need fish, you need a means of catching them and you need a market." We have not yet got any of those factors right. We are worried about a continual decline in our fish stocks. A great deal more needs to be done to manage it properly.

British cosumers tend to like fish without skin and without the bone, in a fairly square shape, white and preferably covered in batter. That does not make for a good fish market. For example, 80 to 85 per cent. of the fish landed in Newlyn in my constituency, which is a larger catch in terms of value than that of any fishing port in England or Wales, is exported, mainly to Spain and also to France.

We need to look at the industry from each of those points of view. I begin with stock. One of the Select Committee findings, which should be further emphasised because we have not yet learned from it, is that in those countries with a successful fishing industry—particularly Spain and Iceland—the relationship between scientists and fishermen is good. To a certain extent, that applies also to Shetland, where the North Atlantic Fisheries college operates. One has to learn something from that. There must be give and take on both sides. It is not right for the Government to say, "Well, it's time fishermen started behaving and recognising the importance of science," and I do not think that the fishermen should have things the other way round.

The relationship needs to be worked at and improved and, although it has improved over the past three or four years, a great deal more needs to be done. One of the criticisms that the Select Committee made of the system operated at present, which has been operated under successive Governments, is the eleventh-hour annual brinkmanship over the setting of quotas and total allowable catches.

The Minister accepts that such brinkmanship happens. We will go through the process again within weeks of the start of the next fishing year on 1 January, and fishermen still do not know exactly what quota will be set for the next year. There are still arguments to be had, which is unsatisfactory. Fishermen have been told far too late in the day what the likely TACs and quotas will be. We need to find ways to avoid such brinkmanship if we are to go forward in a way that will improve that relationship.

The Committee recognised that, even if it is not possible to stick legally to the Committee's recommendation of setting multi-annual quotas in subsequent years, scientists know a great deal about the likely recruitment-age profile of key species. Scientists can set and the Government can agree to quotas in future years to allow the fishing industry to plan.

In my off-the-record discussions with them, fishermen voice increasing fear about stock collapse or near-collapse in several important species. The Minister is aware of that. I met him recently to discuss bass in area VII, where stocks are in a poor state. I agree with his approach of bringing in a 5-tonne-a-week limit on landings per boat.

The Select Committee specifically cautioned the scientists and the fishing industry about going too far with deep water trawling when seeking new fishing grounds and opportunities, especially in relation to the deep-water north Atlantic species, about which we still know little. We have ageing techniques for assessing the impact of fishing on both grounds and species for only three of the 340 species known to live in the deep Atlantic. In that sense, there is a need for greater joint investment by fishermen and scientists.

The subject of inshore fishery was alluded to by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire. We would like the importance of the sea fisheries committee to be fully appreciated. In future negotiations, the sensible extension of limits from six to 12 miles is desirable and I hope that the Minister will push for that.

Sea fisheries committees need the Acts under which they operate to be clarified and consolidated. The powers that they can use are complex and there is confusion. For example, although the Environment Agency is responsible for estuaries there is a quarter of a mile overlap between two authorities. As I said earlier, the sea fisheries committee has set a landing limit of 37 cm for bass, but the agency has set a limit of 36 cm. Such details must be tidied up, and sea fisheries committees deserve support in that.

The purpose of the powers is to protect the stock and the industry. In any overview of the industry, the inshore fishery and the effect of low-impact fishing should not be overlooked, as it often is. The Minister knows my view that we should put greater emphasis on seeking ways in which to encourage low-impact fishing, such as mackerel hand lining and bass pole-and-line fishing. It is absurd that mackerel hand-liners are in the quota system, but they have not been taken out of it because, we are told, it has been difficult to define them exactly.

I know from recent meetings that the Minister recognises that it is possible to reach a definition—for example, a maximum of one mackerel hand-line per man and four lines per boat. It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to define low-impact fisheries sensibly or to negotiate in Europe and with Norway the removal of such catching techniques from the quota system.

It is important to recognise that it is possible to make a living from the most rudimentary fishing methods. In farming, conventional wisdom dictates that the only future is in greater intensification, capitalisation and labour productivity, but fishing can provide a living for those who practise low-investment, low-intensity and low-impact methods, and that should be recognised and encouraged. People can make a living using mackerel hand-lines.

The Minister will be aware of another encouraging finding on management. It was emphasised time and again that many fishermen and fishing leaders are prepared to consider new methods of fishery management. Environmental organisations and large fishing interests are prepared to consider no-take zones and closed areas and seasons. The encouragement of those management techniques will produce environmental, stock and financial benefits. The Minister would do well to work with his European colleagues in seeking to introduce those techniques as swiftly as possible.

Appropriate emphasis has been placed on individual transferable quotas. I agree that we need to avoid the problem experienced in Iceland; we cannot skirt around the fact. We can learn from that track record. I do not want formal ITQs to be introduced unless the problems have been solved properly in a social market. Those issues include the state conveying "undeserved" wealth to owners and the impact on small communities. In Iceland 10 of the 67 ports were particularly affected. Some lost their entire quotas. Quotas were being traded at enormous prices, which kept young people out of the industry. If the Government intend to go foward with another round of decommissioning, I believe—as does the industry—that they should review the fact that skippers can sell their track record.

On 21 May, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the withdrawal of fishing safety grants. After due consideration, on 1 June the Deputy Prime Minister announced, with a fanfare of publicity, the reversal of that decision in respect of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. On 2 November, the Deputy Prime Minister quietly sent a letter to the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations stating that it could not go forward with the proposal, partly because it was unprepared for devolution. The proposal has now been kicked back to MAFF. That is not good enough. Fishing safety is vital. In my constituency, where we lost 10 men to the sea in 18 months, it is paramount. The Minister must look at the matter again and realise that fishermen deserve support in investing in fishing safety.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) referred to the proposal for a national institute for fisheries. Although, as he said, it was based on the Grimsby submission, that does not necessarily mean that it would be in Grimsby. There are certainly some very good places from Shetland to Cornwall and, with information technology, there is no reason why the work that such a national institute could do should not be spread around all the fishing ports so that all can benefit from improved access and focus.

I commend the Committee's report to the House.

3.37 pm
Mrs. Diana Organ (Forest of Dean)

I begin by adding my congratulations to you on your appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate in Westminster Hall. Congratulations are also due to the Modernisation Committee. This format is ideal for debating Select Committee reports because it provides for a more consensual and less confrontational and oppositional approach, which is similar to the approach that we deployed when we carried out the sea fishing inquiry.

I should like to say how innovative the inquiry was. That is wonderfully illustrated by the cover of the report, which is just like a magazine. However, it was not designed only to display the camera prowess of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff); it was designed in the hope of attracting a wider readership. We are aware that House of Commons Select Committees perhaps do not have the readership that they should have and we thought that the cover might be a way of encouraging a wider public to take on board what we have to say. The cover also illustrates the various facets of the fishing industry. My only criticism is that it does not show any consumers actually eating the stuff.

The fishing industry is often perceived as an industry of victims—although, with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby as its champion, perhaps we should not worry about that too much. I believe that with proper guidance from the Government, the industry has the opportunity to be successful. It is true that it has to meet the challenges of a competing and increasingly global market, and that it is governed by a large amount of regulation, which is imposed mainly to preserve the natural resources that are harvested from the sea.

The Committee discovered several instances in which regulation is not only copper-bottomed and seriously enforced, but overladen. That seems to be peculiar to the United Kingdom—perhaps it is due to our bureaucratic past. However, against those challenges, local communities such as those in Shetland and Cornwall, who form their own co-operatives to add strength to themselves and value to their product, increase their opportunities in mass markets. There are also opportunities in small niche markets for specific products and luxury items for the tourist trade, in the local community and restaurants.

It is unfortunate that successive Governments have been unable to give a clear lead to the industry. They have been unable to deliver a settled, coherent strategy for the management and development of the fishing industry. The present Government are aware of that and my hon. Friend the Minister is determined to put in place such a strategy. The Government's response to our report shows that they are willing to adopt such a strategy.

I want to focus on two areas of the report: research and the marketing of fish. If the long-term success of stocks and the industry is to be safeguarded, it is vital to have sustainability of resources. Everyone agrees. However, to do that, we need to know the extent, quality and projected future of those resources. Stocks must not be out-fished; they must be fished only to safe levels. Therefore, we introduced regulation, with total allowable catches for each important species, which were then divided into quotas. That is what causes so much frustration and anger among fishermen. They argue again and again that the quota levels are wrong, the total allowable catches are wrong, and the information is wrong, and that they are given the information too late and cannot plan for the future.

The setting of the total allowable catch is done following the collection of data by scientists through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which comprises 19 member states. The research is scientific and carried out rigorously in the context of the regulatory system. But how accurate is it? There is much concern that it is inaccurate. How much confidence do fishermen and the industry have in it? I suggest that there is little confidence in the quality and robustness of the research. Is enough being done to communicate the results to the fishing industry? Even ICES has expressed concern about the quality of catch and effort data from most of the important fisheries in the ICES area". The Minister has said that the advice given by ICES was as accurate as it can be within the restraints they face.

The science is very difficult and very inexact. One of the main problems is that counting fish in the sea is not easy. They do not hang around waiting for a scientific trial to be carried out in a specific area. It is a taxing problem. Fish are animals in a natural environment. They move from area to area with the seasons, depending on climatic conditions and at different times of their cycle. Counting them scientifically is a taxing problem.

Without accurate knowledge of the population and the age profile of a species in a fishing ground at a specific time, it is impossible to achieve stability to ensure that fish are not fished out. The single most important source of information for annual assessment is the fishermen's own record of catch and effort, with data coming from more than 55,000 fishing chips—[Laughter]—fishing trips in England and Wales, but fish and chips when they return to land. They measure the landings. There is an assessment of discards and ICES makes provision for that, but I suggest that that is a rule-of-thumb adjustment. When we visited the Vigo Centre of Oceanography in northern Spain, we learned that it estimates that 33 per cent. of catches are discarded globally. In a recent paper, the European Commission put that figure as high as 50 per cent. If we are basing scientific evidence on landings when we know that 50 per cent. is discarded, we are already horrendously inaccurate. Landings have little in common with what is being fished. As was said, there is little contact between fishermen and scientists in the UK.

In his evidence, Mr. Michael Hosking, who is a Cornish fisherman, said that a survey is conducted only once a year. The composition of the catch is not examined, and the time of year of the survey and the gear used are not taken into account. At this point, I should mention another innovation that the Committee introduced. Instead of dragging fishermen to the House of Commons to give oral evidence, we visited them at the Queen's hotel, Penzance, where Mr. Hosking spoke. Listening to him and others while looking out at the steely blue sea and the departing fishing boats gave one a genuine feel for the subject. In the light of Mr. Hosking's evidence, it came as no surprise to discover that fishermen have no confidence in the research or the science.

I shall quote another fisherman, Mr. Robert George, who gave evidence to the Committee. As his description of himself shows, he is an experienced fisherman. He said: I am Robert George and I started fishing when I left school in a cove boat from the beach. I progressed to a crabber from Newlyn and then to a gill-net boat in the 1970s and then into a trawler, a seine-net boat and then into the boat I have got now. We started in this boat pair-trawling from Markle here in the Inch and then we went into a seine-net fishery. We fished Southern Ireland into the North Sea during the winter months and then we were in the North Sea working from Aberdeen from November to Easter for six or seven years. That was up until nine years ago, 1989, when in the Shetlands one of my crew was killed. Since then we have fished 12 months a year off the Irish coast on a fast-net, seine-net. On the subject of the science, he says: I do not think anyone has any idea how much fish has been landed in certain places over the last few years … The scientists know it is a load of rubbish, and I'm sure it is. So we have real problems with the quality of, and confidence in, the science.

According to Mr. De Rozarieux, who is chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science boats that are used for survey and research purposes are out of date compared with those used by fishermen. The gear is 20 years old and does not reflect changes in technology.

Mr. Morley

I shall deal with some of the points to which my hon. Friend has referred in a moment. With regard to CEFAS boats, the same gear, which may well be out of date by modern standards, is used because the catch is measured by visiting the same spots at the same times. To get a consistent response and an accurate idea of fish stocks, the same gear has to be used each time.

Mrs. Organ

I thank the Minister for that intervention. Nevertheless, one must concede that there are particular problems with the quality of research and the models used. As the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) said, when in Iceland we discovered that half the fish that, as it were, go missing, are eaten by other fish, but our models for sustainability of resources do not take that into account. There are problems with the robustness and accuracy of the science. As a result, there is a lack of confidence in the figures and quotas.

Mr. Luff

The Minister's intervention was interesting and I believe that he is right. It is also interesting to note that the experienced fishermen to whom the hon. Member for Forest of Dean referred are unaware of the point that the Minister made. That shows that, as the hon. Lady says, there is a gulf between fishermen and scientists.

Mrs. Organ

Absolutely. There is no real communication between scientists and fishermen and we must improve on that. We need much more sophisticated models that provide better outcomes. We need greater involvement on the part of the fishing industry in approaches to research. We need a financial relationship with the industry, as happens in Spain. Those in the industry should contribute towards research, so that they feel that they own it and are involved in it. We need a wider consensus on the methodology used throughout the industry. We need closer working relationships, which the Chairman of the Select Committee identified. We need more observers on board more ships and we need scientists to be on board more frequently, to develop better procedures.

The Government spend a high percentage on research in comparison with other EU members, although, as the hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned, with 7 per cent. of the industry's gross value of landings, we are getting poor value. The money could be used more efficiently and effectively. We should look more closely at the self-regulated fishing industry in Iceland, which is a model for research commitment and development. We spend a lower percentage on research than Spain, which has very good research opportunities and a better budget. Spain spends between £150 and £180 million a year, while we spend £108 million.

On the special problems connected to devolution in Scotland, it is important that the UK Government should ensure that research is co-ordinated and not duplicated. Fisheries Research Services in Aberdeen, which used to be funded by the Scottish Office, should be used to assist in the overall work of research. The current research vessels are not being used to their full extent, which is mainly because of their age. I urge the Minister to ensure that the new research vessel comes into commission as soon as possible, perhaps before the four-year time scale. In the meantime, specialised vessels should be commissioned by charter to cover the extra effort that is needed to improve scientific work. The programme must not be allowed to fall to the level of one ship, which it seems is possible. We should also spend more on other areas of research, such as the economic performance of the sea fishing industry and the economic issues surrounding the design and implementation of fisheries measures. The UK spends very little on such areas directly, and we could learn much about the industry if we increased such spending. All those problems must be tackled to achieve more credible data and greater confidence in the industry. Everyone should feel that they can understand the regulatory measures.

I do not have a constituency interest in sea fishing, as I represent the Forest of Dean, which has no coastline at all. I am more concerned with eel, elver and salmon fishing, in our great River Severn and beautiful River Wye. As I want all my constituents to live a happy and healthy life, however, I have an interest in the eating of fish. I eat little red meat, although I would not want the farmers to know that, but I am a keen fish eater. Whether the industry thrives is dependent on the continued and increased consumption of fish, so the marketing of fish is crucial to success. Fishermen are more aware of customer demand than they ever have been. The development and strengthening of producer organisations have provided fishermen with an opportunity to market their fish better and add value to their product. As was mentioned earlier, there is always a place for the niche, luxury market. There are other enhancement strategies, however, such as eco-labelling to highlight the promotion of a sustainable method of fishing. Much needs to be done to promote eco-labelling of fish, such as mackerel, as consumers are not widely aware of what it is, what it stands for and what value it has. If the public can be informed, however, there is much benefit to be had, as is evidenced by the marketing of dolphin-friendly tuna.

As for the wet fresh fish market, consumers are becoming increasingly demanding. On a cold, wet trip to Iceland, on a boat out of Reykjavik, I was surprised to hear that a skipper had been contacted on a mobile phone by Harrods food hall with a request for 500 kg of flounder for its customers on Saturday morning. It was then Thursday afternoon and the skipper had caught only half that amount. The rest of it was alive and kicking in the north Arctic seas. The skipper agreed the contract and the price and he went out that afternoon to get the other half of the catch. He got his processors to work through Thursday evening and into Friday morning. The catch was delivered to the airport on Friday morning, flown to London at Friday lunchtime and at 8.30 on Saturday morning it appeared fresh on the slab in Harrods food hall. It is amazing that fish that were swimming around in the Icelandic seas on Thursday evening can be bought and eaten for breakfast on Saturday morning in London. It will be difficult to compete with that, but it has to be done.

The market is dominated, I am glad to say, not by Harrods food hall but by the major multiple retailers. They want freshness, choice, a guaranteed supply of volume, increasing traceability and higher hygiene standards. In the United Kingdom, we have dramatically raised hygiene standards for meat in recent years, but the same needs to be done for fish. We once spent an early morning in Vigo sidestepping mountains of shark, swordfish and monkfish, the largest of which were literally thrown on to the concrete floor. Hygiene standards have a long way to go. The situation was not very different in Newlyn.

The main market value of fish is mostly in the frozen sector, but the fresh sector accounts for one third of the market. The market dominance of the supermarkets is rising. They account for 60 per cent. of fresh fish sales and 70 per cent. of frozen fish sales, and the figures are rising. In 1996, they were responsible for only 50 per cent. of such sales.

Although the industry has been supply driven, the dominance of the multiple retailer, who wants continuity of supply, consistency and standardisation, has created many structural programmes in the supply chain. The Sea Fish Industry Authority should consult the industry, take account of supermarkets' views, devise a marketing strategy and deal with the whole process, from the catching sector through to the suppliers. It should do so with the aim of increasing the competitiveness of the UK industry.

The Food Standards Agency, which will be set up next April under the chairmanship of Professor John Krebbs, has a role to play. We need to campaign hard to convey how healthy, nutritious and convenient fish is for all ages, especially the elderly, who need light nutritious meals, and those who are on a diet and who want to look after their waistline. The FSA should encourage consumers to eat more fish. Many people have problems with it—they think that it looks funny and they do not know how to cook it or turn it into a meal. We have not really overcome that problem and serious promotional work is needed. However, the popularity of salmon steaks shows that success is possible. At one time, they were rarely bought, but now they are regarded as convenience food.

I hope that the FSA will work so hard that our consumption levels will reach those of the Spanish, who eat six times the amount of fish that we do. Fish is good stuff. It is good to eat and it is good for people. If the Government give a helping lead, the whole of the UK fishing industry has a bright future.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

Order. Before we make further progress, I must make a short appeal. If the speeches of hon. Members who are waiting to speak are as long as some of those that have been delivered, it will be difficult for everyone who wants to speak to do so. I believe that three hon. Members want to speak, after which I shall call the Front-Bench spokesman. I know that my ruling may be hard, but I hope that hon. Members will bear it in mind.

3.58 pm
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

I shall bear your injunction in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, and agree with two points that have already been made without elaborating on them.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) discussed the waste water directive, which is a burden on the industry. Another burden that we should consider is the integrated pollution control mechanism, which is intended for the intensive livestock sector. There are legitimate arguments about how much one should subsidise an industry, but there are parallel arguments about the burdens that one should impose on an industry. Those two factors should be considered together.

I also agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), who mentioned fisheries safety grants. We recognise that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was under financial pressure. However, the Deputy Prime Minister leapt in with much publicity to say that he would bail us out and that the situation was unacceptable. Suddenly, the mountain labours and brings forth a mouse—[Laughter.]—nothing happens, the grants have been suspended and the matter is back in the hands of MAFF. The lesson there is that people should reflect before putting themselves in that situation.

When this inquiry started, I had a certain set of ideas or postures about the industry. One was that controls and bureaucracy were multiplying, another that not much was being done for conservation. The Ministry had introduced designated ports, which had been around for a long time. However, every time there is a new stock, the industry goes for it hell for leather regardless of injunctions to exploit it reasonably and one ends up with more regulations.

In the case of North sea prawns, everyone thought that they had discovered a gold mine and no one took a blind bit of notice of any injunctions to be reasonable. The result is that there are now quotas on North sea prawns. We shall debate cod in a few days-a fish that seems to spend its life on the borders of crisis and extinction. Much of the regulation exists because fishermen have shown that they are not prepared to exercise restraint.

We are not delivering conservation or a sustainable fishery under the present regulations. One reason is that fishermen do not have a sense that they own the policies-I know that the word "ownership" is fashionable nowadays. Many fishermen say how much the present system obliges them to cheat or to find ways round it. They do not believe that the policy is working in their interests. There has been some improvement recently: the black fish problem is probably not as bad as it was. However, we still have a problem and need to create a system with which fishermen will feel at ease—one that will serve their interests. They would then want it to work and would be willing to take part in an enforcement policy.

The industry is extremely fragmented and, frankly, often bloody-minded. There is not a single UK industry—there are a dozen. The differences between Shetland, Peterhead, Aberdeen and the south-west of England are legion. Those places have few interests in common. It is difficult to apply a policy across that whole, fragmented industry. If the Minister intends to seek consensus on that policy, we shall be here until the next millennium and he still will not have one. The time has come for him to make up his mind about what is right and to get on and do it.

We are also dealing with an aged industry, in terms of the people involved in it and the equipment that they use. There is pressure on them to go to sea for longer and to cut corners. That creates a safety risk and there is a penalty to be paid in the quality of the fish landed because it does not reach the ports and the retail sector as quickly as it should.

The industry also consumes vast amounts of public expenditure—the Minister mentioned £108 million a year for 18,000 primary producers. If that were applied to a relatively small agricultural sector such as potato production, I suspect that the chips would be worth more than the fish, to use an analogy mentioned earlier. The industry is changing, however, and one must not be tempted to attribute a particular mindset to it. For example, important market mechanisms are being introduced into the operation of the pelagic sector, which is principally Scottish and, on the whole, well invested. People are content with that.

Given that this panoply of regulation does not seem to be doing the job, is there another system that could? More precisely, is there a way in which the market might deliver what regulation does not? Have there been experiences elsewhere in which resorting to market mechanisms has delivered a more sustainable fishery? I am not seeking the transposition of the entire system. I merely wonder whether there are elements of experience elsewhere that could be relevant in the United Kingdom. How would we strike a proper balance between a regulatory process and one in which the market could take some of the strain?

What are we looking for? By what standards would we judge this system? There must be optimal exploitation of the stock. It would be absurd not to get the most out of it, while leaving it sustainable. The industry must be profitable—there is no point if people make no money, because investment must be generated to modernise. The resource must be sustainable and the marketplace must want the product, which must also be delivered to that marketplace. Frankly, we want a limit to public expenditure; as the hon. Member for St. Ives said, no other sector of the economy gets anywhere near the same commitment of public expenditure in proportion to the value of the industry. We also want a system that reasonable fishermen feel is working for them and with which they are at ease.

Other criteria are perhaps more optional. Do we want to maintain traditional fishing communities? There is a choice. On the whole, we have chosen not to maintain traditional coal mining or steel making communities and there is no point in pretending that a fishing community has a different moral value from any other economic community.

Mr. Andrew George

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept that the existence of the fishing industry in many traditional communities adds to the area's tourism potential? That does not apply to the same extent to coalmining and steel making communities, wonderful as they are.

Mr. Curry

I would be interested to know to what extent that is true. If we are to consider economic importance, I can understand that the hon. Gentleman would wish tourism to be calculated as part of that, but I would be interested to see the results.

Mr. Salmond

Aside from the tourist potential, some of us like the idea of maintaining traditional fishing communities. Had it been possible, we would have liked the idea of maintaining traditional coal and steel communities, too.

Mr. Curry

I am sorry that the wonderful consensus that we all set out to produce appears to be fragmenting at such an early stage—rather like the industry itself. I was merely saying that we have already decided that we are not willing to pay the price of maintaining many communities in Britain and we have the same choice about our fishing communities. I am not saying that we should not save them. On the whole, I am inclined to use these instruments to rationalise the industry because it needs to rationalise and to become less fragmented and more capital intensive. That would work for the consumer and for the industry itself. But there is a choice; that is my point.

Individual transferable quotas have interested me for some time. I weigh them, not against some abstract, perfect system but against the realistic alternatives, on the assumption that the current system is probably failing all six tests on which I elaborated earlier. What can the ITQ system do according to the experiences that we observed elsewhere? It looks as though it could deliver an economically successful fishery. I accept that the fisheries in which it is practised are different to those in the United Kingdom—our fisheries are more mixed and foreign ports are closer. I do not pretend that there is an exact parallel, but I am making certain arguments from which we can draw. Moreover, the system appears to curb the incentive to maximise the catch at the expense of the stock; ultimately, if the stock suffers, the balance sheet suffers, too. Clearly, the system also cuts public expenditure.

Could we therefore make ITQs cope with the social criteria that we might want to bring to the argument—that is, the maintenance of fishing communities? I believe that we could if we wanted to, but it would depend on how we made it work. In Iceland, for example, they prevented 100 per cent. leasing, vessels were obliged to fish part of their quota and there was a separate regime for smaller vessels. We could make the quota tradeable only at the level of the producer organisation—by and large, that is the current practice—rather than at an individual level. In the UK, people do buy it individually, but it then tends to be exploited by the person who brought the quota in. There is a mechanism by which we can make it a common rather than an individual resource, so long as we are careful that we do not build producer organisations into a modern version of ancient guilds, which themselves became monopoly dominant and sometimes abusive organisations.

We could also tax for transfers. Just as a sheep transfer or an agricultural quota is taxed, so we could tax a transfer in fisheries to raise resources that would go, for example, to new entrants or for a social purpose. There is nothing about an ITQ that could not be amended to meet the social criteria of our requirements. Enforcement is always a problem. Of course, foreign ports are close, but we could use modern technology, which is a large part of all our lives. Given the size of the fishing industry, which even across Europe is tiny, the technology must be available to develop a harmonised system to allow the instant communication of information between ports of landing. If we cannot do that, we are not being effective.

My approach to the report is not to lay down a perfect system to replace an arrangement that is not working, but to recognise the steady movement towards the introduction of market forces, most notably in the pelagic sector, but also in the purchasing of quota by producer organisations. Market forces have an extensive role throughout the United Kingdom. The Government recognise that and have regularised them to some extent. However, they could take other steps to make ownership a more absolute transfer. We are pushing not against a closed door, but against a door that has been opened informally.

I do not ask the Government to accept market forces in their entirety, but ask them to consider whether it is time to re-examine the concept against the criteria of a sustainable fishery, a reasonable use of a reasonable amount of public funding and a need to maintain a modern industry. We could usefully transpose the lessons from that into our system. The Minister should do that; there is no point waiting for the whole world to agree that it is a good idea. If he takes the leadership and decides what the progressive side of the industry is likely to be able to make work, the Committee will have done a service and the Minister will reinforce his reputation for reasonableness.

4.11 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

May I start with a debating point? The former Fisheries Minister, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), and I have never agreed on individual transferable quotas; I dare say that we never will. They have been tried around the world and, in almost every case, have put a huge concentration of fishing power into very few hands and destroyed fishing communities.

As for pelagic fishing, I do not agree that there is a choice between fishing communities and market forces. Let us consider the pelagic fleets south and north of the border. The English pelagic fleet consists of two freezer trawlers that are owned by Dutch interests; they are flagged-out boats. The Scottish pelagic fleet consists of 50 tank boats that fish productively and efficiently for a resource that is not under substantial pressure and is fished within quota according to a sustainable position. The only major difficulty that faces that catching sector is a regulation difficulty on the matter of engine size. There is no problem with resources or the efficiency of the fleet; there is only an administrative difficulty with engine size.

The Minister knows that I hold him in the highest regard. We had a productive meeting in Glasgow earlier this year and I thought that we were making substantial progress. However, the fishing industry would never forgive him were he to allow the determination of some of his over-zealous officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to bring about a situation in which the Scottish pelagic fleet went the same way as the English pelagic fleet or large sections of the English white fleet. When we sat on the Opposition Benches, he and I protested many times about how much of the English white fleet was flagged out. Fishing communities in Scotland depend on our pelagic fleet. We want it to continue in its present form and not change into something that is very different.

I give three welcomes. The first is to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your much deserved elevation to the position of Deputy Speaker, although I hope that that is not an attempt to silence one of the few truly independent voices left in the House of Commons.

My second welcome is to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), who has been appointed to the Conservative Front Bench. When we served on the Energy Committee 10 years ago, I realised immediately that he was a future Conservative fisheries spokesperson. He is a vast improvement on his recent predecessor, though not, obviously, on all former Conservative fisheries spokesmen. None the less, I welcome him to his position.

Thirdly, I welcome an innovation—the provision of spring water to hon. Members. Conservative Members have correctly identified it as being Campsie Fells spring water from Lennoxtown, which makes it especially welcome. Water is not generally available in the main Chamber—Front Benchers get rather bad tap water that I would not touch with a bargepole—so I welcome that innovation.

I do not welcome the innovation of the Chamber—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—and I shall explain why. If the Select Committee on Agriculture produces an excellent report on the fishing industry, it should have an opportunity to debate the report in the main Chamber so that the report's excellence and its positions can be broadcast to a wider audience of Members of Parliament and, we hope, of the public. There is a great danger in the adopted procedure. With great respect to Select Committee members, we effectively represent the Select Committee in session plus only one or two interlopers, such as me; a meeting might have been sought with the Minister instead.

The fishing industry deserves debates in the main Chamber. With that in mind, I await the annual fisheries debate a week on Monday. I note with great regret that, yet again, it is to be a half-day debate. I recall that the Minister and I made a point on that matter at length when we were both in opposition. I even recall a commitment from him about the time that would be allocated to that annual debate.

Mr. Morley

I confess that I can confirm that, but the hon. Gentleman will remember one annual debate that was squeezed into one and a half hours, which was not acceptable. He will confirm that that has not happened under this Government.

Mr. Salmond

If we are considering the difference between one and a half hours and three hours, I note and accept the improvement. Some hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies would welcome the industry's being given the debating time that it deserves. The question is one of priority.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Does the hon. Gentleman take the Minister's comment as an assurance from the Government that there will be no statement on that Monday to take time from that debate?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been indulgent, but it might be helpful if we returned to the main debate.

Mr. Salmond

Having praised your elevation, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am hardly likely to disobey such a sensible ruling; I shall not be tempted on that point. The question is one of priority in the fishing industry.

I found myself agreeing with much of what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, which is a worrying development. I hope that my fishing constituents will understand. I note that much of his speech concerned the priority given to the industry. I greatly welcome the fact that he, after a long career in which he has made speeches in fishing debates, has reached a conclusion that I have made in every fisheries debate in which I have participated. The question of the priority allocated to the industry is central to fisheries policy, whether that policy is within the context of the common fisheries policy or any other area. The key contrast between the fisheries policy pursued by the United Kingdom and that pursued by other nations within the European Union has been the different allocation of priority to the industry. Three hours, or even a full day, of debate might be small compared to the priority allocated to the industry.

Hon. Members will be aware that the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament is one issue covered by the Committee's report. However, there is European Union involvement in several areas and, even where there is such involvement, decisions are taken by United Kingdom Ministers. I wish to focus on two main areas and to consider more generally fishing policy and the future of the common fisheries policy.

First, as has been said, the report focuses substantially on the relationship between scientists and the fishing industry. I agreed on that point with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ). I underline what she said about communication—there is distrust, a breakdown of communication and suspicion. I am sure that the Minister is aware that there are concerns in the industry about the extent and timing of fisheries' input into the science. I understand that this year the fishing federations were involved in consultation only two weeks before the scientists began preparing their total allowable catch recommendations. Furthermore, the industry feels that the science does not take adequate account of effort reduction measures—for example, the large number of white fish boats now involved in the prawn fishery. In the case of the haddock quota, the sicence is based on over-quota catches of 20 per cent., but the industry would argue that the reality is somewhat different. That concern will certainly be ventilated during the debte that will take place a week on Monday.

For a long time the industry has been calling for a standing committee of fishermen and scientists so that discussion and involvement in the preparation of scientific advice can be an on-going process whereby there can be fishing involvement in the analysis and preparation of the science starting from day one. Such a move would build confidence in the scientific advice and, more importantly, produce science that more accurately reflects the realities in our fisheries. It would also mean that quota allocations do not come as such a surprise to the industry, and that they are not left with too little time to press for further investigation into areas where they feel that the scientific advice is deficient or flawed.

It would also allow the industry to highlight the steps that could be taken to allow greater or higher quota levels. For many years, the Minister and I have argued that technical conservation measures could allow higher quota levels if they could be taken into account in terms of the TAC. Clearly, if that discussion does not take place on an organised basis from year to year, it can never be incorporated into a proper estimate of fisheries effort. That argument is regularly presented during the annual fisheries debate and by the industry. Paragraph 49 of the Committee's report calls for a more formalised and permanent approach and, in their response, the Government agree. However, there does not yet seem to be a firm commitment to the creation of a meaningful structure for that consultation. I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort in respect of full involvement, early consultation and a committee linking scientists and the industry in the preparation of scientific advice.

Secondly, I noticed with interest the recommendation in the Government's response regarding the issue of fishing safety grants. The Committee called for the reinstatement of the vessel equipment safety guard scheme. However, I understand that the Government have indicated in a letter to the industry in England that that is not possible because of "devolution and legal technicalities".

Mr. Mitchell

It is Scotland's fault.

Mr. Salmond

I am used to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby attempting to intervene on me.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are all delighted by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, but if he intends to make interventions they should not be from a sedentary position.

Mr. Salmond

I know that the hon. Gentleman will have taken careful note of that, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may be the first person in the Chair to be able to keep him fully under control.

My understanding is that money is available to reintroduce the scheme in Scotland, but not in England. I am concerned, unlike the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, that Scotland might be held back because of problems facing the English Department. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain what is the problem in terms of reinstating the grant, what discussions he has had with the Scottish Minister for fisheries on this issue, and what involvement he has had in reintroducing the grant.

The Minister will be aware of the wider debate that is raging about whether Westminster Departments are engaged in a desperate attempt to retain control over areas that are properly the province of the Scottish Parliament through ministerial committees, as they seem to have ended up in the chair of every such ministerial committee. I am sure that the Fisheries Minister would not chair such a committee and hold back the Scottish Department if it wanted to reintroduce safety guards, because that is a vital issue.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that he accepts that there is a relationship between the age of the fleet and the safety issue. I know that that relationship has been challenged in the past. None the less, those of us who have experience of representing fishing communities believe that that link exists. We are deeply worried about the ageing structure of the fleet, given that younger skippers are going to ever more distant waters and, under pressure of economic circumstances, going out in ever more difficult conditions. I hope that the Minister will accept that and tell us some good news about the reintroduction of the safety grant regime, which was supported by the Committee.

The Minister is also aware of the increased compliance costs facing the industry and of the fact that the costs borne by our fleet are often not borne by the industry in other EU countries. He knows that that is inequitable and that he made a variety of commitments on that—it was one of his strongest points during his years as Opposition spokesman. He is aware of the concern about the introduction of new safety requirements for the under 12 m fleet. The industry wants safety grants to be reintroduced to assist that sector of the fleet to meet the new requirements. It is wrong to suggest that there is no link between safety at sea and safety grants and I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that.

With review of the common fisheries policy in 2002, time is short. We must press our solutions to the problem of the common fisheries policy. That means coastal state management of the fisheries—a cause that my late colleague, Dr. Allan Macartney, argued with such vigour in the European Parliament and with considerable success in its fisheries committee. It also means greater account being taken of discards and the promotion of technical measures to work hand in hand with other schemes to protect Scots—[Laughter.] Scots need a lot of protection from a variety of Ministers in this Parliament, but not, I hope, from this Minister. Stocks need protection and that should be taken into account in the calculation of effort reduction for the multi-annual guidance programme targets.

I was encouraged recently to hear that Commissioner Fischler had said that he could not envisage a common fisheries policy without relative stability. In his discussions with the Commissioner, I hope that the Minister will confirm that the review of the common fisheries policy will take that direction because it is of substantial importance to our position north and south of the border.

Those are the challenges for the Minister. I hope that he will not take personal offence when I say that I do not want him to be the lead Minister in European negotiations, not because of his personal qualities, which are substantial, but because the Minister who speaks for two thirds of the fleet, or should do—the Scottish Minister—should be the lead Minister in European negotiations. While the Fisheries Minister holds the position of lead Minister at European level, I believe that he will fight for our fishing industry north and south of the border and hope that he will satisfy the Committee on the points that I have raised.

4.27 pm
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I, too, welcome you to your new position, Madam Deputy Speaker. There must be something special about the west coast main line because Madam Speaker's constituency, which is close to Birmingham, can be reached by the west coast main line, as can yours. Those of us who travel on that train will expect a new discipline as a result of your promotion.

I was not a member of the Agriculture Committee while it carried out its investigation, but I joined it just as it had reached its conclusions. I do not feel bound to follow its recommendations, but will make some observations about its findings. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and I are previous Fisheries Ministers and bear the scars of that office. We held our responsibilities at a time when the industry was under pressure to restrict fishing effort and to adapt to changes in the common fisheries policy to allow the full introduction of Spain and Portugal to their treaty-given and rightful positions as full members of the common fisheries policy.

When the industry is fighting for its survival and what it believes to be threats against it, one sees it at its best and its worst. It is an industry of great passion and anyone who has had any connection with it knows that it is unlike any other. It is the very life blood of the individuals and communities that serve it. When someone has been involved with the industry, it is very difficult to give up being interested in it. It has its own committed fan club, although it may be painful for Ministers to be members of that club.

I concur with much of what has been said about the relationship between fishermen and scientists, and the report comments properly on that. Two years ago, as a Front-Bench spokesman for my party, I took part in a debate on fishing. I, too, made the point that a council of fishermen and scientists should be formed to achieve the objectives that have been outlined. As we reach the end of the 20th century and the start of the new millennium, I am disappointed that such a forum has yet to be created. At a fundamental level, the industry finds it difficult to believe in scientific findings, particularly given that it has not been involved in the process, and findings on fish stocks are constraining fishermen.

When discussing the question of regulating fishing, I am mindful of what happened in the waters of Newfoundland, where a cod fishery that could sustain a catch of 300,000 tonnes a year and some 58,000 jobs was reduced to a barren sea within a very short time through over-fishing and a wholly unregulated regime. We need rules and regulations to constrain not merely, as the report states, fishermen's natural desire to enter a race for fish, but their desire to win that race time after time. Given the prevalence of modern technology, fish are significantly disadvantaged in the battle with man the catcher. A visit to a modern trawler shows that computerised techniques are increasing the precision with which fishermen operate. Once fish are located, they become involved in an unequal battle.

I was somewhat saddened by one of the report's general findings. It comments with authority and clarity on the current regime embodied in the common fisheries policy, but there is little evidence of new thinking. The question of bringing fishermen and the rule makers together in a real partnership is not addressed. My hon. friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon and others have talked about ownership. In that context, the concept of the fisherman as farmer is an interesting one to explore. One cannot see the fisherman as a farmer, because he cannot think carefully about which parts of the ocean to exploit, when to exploit them, and which to leave fallow, if he has little control over his work.

Although the report did not deal with the future of the common fisheries policy, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) was right to raise questions about its reform. The common fisheries policy sets the report's boundaries and constraints. If we do not think radically about the way in which the common fisheries policy is formulated, so that fishermen are involved with the rule makers—be they national Governments, the commission, or any other body—in a true partnership, we will not generate the responsibilty in the industry that we advocate in the report.

I suggest that we should put forward a model scheme for the Irish sea. In the first instance, the Governments of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should get together with fishermen and their representatives to form a council for the Irish sea, and formulate a management plan. In the context of the common fisheries policy, such a plan would then be put to the Fisheries Council for endorsement. The same model could apply to other designated waters. Unless the fishing industry and Governments are brought together in a true partnership, all the wonderful science in the world will not prevent fishermen from railing against sudden and dramatic quota cuts, which will inevitably occur in the round for which the Minister is preparing. Instead of continual dialogue, scientists will arrive, MAFF officials will sit in a little room in Brussels with their computer, decisions will be made on whether the quotas can go up a bit or down a bit, the Council will meet, someone will give something away, swaps will be done and, magically, with a combination of science, political horse trading and general wheeler-dealing, the quotas will emerge. Those who are the winners will love them, and those who are the losers will have total distaste for them, without any real consideration of the impact on the spawning stock biomass, which is the seedcorn of the fishing industry.

I would have liked the report to say a little more about the tools and methods for determining when a stock is under pressure and in danger. The scientists have become clever; they know that the politicians will magically water down the numbers, or the warnings, when fishing quantity is discussed. The fishermen are somehow not involved in that argument. The only way of finding a better basis on which to judge the threat to stocks is better definition of when stocks are under pressure. It is not necessary to be a genius to realise how the pressure on stocks has grown. The extremely high cod stocks in 1945 were the most telling example of that. There was a rapid decline in those stocks as fishing effort increased after the derelict years of the war. Currently, stocks seem to be up one year and down the next. We need a better definition of when stocks are under pressure and we need the industry to believe and respect scientists who say, "Enough is enough".

The report considers the question of reducing fishing effort. It states: We recommend that the Government fully support any proposals for stronger sanctions on Member States to ensure compliance with MAGP targets and for greater transparency as to the cost of restructuring". That is almost in the realms of apple pie and motherhood. We all want to raise the targets, but there are grave difficulties in persuading the industry to reduce fishing effort. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon still bears the scars from his efforts in that respect.

Mr. Mitchell

The industry does.

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman says that the industry does, but the industry has always been reluctant, unless there is a little oil of decommissioning between the wheels, to indulge in any effort reduction. Perhaps a better marketplace for the buying and selling of quotas will help naturally to reduce industry effort. The only way out is to sell fishermen's economic assets. Unless that mechanism is allowed to work and develop, I cannot see more public funds becoming available for further decommissioning activities.

It is vital to recognise the special nature of the fishing industry to those communities that are dependent on it. One question that has not been mentioned much in this debate—the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) mentioned it en passant—is the marketing of fish and the state of fish markets. It is important to maintain high quality fish markets in this country, as only 25 per cent. of the fish sold in this country comes from our own catches. A substantial import industry exists, and anyone who wants to understand the nature of modern fish sales needs only to go to Billingsgate market to see that there is a varied offering of fish, including fruit-eating piranha, which clearly do not come from any of the seas around the United Kingdom. The marketing and sale of fish have taken on a new dimension—there is new interest and a strong public following. However, imported fish stocks are worth about £1 billion and are double the value of the catch from UK fishermen. Fishing is a small industry, but for the communities that depend on it, it is disproportionately important.

Fishing News is an interesting newspaper. The first half of the paper is a commentary of despair—it details all the bad bits in the industry and all the complaints, and it follows the debate on the future of the common fisheries policy. If one read only the front part of the newspaper, one would think that fishing as we knew it was about to go out of existence. However, when one reaches the centre section and the second part, a wholly different industry emerges—one of new investment, new techniques and new equipment. Those sections give a remarkably positive view of the industry. One could read the newspaper from the back, as the Chinese do, in which case one would begin in positive mode, but if one started from the front, one would be deeply disappointed. The one clear message—which I am sure would have been endorsed by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, if he had been in his place—is that the Scottish industry is, in economic terms, of growing and considerable importance. That is where most of the new investment is occurring. The health and strength of the pelagic fleet are major contributors in that regard.

There are important lessons to learn from the debate about the future of Britain's fishing policy. By and large, the Scottish industry has resolved to accept that its rule-making body will be the European Union in the context of the common fisheries policy. There will be a great opportunity in 2002 to consider those changes, and I hope that in a future report the Agriculture Committee will revisit territory that it perhaps wisely eschewed in this report. The CFP mechanism, which determines the rules under which fishermen have to work, is designed to sustain fisheries. The rules will be better respected if scientists and fishermen have a common purpose. Mechanisms such as the one that I described are needed to create a real, meaningful and working partnership of fishermen, Governments and others, and ensure that the industry operates to the benefit of all.

4.42 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

I join those who have welcomed you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to your new position. It is another staging post in a very distinguished career.

I also thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who has not remained in this Chamber to hear what I have to say, for the welcome that he afforded to me, and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), for his welcome. I fear that I must disappont the hon. Member for St. Ives—I shall not, on this occasion, go into the details of our policy. We are discussing the report, which specifically rules out any reference to the common fisheries policy and its mechanisms. I shall restrict my comments to the report and the Government's response to it.

The report contains no meaningful references to the CFP. I am new to my brief—I had seven days to mug up on the CFP and the Agriculture Committee's report—and I am mindful of the fact that two distinguished former Ministers are sitting behind me. Facing me—or perhaps I should say around the corner from where I am speaking—is a distinguished Minister who has spent about nine years—

Mr. Morley


Mr. Moss

The Minister spent 10 years as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson with responsibilities for fishing and he has spent two years as Minister. I have a rather daunting task ahead of me.

When I read the report, the first thing that puzzled me was the fact that neither its terms of reference nor its conclusion refer to the crucial distinction between the industry that depends on the six to 12-mile limit and that which depends on the waters beyond it, which I call the offshore waters. Bearing in mind the crucial date of 31 December 2002 which looms ahead of the Government, I would have expected more analysis from the Committee on the prospects of the industry. The fact that the Committee did not tackle the CFP gave it some problems. Even the Government's response to the report alluded to that fact, albeit obliquely, in saying that there were constraints on the scope for drawing up a UK strategy and citing in particular our obligations under the CFP.

However, despite those limitations, it is a good in-depth report. I agree with the Select Committee's Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Lull), that it presents a positive image of the fishing industry. From the little time that I have had in which to consult, I understand that it has been widely accepted by those in the industry. It investigates issues that I believe were important. However, it was put to me by someone in the industry that it would have been more helpful had the Government been in a position to exercise proper and total control over the fishing industry.

The Committee's report sets out some clear-cut objectives and aims, and says of them: These depend upon the Government first deciding on the type of industry it wishes to see and the level of intervention it wishes to retain. Surely this relates only to the six to 12-mile limits to which I alluded. Elsewhere, the UK Government have precious little influence over decisions made by Brussels. The Committee has not been assiduous enough in probing the limits. In paragraph 154 of the report, the Committee quotes the concerns of the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees of England and Wales over the limits, stating that the ASFC in particular was concerned that 'unless and until they are permanently established under national control then the future for the coastal fishing industry will continue to be uncertain.'

Later in the report, the Committee accepted reassurances from the Commission that CFP regulation 3760/92 was under no real threat. That is reflected in recommendation 48. In the Government's response, they speak of a commitment to retaining the six to 12 mile limits, yet nowhere in that document—or anywhere in print—is there a guarantee that they will continue.

The report also states: our overriding concern is that the Government establish a settled, transparent long-term strategy for management of fisheries How can the Government do that? Their response did not address certain key problems, one of which is the fact that new member states have joined, and will continue to join, the European Union.

Regulations agreed in 1994—special fishing permits—give the Community the power to control all aspects of EU fishing. In the accession treaties of Austria, Finland and Sweden, it is laid down that those permits must be in operation by the end of 2002. How will that leave us at the end of that year, with the derogation ending at the same time? How are the permits to be introduced? What effect will they have on existing licences and/or quotas? Will they apply to derogated coastal zones, if those are extended at that time? These questions may lie outside the scope of this report, but the Government failed to allude to them in their response to what the Committee said was its "overriding concern".

Page iv of the Government's response concerns their broad objectives for improving the common fisheries policy. It alludes to an objective of integrating environmental considerations more fully into the CFP to make it a more effective instrument for the conservation of fish stocks". I believe that some new measures are to be introduced from 1 January 2000 and I know that in his deliberations the Minister has fought for significant changes, particularly on mesh sizes; unfortunately, he did not win that particular battle. As I look through the records, I wonder how many of our Ministers ever did win any battles.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) noted that some of these excellent rules are not implemented because of the problems of harmonisation and the mesh size measure was one of those that fell. Instead of it, the Commission seems to have introduced lower minimum landing sizes for hake, megrim and plaice, which the Government have put into thier objectives. How on earth can the Commission think that lowering minimum fish sizes is in any way a conservation measure? Should there not be a rule not to take any fish smaller than the necessary size for each species to breed at least once? Does the Minister still hold the view that he put to the Council, or does he believe that reducing minimum landing sizes is a conservation measure? Perhaps it is simply a concession to the southern countries which, as we all know, have a ready market for under-sized fish.

A little later in their response, the Government talk about increasing the regional dimension of the CFP so that it is more sensitive to local differences. What does that mean? In the minutes of the Committee's oral examination of the Minister, the hon. Member for St. Ives honed in on that very point. When he asked whether some delegation to zonal management is a realistic prospect", the Minister said: But, before we actually get down to, if you like, the nuts and bolts of how it would work, there are some key issues to resolve, and one of the key issues is the definition of both regional and zonal management, because it means different things to different people, different countries and different parts of the industry. So, before we even start to make much progress on this, we need to resolve that particular issue. But we are giving thought to that at the present time. That is very reassuring, but as no definition is available it hardly seems to meet the requirements of a policy statement.

A number of hon. Members alluded to safety at sea grants. The real question is why MAFF thought it necessary to take them away in the first place. There is some inconsistency in the statements from MAFF and those made by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Under the heading "Licences and quota", recommendation 21 of the report states: We recommend that MAFF provide clear guidance on the legal title to licences and quota in the context of transactions between individuals and/or organisations". We all know that there is no legal title to quota, but the Government should have pointed that out in their response. Instead, they said: There are no plans to change the existing position whereby licences and quotas apply at the discretion of Ministers but with fishermen's interests protected by the legal concept of legitimate expectation. What does that mean? What is a "legitimate expectation"? Why did not the Committee probe that further? It is meaningless. In fact, we were recently told that a Scottish Minister with responsibility for fisheries told fishermen in Scotland that they could not count on quotas because they were unreliable. He gave the example of potato quotas. Why is a Minister pointing out the problems of transferring quotas if he does not intend keeping them in some form?

The section on no-take zones is important. The Government agree that more should be done about them. There are 500 m exclusion zones around our oil rigs in the North sea. I am told that the sea under the oil rigs is teeming with fish to such an extent that it is impossible to lower the cameras to see what is happening at the base of the rig. Instead, divers have to go down and swim through the fish. If that works so well, why not extend the zone to 1,000 m?

Recommendation 26 on the non-profit sale of over-quota fish alludes to a model in Iceland. I have been told that we should not adopt that model because a significant quantity of fish, in particular cod, is dumped even though the system is designed to prevent such discarding.

As for discards, which are dealt with in recommendation 27, the Committee asked MAFF to consider measures to reduce discards through a more flexible quota management and that it continue to promote within Europe the use of more selective fishing gear". That is all very well, but it takes years to implement such changes. It took six years for the square mesh panel for prawn fisheries to be adopted. That modest change was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) in, I think, 1993. It took another six years to implement it in Europe and it is predicted that it will be another six years before the square mesh panel is adopted for white fish. There is little point in saying in a document that this is a practical policy for the immediate future because it takes so long to make changes.

I had to laugh at the part of the Government's response where they said: Also, it must be borne in mind that a high proportion of discards are due to undersized fish being caught. Talk about stating the obvious! The Government's response on discards is weak. It is no wonder that the industry is frustrated because changes, which take years to implement, could be made that would make a phenomenal difference to problems such as discard.

The Government speak about new technical conservation measures that are designed to make fishing gears more selective". That is news to the industry. What are the new measures? What "fishing gears" is the response referring to? What impact will the changes have on the volume of discard? There is no evidence in support of the Government's response.

On balance, this is a good report and it has brought me up to speed in a short time. It is wide ranging and goes into problems in reasonable depth. I commend the Chairman and the Committee on an excellent report.

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

May I also start by congratulating you on your new post, Madam Deputy Speaker? Having served on many Committees with you, both in opposition and in government, I think that it is a well-deserved appointment. I also welcome the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) to his new position, although much of what he said went beyond the remit of the report. I will be happy to discuss wider issues in the annual fisheries debate.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that it is self-evident that discarded fish are predominantly undersized and immature. I say that because, although that was not the view of his immediate predecessor, it is the basis of my argument.

I welcome the report, which provides an example of a Select Committee doing an excellent job in scrutinising the Executive. We should not forget that that is part of its role. I am therefore pleased to respond to the report both as a Minister on behalf of my Department and in the sense that I am keen to keep in touch with the Committee in relation to new developments and answering questions.

In the spirit of the format of this new Chamber, I have not come along with a Ministry-prepared speech. I have listened to what hon. Members have said during the debate and intend to base my responses precisely on the matters that have been raised. I will, of course, allude to what has been said in relation to the Government's formal response to the report. I hope that I am not making my officials too nervous.

I welcome the positive thrust of the Committee's report, which has been mentioned by several members of the Committee who have spoken today, because there is much to be positive about in the UK fishing industry. Of course there are problems and difficulties, and some sectors of the industry feel that they have got a bad deal. However, there is also a great deal of innovation and success, and many sectors of the industry are doing very well. The report highlights that fact.

It is worth stressing that the report approaches the whole issue of fisheries management in a mature and sensible way. I wish that some sectors of the industry would do the same. I do not get up in the morning and say, "How can I annoy the fishing industry today? How can I reduce its quota? Let's find a new rule that will make fishermen really mad." I, my officials and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science do not take that approach, although I know that the phrase "I'm from MAFF and I'm here to help you" has fishermen rolling in the aisles. We are trying to help the fishing industry. We are trying to look to the long term, introduce sustainability and address the industry's problems. Some of the answers to those problems are not easy, and sometimes they are not the ones that the industry wants to hear. I shall return to that in a moment.

The report is a class act. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has a detailed knowledge of the fishing industry and is a great champion of it. He is also prepared to recognise that the industry has problems and faults, and is not afraid to say so and deal with the implications.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) is knowledgeable about the fishing industry in general and the south-west fishing industry in particular, which is an issue in itself. He is very perceptive, and has been honest in his approach. As he said, an honest approach sometimes attracts criticism because people do not always want to hear the truth. That is one of the problems in fisheries management.

Having said all that, I must express a mild criticism. As an avid reader of provincial newspapers, I read The Western Morning News—although it is not generally good for my blood pressure—and I noticed that the hon. Member for St. Ives had criticised me for telling the industry about the quota cuts too soon. He suggested that they should have been discussed behind closed doors before we spoke to the industry. I should point out to him that we are trying to give the industry the information that it wants as early as we possibly can.

Mr. Andrew George

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I particularly wanted to hear him amplify his point about transparent long-term policies for the industry, and I hope that he is coming to that. As for The Western Morning News, I am afraid that I cannot answer for the way in which local journalists report what I say. I do not remember having made such a comment.

Mr. Morley

Having had experience of The Western Morning News for many years, I can accept the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I shall have to redraft the article that I am writing for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) stressed consumerism and the fact that the ultimate issue is one of providing for markets of various kinds and qualities. She also referred to confidence in scientists, to which I shall return.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), a former Minister with responsibility for fisheries, knows the industry very well. Indeed, in that capacity, he tackled many of these issues in a fair and sensible way. He has raised a number of detailed points, which I shall deal with in due course.

Like me, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—the leader of the Scottish National party—has occupied his current post for a very long time. He and I have debated these issues for many years, and seen many changes in the industry, and I shall deal with the points that he raised.

The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), another former Minister with responsibility for fisheries, made some good points, particularly in relation to regional management and the Irish sea. Such knowledgeable people have added to the quality of our debate on the fishing industry. His thoughts on the Irish sea, which he has raised before, are interesting, and I have discussed them with officials as part of the regional approach that we would like to develop. In that respect, his comments were positive and constructive.

Some of the report's recommendations are being acted on and some will be acted on. We are studying others, and none will be ignored. Of course, I accept that the common fisheries policy is not perfect. This is not a debate about reform of the CFP, but the Committee may consider that as we approach 2002.

The report did not consider the CFP because a single report cannot consider both the industry's management and the CFP's structures. We are looking at regional management issues, and talking to the Commission. The new commissioner, Franz Fischler, has taken a constructive view on fisheries issues. Some of his statements have been very encouraging.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan raised the subject of relative stability. We believe that relative stability will remain post-2002. It is an important part of fisheries management, and is certainly one of the Government's objectives. Similarly, I am confident that existing coastal limits will remain post-2002. They are in the interests of our country and other countries. I am aware of no other member state that holds a different opinion. As a Minister, making predictions is risky, but I am confident that progress can be made.

With regard to quotas, it is trust that many stocks are in poor shape. There is also the important issue of science and confidence in scientists, which was raised by a number of Select Committee members. We are taking steps to act on the Committee's recommendations, which are sensible and practical. The industry needs to become more involved in what we are doing, and that process has begun. We arranged for the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to sail on the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science research ship. I believe that he spent five days on that vessel, and found it very useful. I understand that he played an important role: he gained practical experience and even repaired the nets. He enjoyed the exercise and found it useful, as did CEFAS.

I should correct the impression that scientists talk to the industry only at the end of the year. They visit ports throughout the year, and keep in touch with the industry. As a result of the Committee's recommendations, we have arranged meetings between the fishing industry and CEFAS scientists, which have proved very useful. However, I accept that there is more work to be done. As was said, we need to involve the industry at an earlier point, and perhaps in a more formal way. Recently, I had a number of meetings with scientists and the industry prior to the quota negotiations. It would be useful to begin contacts between scientists and fishermen in January, which would enable us to formalise and prepare the process. I assure the Select Committee that we shall try to improve on what we have done towards accepting its recommendations. That is sensible and the best way forward. On the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean, the tenders for the new fisheries research ship will go out within weeks. I do not know whether that can be brought further forward, in view of the building process. I understand that British shipyards have submitted tenders, and I hope that they are successful.

I support multi-species modelling. Although it is complex, it is the way forward for stock calculations. It will be seriously addressed. Hon. Members stressed our competitive position, which is important. On the issue of the overall regulatory burden, controls and regulations are necessary. However, streamlining and simplification would take some pressure off the industry. The advent of satellite monitoring, for example, might allow us to review regulations such as the two-licence rule.

We are keen on uniform enforcement, and I was interested in the idea of using overseas posts. We receive reports from overseas posts about trends in different industries, and I accept that we could make further use of them. If I may digress, we intend to make extensive use of overseas posts to recapture beef markets. We shall consider how to use overseas posts to collect information on enforcement and costs.

A point was made on the legal title of quotas. Following the Select Committee's recommendation, we started discussions with the industry on how to formalise the issue of quotas. I am reluctant to concede the issue of legal titles, because I do not want to concede management flexibility. However, many fishermen and producer organisations have invested a great deal of money in quotas, which is the right thing to do. One way of removing the threats to regions is collective, co-operative ownership of quota within producer organisations. I do not want to undermine such investment.

We need to consider security issues in relation to the Ministry, which holds the title to the quotas, and year-to-year management. Stocks change from year to year—people do not buy a stock, but buy a share of a stock—and the overall total allowable catch alters. A meeting with the industry took place on 14 October, and proposals were made for a joint industry-Ministry working group to discuss the issue further.

The issue of concordats was mentioned. As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, concordats have been published. We are establishing sensible and close working relationships with the Scottish Executive. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is doing an excellent job—I could not hope for a Minister with better knowledge of the industry—and he is working with us to obtain the best deal for the UK industry, including the Scottish industry. He has already spoken in the Fisheries Council, where he has taken the lead for the UK, especially on issues of interest to Scotland. We are working closely together, and that has strengthened our position.

Safety grants have been discussed in detail. Clearly, the financing of safety grants is an issue for the Scottish Executive, and I do not have the necessary knowledge to comment on that. I am not aware of any stance taken by MAFF that is difficult for the Scottish Executive. I shall refer to safety grants in a moment.

Mr. Salmond

Will the Minister clarify "devolution and legal technicalities"? It was claimed in the letter to the industry that that was an obstacle to the reintroduction of safety grants.

Mr. Morley

Yes. I can clarify that and will do so when I speak about safety grants.

We must examine competitiveness, but people sometimes refer to competing with other member states for fish. That is not competition because we have our national quota and we do not compete with other countries for that. There is competition in the overall cost of getting fish to port and to market, but we must examine the total cost figure. That includes lower business taxes in the United Kingdom compared with many of our European competitors and other cost advantages. I am not complacent about that matter and other issues must be considered, such as the waste water directive. MAFF made representations to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the directive's potential effects on the fishing industry.

New build is another issue, and age and safety are important. Analysis of the figures does not show clearly whether there is a clear correlation between the age of a vessel and safety. However, the matter is being considered and a new report has been produced recently by the Sea Fishing Industry Authority. We shall examine the figures because safety is a serious matter.

I do not believe that grants for new build are in the interests of the industry. A number of hon. Members have referred to increasing efforts and the problem of constantly trying to manage a fishing industry that does not stand still. One example is the catch of North sea prawns by the under 10 m fleet, which has increased by 400 per cent. since last year. Our quota was exhausted in August and we managed to obtain some extra quota for the North sea fleet until September, but that was also exhausted and the prawn fishing industry had to be closed temporarily, which was not popular. I did not want to do that and nor did the Ministry, but we have a responsibility for managing stocks.

The stock of prawns is one of the few in the North sea that is in good shape. We made an application to obtain extra quota and in the meantime we have applied monthly catch limits, which seem to be working. One reason for the problem is that the industry has been profitable in the past couple of years. People have been investing in new boats without grants. Those new boats have a greater catch capacity than old ones and that is the main reason why the prawn fishery in the North sea is in trouble. The Germans were very successful in the design of pocket battleships. Pocket trawlers—new under 10 m boats—are very efficient and result in increased effort.

Grant-aiding new boats might involve grant-aiding a vessel to such a specification that its catch could not be maintained. That would not be good for the industry because it would increase competition and put more pressure on stocks. The value of quota and licences varies according to the size of the vessel, but the range can be in millions of pounds. When people have assets of hundreds of thousands of pounds and possibly millions, the justification for providing public money for support is not strong.

I have discussed the matter with the industry and the banks, which have made it clear that they have no problem in providing finance for new boats. They believe that the returns in the industry are good at the moment and there has been a lot of investment around all our coasts, not just in Scotland. I am pleased about that, although I realise that some sections of the industry have had more difficulty.

It gave me no pleasure to see safety grants withdrawn. I am prepared to justify difficult decisions but, ideally, we should not have taken that decision if MAFF had been able to provide the necessary funds. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister gave an undertaking that the safety grants would be reinstated.

In response to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, the difficulty with devolution did not so much involve establishing who had and who had not got money; rather, it involved a legal and technical difficulty. The grants were withdrawn and a new order would have been needed to reinstate them because the relevant provisions no longer applied to the UK.

We should also consider the fact that new structural funds will be introduced in the new year under Agenda 2000. Those funds offer an opportunity to reconsider safety grants and marketing and processing grants. Within the context of structural grants, they might also provide help with onshore installations and facilities. I am keen to secure that—

Mr. Salmond

I know that the Minister has further points to make, but this is an important issue. He discussed the technical difficulty with devolution and the fact that the scheme no longer applied to the UK. The Scottish Parliament is not going to go away. Will the technical difficulty be overcome, or will it frustrate the Minister and the rest of us for any length of time?

Mr. Morley

No. The issue will be one for the Scottish Parliament, but it must consider the issues raised by structural funds. Structural funds will be allocated to both the Scottish and the Westminster Parliaments. The funds will have Treasury implications for England and Wales and there will be financial implications for the Scottish Executive. Both Parliaments will have to resolve those issues.

Mr. Curry

Is the Minister saying that if an order had been made, it would have applied only to England? Does that mean that the English might have had their grant restored, but that the Scots might not unless they had taken action? If so, what would be wrong with that?

Mr. Morley

The situation, as I understand it, is that the order under which the grants operated no longer applied when devolution was introduced. To introduce new provisions would have meant introducing new orders. We are about to enter into new structural funds and we should perhaps consider the possibility of a new scheme. The majority of fishing vessels were not in the old safety grant scheme.

Mr. Salmond

I can speak for the main Opposition party in the Scottish Parliament and perhaps on behalf of the Opposition parties in the Westminster Parliament. There would be no difficulty, from the Opposition's point of view, if the orders had been laid in the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments, even if they would operate only in the short term and until the structural funds were introduced. What was the problem?

Mr. Morley

The problem was technical and the issue was that the income stream—the funding—from the MAFF had gone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I do not want to mislead the Chamber. The proposal was stopped because of insufficient money and MAFF could not reintroduce it. However, the technical issue was also involved and it was clear that it was better to consider the possibility of starting a new scheme next year with the introduction of the new structural funds. We should also consider how the scheme should operate. The old scheme was by no means perfect.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister brings us back to the start of my speech. I suggested that money was available in Scotland but not in Westminster, and that a Scottish order was not introduced because the Minister wanted the proposals to apply throughout the UK. Has not the Minister confirmed that that was the case?

Mr. Morley

Absolutely not. I was not aware that any money was available in Scotland for the continuation of the old scheme. In that respect, this is an issue for Scotland. So far as I am aware, if the old scheme had been reinstated, it would not have applied to Scotland. Technically, a new order could have been introduced, but the money would have had to be found—we did not have it in MAFF. I am not sure whether any money was available in Scotland.

The most sensible way to reintroduce the scheme would be to do so through the new structural funds and with a new scheme to arrange the funding. We are currently discussing the best way to take that forward, together with the marketing and processing grants and other important aspects.

Time does not permit me to cover the other sectors, including the pelagic sector. I am sorry about that, but hon. Members will have an opportunity to discuss those subjects during the annual debate if they wish. If hon. Members would like to write to me about points that they feel that I have not covered in my reply, I will be pleased to respond to them in detail.

In conclusion, this has been a very good debate. The report is excellent, and a great credit to all those who have been involved with it. I emphasise to the Committee that we take it seriously and are looking at ways in which we can act to implement its recommendations.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Lull) wish to speak again?

5.25 pm
Mr Luff

With the leave of hon. Members, Madam Deputy Speaker. I join other hon. Members in welcoming you to your new role. It is no doubt your presence in the Chair that has so inspired today's debate, which, as the Minister said, has been a fine one. I was remiss in not welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) to his place as Opposition spokesman on these matters. I congratulate him on his inventiveness in finding issues to dispute in such a non-contentious report. However, I have a word of advice for him taken from my limited experience of the industry: to be careful to whom he speaks. It is easy to justify any prejudice if one speaks to the right individuals in the fishing industry. My advice is to take wide soundings.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—who explained why, sadly, he has had to leave the Room—was right to emphasise the need for the industry to up its game, as he put it. That is one of the report's key themes. I am pleased that we have not concentrated too much today on the difficulties and challenges, but rather considered the opportunities and ways in which the industry can seize them. However, I echo what the hon. Gentleman said about the waste water directive.

I was amused by the comments of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) about the lack of comprehension between fishermen and politicians. I am beginning to think that we should have put a recommendation about that in the report. It was perhaps a sin of omission, to which theme I shall return later.

I was delighted by the comments of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ). I had wanted to speak about marketing, but I knew that she intended to, and she said all the things that I would wish to have said. The development of new markets is crucial.

Every hon. Member who spoke highlighted the danger that is implicit in the lack of trust between fishermen and scientists. That was a major theme of the report, and the Minister clearly understands that.

I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) emphasised the difficulty of achieving consensus. He was right to say that on many tricky issues the Minister will have to lead rather than seek that consensus.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is a welcome interloper. He emphasised the important point about the lack of priority that sometimes attaches to fishing. I have great sympathy with his frustration about safety grants in Scotland, which he discussed with the Minister. I had similar frustrations about the lifting of the beef on the bone ban in England, but we had to wait for Scotland. It seems to me that devolution means differentiation. If the hon. Gentleman cannot accept that, what does he think was the point of having devolution in the first place?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) criticised the report for sins of omission. He is allowed that luxury, not having been a signatory to it. I plead partly guilty to the charge. His comments about coastal and zonal management and his novel ideas for the Irish sea were absolutely right. However, they are implicitly covered by paragraphs 151 to 153. Similarly, his comments about research issues are covered by paragraphs 36 to 41.

I accept the main thrust of the criticism of the report by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. However, I do not think that the six and 12-mile limits issue should detain the Committee. I agree with the Minister's judgment about the inevitability of protecting the 12-mile limit. My hon. Friend referred to the omission of some matters that we could have considered. The report was already a tad on the long side, however, and I should not have wanted to make it any longer.

I was hugely encouraged by the Minister's response—although I know that he has a habit of killing with kindness. We will be following up our recommendations—not necessarily in writing, as the Minister kindly invited us to do, but probably through the mechanism of our annual report. We attach importance to ensuring that Select Committees follow up their own recommendations.

Our objective was summed up by the title of our press notice about the report: Committee forecasts bright future for UK fishing industry".

Nothing that I have heard this afternoon dissuades me from that view. There is indeed a bright future and it is vital that we talk up the industry to help it to achieve that. In that positive spirit, I am delighted by the excellent attendance this afternoon. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was a little worried about the fact that the debate was taking place here, but more hon. Members contributed than probably would have been the case for a debate in the main Chamber. I find that interesting and I am grateful to all the hon. Members who participated.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Five o'clock.

Back to