Fishing Industry

– in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 14th February 1991.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 7:12 pm, 14th February 1991

I beg to move. That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for presiding over a crisis in the fishing industry which threatens the economic and social fabric of fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom; condemns in particular the compulsory tie up scheme and the Government's continuing refusal to promote structural support through the implementation of a well targeted decommissioning scheme; and calls upon the Government to pursue, with greater vigour, measures to combat industrial fishing and technical conservation measures including the adoption of square mesh panels, and to enter into discussions with representatives of the fishing industry for the purpose of devising a decommissioning scheme which will lead to a managed reduction in fleet capacity. Those who take an interest in the fishing industry will have little doubt about the serious crisis of confidence in the industry. The eight-day tie-up may have given fishermen and their representatives a focus for their wrath and frustration, but even if the Minister were to surprise us greatly and announce this evening that he intended to renounce the scheme, I am sure that he would agree that the fishing industry's problems would not go away. This debate provides us with an important opportunity to discuss the serious issues that face the industry.

No fishing industry debate has taken place since the vital Council of Ministers meeting in December. The industry is vital in economic terms to many coastal communities, particularly in those areas where other opportunities for employment are in short supply. Therefore, my right hon. and hon. Friends thought it appropriate to bring on to the Floor of the House our great concern about the future health of the fishing industry. We are conscious of the damage that could be done to the social and economic fabric of fishing communities if the malaise is not adequately dealt with. We do so, too, in the hope that Ministers, who have it in their power to improve matters, will listen to the debate and respond to it.

The Minister will no doubt draw attention to the fact that at the Council of Ministers meeting in December he managed to obtain continued recognition of the United Kingdom's claims under the Hague preference and improved flexibility with regard to taking our western mackerel quota east of the 4 deg W line. The Government ought to be congratulated. I have no quarrel with those aspects which are referred to in the Government amendment.

I suspect that we shall also hear from the Minister, as we did from Fisheries Ministers throughout 1990, that although catch opportunities and total allowable catches have been reduced, the price of fish landed has increased and fishermen's income has not necessarily declined. That ought to be put in its proper context. Even in 1990, in absolute terms fishermen's incomes were below those in 1987. In real terms, they were even further below those in 1987.

The price that a fisherman gets for his landings is only one very small part of the tale. We should also consider the return that he is or is not getting on his capital and the high rates of interest he has to pay on his borrowings, due to the Government's failed economic policies. In recent months, he has also had to face the increased cost of fuel, after oil prices rose so sharply following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In Fishing News of 1 February there was a report that already there are signs of landings prices beginning to fall. I hope that the Government will not take refuge behind the wafer-thin excuse that they parroted throughout 1990—that prices are being maintained, or are even higher, and that therefore incomes are not falling.

We do not believe that the eight-day rule should be the be all and end all of the debate. Had it been called, I should have welcomed the amendment tabled by the Scottish National party. I hope that the debate will not be seen as a substitute for a very full debate of the statutory instrument and the prayer against it dealing with the eight-day tie-up, which will have to be amended in the light of yesterday's announcement.

Considerable wrath and ill feeling have been generated throughout the industry by the tie-up. According to recent. editions of Fishing News, in my constituency Mr. John Goodlad, the secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Federation, has described the proposals as "unjust and unfair". On 8 February, skipper Tom Watson of Fleetwood said in Fishing News that it was the last nail in the coffin and that This Government doesn't want a fishing industry, that's for sure. Skipper David Hunt of Lowestoft was reported in Fishing News of 25 January as saying: Many more will be forced out until there are only a few left, who will then be disregarded, and Mr. Gummer will receive an accolade from his colleagues for a job well done. Skipper Jim Vanko of Eyemouth said: I wonder how MPs and officials would like their salaries to be reduced and the resultant financial savings squandered? This government has prided itself on encouraging initiative and private investment, yet every way the industry turns our feet are knocked from beneath us. That is a selection of comments from different parts of the country which demonstrate the outrage that the proposal has caused.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the fact that the proposal will be a tragedy for Northern Ireland. Last year, the whiting catch amounted to 7,395 tonnes. That catch is to be reduced to 2,300 tonnes. The cod catch, which was 6,330 tonnes, is to be reduced to 1,200 tonnes. Northern Ireland's fishing industry entirely agrees with the sentiments expressed in the hon. Gentleman's quotations, as, I am sure, do other members of the fishing industry in other parts of the country—that, if it comes into effect, the proposal will devastate and finish off the industry.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The hon. Gentleman voices the concerns of his fishing constituents very well. The proposal is causing concern throughout the United Kingdom. I am pleased to see that so many hon. Members with constituencies throughout the United Kingdom are present for the debate.

During the debate on 14 December, it was clear that the Government supported the compulsory tie-up. Initially, it was for 10 days. After the Council of Ministers meeting, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) told the House that he had secured a major concession and that the 10 days were to be reduced to eight. If that is victory to the Minister, heaven help us in defeat. Many people found it a negligible concession which would not make any material difference to the fundamental problem.

There are several objections in principle to the provision. It will put pressure on skippers to put to sea against their better judgment, when weather conditions would make it far safer for them to stay in their home port. There is no guarantee that the eight days in the month during which they choose to tie up will coincide with the eight days of bad weather. The pressure to go out and to earn the livelihood that is being denied them for one third of the month will be far greater. Regrettably, too regularly in the House we mourn the loss of lives in fishing accidents. We do not want that to happen as a result of the regulations. The fishermen themselves are expressing the fear that they may have to put to sea in bad conditions.

There will be damage to the social life of the communities. I recall that, when he came back from the most recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told us that one of the important achievements of managing to reduce the 10 days to eight was that it would allow those who had strong religious beliefs to continue to practise their religion and not to have to go to sea on a Sunday. He will no doubt by now be in receipt of a letter from the Presbytery of Shetland which says: In an attempt to compensate for being tied up for eight consecutive days every month, fishermen will inevitably begin to fish at weekends. Traditional family weekend activities, including church attendance, and way of life will therefore be put at risk within many small fishing communities around the entire coast of Scotland. I know that the Minister is a man of profound religious conviction. I hope that he will ponder the effect of the rule on many communities in Scotland, in England and in Northern Ireland.

It is also fair to point out that there must be a question mark over whether the proposal will have the desired effect. The remaining days will be used to fish ever more intensively. We may find that fishermen are going through all the agonies, dangers and disruptions to their social life for no net benefit in terms of conservation. Next year, the Government and the Commission may have to think up another new rule to try to limit fishing activity.

We also have objections of detail. Skippers may have difficulty in crewing vessels when they are unable to offer continuous employment throughout the month, especially in Grampian in the north-east of Scotland, where other industries, such as the oil industry, offer attractive terms and a greater continuity of work.

Share fishermen will also be affected. The rules of the Department of Social Security will still mean that, if the eight days overlap two weeks, share fishermen will not be entitled to claim unemployment benefit, although they have paid a special stamp. In recent correspondence, the Department has shown no intention of relaxing the rules for those circumstances.

A skipper in Westray in my constituency pointed out to me today that, if he is to land his catch at Mallaig, he cannot bring his boat back to Orkney without it counting towards his eight days, even though he may do no fishing en route. It was described to me by another representative of the industry as tantamount to a curfew rather than a tie-up. With the level of fines that are imposed, it is highly unlikely that anyone will try to fish if they want to take a boat back from Aberdeen to Shetland. Fishermen will not fish if they cannot land their catch, and the minute they have landed their catch, it will be perfectly obvious to everyone that they have broken the rules and they will land up with a hefty fine. I appeal to the Minister. If the regulations are to stay in place, I hope that some practical adjustment can be made to take account of such cases.

It has been pointed out to me that boats will tend to congregate in the bigger ports because they cannot get back to their home port. That may damage the economy of the smaller ports because there will not be work on run-of-the-mill repairs or maintenance. Log jams could occur at the bigger ports because too many boats may seek maintenance there.

Yesterday's derogation, and the concession, if that is what it is, that if vessels carry only long lines or have a net mesh size equal to or greater than 110 mm, with or without a 100 mm square mesh panel, has been welcomed by some sections of the industry. However, the Minister is over-egging it if he says that the concession has the full support of the industry. The English fishermen from the Humber and from the south and east coasts will find it a useful concession. Many of my constituents in Shetland will find it a useful concession because it will bring them a fair measure of relief. However, it does little or nothing for most of the Scottish fleet. It does little or nothing for, for example, the fishermen in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

We are entitled to ask the Minister whether he has any proposals for dealing with their continuing dilemma. Is he trying to divide the industry? The industry may already be divided within ports between the boats that are tied up under the rules and those that are not. That may not be secured by design, but it is quite convenient to have the industry divided on geographical lines. The Minister cannot do something for one part of the industry while ignoring the other. We shall be interested to hear what ideas he has for bringing similar relief to a large part of the Scottish fleet.

It is also fair to say that, although parts of the English industry welcome the concession, they do not do so gladly. It is a bit like a person who has been given a death sentence being told that it has been commuted to life imprisonment. Fishermen are worried that we are setting a precedent which could be extended to other parts of the country and to other species. The adoption of the 110 mm mesh size together with the 100 mm square panel might be seen by Mr. Marin and Commission officials as a signal of an acceptable regime to introduce at a future date. All sections of the industry would be opposed to that.

I have said that the eight-day tie-up rule is not the whole story. We have been landed with it because the United Kingdom Government have done little to take other measures to reduce the size of the fleet or to reduce catches. The Commission has been obliged to come in with measures such as this.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I want to make a point before the hon. Gentleman leaves the specifics of the eight-day tie-up. Does he agree that, although the Government appear anxious to describe the scheme as a European initiative, the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the fisheries debate in the House in December, described these incredible measures as sensible?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I always think twice before acceding to an invitation from the hon. Gentleman to agree with him, but on this occasion I must say that I do agree.

All parties agree that the future of the industry depends on a conservation policy. Although it recognised the difficulties, especially after the large cut in the haddock total allowable catch for 1989, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation put forward in the late spring of 1989 a package of technical conservation measures. It included having a clean and effective minimum mesh size of 90 mm with no attachments or devices, whether legitimate or illegitimate, and a one-net rule, so that someone could not fish for white fish using a prawn net. The fishermen also suggested a ban on industrial fishing, an increase in the minimum landing size of whiting and more enforcement powers for fisheries officers on shore.

The debate tends to have become bogged down in mesh sizes. I am not saying that that is not important. The debate has also focused on the square mesh panel. However, we are entitled to ask what happened to some of the other measures. Have they been argued through at European Council meetings? Why not? What has happened to the one-net rule? Perhaps the Minister could report on how he has got on while trying to push that argument.

The objective behind all the measures, especially the square mesh panel, is to conserve stocks and to reduce the discards which many of us agree are one of the most appalling examples of waste. Fish are caught, yet cannot be landed and are dumped back dead into the sea. The square mesh panel and the different mesh size would lead to fishing for better quality and for a better size of fish, which is important for marketing.

The big hole in the Government's approach is their refusal to adopt—or even start to consider and discuss with the industry—a decommissioning policy. We are familiar with the arguments against it. We have heard—and no doubt we shall hear again tonight—that, in the mid-1980s, the Public Accounts Committee rapped the Government's knuckles. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I am sure that he will confirm that there was no opposition to decommissioning in principle and that the opposition was to a particular scheme.

We have also been told that a decommissioning scheme will not make any difference—that we will not be able to get the right boats out of the fleet. If the Government say that, they are giving up before they have even started trying. The industry is willing to discuss decommissioning. I am sure that it would not be impossible for Ministers to discuss the matter with the industry and to try to devise a well targeted scheme so that the fleet size can be reduced in a well managed way.

We are then told about the Fontainebleau agreement. I shall not go into the details of that, because it is rather complicated. As I understand it, although on the face of it a decommissioning scheme would involve a 70 per cent. contribution from the Community and a 30 per cent. contribution from the Exchequer, it is argued that, as a result of the Fontainebleau agreement, the contribution would amount to 30 per cent. from the Community and roughly 70 per cent. from the Exchequer. That conveniently ignores the tax implications for the fishermen. It seems that the Government are prepared to play with the figures one way but not to think the implications through.

Hon. Members will recall that the Fontainebleau agreement was a great diplomatic triumph for the former Prime Minister. Surely it is not the fishing industry's fault if, once the details have been worked out, the agreement is not quite as triumphal as it was made out to be at the time. Why should the fishing industry be singled out for discrimination? Why should the Fontainebleau agreement be invoked to deprive them of the opportunity to receive benefits that the European Community wishes them to have?

It is important to note that the common fisheries policy has two strands—the conservative side and the structures side. It is clear that the Commission intends to boost the structures side through decommissioning and by giving assistance to areas that depend on the fishing industry to help them to cope with the reduction in stocks. What we have from the Government is the worst of all worlds. Our fishing communities are penalised by the reduction in stocks, but they are receiving very few of the benefits on the structures sides of the policy. We have never yet had a convincing answer from the Government as to why that should be.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor , Truro

My hon. Friend will agree that there is an important third strand to Europe's policy on fishing, which is that it recognises national interests through the quotas allocated to the member nations in the various sectors. In that respect, the action of the Spanish fishermen in coming in to our waters and using our quota is devastating to fishermen who are struggling in all the ways that my hon. Friend has described. Certainly in my part of the world, the position that the Government adopt on that will be as important as any other element to fishermen's future.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern for his area. I know that the problem is particularly acute in the waters around the south-west, where there is already evidence of Spanish vessels coming in. If the Government had built up more credit with the Commission over the years, rather than being seen to rubbish proposals such as that for health warnings on cigarette packets, they would have been able to bat on better ground when it came to a clear issue of national interest such as this.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The Minister may say that it is pathetic, but the Government have lost the battle and the Minister has given us no indication of how he proposes to defend the national interest. Fishing quotas are different from other aspects of Community policy. There is not a single market. National interests are identified and accepted; indeed, they are the sum and substance of quotas and TACs. The Minister will have to come up with something better than that sedentary remark. He failed to tell us his policy in the farming debate and he ought to do a little better this time.

There are signs that the Commission and those advising it see a need for further cuts in the size and capacity of the European Community fleet. The figure of 40 per cent. has been mentioned. Does the Minister recognise that figure? If the figure is to be anything approaching 40 per cent., how do the Government intend to reduce the capacity of the British fleet? Surely it cannot be through bankruptcy and insolvency—

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

It is true that that is what is happening, but surely that cannot be a sound or sensible way of going about things, even if it is the Government's way. Why will not the Government face up to their responsibilities and try to find a way in which the process can be properly managed? One young fisherman told me today that he saw little chance of being able to replace his 20-year-old vessel with something better. The Government argue that they are trying to conserve stocks for the fishermen of the future. But there will be no fishing industry in future if they kill it off by the measures that they are introducing. Of course conservation is important, but so is the survival of the industry. The Minister will have to do a lot better than he has done in recent debates if he is to convince us that the Government take the survival of the industry seriously.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister but not the amendment standing in the name of members of the Scottish National party.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon 7:36 pm, 14th February 1991

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'while recognising the difficulties which may face fishermen as a result of the decisions for fish conservation reached at the latest EC Council of Fisheries Ministers, endorses the need for such measures to safeguard the long-term interests of fishermen themselves by reducing the over-exploitation of certain fish stocks, welcomes the Government's continuing efforts to secure improved conservation measures and congratulates the Government on securing at the last Fisheries Council a package of measures which included the maintenance of the principle of relative stability, continued recognition of the United Kingdom's claims under the Hague Preference and improved flexibility to take our western mackerel quota east of 4° West.' If we were still debating agriculture, I might say that I fear that we have shot the fox of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Perhaps I should say instead that we have landed his fish. The hon. Gentleman said that he would have adopted the Scottish National party's amendment had he had an opportunity to do so, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) said the same in respect of the farming debate. Perhaps the two parties should get together and become one small party instead of two minuscule parties.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Will the Minister now tell us whether the Ministry will enable the House to debate the statutory instrument referred to in our amendment?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Lady has been in the House long enough to know that Government Departments do not determine the business of the House. Nevertheless, I am perfectly happy to debate that, or anything else, with the hon. Lady. I am perfectly confident that, following such a debate, the Government's position will be shown to be convincing and her position will be shown to be ephemeral. I should therefore be delighted to debate the matter with her.

Let me address certain specific and important issues, the first of which is the eight-day tie-up. The origin of that was the scientific advice given to the Commission. That advice was that there had to be a 30 per cent. cut in effort. I did not invent the tie-up, and neither did any of my right hon. or hon. Friends. The orginal proposal was for a 10-day tie-up, along with 120 mm nets, together catching boats 40 per cent. of whose catch comprised cod and haddock. We negotiated on that; indeed, we had no option but to do so.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

I cannot follow the logic of the Minister's argument. How can the fishing effort be reduced by tying up for 10 days—now eight days—vessels that trigger the 40 per cent. rule when vessels that are not covered by it can go out as much as they like? How does that reduce the effort?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman should address his question to the Commission, because the Commission is the origin of the proposal, which we contested. We got the proposal improved. If the hon. Gentleman waits a minute, I will tell him what we have done. We managed to reduce the proposal to an eight-day tie-up.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I have given way twice already and I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly so he need not fret.

We negotiated a tie-up for any period of eight days to apply to vessels which between 1 January 1989 and 30 June 1990 caught more than 100 tonnes of cod and haddock —we introduced that element for the North sea, the west of Scotland and Rockall—and whose catches of the species were more than 40 per cent. of the total landings in weight over the period. That applies broadly speaking, to 75 English and Welsh boats and about 390 Scottish boats. Collectively, those boats were responsible for about three quarters of the United Kingdom catch of the total quota of the species.

I sought from the Commission an undertaking that if we could make an alternative proposal based on selective gear, which would have the equivalent effect, it would entertain that proposal. It took a great deal of effort to get the Commission to agree even to look at such proposals. We obtained the undertaking only at the very end of the day—in the last minute of the negotiations. Since then, my officials have been working hard to put forward those proposals.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

From what the Minister says, he has no great belief in the eight-day continuous tie-up. Can we take it that he renounces the view of the Secretary of State for Scotland, expressed in the debate in December, that it was "a sensible measure"? Does the Minister accept that, although the 110 mm option may have some relevance for the English fleet and for some fleets in Orkney and Shetland, for the vast majority of Scottish boats affected by the eight-day continuous tie-up, the 110 mm mesh size is not a serious option?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

The hon. Gentleman lives in a remarkable world. In his world, there are no conservation problems. It is a Yeatsian world, in which the seas are teeming with fish.

There is a conservation problem, and it must be addressed. Last year, we had a limitation on days of fishing. The rule was broken practically universally. We must have measures which are effective in cutting effort and are enforceable. The virtue of a tie-up rule, whether hon. Members like it or not, is that it is enforceable and cuts the effort.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Before he moves on, perhaps the Minister could clarify the matter. The Labour party does not follow the populist line pursued by others of saying that there is no conservation problem and nothing needs to be done. But the Minister must give a better answer than that which he gave to my hon. Friend the member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). My hon. Friend did not deny that there was a conservation problem, but he asked whether the tie-up would address that problem. He asked whether it was inevitable or even likely that it would lead to a reduction in effort. The Minister's response was extraordinary. He said, "Don't ask the Government, ask the Commission. It is all the Commission's fault." Is that really the Government's position?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

That is not what I said. I said that the Commission was the origin of the proposals and that the British Government believed that a tie-up would be effective in cutting effort. But the 10-day proposal went too far, just as the 120 mm net proposal went too far. As I have said in the House time after time, we have two intentions. We must conserve fish stocks but we must also conserve the livelihoods of fishermen. The two are equally important because without one, we cannot have the other, we must have that double objective.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

This is the last time.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Is the Minister saying that, if the measures do not prove effective in reducing fishing effort, he and the Government will be prepared to see the number of days increased?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I am saying that we must apply the rules as they have been set by the Community for this year. As I am about to describe, we have some proposals on conservation which we believe will help the position.

We must also deal with technical conservation at a Community level. I was as disappointed as anyone else at the December Council that we could not take greater measures. For the information of hon. Members, I should say that a further Council has been fixed for 16 April to deal with our proposals and those of Commissioner Marin on capacity.

I congratulate my officials, who worked hard to construct our proposal. To be fair, the Commission officials were also helpful and constructive. As Commissioner Marin is a gentleman about whom I have had to say some hard things in the past, I also put it on record that he was co-operative and helpful on the gear option. I hope that we can maintain a constructive and civilised relationship with him. He has the job and we must deal with him and work out sensible proposals with his help. In this case, it has worked.

The gear option is as follows. Fishermen will be able to use long lines. They will have to use 110 mm diamond shape mesh size nets, with or without the 100 mm square mesh panel. We shall apply a one-net rule so that boats can carry only that net and there is no doubt about the effectiveness of the option. We shall also add rules to stop the ballooning of the cod end and ban lifting bags and topside chafers. All those are elements of the proposal from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, referred to by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). We have taken its suggestions on board and we regard many elements as extremely sensible.

I shall table an amendment to the statutory instrument within the next few days incorporating the gear option, which will apply in legal terms from 1 March. But where vessels are clearly in a position to operate under it from an earlier date, I shall be willing to see them do so. In other words, we shall be sensible and pragmatic about the application of that rule.

There was never a chance of agreeing on a gear option of less than 110 mm. Other countries are also going for the gear option. To my knowledge, they have not yet obtained it. We are the first off the blocks with the gear option. Other countries also asked for the 110 mm mesh size. It was important that we kept our act together and asked for the same thing. The co-operation that we have established with other countries has been helpful.

I do not seek to conceal the fact that some fishermen will not find the gear option advantageous. I do not pretend that it will be received with universal cries of glee. Where whiting is an important element in the catch, some boats will not take the option. For such boats, the tie-up rules must remain, because they are now the law of the land. There will be an effect on the fishing effort. I make it clear that we shall enforce those rules. In our discussions on a whole series of issues in Brussels, not least the future of the common fisheries policy, a great part of our credibility stems from the fact that we enforce the rules. In a recent communication from Commissioner Marin, only one country in the Community was not criticised for its enforcement effort and that was the United Kingdom. That is of material advantage to us in Brussels.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Will the Minister take on board what is happening in Northern Ireland? I know that he is aware that the fishing industry there is small and employs only about 2,500 people. But if the quotas which are being negotiated are applied, the entire industry will be devastated. Will he consider that?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I will certainly take it on board. I shall deal shortly with certain problems in the Irish sea, in which the hon. Gentleman will be interested.

I have taken several interventions. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak so, if I may, I shall be more expeditious from now on so that I can get through my speech.

It is important that the producer organisations phase their catching over the year. That is part of the deal that we have done with Brussels. My officials will be in touch with the organisations to make sure that the fishery stretches across the year. That is also important for all sorts of sensible reasons, such as the guarantee of supply.

There is a conservation problem for cod and haddock. There is a specific problem in the North sea and the west coast of Scotland. In the Irish sea there is a specific problem for cod and whiting. As I have said, the December Council was disappointing, but we have taken on board some of the work done by the fishing organisations. I pay tribute to their work. One element that was never a starter was a proposal that the net size should be 90 mm diameter with an 80 mm panel. I have made it clear in the past and I make it clear again that it was never going to carry the day. It is far too minimalist to be able to carry the day in Scotland.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

No. I am addressing the specific point.

I have said in the past that, if one is serious about conservation, when the present rules are based on a 90 mm diameter diamond mesh, it is not credible to suggest that the principal measure of control should be a 90 mm mesh with merely an 80 mm panel. I do not deny that there would be conservation benefits, but they would not be sufficient.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

No. I am not giving way further, because I do not want to eat up other people's time.

The conservation priorities and the importance of conservation led us to contemplate unilateral action. That is why we have gone out to consultation, which will finish at the end of this week, on the introduction of a 90 mm mesh with a 90 mm panel, which will have a commensurately greater benefit. The object of that is principally to benefit haddock. There is a big year class of haddock out there and it is important to ensure that the stock is not pounded.

If people are serious about conservation, I hope that they will welcome the proposals. We are serious about conservation, and one cannot have conservation and everyone's traditional fishing patterns simultaneously. The two do not go together. It is important to be serious about conservation. We cannot wait for ever in the hope that we shall get some sort of decision out of Brussels, when we know how intolerably slow it is to reach agreement in the Council of Ministers. We cannot see our stocks simply keel over while we are still arguing about the number of boats—

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

No, I have already said that I shall not give way. I have been generous in accepting interventions.

Some people will criticise the unilateral character of the proposals, but we have 87 per cent. of the North sea haddock stock and 80 per cent. of the west coast haddock stock. The fishery is predominantly ours, and responsibillity for conserving it is predominantly in our hands. If we decide to go ahead after the consultations, we shall probably apply the changes from 1 July.

We are also proposing a 70 mm square panel in a 70 mm mesh in the prawn and nephrops fishery, to cut the by-catch of small fish. We are out to save the small haddock, as many of them are caught in that fishery. I understand that some Scottish organisations would be willing to see a larger panel size in the nephrops fishery and we shall look at any such proposals sympathetically to see if we can go further than our current proposals. It is important to ensure that that young year class of haddock grows to maturity.

There is a conservation problem in the Irish sea. That is an area where, frankly, in the past we have invented fish for political reasons. The allowable catches have been kept too high and politics has overruled science. We are still arguing in the Council that we should take the mesh sizes from 70 mm to 80 mm. We shall continue to press for that.

There is another issue that I should like to mention, because I know that hon. Gentlemen will be interested—

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I have no doubt that hon. Ladies will be especially interested. It relates to the Irish sea fishery for cod, haddock and saithe. We have now decided on the basis of the allocation for the 1991 track records. We have concluded that the 1990 track record is not a reliable basis for the allocation of entitlement. Therefore, the allocations will be based on the track records in the years 1987, 1988 and 1989.

On the distant water fishery—

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend has said about the track record. Does that mean that the way is now clear for the introduction of sectoral quotas in the south-west in particular? My hon. Friend will be aware that it was the unreliability of those track records—they were based on cheating by certain elements of the fleet —that impacted on the introduction of such sectoral quotas.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I was careful in the phraseology I used to explain why we had decided to proceed on the said basis. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that it is much more prudent for me to retain that phraseology; I shall deal with his detailed question by correspondence so that I can give him the reassurance he seeks.

The distant water fishery will be of interest to Humberside. We shall shortly announce the allocations in the Greenland waters, which will be significantly better than the entitlements of last year. That should assist the fleet in that area, which, in all fairness, suffered most of all from the 200-mile limits and the closure of the traditional distant deep sea water fishery.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) asked about quota hoppers. He will know that we are in the thick of a European Court case on this and the pleas have been made to the Advocate-General in the Factortame case. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have fought this case vigorously and we are still fighting it. A number of European countries have supported us, and the Germans made an oral presentation in our support.

As the case is under way, I do not want to comment on it, but it is our intention that we should be able to sort this matter out on a basis that maintains for the United Kingdom, the principle of direction and control from the United Kingdom, as that is extremely important.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor , Truro

There is a clear national interest involved, and Ministers have argued that in the case before the courts. I welcome the overseas support we have received. Can the Minister say whether a resolution of the matter will soon be reached?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

We settled certain issues with the Spanish interests rather than pursuing those matters through the courts, because we felt that we could do so in an advantageous way for the United Kingdom. I am confident that we have a substantial case in our favour regarding Factortame that resides in the essential principles of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, and that is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has been defending in the European Court. Our case has the sympathy of a number of member states, because they recognise the problem.

It is fair to say that, when the Community devised the common fisheries policy, it intended that a major management responsibility should remain with the member states. We believe that that is by far the most sensible way in which to run the policy. We want to continue in that manner after the review year of that policy.

Let me make it clear now, as I have made it clear umpteen times in the past, that our objection to decommissioning has nothing to do with the Public Accounts Committee. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland knows that I have made that clear many times. Our objections have nothing to do with the Committee's criticisms of the previous scheme. I have said that ad infinitum in the past, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

We object to decommissioning, because we do not believe that it represents value for money. It is not the best way in which to tackle the problems in the fisheries. It considers the problem from the point of view of tonnage rather than catching capacity, which varies dramatically between vessels. We would not necessarily catch the vessels exerting the greatest pressure on the stocks. The motion talks about targeting, but does one target the vessels that make the least catching effort, which would be expensive, or the most effective vessels, which would be a funny way in which to run a scheme? If one took the most effective and modern boats out of service, it would be difficult to justify one's wish for a modern and effective fleet in the future.

One could take out some boats judged on capacity. If one were willing to spend hundreds of millions, one could take out a measurable capacity, but the remaining boats would then increase their efforts. Therefore, one would risk the imposition of a whole new raft of restrictions and regulations to stop that happening.

We believe that there are better ways of going about decommissioning. We should try to free up a rigid and deterministic, monolithic system in the fisheries. We have already introduced measures on capacity aggregation that will particularly help the producer organisations. We have made other proposals to the industry about the ability to amalgamate entitlements. We want a constructive and sensible debate with the industry on that. I am willing to enter such discussions, but the industry must be willing to see a freer, more market-oriented system—

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

No, I said a "market-oriented system"; there is a deep distinction between the two.

The industry representatives cannot just say that they want a system based on decommissioning alone. We are renegotiating the multi-annual guidance programme targets at the Commission's request to move to a system of registered tonnage. It is not our idea, but everyone else has undertaken that practice. We hope to be able to reach a conclusion on that. Hon. Members who now argue that our fleet is a long way from target may have to rework some of their arithmetic when we reach agreement.

In 1990, there was a small reduction of 3 per cent. in the size of the registered fleet. We do not know whether that is a blip or a trend, but, clearly, it would be helpful if it were a trend. We have tightened the licensing rules to limit increases in the number of vessels and to prevent increasing capacity.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The Minister has spoken about the difficulty of targeting. Does he accept that the industry is willing to discuss how an effective, targeted decommission scheme could he introduced? The Minister, in common with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, should at least have the courtesy to "rule nothing in and rule nothing out", and he should talk to industry representatives on that specific matter.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I have talked frequently to the industry on a range of matters. I think that the industry will accept that my door is and always has been open. Decommissioning is not and will not be our policy. There are better ways of going about it. I am willing to discuss those with the industry and I want to have a sensible discussion about them.

It is not all gloom in fishing. There is a specific crisis involving cod and haddock. We have to take action, and we will not shirk it. I will not fall into the trap laid by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland of saying that earnings are escalating and that there is no problem. Of course there are problems for fishermen when opportunities decrease. The position is more buoyant than that of the farming industry which we discussed in the previous debate.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

My hon. Friend suggested other methods apart from decommissioning to help reduce the size of fleets. If they are not effective and if we do not get decreases in the size of fleets in areas where we want to see them, will he reconsider a decommissioning scheme?

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I would want to see evidence of the fishing industry's willingness to engage in a sensible discussion of the proposals that we have made. I have been asked whether I am willing to meet the industry to discuss decommissioning. I should like the industry to come to see me to discuss our proposals.

Photo of David Curry David Curry , Skipton and Ripon

I am not giving way. I am almost at the end of my speech. I have had rather a long innings and it is my second innings of the day. Like the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I am not getting double time.

The motion is silly. There is a crisis of over-fishing, but there is not one word in the motion about discipline or about the fact that the industry has to exercise discipline itself; there is not one word about the taxpayer, or about the marketplace, or about the reality of EC negotiations. The motion is opportunistic, weak and irrelevant. I urge my hon. Friends to reject it.

8 pm

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the continuing crisis in the fishing industry. I appreciate the points made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I was in Shetland last year, when I spoke to John Goodlad, of the Shetland Fishermen's Association. I appreciated the discussions that I had with him. I thought that his proposals and his attitude said a great deal for the responsibility of fishermen for their own industry and their concern for it.

As in the previous debate, apart from the background issues, prevailing economic policy has a bearing. Fishermen are affected by high interest rates and suffer pressure because of the markets in which they have to compete without support. The Labour party does not see the debate as a substitute for a debate on the statutory instrument which proposes the eight-day rule and which is being prayed against by the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friends.

The major factors facing fishermen are linked with a need for conservation. We do not disagree with the action that has to be taken to protect fish stocks and to ensure that we have a sustainable industry, but it is becoming ever clearer that conservation measures cannot be separated from structural measures in dealing with those objectives.

The Minister's recent announcement that boats will have the option, apart from the eight-day lie-up, of using 110 mm mesh may have got him off the hook, so to speak, in respect of the great injustice that was being done to boats which traditionally had larger mesh sizes, even larger than the 120 mm mesh for which the Commission was asking. I accept that boats pursuing a mixed fishery still have a major problem. I add my voice to the comments of the Scottish mixed fishery, which has suggested a series of measures, including the one-net rule and tighter control. It has acted responsibly and rationally, and it wants to work with the Ministry.

It is unfair to rule completely out of hand, as the Minister appeared to do, the proposal for the 80 mm square mesh and the 90 mm diamond mesh. That proposal is worthy of extensive sea trials. The evidence which has been collected needs to be evaluated. Although the Commission may be reluctant to consider it, I do not see anything wrong with an extensive sea trial to examine the effectiveness of the proposal and analyse it in a proper scientific way. Adjustments might be necessary, but the proposal is worthy of serious consideration and it should not be dismissed out of hand.

In the discussion in the House last December, disappointment was voiced because the Minister did not make proposals for decommissioning. I accept that we need to take an overall approach to decommissioning within the European Community, but, from what other countries are doing, it seems that only this country has set its face against a decommissioning scheme. I wonder how many times we have to come to the House to ask for a scheme and for some progress.

The Minister said that he does not believe that a decommissioning scheme is value for money. That contradicts what he has said in previous debates. It was certainly within the realms of possibility for his civil servants to bring forward a decommissioning scheme, targeted at the boats and areas which should be included in a scheme which would give value for money and would reduce the pressure on fish stocks.

Recently I met Mr. Michael Holden, who retired last year as head of the conservation unit in the European Commission's directorate-general for fisheries. He is an expert on fisheries conservation. I talked to him about conservation techniques and management. It soon became apparent from his comments that the key to conservation of fish stocks in the North sea was a reduction of effort. While we may bring in various technical measures which may be welcome and useful, it does not get away from the fact that we need to reduce effort. His opinion was the same as that of the majority of hon. Members, who believe that the only way to reduce effort in the North sea is to have a sensible and rational decommissioning scheme. The Government are completely isolated in their opposition to such a scheme.

There is grave doubt that the eight-day proposal would meet the requirements of the Government in reducing effort. What will happen is that the fishing boats which are forced to tie up for eight days will make an increased effort to make up for lost income when they go to sea. The potential for lost income is severe.

It is also worth pointing out that the vessels affected would account for only 8 per cent. of the United Kingdom cod and haddock quota over a two-year period. That makes one wonder whether such a measure is effective.

When skippers have to tie up for eight days and cannot pay their crews, it is logical that the crews will go to other boats or find other occupations. When the lie-up period is over, a skipper may have difficulty in getting a crew or in retaining his original crew. Worst of all, the eight-day rule will put pressure on skippers to put to sea in bad weather. Fishermen cannot control the weather. The eight-day rule might require skippers to tie up during good weather, which might mean that they would have to go to sea in bad weather in order to earn enough income to pay for their boats and crew.

In 1989, 22 fishing vessels were lost in bad weather, and a further 576 reported accidents were associated with bad weather. I would not want to be responsible for any measure which would put pressure on fishermen to risk their lives and the lives of their crews. I believe that the eight-day tie-up rule would put pressure on them.

I am surprised that we have not heard the argument about the way in which reduced catches increase prices. There is evidence of growing consumer resistance. The recession is partly to blame. A recent survey among household purchasers showed a decline in the last quarter in white fish purchasing.

We have seen no progress in achieving a reduction in the size of the British fleet. The recent 3 per cent. to which the Minister referred is negligible compared with reductions achieved in the fleets of other countries. As they reduce their fleets, they become eligible for grants for modernisation and restructuring, which will eventually work against the interests of our fishermen's competitiveness.

The type of decommissioning scheme that might be introduced is completely in the hands of the Government. They could structure the scheme to meet the criteria they want. For example, a decommissioning scheme could be aimed at vessels with pressure stock licences or those of a certain age and size, or by the use of other criteria. A scheme using various methods could be adopted to reduce the pressure on stocks.

One wonders how often we must raise these issues before something is done. One also wonders whether the Minister is using bankruptcy as a way of reducing effort. Is that what it is all about? Is the eight-day tie-up simply a screen to cover the fact that the Minister refuses to introduce a decommissioning scheme, so that, when he talks about the market approach, he is really talking about bankruptcy—of fishermen being forced to go out of business?

That would not of itself reduce pressure on fish stocks. When a fisherman goes bankrupt and there is a chance for someone to buy a cheap fishing boat that is lying idle in the harbour, someone will chance his arm and try to make a living with that boat. That involves the boat going out to sea again, with pressure being kept on fish stocks.

The case has been made in the House time and again for the introduction of a decommissioning scheme. We have not yet had a proper answer explaining why the Government are absolutely resolute in not introducing such a scheme. It is not as though they are having great success in dealing with the problem with their present policies. We shall not achieve progress until we link a whole package of conservation measures—the fishermen are prepared to work towards meeting the management of fish stocks, because it is in their interest to do so—because we cannot separate conservation measures from structural measures if we are to achieve real progress in reducing pressure.

There must be a decommissioning scheme. The Minister will eventually come to recognise that and put such a scheme before the House. The trouble is that by that time many fishermen will have gone bankrupt, many families will have suffered and the British fishing industry will have been put at a disadvantage compared with its main rivals in Europe.

Photo of Mr Michael Shaw Mr Michael Shaw , Scarborough 8:12 pm, 14th February 1991

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak in this short debate. Not long ago, we had another short debate on the fishing industry. I hope that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), whom I congratulate on tabling the motion, even though I cannot support him, will achieve his ambition of a full day's debate in which we can discuss the whole scene affecting the fishing industry.

I shall concentrate on the eight-day tie-up. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was right to emphasise at the outset the importance of the fabric of the fishing communities in the various fishing ports around the country. That applies in my area, with its ports of Whitby and Scarborough, as it applies to his and the constituencies of other hon. Members all the way up the north-east coast. The effect of the new option will also benefit the north-east coast, rather than the area from the Humber southwards, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) has asked me to apologise for his absence. He is in bed with the 'flu.

The timing of the debate is happy. The fishermen in my constituency, like fishermen the country over, had expressed great concern about the effect of the eight-day tie-up. Indeed, they threatened to do all sorts of things. I met them and said that, although I supported them whole-heartedly, I could not condone any action that caused an infringement of the law. They told me that that was the last thing they wanted, but I was left in no doubt about the concern they felt.

There are 17 boats in Whitby, but we must bear in mind not only the boats but the whole infrastructure of the fishing industry. Frankly, if those boats had to tie up for eight days solid, the harbour would go dead for eight days, and that would have a disastrous effect on the fleet.

I emphasise that, although they expressed great concern, those fishermen are a law-abiding community. They felt desperate about their plight. For that reason, when they heard the news this morning that an option was being given for an increased mesh size rather than the eight-day tie-up, they were delighted. That goes for the fishermen of Whitby and Scarborough. On their behalf and mine, and the fishing organisations, I congratulate the Minister on achieving a solution so quickly. I congratulate his officials and the good will of the Commission on this occasion. I had experience of dealing with the Commission some years ago, and I know how matters move extremely slowly in that circle. It is a credit to the Minister to have been able to achieve this result so quickly. It has brought great relief to Whitby and Scarborough.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) was ungenerous. Even for those in opposition, when Ministers achieve a good result, with success from their efforts abroad, they deserve to be congratulated. I hope that the House will not be stingy in congratulating the Minister on his success.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I agree that credit should be given where it is due, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that boats that use large mesh and boats that fish with long lines should never have been caught up in the first place in the eight-day rule?

Photo of Mr Michael Shaw Mr Michael Shaw , Scarborough

Yes, and I am sure that the Minister would agree. But it was not his decision in the first place—[Interuption.] It was a decision of the Community. There had to be an agreement in the end. The Minister did his best to lessen the impact of the rule. From the agreement, unsatisfactory though it was, we achieved the opt-out provision afterwards. I believe that we achieved the best deal we could. We have had an assurance on the matter from the Minister, and we were indeed lucky to have had our present Ministers negotiating for us. I support them 100 per cent. and believe that they are doing an excellent job for the British fishing fleet. I accept that we have not got all we wanted, but one never gets all one wants when one has to negotiate.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I vividly recall the hon. Gentleman taking a very critical line in our last debate about what his hon. Friends were proposing, and his finding a great deal of sympathy on this side of the House. Apparently, a solution has been found—a solution that suits his local fishermen. Can he not widen his vision once again and appreciate that a solution that deals with his local problem is not adequate to deal with the wider problem? Will he devote at least part of his speech to a more global approach to the British fishing industry?

Photo of Mr Michael Shaw Mr Michael Shaw , Scarborough

I hope that there will be such a debate very shortly, when we will be able to debate other matters. The Minister has already given us an assurance that he will continue to negotiate, and that the negotiations will include new and constructive ideas. In the end, what we need to discuss, and what I hope to discuss for a few moments tonight, is the need for conservation.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I should like my hon. Friend to reflect on the fact that what has been agreed is a conservation measure, whereas what is proposed by some sectors of the industry outside his own port is the ability to continue to fish, without conservation measures. That is what those sectors want, whereas we fought for conservation measures—measures which, by their nature, are bound to be more difficult.

Photo of Mr Michael Shaw Mr Michael Shaw , Scarborough

The last point that I made was very close to the one that the Minister has just made.

Why should my fishermen welcome the change? Undoubtedly, the increased mesh size will make fishing more difficult. That is understood by everybody, including the fishermen. However, it will allow boats to go to sea at times judged by the fishermen to be suitable. For all the reasons that I gave the last time we discussed this matter —reasons to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred since then—that is a great advantage. One has to bear in mind the dangers that are involved. A serious accident just this week showed what can happen in difficult sea conditions.

But, above all, the change that has come out of Brussels allows for better conservation. As I understand it, the eight-day rule does not achieve any improvement in conservation. Let me explain the situation as I understand it. Obviously, fishermen will go out in all weathers to do their best to catch their quotas. Some of them will run risks. If they do not achieve their quota, the difference will be available to other boats in their area, or, if it cannot be taken up in their area, in other areas of the United Kingdom. If that is indeed the case, the full quota will be caught one way or another—but it will be caught in the old way, and the same discards will still apply. Thus, there will be no saving.

Under the new scheme, with the bigger-mesh net, the number of discards will be reduced. Immature fish will not be caught, or, if they are caught, they will escape without damage. As we all know, the trouble about discards is that most of them die. As things are at present, too large a proportion of future years' catches are being destroyed. For a long time, my fishermen have been pressing for a change in mesh size. What would otherwise be discards will now go through the nets easily, and the fish will be able to grow for future catches. This is a great boon. It is a cause for great satisfaction to my fishermen. I hope that the Minister, in future negotiations, will be able to tackle the other problems that have been discussed.

I end by thanking my right hon. Friend for what he has done on behalf of my fishermen, and by wishing him well in the negotiations that I understand will take place next April.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 8:24 pm, 14th February 1991

Like other hon. Members, I welcome this debate, but, again like other hon. Members, I think that it would be absolutely disgraceful if a debate initiated by the Liberal Democrats were to be used in any way as an excuse not to have a specific debate and a vote on the life-threatening eight-day continuous tie-up measure and the statutory instrument that imposes it. I hope that, when the junior Minister winds up, he will give us an unequivocal guarantee that such a debate will be held as soon as possible.

When the Secretary of State for Scotland wound up in the last fisheries debate, many other hon. Members and I suspected that he was not quite sure what the 10-day rule that applied then actually involved. He said: That seems another sensible measure which is worth considering in the context of the need to conserve stocks.".—[Official Report, 13 December 1990; Vol. 182, c. 1223.] Many of us suspected that he did not understand the full implications of the continuous band that was being proposed.

When I read his current views in yesterday's Aberdeen Evening Express, I became absolutely convinced that, even now, the Secretary of State for Scotland does not appreciate the implications and the dangers of the tie-up regulations. The Evening Express quotes him as having said of the fishermen: They actually have more freedom now than under the previous system, when they were limited to a certain number of days at sea. That is a quite extraordinary description of a regulation that inevitably constrains fishermen's freedom and their livelihood.

But on the same day, this article entitled "No Turning Back" appeared. Perhaps it was written by the junior Minister. The DAFS secretary of fisheries wrote to a constituent of mine, Mr. Bill Farquhar, who is chairman of the Boatbuilders Association, describing the regulations as the stricter arrangements this year whereby vessels are required to stay in port. So, on the very day on which the Secretary of State for Scotland described these proposals as introducing "more freedom", his own departmental fisheries secretary told a constituent of mine that these are "stricter arrangements" than those that applied last year. We are entitled to know who is misleading whom in the Scottish Office. Is the Secretary of State for Scotland misleading his own fisheries secretary, or are the civil servants misleading the Secretary of State?

Even more important was what the Secretary of State for Scotland was to write elsewhere in the same article. The fishermen, he said, should never be forced out in bad weather, and I don't believe it will be necessary. That betrays the most fundamental misunderstanding of the implications of the tie-up regulations for Scottish fishing. It is inevitable, under the eight-day continuous tie-up rule, that fishermen will be pushed to sea in rough weather. Of the first 90 available fishing days last year, no fewer than 38 had expected winds between gale force eight and storm force 10. The fishermen were already heavily constrained by the elements. It is inevitable that, under the eight-day continuous tie-up regulations, fishermen will maximise the remaining days and go to sea even when good fishing judgment suggests that it would be better for them to stay in port. Because of the economic pressure on themselves, their boats and their families, they will have no choice whatsoever.

But there is another aspect of the danger of the tie-up regulations that must be understood by Ministers. I am thinking of a situation that might arise when boats are actually at sea. At present, boats in my constituency and in the constituencies of my hon. Friend tend to be fishing north-east. They will be encountering rough conditions, which can arise very quickly. When such conditions are encountered, the sensible thing is for a boat to turn its head to the sea and ride out the storm. But imagine circumstances that could well arise in the next few days or weeks.

Fishermen in that position might know that they were approaching the start of their statutory tie-up period and that, unless they got back to a registered port in time, they would face a fine of £50,000 for breach of the reglations. Under such economic pressure it will be inevitable that, instead of riding out the storm, which would be the sensible thing to do, some people will make a dash for port —[Interruption.]

I see that the Minister of State, Scottish Office shakes his head. I know that he has been briefed on fishing during the past few days, but if he disagrees with my analysis, which is shared by everyone in the fishing industry, he should come to the Dispatch Box and explain why we are wrong in believing that the regulations could be life-threatening.

If the Minister of State does not disagree with my analysis, he must accept that the regulations will jeopardise the lives of fishermen at sea. No Government or Administration have the moral right to impose on fishermen legislation making their lives, which are already dangerous, even more dangerous. There is a real prospect that, if the regulations are passed unamended, people in the Treasury and the Minister with responsibility for fisheries in Scotland could end up with blood on their hands over the next few weeks and months. That must be understood.

Apart from the principle of the consecutive tie-up, the enforcement that we have seen has been vindictive. No short sea trials of repairs to engines are being allowed. No oil contract work is being allowed when a fishing boat is tied up. Fishing boats are not allowed to go back to their home ports. As hon. Members know, it is common in the north-east of Scotland for boats to land at Peterhead or Aberdeen and, a few days later, to sail back the short distance to their home port at Fraserburgh, Macduff or Lossie. Even those small trips are regarded as a breach of the tie-up regulations. They have already been described not as a tie-up but as a curfew that is being imposed on the fishing industry. If the Government impose a curfew, they must expect a fishing intifada as the industry's response.

Tie-up regulations have implications for social cohesion and discrimination against the Scottish boats. Of the boats affected by the tie-up, 400 are from Scotland and 75 from England and Wales. The regulations affect more boats from Scotland than from the rest of the European Community put together. However, the option of a regulation of under 110 mm has relevance for few if any of the Scottish boats, because one cannot pursue a mixed haddock and whiting fishery with a 110mm net. No fisherman will take up that option if he is pursuing haddock-whiting fishing.

There is a danger of a total breakdown of confidence in the relationship between fishermen and those who administer the industry. The tragedy is that the measure and configuration of nets that would provide a way out of the crisis is available, backed by the scientific evidence that has been accumulated during the past few years. The sea trials on the Sunbeam demonstrate that the 90mm diamond configuration, with an 80 square-mesh panel, is the way to balance the needs of conservation with the entitlement of fishermen to protect their livelihoods.

I see that the Minister of State is having some trouble following the debate. Perhaps he will pay attention and explain why the results of the Sunbeam trials, which show an increase of 31 per cent. in the escape of young haddock and of 46 per cent. in the escape of young whiting, do not provide adequate evidence to show that the 90 mm/80 mm square mesh configuration is the way forward. Almost a year ago, my hon. Friends and I met the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, who was then convinced that that configuration was the right one. As the scientific evidence that has been accumulated supports that configuration, what has happened in the intervening period to change the Minister's mind? Why is he now renouncing his belief in that configuration?

I understand that there are to be sea trials in the Orkney boat Keila, which will use a 90 mm/90 mm mesh configuration. Can the Minister give us a guarantee that those trials, when they start in March, will also include the 90 mm/80 mm square mesh configuration to see which net and mesh configuration is best to meet the demands of conservation, and reconcile them with the rights of fishermen to pursue their livelihoods? If the Minister does not believe in the 90 mm/80 mm configuration, why not put it to the test in the sea trials that are to be undertaken during the next few months?

The fisheries Minister argues that the 90mm/80mm option would not be supported by the rest of the European Community. He implies that, if the matter were left to him, it would be an option, but he would never get it past the beaurocrats in Brussels. There is a way to unlock the door so that that conservation option is a possibility.

In suggesting the way, I shall refer to an article by the respected commentator Tony Mackay in Scotland on Sunday on 10 February. Returning from a trip to meet European officials, he wrote: last week in Brussels when I met officials from the EC Fisheries Directorate on studies we are undertaking for them, it was obvious that the commission's fisheries staff are sympathetic to the difficulties facing the Scottish fishing and fish processing industries, and are trying hard to find fair and acceptable solutions to these problems. The believe that they are seriously constrained by lack of co-operation from UK Government bodies, including the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and the Sea Fish Industry Authority in Edinburgh. Is it not entirely possible that, if the Government would fall into line with every other state in the European Community and adopt a positive attitude towards structural policy and decommissioning, they would find that what they see as hindrances to the technical conservation measures would suddenly disappear? If the Government could make their contribution to the European Community, would not they find that the European officials would realise that that was the way forward for the Scottish fishing industry?

Why on earth should Europe not wish to see the 90 mm/80 mm square-mesh panel? We know that haddock is an overwhelmingly United Kingdom fishery—indeed, a largely Scottish fishery. Why should there be opposition within the European Community to a measure on the haddock fishery, pursued by the Scottish fishing industry?

In previous debates, I have referred to the substantial disadvantage that the Government's negative attitude towards structural policy places on Scottish fishermen and the competitive position of our fishermen relative to other fleets. No less than £150 million has been poured into other European fishing industries over three years. How on earth can our industry compete when no financial structural support has been given to the United Kingdom and Scottish fleet over that period because of the Government's obdurate attitude towards decommissioning?

There is a substantial suspicion, not just among Opposition Members, that the basic reason why the Government have set their face against decommissioning is to save the face of the Minister of Agriculture, who had responsibility during the debacle six or seven years ago when decommissioning money was literally poured up the Humber with no controls. Instead of continuing with a refusal that jeopardises the livelihoods of Scottish fishermen and endangers the survival of the fishing industry, let us have some sensible, structural and conservation measures. We reject this dangerous, perverse, punitive and life-threatening eight-day tie-up, on which the Government seem to have set their hearts.

Photo of Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith , Kincardine and Deeside 8:38 pm, 14th February 1991

It would be remiss of us to allow the debate to pass without paying tribute to the late Gilbert Buchan. He was a most distinguished former president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, and he died two weeks ago. He was respected in the industry, throughout Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe, and, having worked with him in European Community negotiations, I can say that I know few people who were more truly leaders or more loyal friends than he. I am sure that I speak for many in the House when I say that. I also know few people who were tougher negotiators than he was, as former Ministers will testify, but the great thing about Gilbert was that when he made an agreement he stuck to it, and one knew where one was with him at all times.

It would be remiss of me not to mention his service to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with the minesweepers in the war, during which he was decorated for gallantry. That reminds us all of the role that our fishermen have, in a wider strategic sense, in the long-term defence of this country. I know that all hon. Members will join me in sending sympathy to his wife Jessie and members of his family.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) not only for taking the opportunity to initiate this debate but for his contribution to it, which I regarded as reasonable, sensible and based on the practical common sense of the industry.

I should like to take up two small points from the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that, following the new mesh arrangements negotiated this week, he would amend the statutory instrument on the tie-up rule, which we shall, I hope, shortly be able to debate. I was not aware that statutory instruments could be amended. Surely a new statutory instrument will be involved. Perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify that technical point for us. We want to know whether we shall have the opportunity to debate the two statutory instruments, taken together.

The second point is more substantial. I smiled wryly to myself when the Minister said that our enforcement of fishing conservation measures was the most effective in Europe. In one sense he was right to take credit for that, but I should not like to leave it at that without discussing the downside of our effective conservation measures—that they are less fair to our fishermen because our enforcement of them is more effective. We want a "level sea" in relation to competition with Europe. So let us not ignore the results of this effective enforcement.

The Parliamentary Secretary must realise that, because conservation measures are not perceived to be applied fairly across Europe, that adds to the sense of frustration and desperation among our fishermen, who see fishermen from other countries getting away with avoiding these conservation measures because they are not properly enforced. So our fishermen have more bitter experience of some of the consequences of these measures than their European counterparts.

My hon. Friend said that we needed to achieve a 30 per cent. cut in our fishing effort. I do not know whether that figure is right, but I know that we need a cut. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation made a major contribution to a number of practical and sensible measures, incorporated in their 1988 proposals, to achieve conservation that will help to limit the fishing effort. We must ask whether some of the measures introduced since the 1988 proposals are sensible or practical. If they are to be observed and sensibly enforced, we must ensure that they are practical, because only can they be effective.

I regard the tie-up rule as patent nonsense. It is utterly artificial. I said that in the December debate and I say it again now. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me. I know that an overall settlement was imposed on him, and I pay tribute to the way in which he fought against it; but now that it has been imposed on us, I hope that he will not let up in trying to have it removed or alleviated before too much damage is done to our fishing industry.

The tie-up measure wholly fails to recognise everyday practical circumstances with which fishermen have to contend, such as the weather. It is riddled with anomalies, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said: fishermen having to sail from their port of landing to their home port and being counted as having spent a day at sea. Nor should we underestimate the social and human consequences, not only for those in the industry but for their families. They have enough stress to cope with without having artificial stress imposed on them as well.

As for mesh sizes, I welcome in principle the alternative to the tie-up rule that my hon. Friend achieved in Brussels this week. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw), because this will be a real practical help to fishermen in his area fishing for cod. However, my hon. Friend must recognise that the new measure is not a practical alternative to the tie-up rule for those fishing for haddock and whiting. That is why I said that I welcomed the move in principle—because I hope that it will reopen the debate on mesh sizes. My hon. Friend must recognise that what has been negotiated so far will not have a practical application for the Scottish fishing fleet, I urge him to negotiate something better for Scottish fishermen along the same lines.

I was a little disappointed by the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who dismissed the 90 mm net with the 80 mm square mesh on the panel at the end. I agree that the number of fish caught may be the same, but my right hon. Friend must not forget the smaller fish that escape and add to stocks in future years. That is the message to send to Brussels. This is a conservation measure that will effectively safeguard the future of our fishery stocks—if that is what we truly want, and I do.

I am glad that further consultations are being held with the industry on this matter. I hope that they will be constructive and that both sides will come to them with open minds to reach a compromise—perhaps on a 90/90mm; and that progress in Europe will be achieved. If it is, it could greatly assist the conservation effort and as such it will be well worth while—

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, with his ministerial experience, would support the view that there is enormous attraction in going for a conservation measure which works and which also carries the wholehearted support of the people who will have to operate it—the fishermen.

Photo of Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith , Kincardine and Deeside

I said a few moments ago that if measures are sensible and practical they are easier to enforce and much more likely to be observed. That is why they are more effective. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support on that.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) was right in what he said about structure. We cannot separate structure from other conservation measures which are part of the overall scheme to bring about a reduction in fishing effort. To neglect or dismiss it, as Ministers often do, is like trying to fight for the industry with one hand tied behind one's back. We will not get effective conservation or build an efficient and effective British fishing industry if we do not show much more readiness to tackle structure.

The blockage in the Minister's mind arises from past scars for which the industry is having to pay the penalty. What about consistency? Is structure being ignored in the discussions on agriculture in Europe? Of course not. Structure is one of the major elements submitted by the Commission to the Council of Ministers. Structural policy is a major element in negotiations on agriculture, but our Government are the only Government in Europe who turn their back on structure in the fishing industry. It does not make sense, and it is not in the best interests of the fishing industry or Britain.

The Minister said that his opposition had nothing to do with previous schemes. I accept what he says about that, and will not try to deal with it now. The circumstances were different. I endorse what he said about tackling tonnage and fishing capacity and trying to make sure that they are targeted. Nobody denies that problems exist, but they are not beyond the wit of civil servants or Ministers to resolve. I agree that a system has to be linked to a strict licensing scheme, so that capacity is not knocked out in one place only to reappear in another. It is possible to have a disciplined structure. Fishing is a hunting industry, whereas agriculture is about husbandry. Inevitably, Governments intervene in a thousand ways, such as laying down rules about days at sea and tying up and mesh size.

I wish that we did not have a hang-up about decommissioning, because it prevents us from tackling the structure of the industry. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Scottish Office to bear in mind the consequences of turning our back on structure. When we do that, we lose one of the major methods of gearing our fishing effort to available stocks. That is the most important benefit we lose, but we lose two others. We lose grants which are available to every other country in Europe, and I do not see why our industry should be denied such grants.

As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, other Governments and other industries are amazed at our attitude. It does not do us any good because other Governments and industries which use structural measures to reduce their fishing effort say to our fishermen, "What are your Government doing to reduce your effort?" Our fishermen know that such measures are effective in other countries and that makes them much less supportive of measures that we propose, such as 90/80 mm or 90/90 mm mesh sizes.

In a major area, we must not turn our backs on an important tool. By doing such things we deny ourselves support. Nobody knows better than I do that we cannot win battles on our own in Europe. We have to have allies, and it is stupid to deny ourselves allies to achieve some of the other good measures upon which all hon. Members agree.

I make no apology for speaking at length on decommissioning and structure. I hope that the other measures that we have discussed will work. However, as I said earlier, they are only part measures. We have to add structures, and only if we are prepared to do that will we see more effective conservation of our fish stocks and a more stable future for our fishing industry and fishing communities.

Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 8:55 pm, 14th February 1991

In the three and a half years that I have been in the House and attending fishing debates, I have noted the remarkable consistency of the subjects and the way that they have been dealt with. There is unanimity about the interests and importance of our fishing industry, but no progress seems to have been made. Confrontation hovers over the quotas, which are outwith the hands of the House and are decided in Brussels. No progress is made on issues such as decommissioning, conservation and structure that could be implemented here. That is despite our unanimity of purpose because we all want to see a thriving and safe industry playing its part in the national economy and, in my case, its important part in the economy of the Grampian region.

It is not difficult to see why we fail to make progress. The Minister repeated the standard Government position on decommissioning. It seems that they got their fingers burned once before and are not prepared to try again. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) put his finger on the issue much more effectively than I can, because he was a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I was dismayed to hear the Minister dismiss so readily the ideas of the Scottish Fisherman's Federation for the 90 mm diamond mesh net and the 80 mm square mesh window. As the Minister well knows, a great deal of research has been carried out into the operation of that system. I understand that the experiments carried out by the marine laboratory in my constituency involved the Sunbeam, a Shetland-based vessel, and produced quite staggering results. For example, they showed that there is a discard rate of 46 per cent. in the whiting catch. That is phenomenal. The discard rate for haddock was 31 per cent. A video is available and I hope to see it soon. I understand that it shows exactly how the fish react to that configuration of nets. That is a positive step towards conservation.

The same scientists discovered that the 90 mm diamond net and 90 mm square mesh window were not effective—not so much from the point of view of conservation because more fish escaped—in giving fishermen a marketable catch. The industry depends on a marketable catch for its survival. The Minister suggested the possibility of consultation on the introduction of a 90 mm square net window. We must consider the consequences of that development. If the work undertaken at the marine laboratory is valid, fishermen will have to spend even more time at sea to obtain the same size of catch, and their overheads will rise accordingly—as will the size of the risk that they must take.

We do not see any willingness on the Government's part to listen to valid arguments. The way forward is for all sides of the industry, the Government and the Ministry to sit down and talk with the fishermen. Obviously, hard positions are taken by both sides. The fishermen want to catch as much fish as they can, make as much money as they can, and pay for their boats as easily as they can. The Ministry has a wider interest.

In the current state of confrontation, it is difficult to see how progress can be made without a meeting of minds, to arrive at a consensus, so that the Government can make a case for the UK fishing industry with the backing of the fishermen themselves and right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. At present, we seem only to react to what comes out of Brussels. If Commissioner Marin comes up with a proposal for a 120 mm net, we deem it to be a great victory if we achieve agreement on a 110 mm net. That is nonsense.

We are in a position to take the lead. Our fishermen want to be involved, and so should the Government. We ought to be taking the initiative. The fisheries are on our doorstep, and we have the largest interest in them, yet we are lagging behind in representing an industry that is crucial not only to the nation's well-being in terms of the food value that fish offers, but to the economy of areas such as that which I represent, where thousands of jobs depend on it.

I want to see more positive action from the Government. I would like to see them sitting down and listening rather than trying to impose their concept of the best way forward. There are many good ideas around, and the Government should be prepared to listen.

Fish processing is an aspect of the industry that is often ignored in our debates, because right hon. and hon. Members mostly represent the catching side of the industry. Aberdeen is a major fish processing centre. A report published by Grampian regional council for economic development and planning, "The Importance of Fishing to the Grampian Region", estimates that the fish processing sector provides employment for 4,500 people. It has been hard hit by the crisis in the industry and has suffered about 750 job losses over the past year, with 15 firms having closed.

The income enjoyed by fish catchers has remained relatively stable, although I know that inflation has affected them, too. However, those employed in fish processing have been forced to cope with the huge price increases that are the consequence of lower catches. Over the past year, processors have paid 8 per cent. more for 14 per cent. less fish, which has had a huge impact on their business. For haddock alone, they pay 41 per cent. more. That filters through to produce the job losses to which I referred, as well as to the housewife, who must pay huge prices for the fish she buys from her fishmonger or supermarket. It is staggering to see haddock selling at a higher price than salmon, and at almost the same price as best steak. Haddock is a healthy and clean food, and we should encourage people to buy it—but high prices make that difficult to achieve.

The Government refuse to recognise the difficulties that the fish processing industry faces. It is currently attempting to gear itself up to meet new European hygiene regulations, which requires a mammoth investment, with the support of the Scottish Development Agency, local authorities in the Grampian region, and Aberdeen district council. They recognise that the industry must be modernised to meet European standards, most of which were set by the Torry research laboratory in my constituency. We know what will be the impact of those regulations.

The fishing industry is gearing up, but it is not being helped to adjust to the difficult period it faces. There is no unified structural approach to the industry, which, if it is indeed seen as a vital, essential part of the food industry as a whole, should surely receive the same support as farming.

I know that this is not entirely relevant to the debate, but, like other hon. Members, I have been lobbied by the salmon net fishermen. In 1988, the Government reduced the number of hours during which they were allowed to fish, which has taken many of them to the edge of bankruptcy. I spoke recently to a former trawlerman who had invested £100,000 in his business—his entire capital—and now finds that it is on the verge of closure.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

What has been done to Scotland's salmon net fishing industry is, in a sense, unique. The noose has been tightened, and men have been driven out of business for the specific purpose of enriching others who are pursuing the same fish. The Government have deliberately discriminated against an industry that is rooted in centuries of tradition in many parts of rural Scotland, to the benefit of another sector. Surely the least they can do is compensate those whom they have forced out of business, and I hope that they will belatedly do something for the salmon net fishermen who have been treated so grotesquely.

Photo of Frank Doran Frank Doran Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I agree. The downturn in the salmon net fishing business has nothing to do with the reduction in the number of fish, investment in new technology or anything of that nature; it is a direct consequence of the reduction in the number of fishing hours, which is itself a direct consequence of the Government's legislation. Nothing has been done to help those fishermen to adjust, although, in remote areas such as Caithness and Sutherland, they provide vital, albeit seasonal, employment. Businesses are going to the wall in those areas.

Fish—whether or not it is caught at sea—must be seen as a vital element of the wider industry. We want unity of approach, rather than the confrontational attitude that the Government have adopted so far.

Photo of Mr David Porter Mr David Porter , Waveney 9:07 pm, 14th February 1991

I too am delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate, as my constituency contains the major port of Lowestoft. My delight ends there, however.

I feel a good deal of sympathy with the thrust of the Scottish amendment, which refers to "crisis in fishing". Like farming, the fishing industry is sometimes accused of crying wolf too often. Some may think that the current crisis represents more of the same, but I do not agree: the industry is crying wolf for real. For those with mortgages to pay, boat loans to service and businesses and families to maintain, the wolf is at the door.

This is, as much as anything, a crisis of confidence. The common fisheries policy is at the heart of it: it has taken the freedom to regulate the British fishing industry virtually out of the Government's hands, yet the Government still have to do some of the CFP's dirty work.

I instinctively incline to the school of thought that argues that the CFP should promptly be scrapped, but I take the point made to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) in a private discussion last week. I called the CFP a dog's breakfast; he—with his many years of wisdom and experience in the House—cautioned me about the dangers of replacing a dog's breakfast with a pig's dinner.

While that may be wise, there is no doubt that the CFP's conservation measures simply do not work. It is a failed system. Every year, the extent of that failure becomes more apparent: there are still too many out-of-date boats chasing too few fish, there is still alarming scientific evidence every year, and the chasms in confidence continue. Faced with failure of the system, we bolt on another piece of machinery. This year, it is the unloved eight-day tie-up, which we have heard so much about tonight. Next year what will it be? It may be a 22-day tie-up and an eight-day fishing rule.

There are all sorts of worries about the common fisheries policy. My hon. Friend has an open door, listens well and speaks straight, but worries still linger about the even-handed application of quotas and all the other paraphernalia that surrounds the fishing industry. Any question addressed to him about the Dutch, the French, the Belgians or the Spaniards is ususally answered with the cry, "Enforcement in other countries is a matter for other national Governments." Yes, but it is all a question of confidence among British fishermen about what is happening in other countries. Can they be confident about the Spanish Government's commitment to enforcement while there is a Spanish Fisheries Commissioner? Their confidence is wafer-thin.

What hurt Lowestoft in particular was the sudden closure of fisheries before the end of the year. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food found that the full catch figures had been reached. Lowestoft's cod and sole fisheries were suddenly shut. Fishermen had been told only days before that everything was on target until the end of the year. One company alone in Lowestoft lost £333,000 due to the closure of the sole fishery. Confidence in the management of the regime is in short supply.

I am sorry to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I too wish to return to the question of decommissioning. The alternative is British bankruptcies. We said last month and in December that decommissioning is not a magic answer, but it must surely help. I shall not rehearse again the arguments in favour of the scheme. All I would add is that a properly administered, financed and policed scheme would, in the first instance, have to be voluntary. Many Lowestoft fishermen do not want to leave the industry. Fishermen in other ports, however, might happily leave the industry if it were made worth their while to do so —if they could pay their debts and still have something left over.

Such a scheme would make payments to boat owners and fishermen, but fish merchants and other indirect employees in the industry could be wiped out by it. Thought must be given to a whole-industry approach when it comes to restructuring it. I hope that that will be borne in mind. Fish merchants want only to keep a reliable supply of good quality fish available to the housewife. Their task in Lowestoft is made much harder when the economics of the industry frequently obliges boats to land their catch in Holland rather than in Lowestoft.

Ministers have an unenviable task. They go to Council of Ministers meetings clutching the tattered trousers of the common fisheries policy around them. Too often our European, competitors strip the trousers off them. Consequently, they return naked from those meetings. When that happens, we cannot pretend that the CFP suit of clothes is wonderful. Those hon. Members who represent fishing ports have to play the little boy to the Minister's emperor and point out that there is nothing there—that it is a sham, a charade, a pantomime, if it were not so serious.

I shall not weary the House with my objections to the eight-day tie-up. What I have had to say about the CFP, however, leads me to a list of questions and doubts which I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer in writing. Will he resist an EEC trend to amalgamate all directed fisheries in the interests of bureaucratic convenience? How are North sea fishermen and related workers—they total about 2,000 in Lowestoft alone—supposed to weather effort restriction, quota cuts and increases in mesh size all at once? What thought is being given to how these ideas relate to the real world at sea and the real world of the fish markets?

If we all recognise that limitation by quantity alone fails to tackle the problem—United Kingdom fishermen have taken major reductions over the last few years—at what point do the Government say that they are happy to allow bankruptcies to help them to achieve fleet reduction and that they are happy to let the Dutch take over the North sea? When is enough enough? No one looking at the European scene, particularly the Dutch fishing industry, foresees the Dutch retreating from the fishing scene.

We hear frequently from Scottish Members with fishing constituencies that Scotland faces serious difficulties. Those difficulties may not be exaggerated, but I am sorry to say that there is often little sympathy for Scottish fishermen in the English ports. Does not the fact that there is little sympathy for Scottish fishermen reflect the confrontational nature of the common fisheries policy? The confrontation can only get worse as the European Community grows bigger, particularly if Norway, Sweden and goodness who else joins. That confrontation governs the industry, which is already the most divided industry in Britain. I remember only a couple of years ago talking to a group of angry inshore fishermen, complete with placards and banners, outside the Lowestoft fish laboratory gates. Two years ago, things were by no means as bad for them.

The Hague preference is often quoted as a wonderful device which triggers extra fish entitlement when total allowable catches fall low. It may be marvellous for Bridlington and ports northwards, but what about Lowestoft and ports south of that line? If the cod reductions invoke the Hague preference, will East Anglia be discriminated against again? Will the French get away with special derogation on mesh sizes in the southern North sea? If we go on horse-trading and quota-swapping with plaice, for example, because Lowestoft is not allowed a fleet big enough to catch its full quota, what guarantee is there that other EC Governments will not say, "Well, you didn't need it when you swapped it, so you don't need it in the future"?

What noises are we making about the former East German fleet, which is underused, inefficient and out of date? It is ideal, surely, for scrapping en bloc without any replacement.

At a time when Europeans could and should be eating more fish, the industry is facing not only the sea, but all the dead weight of the CFP, from surveillance to the transmission of catch data, and from licensing, through bycatches to technical measures. Can one wonder that there was a howl of derision last year when Mr. Marin claimed that the CFP was "theoretically perfect". Presumably, he meant that it was "theoretically perfect" in the same way that the community charge is "theoretically perfect".

During my remarks, I have mixed as many cliches as there are species in the sea. I want to end by saying to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is the blanket policy of the CFP that is so stifling. Every port, every section of the industry, every country and every species is different. The CFP must have the flexibility to reflect that. It must have it now or the crisis will destroy the entire industry.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury 9:16 pm, 14th February 1991

As a conservationist who represents fishing interests in Northern Ireland, I am naturally concerned about the decimation of our fish stocks and their conservation, especially in the Irish sea. From a conservation point of view, I have a great interest in the long-line fishermen and believe that they have been unfairly treated under the Government's current conservation policy.

The selective nature of long-line fishing precludes almost exclusively catches of under-sized fish. As a conservation measure, the Government should encourage that type of fishing without restrictions. The problem facing the Government appears to be that there are too many boats fishing for too few fish. However, the Government should be aware that they have allowed the unrestricted building of boats of under 10 m which has considerably added to the tonnage. Many of those boats were not for established full-time fishermen, yet they are allowed to fish completely without restriction while established fishermen are losing their livelihood. A conservation policy that is directed only at certain fishermen and vessels is unfair and can never be successful.

There has been much discussion this evening about square mesh panels. I support their use as a conservation measure. Experiments with square mesh panels show conclusively that they have dramatically reduced the discards of immature fish. They have also caught better quality fish with less crushing, and have saved time and effort in sorting large quantities of under-sized fish.

I understand that the Government are planning the use of 90 mm panels for white fish and 70 mm panels for prawns, but trials with 90 mm mesh in the Irish sea fishery showed a fairly substantial loss of marketable whiting. From that we may deduce that 80 mm panels would be an acceptable compromise for white fish.

The prawn fishermen have also experienced beneficial effects on prawn catches, as well as a significant reduction in discarded fish. It appears that, whatever mesh is used in the panel, prawns will not be lost, so I am concerned that the Government are opting for 70 mm panels in prawn gear. The panel is there for the release of juvenile fish—the same fish that will be caught in the white fish gear—so I suggest that the Government should consider an 80 mm mesh for both white fish and prawns.

I have great sympathy for our fishermen who go to sea in all weathers to provide the fish for our consumption. I do not have the same feelings about those who deprive our sea bird population of the means of survival. I am referring to those who send thousands of tonnes of sandeels and other fish not considered suitable for human consumption to fishmeal factories to produce protein which is readily available from other renewable sources.

It is distressing for me to see gannets and herring-gulls squabbling over offal when these beautiful birds should be hunting their own food, which has been taken from them by the over-activity of boats concerned with fishmeal fishing. Other species of bird—notably puffins, kittiwakes and members of the skua family—are now seriously at risk because they have become incapable of reproducing due to the lack of food during the breeding season.

Conservation must go hand in hand with the fishing industry. Without one, there will not be the other.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives 9:21 pm, 14th February 1991

I shall be brief, as other hon. Members want to speak.

I want lo make four points. I hope that the first of them will not be taken the wrong way. This evening, I had a telephone call from a constituent who had seen on television our exchanges yesterday following the private notice question on the contingency arrangements—let us hope that it never happens—for the B52 bombers to drop their bombs unprimed in the Bristol channel. Unfortunately, some Opposition Members laughed at remarks made by Conservative Members who pointed out the possible danger to the fishing fleet. The channel is a main fishing ground. The laughter was open to misinterpretation, I am sure, but I hope that those Opposition Members who do not know the position of the fishing fleet and the dangers that it runs—there are none of them here tonight—will think again.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I am only reporting the reaction of people in my constituency who watched our proceedings on television. I shall not labour the point, but it should be put on record because all hon. Members in the Chamber tonight know the dangers that the fishing fleet faces.

Similarly, I hope that my second point will not open old wounds between the two sides of the House. It concerns the whole of question of misreporting. I was delighted to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister said about correcting the bogus track record that certain Scottish boats had built up through misreporting. That question has been a feature of our last two fishing debates. I hope that that injustice will be put right. I was pleased that the Minister hinted—indeed, gave an assurance—that that would happen, because cheating and misreporting have undoubtedly hit fishermen in my area and in other areas of the United Kingdom.

My third point arises from the eight-day rule. There is a curious spin-off of that rule. Until today, it seemed that some boats from Scotland and the north of England that have been sold to fishermen in the south-west of England and which now operate exclusively in area 7, off the south-west, could still be caught by the eight-day rule even though they were not fishing in the areas affected by it. I was pleased today to receive a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister saying that one boat in my area would not be caught by the eight-day tie-up rule. Other boats may be affected. I know that there is one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Sir G. Neale). I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can confirm, perhaps in writing, that all boats affected in this way—there may be more—will be exempt from that provision.

My fourth point looks to the future. I look with considerable apprehension to the future on a topic that has hardly been touched on tonight—the mid-term review by the Commission of the common fisheries policy. The Commission has power to submit a report by the end of this year on the working of the CFP. I sound a warning note on that. It would be disastrous if the Commission used that mid-term review to open up the common fisheries policy in a way that is detrimental to Britain and its fishermen.

There have been two major developments since the introduction of the common fisheries policy. One is the accession of Spain to the European Community, with all the consequences of quota hopping. I welcome the remarks that my hon. Friend the Minister made on the way in which we fought the case against the Spaniards in the European Court of Justice.

Another more recent development is extremely worrying and was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter). He made passing reference to the reunification of Germany, and mentioned the position of what was formerly the East German fleet and the consequences that that will have. Again, I sound a warning that there could be wide repercussions on British fishermen if the issue is not handled properly. On that gloomy note, I shall finish and allow other hon. Members to speak.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland 9:26 pm, 14th February 1991

The debate has been too short to allow everyone who wished to speak to do so, but the House will acknowledge that it has been a valuable debate which has allowed, representatives of no fewer than six political parties to discuss an industry whose predicament is recognised across the House. Its predicament requires exceptional measures, if it is not to be caught in a savage double bind of rising costs and contracting resources caused by falling stocks of fish. The diminution of our fishing industry will be at the expense of communities throughout our country, many in remote areas, with fragile economies which heavily depend on the fishing industry—not only fishermen and their families but the shore-based industries which service and depend on the fishing industry.

This is an important debate. It was also significant in that no disagreement was voiced during discussions between hon. Members on both sides of the House. A sharp difference of opinion was expressed with the Minister's remarks. Almost everyone who has spoken disagreed with him fundamentally, especially on the Government's attitude to the structural changes which are necessary if the British fishing industry is to survive this crisis.

The debate takes place against the background of severely increased costs for fuel, repairs and insurance and an increase in other costs which are necessarily incurred if the fleet is to be sustained, never mind replaced. One of the disturbing features of the industry is the prospect of an aging fleet because no one will be able to invest in modernisation.

I do not believe that the Government have measured up to the seriousness of the problem. They give the impression that they are running before the wind of opinion in Europe and are behind the European Commission in its attempts to tackle the difficulties of the industry. I welcomed yesterday's announcement of a modest change in the tie-up rule and the consequential change regarding the single net conservation measure that the Minister announced tonight. I am glad to learn about the new order and I hope that it will take into account some of the things that have been said in today's debate. If the scheme is not to be abandoned I hope that other changes will be made to its operation.

I particularly draw the Minister's attention to the great dissatisfaction in the fishing industry about the midnight to midnight aspect of the tie-up rule. Because of that, the eight-day period is effectively extended to nine or even 10 days. We have received representations on that, and a change should be made. If the Minister is not prepared to abandon the scheme, I hope that he will be prepared to consider a change to make the scheme run from midday to midday.

Tonight there was one monetary problem—perhaps it was a misunderstanding— when the hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) referred to the mandatory tie-up scheme and said that the modification allowing the 110 mm option was a solution to the problem. It is clearly not a solution for those involved in the haddock and whiting sector of the industry. It may benefit those who fish off the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) for cod, monkfish and megrim—those catches may be a staple part of their returns.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Because of the shortage of time I have already prevented other hon. Members from taking part, so it would be sensible not to give way. However, I should happily give way to those hon. Members who have had no opportunity to make their speeches.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I shall take up that invitation. My hon. Friend has already mentioned whiting and it is important to remind the Minister that Northumberland has a winter-directed whiting fishery, but that would be prevented by the Government's 1990 proposals. I hope that the Minister will keep that in mind when he considers the responses he has received to those proposals.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I hope that the Minister heard that.

My right hon. Friends and I were moved to seek this debate because of the totally unacceptable nature of the mandatory tie-up scheme. I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Scottish Office is to reply to the debate. We welcome his participation.

The tie-up scheme is ill conceived. Not only will demerits flow from it, but it is unlikely to achieve its purpose. We have been advised by the Minister that the objective was to reduce the fishing effort by 30 per cent. However, it is extremely unlikely that that will flow from the scheme. I believe that people will fish harder and longer during the two thirds of the month left to them. That will, of course, disrupt their family lives. Of course, it will also lead to their running risks which in proper circumstances they would not choose to run.

A reduction of 30 per cent. in their effort is palpably not going to happen. That is why I intervened in the Minister's speech to ask him whether, when it becomes clear that it has not happened, the Government will condone any suggestion from Brussels that the tie-up period should be extended beyond eight days in the hope that that would further reduce fishing effort. It must not be. I hope that the Minister will give a categorical assurance on that point for the future. The safety of our fishermen must be our prime concern. I am deeply concerned, like the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), about the possibility of people being caught at sea, not being able to ride out the storm, and being forced to come back because of the threat of having to pay substantial fines of up to £50,000.

The rigidity of the scheme is one of its most worrying features. In my constituency, one skipper, Mr. Andrew Bremner of Wick, found himself at the end of the first week, having stayed tied up, wanting to get out but recognising that the weather was worsening. He sought permission to leave Wick and transfer to Scrabster before his eight-day period was up—a perfectly sensible thing to do. He was even prepared to take the fishery officer with him to show that he did not intend to do anything that he should not do, but he was told firmly by the Department that it was not permissible to transfer. As a result, he lost two additional days of fishing and was tied up effectively for 10 days.

Such rigidity in the operation of the scheme is unacceptable. Because the fines are so steep, it is inconceivable that fishermen will want to run the risk of incurring penalties by doing what they are not permitted to do under the scheme. Other hon. Members have spoken of the problem of getting back to the home port, and how that too could cut down on fishing time. The scheme is riot flexible, it is not safe and it will seriously erode the economic livelihood of those in the industry. It establishes a highly dangerous precedent within the Community schemes for regulation, and it should be abandoned.

The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that proper alternatives had not been canvassed. I do not understand how he can say that, in the light of the representations that have been made by the fishing industry all around the country about what conservation measures ought to be advanced by the Government. I know of at least five proposals from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The Parliamentary Secretary has bowed in the direction of one of them tonight—the single net on the vessel in the context of the 110 mm relaxation of the rule. Many other proposals on conservation have been made, but they do not seem to have been prosecuted with the vigour that one looks for from a Government.

The attitude to the 90 mm diamond-shaped mesh, with the 80 mm square net panel at the end of the net, seem not to be based on any scientific belief that it would not be effective. Experimentation suggests that it would be. If the Minister says that it will not wash, is he simply saying that it is not acceptable in Brussels? If so, what work has Brussels done on it? Can the Minister of State clarify the point in his reply to the debate? On what scientific evidence are the Government resting the case against the 90 mm diamond mesh, with the 80 mm square mesh panel?

What has been the attitude of the Government to the whole question of industrial fishing? A large part of the industry believes that that should be tackled as a matter of urgency. There have been proposals for an increase in the minimum landing size for whiting and suggestions about how better enforcement in the Community might help to tackle more effectively the problem of conservation.

But those conservation methods, which have not been prosecuted since they were first advanced by the industry about two years ago, cannot of themselves tackle the great problem of the over-capacity of the industry and the impossibility of an industry of this size returning adequate rewards to fishermen in the face of diminishing stocks.

The Government have taken some comfort from the fact that prices have risen somewhat in the last year. But they are not back—or, if they are, only just—to the level that they were in 1987, and costs have risen enormously during that time. The Minister must acknowledge that prices are bumping against a ceiling imposed from outside the fishing industry by the fact that fish must compete with white meat and other forms of protein, and there is not a market situation that will allow increased pricing for a diminishing volume of fish to solve the industry's problems.

As that route is blocked, it is becoming increasingly hard to understand why the Government have not listened to the advice offered not only by the industry but by hon. Members from six parties in the House, most eloquently by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) on the question of structure. It is not possible to tackle the problem without looking at the whole question of structure.

We are financing other countries, through our contributions to the EC, to restructure their industries—to put them in a better position to compete—and we see the seriousness of that when we examine the prospect of EC enlargement. The Scandinavian countries are now turning to the EC and are knocking at our door. Are we to face an enlarged Community with our fleet debilitated and run down as a result of the refusal of the Government to pick up what is Community policy—to make the restructuring of the fleet an integral part of their approach to tackling the problem of over-supply?

I appeal to the Government to open the dialogue properly with the industry on this issue. One constructive development in the debate occurred at the beginning, when the Minister made it clear that at least two of the old objections to a decommissioning scheme had been disposed of. It is not because the Public Accounts Committee ruled against decommissioning schemes in principle and it is not because the scheme that we had pumped money up the Humber, as it has been colourfully described. It is because the Government believe that they would not get value for money.

Can we sit around the table and discuss that? Can we discuss it—the Government, the industry and the experts who advise the industry, if necessary with people from Brussels—and have a meeting of minds on the question of value for money? Everyone wants value for money. What block stands in the way of resolving the problem? The Government will do themselves a service if tonight the Minister expresses a willingness to initiate such a dialogue. That is the least we can expect to come from this debate. I appeal to the Minister, as a person who, I know, does not want to see the industries of Scotland die around him, to open that debate with his response tonight.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 9:45 pm, 14th February 1991

I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his welcome. This has been a very interesting debate. Bearing in mind the fact that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has gone to such considerable pains to persuade our colleagues in the European Community to reduce the number of days from 10 to eight, I was slightly surprised when the hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that the Government would not extend the eight-day tie-up period. I think that he can be fairly safe with that assurance.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is making a great error if he confuses structure—the Government agree that there is a need to look at structure—with a decommissioning scheme per se. A number of countries in the Community have begun to consider individual transferable quota schemes, for example. The Government have themselves submitted a capacity aggregation scheme. In a sense, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) confused the need to look at structure with the need to look solely at decommissioning. That is a matter to which I will return in a few moments.

The motion refers to a crisis in the fishing industry". In fact, the Government are trying to conserve fish stocks with a view to preventing a real crisis in the future. The worst crisis of all for the fishing industry would arise if there were no fish in the sea. During the 1970s, the North sea herring stock collapsed because of over-fishing, forcing the closure of the fishery. Only through careful conservation has the fishery recovered. On the other side of the Atlantic, the George bank haddock stock collapsed over 20 years ago and has never recovered. In both cases, there were severe consequences for the fishermen and for the processing industries that were dependent on the fisheries. That is a matter to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) referred. We must avoid such a collapse of our cod and haddock stocks.

Conservation measures, such as the introduction of the 90 mm square mesh panel and the eight-day tie-up, have an effect of fishermen's incomes. No one denies that. I very much regret it, but we must balance short-term needs against the long-term survival of the industry.

Tragic events towards the end of last year reminded us —if any reminder was necessary—that fishing is a hazardous occupation and that the safety of crews must be put above all other considerations. I say to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that, in administering the eight-day tie-up, we shall not require fishermen to do anything that would directly put their vessels at risk. In the same way, we shall expect fishermen not to behave irresponsibly by going to sea when it is not safe to do so.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

If that is the case, will the Minister answer the substantive questions that were put to him during the debate? Does he not agree that this measure will force fishermen to sea under economic pressure? Also, what will happen when a boat that is riding out a storm runs up against the eight-day period? It will have to set sail for port when prudence dictates that it should continue to shelter. Will the Minister please answer those two specific questions? Can he explain how these things will not constitute a danger to fishermen at sea?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that the scheme will be administered flexibly. Under the scheme, as he knows, there is a requirement to give 12 hours' notice of the port where the tie-up will take place. That does not have to be the port of normal location. If it were not sensible, because of weather conditions, to make for port, we should expect the fisheries inspector to take a flexible view. No one is suggesting anything to the contrary.

I am delighted if that reassures the hon. Gentleman. If he is saying that, as a result of the scheme, people will seek to maintain their livelihood by continuing to aim for the same levels of stocks, clearly he is arguing that the scheme will not reduce fishing activity. There is no way to reduce the number of fish coming out of the sea that will not result in a loss of income, other than an approach that offers an opportunity for both positions, which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is trying to achieve through the use of equipment that is more selective in its take-up.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I would not disagree with the Minister that those steps will lead to a loss of income. We have consistently said that conservation steps must be taken and a reduction in effort must be made. Earlier today, we discussed set-aside for farmers, which is a form of reduction of methods. In such cases, farmers are compensated quite generously through the EC Commission. The decommissioning scheme has funds, within the Commission, for compensation. Do not fishermen deserve the same consideration?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's analogy between set-aside and fishing reductions is good. Set-aside has been introduced in farming to deal with the problem of surpluses and is costing a great deal for the taxpayer to maintain. In this case, we are dealing with the problem of shortages of fish stocks.

If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the decommissioning scheme is equivalent to set-aside, a better analogy would be a lay-up scheme. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that, far from improving the position, the decommissioning scheme could make it worse, because it would put money into the industry that could be invested in vessels with a greater capacity to catch fish that were in short supply. The hon. Gentleman must face that.

If the hon. Gentleman's answer to the problem is that the Government should embrace decommissioning as a policy, he may wish to reflect that those EC countries with decommissioning schemes, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, are also covered by the eight-day tie-up rule —to which he took exception—because their decommissioning schemes have not worked and there is still a problem about their fleets' capacity to catch fish.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I still have a number of arguments.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. One at a time, please.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I shall give way to my right hon. Friend, but it means that several other Members will not have their questions answered.

Photo of Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith , Kincardine and Deeside

Did not my hon. Friend hear me refer to combining decommissioning with a strict licensing scheme? If the Government set the rules properly, it would not be necessary for funds used for decommissioning to be recirculated. That does not necessarily follow.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Far be it from me to take issue with my right hon. Friend, but he might recognise that we already have a strict licensing scheme. As for a decommissioning scheme, my right hon. Friend, in common with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talked about a well targeted scheme that would work, but there have been few suggestions about how it would work in practice.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

No, I shall not give way to an hon. Gentleman who has only just entered the Chamber.

A decommissioning scheme would not help to conserve stocks. It would be most attractive to the least efficient vessels, which exert little pressure on the stocks. It would result in a large inflow of capital to the industry to modernise the existing fleet, and we could end up with a smaller fleet with greater catching power. The industry needs arrangements under which, by its own decisions, it can adjust better to the operations of the market.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked why, if a boat landed in Mallaig and returned to Orkney, the transit time should not count. The answer is, because the whole point of the eight-day rule is that it is time spent in port when fishing is not taking place. Transit time certainly adds to the time not available for fishing, but the whole point of the scheme is to reduce fishing activity. That is inherent in it and it must be faced.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the gear option did nothing for some boats. I agree that it does not have something for everyone. That is why it is an option, and that is why we have made it clear to the Commission that the compulsory 110 mm mesh size is not acceptable. We need a reduction in fishing effort; the eight-day tie-up is one way of achieving it.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked what had happened to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation proposals on conservation, especially the one-net rule. We have pressed the Community to adopt most of the SFF proposals, including the one-net rule, but those proposals do not go far enough. We support the one-net rule, and we have convinced the European Commission of the need for it. For the past year we have been trying hard to persuade other member states of the need for the one-net rule, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The Minister does not appear to be answering my points about the square mesh panel. Why does the Parliamentary Secretary not think that there is enough evidence to justify the conservation benefits of the 90 mm diamond net with the 80mm square mesh panel? Surely trials done by the Sunbeam show that there is some evidence. Does he accept that trials to be conducted later this spring will allow further evidence to be gathered about the 90 mm net with the 80 mm square panel?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. He said nothing of the sort. We are not free agents in this matter. We have to persuade our colleagues in the Community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) pointed out, the Parliamentary Secretary has done sterling work in arguing the case. The reason why the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland can explain the virtues of the system is that the work has been done in this country; and we are arguing the case with our colleagues. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to argue that we must try to reach a consensus on these and other matters within the Community.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that the United Kingdom was offering no alternative, but that is to ignore the capacity aggregation scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough said that, under the new scheme, some quotas would be filled but with fewer discards, and I agree. We must maintain landings but kill fewer fish unnecessarily. That goes to the root of our approach in the Community.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that more Scottish boats than vessels of any other Community country were caught by the eight-day rule. Typically, he did not point out that 75 per cent. of United Kingdom haddock is landed in Scotland—two thirds of the entire EC availability. So the responsibility for achieving recovery of the stock lies with the United Kingdom, particularly with Scotland—

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again. I have given way generously, and there are only two minutes left.

Tonight's debate has been about the future of the fishing industry. We have heard much about the need to help fishermen. The best way to do that is to ensure that there will continue to be fish in the sea to be caught. We have taken the lead in the European Community in arguing for new conservation measures. Our scientists have predicted that, if no action is taken this year, half the haddock caught in the North sea will be discarded as too small. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that that was unacceptable. Catching fish before they reach a decent size and throwing dead fish back into the sea is no way to manage a modern industry.

We continue to press for early action at European Community level to make fishing gear more selective, so that it lets small fish escape. We are also prepared to take the necessary steps at national level to safeguard the stocks in which our fishermen have an interest. The urgent need to conserve fish stocks persuaded the Government to accept the effort limitation scheme and to propose changes in fishing gear. We shall not shirk our responsibility to conserve fish stocks for the long-term good of the industry by adopting policies—

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 37, Noes 99.

Division No. 67][10.00 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyMadden, Max
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Bellotti, DavidMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Morley, Elliot
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)O'Hara, Edward
Cox, TomPaisley, Rev Ian
Dewar, DonaldRooney, Terence
Doran, FrankSalmond, Alex
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Skinner, Dennis
Fearn, RonaldTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Foster, DerekWalker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Haynes, FrankWallace, James
Howells, GeraintWareing, Robert N.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Wigley, Dafydd
Johnston, Sir RussellWilson, Brian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Kennedy, CharlesTellers for the Ayes:
Livsey, RichardMr. A. J. Beith and
Macdonald, Calum A.Mr. Archy Kirkwood.
Maclennan, Robert
Aitken, JonathanEvennett, David
Alexander, RichardFavell, Tony
Amess, DavidFishburn, John Dudley
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Sir ThomasFreeman, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Gale, Roger
Benyon, W.Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Goodlad, Alastair
Bowis, JohnGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bright, GrahamGregory, Conal
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Buck, Sir AntonyGrist, Ian
Carrington, MatthewGround, Patrick
Chapman, SydneyHague, William
Chope, ChristopherHarris, David
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hawkins, Christopher
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Cran, JamesHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Curry, DavidHind, Kenneth
Davis, David (Boothferry)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Dunn, BobHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Emery, Sir PeterHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Rathbone, Tim
Irvine, MichaelRiddick, Graham
Jack, MichaelRidsdale, Sir Julian
Janman, TimRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSackville, Hon Tom
Kilfedder, JamesShaw, David (Dover)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Kirkhope, TimothyShelton, Sir William
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knowles, MichaelSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lawrence, IvanSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSpeed, Keith
Lord, MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Macfarlane, Sir NeilStevens, Lewis
Maclean, DavidSummerson, Hugo
Mans, KeithTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Miller, Sir HalThorne, Neil
Monro, Sir HectorThurnham, Peter
Morrison, Sir CharlesVaughan, Sir Gerard
Moynihan, Hon ColinWaller, Gary
Neubert, Sir MichaelWheeler, Sir John
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Widdecombe, Ann
Page, RichardWood, Timothy
Paice, James
Patnick, IrvineTellers for the Noes:
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethMr. Tim Boswell and
Porter, David (Waveney)Mr. Neil Hamilton.
Powell, William (Corby)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, Put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House, while recognising the difficulties which may face fishermen as a result of the decisions for fish conservation reached at the latest EC Council of Fisheries Ministers, endorses the need for such measures to safeguard the long-term interests of fishermen themselves by reducing the over-exploitation of certain fish stocks, welcomes the Government's continuing efforts to secure improved conservation measures and congratulates the Government on securing at the last Fisheries Council a package of measures which included the maintenance of the principle of relative stability, continued recognition of the United Kingdom's claims under the Hague Preference and improved flexibility to take our western mackerel quota east of 4° West.