Orders of the Day — Fisheries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:17 pm on 23rd October 1995.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 8:17 pm, 23rd October 1995

No, I need to make some progress. It is only fair to others.

I fully appreciate that, earlier in the year, our fishing industry was quite rightly totally opposed to the Commission's proposals, which the industry saw as being bureaucratic, burdensome and costly. I am sure that the industry now recognizes—I hope that the House will also recognise it, irrespective of the various views that might exist on the European Union—that I and other Fisheries Ministers throughout Europe have been able to move matters a considerable distance during the summer.

Given the policy objectives that we have to meet, I believe that the proposals place the minimum of extra regulation on the UK fishing industry, consistent with the need, which I am sure is recognised by hon. Members of all parties, to ensure that Spain's involvement in the Irish box is properly monitored and supervised. I would certainly welcome the House's support for the proposals tonight. That would send a strong signal to everyone else in the European Union that, on these matters, we stand together, and that we stand together in support of the UK fishing industry.

I shall deal briefly with Community funding for enforcement. It is a relatively straightforward proposal. It continues the provision of Community financial assistance to member states for fisheries enforcement for a further five years when the existing arrangements finish at the end of this year. It also incorporates special assistance for Ireland, agreed at December's Fisheries Council, which recognises the exceptional demands and costs involved in undertaking enforcement in the waters of the Republic of Ireland, which include the majority of the Irish box.

Those measures are justified because member states are required to monitor and enforce the Community rules relating to a common resource. It is also an important factor in achieving effective fisheries controls throughout the Community.

I shall mention the proposal to extend the number of species to be recorded in logbooks and to develop regional arrangements through the Commission's management committee procedures simply so that it will not become a distraction this evening. The proposal will not be considered at Thursday's Fisheries Council. Just as I have been determined that we should not have costly and bureaucratic controls for western waters, I hope that the House and the industry will be confident that I am equally determined to ensure that we keep logbooks as straightforward and as simple as possible.

The Commission's proposals on logbooks start off as being over-burdensome. How can it expect fishermen to record so many species—even if they were capable of identifying each and every one and of carrying a logbook large enough to record them all? I have made my position perfectly clear to Brussels. I am not prepared to consider any extension of the present number of species unless I receive a clear justification for the addition of each and every species and I have a clear view of the species to appear in regional lists.

I also wish to see a continuing derogation from the need to complete logbooks for vessels at sea for fewer than 12 hours and less than 17 m in length. I intend to resist further burdens being placed on what is already a very heavily regulated industry. Our energies should be directed to lessening the regulatory burden on our fishermen, not increasing it. Of course I fully support any sensible proposals to reform the common fisheries policy to that end.

A number of other documents have been tagged to this debate. They are mainly concerned with the arrangements for waters regulated under the auspices of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation and with the future arrangements for the regulation of drift nets. The use of such nets in the tuna fishery has been an issue of some controversy over the past two years. On 29 September, I announced that this year's tuna fishery had finished. I am very pleased to report that the arrangements that we have put in place, combined with the co-operation of our industry and efforts of the Royal Navy and the sea fisheries inspectorate, have ensured that the fishery was peaceful and free from serious incidents such as occurred last year.

Since the three-year decommissioning programme was announced in 1992, we have spent £16.6 million on two schemes—one in 1993 and a second in 1994. The schemes, using a tendering arrangement to give us the best possible value for money, enabled us to reduce the fleet by just over 10,000 tonnes, or some 4.6 per cent. of fleet capacity.

In January last year, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), announced that a further £25 million would be made available for decommissioning, taking the total over five years to £53 million. That shows the Government's commitment to securing the future of the fishing industry.

In July, I launched the third round of decommissioning—£12 million was made available. I am pleased tonight be able to announce that 164 vessels have been successful in the scheme. They represent 5,326 gross registered tonnes; equivalent to some 2.5 per cent. of the fleet's capacity. Together those excellent schemes will have removed more than 7 per cent. of fleet capacity. In the light of that, I shall analyse the detailed results of the schemes and consult the industry to see whether we need to adjust the rules for the 1996 scheme to continue to target spending where it is most needed.

I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government are determined to put forward the best interests of the UK fishing industry. We have listened very carefully to what the industry has had to say. I believe that the proposals on which I and other Ministers have been working hard during the summer will enable us to meet our policy objectives of monitoring effort in western waters and controlling foreign vessels in western waters without placing undue burdens or costs on our industry. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the proposals its full support this evening.