Orders of the Day — Fisheries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:46 pm on 23rd October 1995.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 8:46 pm, 23rd October 1995

I beg to move, to leave out from 'declarations' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: `recognises the widespread concern about the increased pressure on fish stocks in Western Waters including the Irish Box resulting from the failure of the Government to secure a satisfactory agreement on the future access of Spanish and Portuguese vessels; and calls upon the Government to secure arrangements which match fishing effort to available fish stocks and include a system of control and effective enforcement that reflects the operational needs of the United Kingdom fishing industry and the need to protect the interests of local fishing communities.' As always, Opposition Members welcome an opportunity to discuss fishing issues, but I must start by saying that it is a disappointment that the debate has been cut to one and a half hours. Previous debates have been three hours. This debate is all the more important—I take the point made by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)—because it also refers to a whole series of documents relating to the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation, tuna fishing and drift net fishing in the north Atlantic; all of which are important regional interests which we should have had more time to discuss. Yet there is not going to be any opportunity for such discussion in tonight's debate.

To put the record straight, the Minister's comments from his brief about Labour's manifesto promises or mention of fishing are an old chestnut. In 1992, the Labour party launched a document as part of the election campaign in a dedicated policy launch in Tyneside on the fishing industry marine harvest. The Conservative party did no such thing. Although the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), complained about the quality of that document, it must be said that in 1992 we did not have the resources of the Conservative party or, should I say, given its bank account, the overdraft of the Conservative party. That document is very well known to the fishing industry and was warmly welcomed by it, even if it is not known to the Minister.

Although the Government are known for their cheek, they have the brass neck to try to suggest that Opposition Members are responsible in some way for bringing forward the accession of the Iberian fleets by six years. That subject was never on the agenda when we were discussing matters. So it was somewhat of a surprise that the accession suddenly came forward in the negotiations. Indeed, our amendment points out that it was a failure of the Government in those negotiations to concede to the Spanish and Portuguese in such a way. We believe that such things as the principle of relative stability could have been used far more effectively than they were in those negotiations. I do not doubt that there was a deal in terms of conceding to the Iberian request and I do not doubt that sooner or later, the details of that deal will come out, probably when we are in government.

We are discussing these documents tonight because promises were given that the Spanish accession would not lead to greater effort; the controls that we are talking about are part of that discussion. Although there is a sensible case for effort control—no one would disagree with that—any scheme should be workable and should not put an undue burden on our fishing fleet. As the scheme stands in its draft form—I accept that the Minister has recognised this—it is totally unacceptable in terms of the burden that it would place on the UK fishing fleet.

We also expect the Minister fully to comply with the assurances that were given by his predecessor, the hon. Member for Fylde, in a letter to every fisherman in the country, stating that any such effort control would not add further burdens for the fishing fleet. I am a bit concerned that Fisheries Ministers seem to come and go. I very much hope that the assurances given by one Minister are not suddenly ignored by the next Minister. I refer to the Minister's own welcome assurance of protection.

I also note that although the Government have said that they welcome the presidency compromise, which goes a long way towards improving the draft proposals, even that compromise puts a heavy burden on parts of our fishing fleet, especially south-western vessels which frequently fish in French waters, and our Northern Ireland fleet which frequently fishes in Irish waters. We very much want their needs to be recognised in any deal because even the compromise does not go far enough. I very much hope that the Minister will give some thought to the desirability of reciprocal agreements with the countries I have mentioned if the presidency compromise forms the basis of a future settlement.

I shall now expand on what we envisage in our amendment when we talk about "control and effective enforcement". The Minister will be aware of the crisis of confidence felt by UK fishermen about the operation of the current common fisheries policy. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations stated in a brief that it circulated to hon. Members that it believed that there was no future for the fishing industry within the present structure and that it must be abandoned. Certainly, there must be radical change and the forthcoming Council meeting is an opportunity for the Minister to begin that change.

In essence, we believe that the member states should have far more control of enforcement and conservation management within their own waters. We would like to expand that into wider areas of fisheries management and control, but for the purpose of this debate, we want to concentrate on control and enforcement. We accept that the intention is to enforce effort and it is also recognised that the Minister has stated that in the UK, that will be done through logbook entries; we accept that that is a reasonable approach in terms of our own fleet.

However, we also share the concern of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation about what will happen in terms of the enforcement of Spanish vessels in UK waters, especially from 1 January. Will the Minister confirm that current reporting-in regulations for Spanish ships will be relaxed as they are absorbed into part of whatever scheme comes out of the Council of Ministers? Will he also confirm that the current restriction that limits Spanish ships in western waters to 150 will be relaxed from 1 January as the new measures come in and the restriction on numbers is replaced by kilowatt days?

Will the Minister also confirm that enforcement will be by the flag state? We believe that when there is fishing in UK waters within the CFP and within the principle of the CFP, the enforcement should be by the member states. Yet under the proposals, it seems that in terms of enforcing kilowatt days and enforcing regulations generally, the enforcement authority will be the Spanish authorities. With the best will in the world, the record of the Spanish authorities in terms of enforcement has not been good—I put that somewhat mildly.