Fisheries

– in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 16th December 1996.

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[Relevant documents: European Community Documents Nos. 9999/96 establishing a Community system for fisheries and aquaculture, 11016/96 on monitoring Community conservation and management measures applicable to third country fishing vessels, 11164/94 relating to guide prices for fishery products in 1997, 11171/96 relating to third country fisheries agreements, and the unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 9 December 1996 relating to Community catch possibilities in NAFO waters for 1997, and on 9 December 1996 relating to reciprocal access and 1997 quotas with Norway.]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 5:25 pm, 16th December 1996

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document COM(96)641 relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1997 and certain conditions under which they may be fished; and supports the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for British fishermen consistent with scientific advice and the need to sustain the stocks for the benefit of future generations of fishermen. Technically, this is a scrutiny debate on proposals to be discussed and decided at the Fisheries Council of Ministers on Thursday and Friday where, among other things, the total allowable catches of the main stocks of fish will be agreed for the forthcoming year.

I shall refer, first, to the practical difficulties we all have in preparing for this debate. As hon. Members know, the availability of papers for the debate is always difficult. It reflects the pressure of events and the need for the latest scientific advice to be available before the Commission makes its proposals and starts negotiations, not just with the European Union, but with third countries such as Norway. I have taken the matter up with the Fisheries Commissioner and I assure the House that I have done everything humanly possible to ensure that papers are available in as much time as possible. I wrote on 13 December to the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation to provide the very latest information on the outcome of the negotiations with Norway, and copies of the letter were made available in the Vote Office.

By custom, this debate has become an annual opportunity more generally to review the state and prospects of the United Kingdom's fishing industry. It is always right to recall what a hazardous activity fishing can be. In spite of all the technological advances, many fishermen lose their lives at sea as they seek to make their living. In this, the centenary year of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, we must not forget the realities of the industry.

Undoubtedly, the UK fishing industry faces many challenges. It is a diverse industry, ranging from large refrigerated trawlers fishing in distant waters and spending months at sea, to small coastal trawlers that spend no more than a day away from port. Often it seems that we are beset only by bad news about fishing, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the achievements of UK fishermen and the UK fishing industry or the investment that the industry is making in its own future.

When I visited Peterhead recently, fishermen there made it clear to me that licences—simply the opportunity to catch fish—were being sold for up to £1 million. Recent press reports have commented that the Shetland island of Whalsay alone has at least 20 millionaire fishermen who own the lion's share of the island's £16 million fishing fleet. Just about a week ago, the newest trawler from Whalsay, the 211 ft Zephyr, which is capable of carrying 16,000 tonnes of fish, set out on her maiden voyage. That new boat is estimated to have cost £9 million and it is the latest of seven ships being built for Shetland fishermen. That has been made possible by increased incomes from fishing. Indeed, the value of fish landed in the UK in the first nine months of this year has increased by some 6 per cent. on last year and that increase in value is reflected in improved turnovers at our main fish markets.

I have recently visited fish markets such as Peterhead, Plymouth and Billingsgate, all of which have reported to me substantially increased turnover and increased profits. At Plymouth, for example, sales through the market are expected to have increased from just under £1.5 million in 1994 to nearly £5 million in 1996. In part, that improvement reflects the investment that is being made, often with the help of Government marketing grants. In total, about £63 million has been paid to the industry from public and Community funds in the past three years, with a further £68 million under other EU structural grant measures. Those improvements also reflect, however, increasing consumption and improved value of catches. According to the national food survey published just a few days ago, fish consumption in the UK in the past three years is as high as it has been for more than 20 years. It is important, therefore, to put the UK fishing industry's prospects into proper context.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I am sure that the Minister would concede that fishermen at Peterhead and elsewhere are concerned about the flags of convenience issue. The President of the Board of Trade said that, at the intergovernmental conference, the 48-hour directive was the issue that matters to the Government and we intend to insist upon it."—[Official Report, 12 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 163.] If the Government were to secure agreement on quota hopping—treaty changes to resolve the flags of convenience issue—would they not then agree to the changes, unless and until the 48-hour directive was also agreed? Is it more important to save the fishing industry or to stop working people taking holidays?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

One of the reasons I am glad I went to Peterhead is that it reminded me just how much I dislike the Scottish National party. It is so disingenuous; it proclaims that the only future for an independent Scotland is in the European Union, within which it would sign up lock, stock and barrel to the common fisheries policy. I will talk about quota hoppers in some detail, and make clear yesterday's comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that it is important that we resolve at the intergovernmental conference the issue both of the 48-hour week and of quota hoppers. If the hon. Gentleman bides his time, he will hear me deal with those issues in terms.

Not all parts or sectors of the UK fishing industry are doing so well. Some ports are under pressure and the industry overall faces substantial challenges, not least the availability of fish to catch.

I know that Fleetwood has experienced a considerable reduction in its fleet, so it is important for it to be able to attract additional throughput of fish. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) will have shared my pleasure at the grants that I was able to announce recently to aid facilities for packing and processing there, which will, I hope, help sustain activity at Fleetwood.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) is here for the moment, but following the announcement of that grant, morale in Fleetwood has improved.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's confirmation of that and that Fleetwood is beginning to see that, with our help, there is a clear future for the port.

Equally, there have been massive changes in the port of Grimsby as access to fish stocks has fallen, but there are some positive signs. During the past year, I have been pleased to participate in the opening of the new Grimsby harbour facilities, in the opening of a new fish processing factory and in the launch of a vessel. Those are just some of the signs of investment there and I understand that throughput is rising.

In addition, I have been able to announce a significant number of grants for investment in fish processing and linked facilities in Grimsby, all of which, I hope the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will in due course acknowledge, is reason for optimism for the fisheries infrastructure in Grimsby. It is now, I think, the leading fish processing centre in the Europe, and it would be justified in taking pride in that.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

My hon. Friend has said that he will refer in detail to quota hopping and, subject to early evening constituency engagements, I look forward to hearing those details in some length, which will, I am sure, assist the House, but will he explain the balance of Government policy on these matters? He referred to investment in modern fishing vessels and the high cost of the technology and equipment. Bearing it in mind that British investors buy other non-British boats, that Spanish investors buy British boats, that Dutch investors buy British, that British buy Dutch, that Dutch buy German, that German buy French, and that investors in Scotland buy English boats in accordance with their rights under the treaty of Rome and the developing single market, is it not wrong for the Government to highlight quota hopping at the expense of other parameters and to give the impression that they want to restrict the market and, indeed, the free enterprise notion of the single market?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I will deal with quota hoppers, but let me deal with my hon. Friend's point. May I say that I will try to deal with every issue. If I have not, I ask hon. Members to intervene. In all fairness, my hon. Friend is mistaken to this extent. He and I and, I think, every hon.

Member strongly support the notion of a single market. The UK has done more to promote the single market than any other member state in Europe because we want the EU to be a trading entity. Fishing is the only area of Community activity where there are national quotas, and it makes a lot of sense to ensure that UK fishing quotas can benefit UK fishermen.

Fishing is a hunting activity. Fishing boats are designed to track down and catch as many fish as possible. To ensure sustainable levels of fish for fishermen for years to come, there is always a difficult balance to be struck between enabling the industry to maximise today's catch and ensuring that there are sufficient fish in the sea for years to come. On that issue, Ministers with responsibility for fisheries are inevitably prone to be criticised, both by fishermen for not allowing them to catch as many fish as they should like, and by conservationists for allowing fishermen to catch more fish than they consider to be wise.

In coming to conclusions, we have to have regard to the advice of fisheries scientists, but we also have to give careful attention and consideration to the advice of fishermen themselves as to the strength and sustainability of stocks. After all, it is they who are fishing the waters day by day. They know what they are catching. They know the strength of the stocks and it is their future that is at stake.

In the negotiations at the Fisheries Council this coming Thursday and Friday, my negotiating objectives closely reflect the UK fishing industry's concerns. The House will not be surprised that I have had close and detailed discussions with the UK fishing industry as a whole, stock by stock, on what we shall be seeking to achieve at the forthcoming Council of Ministers meeting. For some key fish stocks, it is proposed that the total allowable catch be increased; for others, the proposal is to maintain the status quo, but there are inevitably some where, on the basis of scientific advice and evidence, it is suggested that, to conserve stocks, catches must be reduced. Where that is so, there is a balance to be struck, taking account of the short-term costs to the industry of quota cuts, and the medium-term benefits that should flow from recovery of stocks.

I pay close attention to the advice of the fishing industry. After all, it is fishermen who gain or lose if the management decisions are wrong. At this week's Council meeting, I shall seek to ensure that the eventual quota for UK fishermen is reasonable and proportionate, having regard to all the facts.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The Minister of State has described his visits to various ports in England and to Peterhead. I do not know whether he has been to west Scotland recently but, if he has, or if he talks to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, he will know the concern about the west Scotland haddock quota. Will the Minister of State press for a substantial increase in that quota? Fishermen should have told him that their view is that the reduction would be detrimental to fishing in west Scotland.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I have not been to west Scotland. I have been to Macduff, whence many fishermen fish off the west of Scotland. They have brought me up to date with the concerns. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that west Scotland haddock is high on our list of priorities for improvement at the forthcoming Council meeting. I am aware, as is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, of the importance of input on those issues.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

Bearing it in mind that there is no longer any swap between the Dutch allowances and those of the south-west and the North sea, will my hon. Friend say something about area VIIe and Dover sole, and whether there could be increases for west country fishermen in VIIe and no decline for fishermen in VIIf or VIIg?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that, when I met representatives of the UK fishing industry to discuss the issue, those from the south-west expressed concern about that particular stock. I made it clear that it is one of our negotiating objectives to improve the situation. We are the main beneficiaries of that stock. We believe that there should be some reasonable improvement on what the Commission has proposed, and I will be trying to achieve that. It is a very valuable stock for the industry in the south-west.

I have no doubt that there will be some tough negotiations in Brussels this coming Thursday and Friday, but my colleagues who have responsibility for fisheries matters in the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office and I are agreed and well focused on the stocks of importance to the United Kingdom in respect of which we want improvement. I am determined that we will achieve substantial improvements on the Commission's proposals.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I will deal with Northern Ireland in a moment. I promise that I will not miss out anybody. Hon. Members can rest assured that there is not a Member or a port with a fishing interest that will be left out of the debate tonight. I promise hon. Members that it will be like a gazetteer of the United Kingdom.

At this point, perhaps I can assure my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Mr. Porter) and for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) that I have listened carefully to the views of fishermen from Lowestoft and elsewhere along the east coast and that I appreciate their concern about the level of the plaice quota in the North sea. With the prospect of a quota little different from this year, I can say now that I do not envisage carrying out a North sea plaice swap at the Council. That meets the concerns of those who depend on the North sea plaice and ensures an approach consistent with last year. That was fairly acknowledged by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). Of course, what I will do for the south-west—as I did last year—is seek further international swaps during the year which will be of benefit to it.

One issue that is always difficult—and this may relate to what the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) wants to say—and causes concern at the Council is whether to invoke the Hague preference. When the system of national quotas was established, that convention was introduced, to give the UK and Ireland a prior claim to certain stocks. Until recently, we have been overall beneficiaries of that convention, especially in Scotland. We are now no longer beneficiaries overall.

The immediate difficulty arises when the Republic of Ireland invokes its Hague preference in the Irish sea, largely at the expense of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. In response to that, I shall want co use international quota swaps to increase our quotas in the Irish sea for the direct benefit of the Northern Irish fishing industry. I shall want, so far as is possible, to mitigate the immediate disadvantages to the Northern Irish industry which result from the Hague preference.

Beyond that, we need to consider whether having the Hague preference is still of benefit to the UK. I have agreed with the UK fishing industry as a whole that the Hague preference is an issue which it would be sensible for us to revisit calmly and in some detail in the new year, involving the whole of the industry. That has been agreed as a sensible way forward by everyone concerned, including the industries in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell , Great Grimsby

I agree with what the Minister said about getting rid of the Hague preference. However, it does not extend to Grimsby. For some reason, the definition of north Britain ends at Flamborough head.

If the Minister is to provide compensation to Northern Ireland for the absence of the Hague preference for its ports and fishermen, the same should apply to the west-coast fisheries that do not benefit from the Hague preference either.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of the approach I am taking. However, there is a slight misunderstanding. It is not simply a question of the absence of the Hague preference—Northern Ireland loses fish because the Republic invokes the Hague preference. The areas in the North sea where the hon. Gentleman's fleets fish do not lose fish through the invocation of Hague preference. That is the difference.

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

I am sure that the Minister is aware that Northern Irish fishermen are angry because, under the Hague preference, they are not permitted to take fish out of the water, yet part of their quota can be taken out of the water by the Irish Republic. That is unacceptable to them. They feel that the Hague preference must be renegotiated.

Is the Minister aware that there is an abundance of haddock in the Irish sea? In fact, the scientists in Europe told us at a meeting in Brussels that they did not understand why there was so much haddock. They thought it was so scarce that it should not be fished. The same is true of herring and nephrops. Why cannot the quota for Northern Ireland fishermen be left the same when there is such an abundance of fish in the Irish sea?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, he will know that I was in Northern Ireland the other day talking to the industry. I fully appreciate its concerns about the invocation of the Hague preference. Of course, it is the Republic of Ireland that invokes it. The representatives of the UK and I have agreed that it is now time to reconsider. Overall, the UK no longer benefits from the Hague preference. Therefore, it must be time to revisit it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman once, and I do not intend to do so again. I can anticipate his intervention. The representatives of the Scottish industry who were present at the meeting this morning agreed with our approach. They thought it sensible to revisit the issue of the Hague preference calmly and coolly in the new year.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be misleading the House for a Minister to suggest that he has the agreement of an industry, when in fact all he did was tell its representatives what he was going to do?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

That is not something for the Chair to judge.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I had a meeting with representatives of the industry, at which they had every opportunity to express concerns about the approach that I intend to take. They made it clear to me that they saw that approach as sensible. They agreed that we should revisit the issue of the Hague preference calmly and sensibly in the new year.

I want to deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for North Antrim—the question of haddock. As we all know, the Republic of Ireland tends, for a number of reasons, to talk down stocks in the Irish sea. My approach will be based on best science, having regard to what is sensible for and in the best interests of the Northern Ireland fishing industry. We need to ensure that the quotas available for the Northern Irish industry are based on best science and what is in the industry's interests, not on the interests of any other member of the Community. That will be my approach, and I hope that hon. Members agree that it is a sensible way forward.

I make it quite clear to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who is mischief making, that I want to take the matter forward, calmly and collectively, as a UK industry issue, because different parts of the UK have different approaches to the issue, but it is important that they are all involved and that the matter is discussed calmly and coolly.

During the debate last year, there was much comment on the subject of quota hoppers. I think that, by now, everyone is aware of the nature of quota hoppers. The national quotas allocated under the common fisheries policy are intended to provide for the fishermen and fishing communities of member states. Quota hoppers use UK national quotas, yet they are essentially foreign owned, foreign skippered, foreign crewed vessels that never land their catch in the UK and bring no economic benefit to the UK—but in the eyes of the law they are UK fishing boats. It is clearly a crazy situation. Thanks to the persistence of my hon. Friends from the south-west, especially my hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), for South-East Cornwall (Sir R. Hicks), for South Hams and for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), we have all focused on the need to ensure that it cannot be permitted to continue. That is why the Government have tabled treaty changes at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference.

We are seeking enabling powers that would allow us to insist on there being real economic links between vessels that fish our quotas and the coastal communities that depend on them. We want to be able to introduce, as necessary, requirements on national ownership, residency, crewing, port of operation and landings without the risk of successful challenge before the European Court.

I want to ensure that the UK fish quota is available for the benefit of UK fishermen. Everyone now realises that the issue of quota hoppers will not go away, that it has to be resolved, and that we must ensure that the fish that go with the UK's fish quotas are available for UK fishermen. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at Dublin, the resolution of that issue is a key priority.

Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary stated: For example, we believe the social chapter should not be introduced by the back door—that is something on which the Prime Minister has made our position very clear; we have to look out for the interests of our fishing communities who have been gravely damaged by the way in which the quota-hopping phenomena have been distorted very much to our disadvantage. These are two clear examples which are fundamental to our objectives in the negotiation … We have made it very, very clear. At the end of the day, the intergovernmental conference reaches a successful conclusion when all the member states are content with the outcome. We have indicated we will not be satisfied with an outcome that does not address for example the two points that I have just raised. I know that the fishing industry knows that we are determined to take effective action on quota hoppers. That is what we intend to do.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, because his comments are most reassuring. They are particularly reassuring after the Prime Minister's clear statement, today, that, in June, in Amsterdam, he would—in the hopeful event of another Conservative Government—veto a revised treaty if a quota-hopping amendment were not incorporated into it.

Will my hon. Friend clarify one point? The Government's proposed draft protocol to deal with the quota hopping problem was not included in the draft produced by the Irish at Dublin. That proposal, with other proposals from other nations, slipped into the appendix. Is he hopeful that, between now and Amsterdam, that proposal will be incorporated into a revised treaty, as the Government hope and expect?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Absolutely; and I think that no one can be in any doubt that everyone in Europe realises that quota hopping is a problem that must be resolved. When the Spanish Prime Minister recently visited Britain to meet my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it could not have been lost on anyone—least of all on anyone in Spain—that much of the questioning by journalists was not on long-standing bilateral issues between the United Kingdom and Spain, such as Gibraltar, but on the issue of quota hopping. It is not an issue that will go away, and our colleagues in Europe understand that.

The Prime Minister made it very clear at Dublin that the problem of quota hopping will not disappear and that it must be resolved. Furthermore, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary could not have made any clearer our commitment to resolving the issue than he did yesterday, when he said that we will not be satisfied with an outcome of the intergovernmental conference that does not address that issue. It is quite clear that the fishing industry understands our commitment to resolving the issue.

In the mean time, I am determined to ensure that all fishing vessels in the UK abide by the rules, irrespective of ownership or of place of landing. Earlier today, in response to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), I provided a list of all the prosecutions taken by the Ministry this year that resulted in fines of £5,000 or more. Many of those prosecutions concerned foreign vessels. Of those concerning UK vessels, more than half involved quota hoppers. That fact concerns me, and I am sure that it concerns the House. I shall be investigating what can be done to strengthen compliance with the law.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Have I given way already to the hon. Gentleman? Yes, I have.

Quota hoppers currently comprise about 20 per cent. of our offshore fleet. I made it clear that we do not intend to contemplate any further compulsory decommissioning or reduction in the UK fishing effort until the entire matter of quota hoppers is satisfactorily resolved.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend should know that the stand he has taken over the past year—specifically on quota hopping, but also on many other fishing issues—has been greatly appreciated in the south-west. Does he agree that that issue—as valuable as his comments on quota hopping are—is merely an aspect of a far wider problem: the common fisheries policy? In turn, that policy throws into question the entire basis on which we participate in Europe. Does he look forward to a time when the basis on which we conduct our fishing policy is much more in tune with a sensible way in which to do things than with operating a policy that requires him to apply a type of aggressive sticking plaster to deal with problems in a very narrow manner? That action is very worth while, but it is based on a policy that does not work.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall deal at some length with the type of reforms that I should like to be made to the fisheries policy, but I should tell my hon. Friend and the House that we would be misleading ourselves if we believed that simply exiting the common fisheries policy would resolve all our problems, because we would still have to negotiate bilateral arrangements with our fellow member states. In recent weeks, for example, many of us have been preoccupied by the dispute between Guernsey and France. Guernsey is not a member of the European Union or of the common fisheries policy, but that does not stop it disputing with France access to waters. That dispute must be resolved bilaterally.

Much of my time is spent attempting to resolve disputes within the UK fishing fleet, which may be between conflicting interests. I shall say more in a moment about the conflict—which my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge will know only too well—in south Devon between trawlermen and crabbers. As he also knows, in the south-west there are occasionally quite serious disputes between the English fleet and the Scottish fleet.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No; I should like to deal with one or two questions at a time.

The idea that simply exiting the common fisheries policy would resolve all our problems is mistaken. However, of course we require substantial reform of the common fisheries policy, and I shall deal with that issue in some detail.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Does my hon. Friend agree that bilateral negotiations do not all always work to our advantage, as we saw in the dispute with Iceland? Many years ago, the Iceland Government offered us 64,000 pounds of cod, which was turned down by the then Labour Government, who wanted twice that amount. Ultimately, however, we received nothing at all. That was one of the reasons why the fishing fleet at Fleetwood declined so severely.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. It would be fair to say that part of the challenge and part of the difficulties currently faced by the UK fishing industry are a consequence of the long-term loss of our distant waters. Negotiations on those distant waters were bilateral.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made a fatuous point at the start of this debate.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall deal in a moment with the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) about coastal waters.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No, I am not. The hon. Gentleman's jumping up and down like a schoolboy will not cause me to give way to him. He made a fatuous point at the beginning of this debate. If he wishes to, he can make his own points in his own manner in his own time.

The UK industry has other concerns. Many of my hon. Friends have understandable concerns that the six and 12-mile fishery limits, which restrict access by foreign vessels to waters around the British coast, will form part of the review in 2002. That matter has been a concern particularly for my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)—who has visited many ports this year—and for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). We have made it clear that, for us, the six and 12-mile limits are, and will remain, non-negotiable, and that any interference with those limits is unacceptable.

The restrictions on access by foreign fishing vessels within our six and 12-mile limits are an essential derogation from the equal access provisions under the common fisheries policy. We insisted on them when we joined the Community; they were extended unanimously in 1983 and 1992; and we intend to get a definitive establishment of these restrictions as a part of the CFP at the earliest possible opportunity.

I intend that, as soon as possible, we shall seek to secure the agreement of all member states that there will be no relaxation of, and no change to, the six and 12-mile fishery limits in 2002 and that the six and 12-mile limits should be considered permanent features of the CFP.

Going around the fishing ports of the UK, I have detected a considerable sense of alienation among members of the fishing industry at the way in which fishing policy generally emerges. I am convinced that fishermen must have more say in fishing policy. It is for that reason that I have not only sought to have as many meetings as possible with representatives of the fishing industry, but I have ensured that they have much greater contact with fisheries scientists.

Much more needs to be done, however. That is why I have suggested to European colleagues that there needs to be a pattern of regional committees to take forward good fisheries management. That would mean that member states which have fishing quota in particular waters should come together on a regular basis, whether at ministerial or official level. Most important, they must involve their respective fishing industries and fishermen to discuss how those waters can best be managed in the short and long-term interests of fishermen.

I want fishermen to be fully involved with the development and management of the common fisheries policy. We are making our contribution, which is why much closer contacts have been developed over the past year, including ministerial contacts with fishermen. I and the other UK fisheries Ministers have had numerous meetings with fishermen around the coast in order to hear their views first hand and to explain Government policy.

In addition, there have been numerous meetings between the industry and the Government's fisheries scientists to improve fishermen's understanding of the science underlying fisheries management and to give them the opportunity to make their own contribution. We need to do more, and it should be done by creating regional committees of fishermen and officials from different member states to study developments and to feed in advice before decisions are taken. I am glad to say that, at our request, the European Commission has agreed that such a pilot committee should be established. That is good news.

For the longer term, I should want to see what powers could be devolved to such committees based on the perfectly commonsense principles of subsidiarity and decisions being best taken where they are most relevant. I believe that by involving the fishing industry much more in its own future, fisheries management overall will improve considerably.

Our fishing industry has been at the forefront of making suggestions for technical conservation measures to conserve fish stocks and to make fishing more selective and reduce discards. We also have to tackle industrial fishing which is why, at the forthcoming Fisheries Council, we are arguing for a limit be to placed on the number of sand-eels that can be caught.

The UK took the initiative on conservation measures in setting up a fisheries conservation group, bringing together fishermen, fisheries scientists and administrators. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland wants to make my speech for me, he is very welcome to do so. In the spirit of Christmas, and to put the hon. Gentleman out of his pain, I happily give way to him.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The tactic worked. The Minister said earlier that there was some link between the Government's policy on quota hopping and resistance to any compulsory further reduction in the UK fleet. Will he clarify precisely what the policy is? In June this year he was talking about trying to assemble a minority block to stop the proposals for multi-annual guidance programme—MAGP—IV but, in October, the Prime Minister talked about not implementing further compulsory cuts. Clearly, a measure could be agreed with Britain opting out, but what is the Minister's position—not to implement or to try to assemble a blocking minority?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

We made it clear that we do not intend to contemplate any further reductions in either the UK fishing capacity or effort control until the issue of quota hoppers is resolved.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Answer the question.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am going to answer the question. We have to bear it in mind that the Council of Ministers has made little, if any, progress with MAGP IV. The Commission's proposals were roundly condemned by all members of the Council of Ministers. Working hard, the presidency proposed a compromise that commanded the support only of Ireland—that is not surprising as Ireland had the presidency—and Luxembourg. No progress was made at the last Council of Ministers meeting. It was agreed to adjourn the matter with a view to further discussions by officials. I understand that there have been two meetings at official level, but they sought merely to restate some basic principles on which many of them were not even agreed. The latest meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, or COREPER, discussed what would happen if there was no decision on MAGP IV before the end of this year.

As I told representatives of the UK fishing industry, the possibilities are almost endless, and a number of hypothetical situations could arise. The industry and the House may rest assured that, whatever situation arises, we shall fulfil the commitment I made that we shall not be implementing any further reduction in capacity or effort control until the issue of quota hoppers is resolved. However, it is impossible to say exactly what shape that will take as no one can tell when, if or how the Community will come to a decision on MAGP IV.

The United Kingdom took the initiative on conservation measures by setting up a fisheries conservation group. The results of the group's work provided a strong starting point for the UK's contribution to Community discussions on technical conservation. We are now pressing the Community to ensure that fishing gear and practices are managed according to rules that are fair to all, which reduce the catch of unwanted small fish and so help reduce discards and enable stocks to recover.

Disappointingly, the Commission has not taken on board as many of our and the UK industry's suggestions as I should have hoped. In large part, that is because it clearly feels the need to find technical conservation measures which can apply to all Community waters. Of course, these are extremely difficult to find, and again demonstrate the need for sensible regional management. Different waters doubtless require different conservation measures. For conservation measures to be successful, they need to command the support of the industry; and to command its support, we need the involvement of the fishing industry. The UK fishing industry and the Government are very largely at one in our concerns about the Commission proposals on technical conservation, and I shall continue to argue those concerns in detail whenever the need arises.

There is also understandable concern in the fishing industry, particularly among owners of smaller vessels, about the amount of regulation with which they have to cope. I feel strongly that the position of smaller vessels needs to be protected in the interests of deregulation. Vessels under 10 m in length already have a much lighter administrative regime and do not have to complete logbooks. Data on the catches of these vessels are collected in a non-bureaucratic way. Vessels under 18 m in length are exempt from the reporting provisions for western waters, and I shall want smaller vessels to be exempt from the requirements of any satellite monitoring.

More generally, I shall try to ensure that we keep to the absolute minimum the regulatory burden on fishermen. That is something for which we must continue to press. I am grateful to my hon Friends the Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Castle Point for bringing home to Commissioner Bonino during their recent visit to Brussels the special needs of inshore fishermen.

In recent months, many hon. Members have spoken to me about their concerns for the long-term future of the industry. The very practical problems faced by some fishermen are well illustrated by those in Start bay. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams approached me about the problems of conflicting interests there. If there are conflicts locally, I hope that they can be resolved locally. If the Devon sea fisheries committee proposes a byelaw, I shall want to be satisfied that it is proportionate and does not simply seek to advance the interests of any one group.

My hon. Friend has also rightly drawn my attention to the concerns about membership of sea fisheries committees. These have an important role in the local management of inshore fisheries, a role which has expanded with their limits being extended from 3 to 6 miles, and with increasing environmental interest. I assure the House that, when new appointments are made to these committees next year, I shall be careful to take account of this changed situation.

With one of the largest fishing fleets in his constituency for a decade or more, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams, like other hon. Members from the south-west, has impressed on the Government the problems facing the industry and suggested how they might best be tackled. Not surprisingly, his help has paid dividends, with the Brixham trawlermen landing a larger and more valuable catch in the past couple of years and the shell fishermen on the coastline also benefiting. All the hon. Members with whom I have had meetings on the subject are tireless workers for the industry and for individual fishermen.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

In return, may I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the help and support that he has given to my local industry? The fishermen in Brixham and the shell fishermen have been immensely supported and rewarded by his constant attention to their problems. I pay a personal tribute to his support for the industry.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. All hon. Members, across parties, are concerned to secure the best interests of the United Kingdom fishing industry—in Newlyn, in Brixham, in the Thames estuary, in Skegness, in Northern Ireland or in Scotland.

Another example of local concerns was provided this summer by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and for Wyre, who went to considerable lengths to explain the problems facing Fleetwood and the efforts that all those involved were making to restore the fortunes of that key port. I have been greatly impressed by how the industry throughout the United Kingdom is looking ahead and planning for the future. I wish that it were within my gift to convert two fish to 5,000. I have repeatedly made it clear that I am prepared to listen to the industry and to consider how the management of our quotas might be improved. We are now considering proposals from the industry for long-term changes to the quota management system. Of course all fishermen want to catch more.

I know that fishermen in the south-east have experienced major problems as quotas have diminished and have come under pressure from quota hoppers. Many colleagues have pressed for action to assist the non-sector. Concern comes from many parts of the coast and has been voiced by my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), among others. We have taken account, and will continue to take account, of the needs of the non-sector. We have introduced underpinning for the quota allocations made to the under-10 m fleet and to the non-sector. Next year, that is to be extended to the non-sector allocations for North sea plaice, whiting, channel cod and sole. Despite all the difficulties facing us, we have managed to keep open our main inshore fisheries to the under-10 m fleet to the end of this year.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

My hon. Friend is doing a sterling job on behalf of our fishermen. The under-10 m fleet brings in less than 2 per cent. of this country's white fish take, but it accounts for the majority of boats on the sea. Will my hon. Friend consider removing those boats entirely from regulation? That seems the right way to manage sea fish conservation and the fishing industry. Commissioner Bonino has undertaken to consider the legislative and financial implications. Will my hon. Friend bring the suggestion forward on every possible occasion?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

My hon. Friend knows from my visits to Leigh-on-Sea—I have also visited other ports in the Thames estuary and Rye—that I have taken on board the concerns of the non-sector. We have to consider how the non-sector can avoid being squeezed out. Many people earn their living from the non-sector, often in small boats and in difficult circumstances, subjected to the vagaries of the weather. I hope that I have made it clear to those in the non-sector that I fully appreciate their concerns.

I think that there is no disagreement in the House on the fact that the common fisheries policy is not working as it was intended and needs to be reformed. It is over-bureaucratic, it has failed to protect fish stocks sustainably, it is open to abuse and, above all, it is not fair to British fishermen. We are determined to change all that. We have made it clear to the industry how we intend to do that and are taking the issue forward to ensure that the common fisheries policy is, as far as possible, of real benefit to United Kingdom fishermen. We shall shortly issue a response to the report of the CFP review group. We are signalling the key elements that we are aiming for now and in preparation for the 2002 review.

We have made it clear that we totally reject any idea of a single European fishing fleet, managed and policed from Brussels. There are regular suggestions in the media that plans exist to create such a fleet. The present rules of the common fisheries policy place responsibility for managing quotas and vessels on member states. It is also a national responsibility to enforce fisheries regulations in national waters out to 200 miles. We shall reject any proposals that those national responsibilities should be taken away and that there should in any way be a single community fleet, managed and policed from Brussels.

I believe that the fishing industry recognises that much has been achieved this year. The industry and the Government agree on what remains to be done. I recognise that the practical politics of life are such that opposition parties feel it necessary to try to create divisions on the issue. That is a pity, because it would be in the best interests of the fishing industry throughout the UK if the House were, for once, able to send out a united and unanimous endorsement to Europe and elsewhere of what we are seeking to achieve for our fishing industry.

I am determined that the UK fishing industry should have a clear future and a strong future as we go into the 21st century. The fishermen of Britain can be confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my fellow fisheries Ministers and I—indeed, the whole Government—are determined to do all that is necessary to secure the industry's future.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 6:15 pm, 16th December 1996

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: believes that the failure of this Government in its seventeen years of office to tackle the problems facing the fishing industry is an unacceptable threat to the future of fishing communities in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland; regrets the failure of the United Kingdom Government to implement a decommissioning policy until 1993; recognises that fishing by non-UK vessels against UK quotas is unacceptable to our fishing industry and calls for effective action to tackle quota-hopping; regrets the Government's failure to prevent increased Spanish access to the Irish Box and Western Waters from I January 1996; concludes that the United Kingdom Government has not represented effectively in Europe the interests of this country's fishing industry; further recognises that the overriding priority for the Common Fisheries Policy must be the conservation of fish stocks, without which the fishing industry cannot survive; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to work in Europe to achieve reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy that ensure the conservation and fair allocation of fish stocks with effective enforcement by all European States". As the Minister said, this is the major annual fisheries debate. It is an opportunity for the House to pass judgment on the Government's handling of fisheries policy and their treatment of our fishing communities during the year. As usual, it is taking place before the main Fisheries Council meeting at Christmas, rightly giving hon. Members a chance to express their views on the proposals—not least those on total allowable catches and quotas—that will come up before the Council later this week.

I should like to raise several points about the Fisheries Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) will deal with more issues when he winds up. There are important questions on quotas to be dealt with and it is understandable that hon. Members on both sides should raise detailed points when local fishermen are worried about the effects on them of the proposals.

There is also concern about the effect on Northern Ireland of the Hague preference. We must address that. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who said that he had received a letter from the Government about that. It is right to mention that.

There is no question but that the Northern Ireland fishing communities have had a raw deal compared with those in the Irish Republic under the common fisheries policy. That is indisputable, considering how the amount of fish landed in the different fishing ports has changed from the traditional patterns since implementation of the CFP. However, any alterations made to the arrangements in an attempt to protect and help the fishermen of Northern Ireland—clearly, we strongly support that aim—must not damage other fishing communities in the United Kingdom. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland agree.

When the Minister states, as he has to, that the issue will be resolved through international quota swapping, we must ask questions. Presumably, the Republic of Ireland will not give up quota without something in return from the United Kingdom, although the swap may be more complicated than that. We simply put down a marker that any quota swap must be handled with caution because if a quota swap was to the disadvantage of fishing communities in, for example, the south-west of England, that would be a matter of legitimate concern for both sides of the House.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

I welcome the Opposition spokesman's recognition that the Hague preference is a major problem for the County Down fishing industry. This year alone, the current proposals for the United Kingdom—and that is mainly Northern Ireland in this context—under the Hague preference will mean a loss of 800 tonnes of cod, 1,000 tonnes of whiting and 300 tonnes of plaice. We in Northern Ireland want to hear not only what the Government intend to do about this, but what the Opposition would do to tackle the problem.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I will certainly come to that point. I am very conscious of some of the other concerns that Northern Ireland fishermen, along with other UK fishermen, have in relation to Government policy.

I accept what the right hon. Member for Strangford says and we are grateful for the information he has given the House. There is no question but that the invocation of the Hague preference by the Republic of Ireland is unacceptable in terms of its impact on the fishing communities in Northern Ireland.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Republic, although it claims its preference, does not always fish it? We then lose out completely. Northern Ireland is not losing out because of arrangements with other fishing fleets round the United Kingdom coast. The argument is with Dublin and with the Hague preference, and it must be faced. The fishermen of Northern Ireland do not want a revision of the preference. They want that part of the Hague preference to be taken away completely so that no Government can say, "We are taking your fish and even though we do not fish them all, you are getting none of them."

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Again, the House is grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. As he says, the Republic of Ireland seems to have got such a generous quota that its fishermen have not, on many occasions, been able to fish up to the quota. That is what I meant when I said that Northern Ireland fishermen had got a raw deal from the implementation of the policy compared with fishermen in the Republic. I point out to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe has visited the issue before; this is not a matter in which we have suddenly taken an interest. We recognise that the problem must be addressed.

I come now to a matter which concerns fishermen throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The debate is not just about total allowable catches, quotas and the Hague preference, which are important, but about multi-annual guidance programme IV. It is also about the cuts that will be imposed on our fishing fleet. The reality is that there are many communities—I include the fishing communities of Northern Ireland—where decommissioning is not a panacea and is not acceptable because it means selling jobs and the livelihood of future generations of fishermen.

The Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was inadequate because he raised an important point. The Government have said that they will not implement multi-annual guidance programme IV, whatever is agreed, until the issue of quota hopping is sorted out. We support that point. That should mean that the Government will continue to block any agreement on the multi-annual guidance programme along the lines being advocated by the Commission or the presidency. That is an extremely important point.

Surely to goodness even this Government, whose record on the matter has been disastrous as I shall explain later, will manage to sustain a blocking minority to prevent any agreement on cuts in our fleet, not just at the next Fisheries Council meeting, but at subsequent meetings until we have got past the intergovernmental conference and until we have resolved the problem of quota hopping.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to what I said in my very full answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I did not use the word "implement". I said that we were not prepared to contemplate any further reduction in UK fishing capacity or fishing effort until matters were resolved in the IGC.

The hon. Gentleman asked about frustrating the Commission and the presidency and about preventing them from bringing forward proposals. We are, of course, making it clear to our colleagues where we find that the proposals have major shortcomings. No decision has yet been taken and it is unlikely that any decision will be taken this coming week. It is very unlikely that any decision will be taken in the foreseeable future.

All sorts of things may arise because many member states are concerned about the structural funds that go with multi-annual guidance programmes III and IV. They are concerned about whether it may be in the interests of everyone to have a roll-over of MAGP III for a further year. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that whatever may arise, I will protect the UK fishing industry and ensure that we continue with our basic premise—that there will be no further reduction in UK fishing capacity or fishing effort until the whole issue of quota hoppers is resolved. I hope that that is perfectly clear.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

We have heard the word "contemplate" too often over the years. If the Minister is saying that the Government will block the cuts in our fleet—which will mean cuts in the fleets of other member states—that is fine. However, my simple point is this. Blocking agreement will be a success, but coming back here in January—I gather from what the Minister has said that there is no danger of this—and saying that other Governments have agreed to multi-annual guidance programme IV, but that the British Government are not contemplating it will be a very different state of affairs. From what the Minister has said, I trust that we need not worry about that possibility.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

Nobody doubts the hon. Gentleman's sincerity. I listened, however, to the Minister's speech which was a tour de force. Does the hon. Gentleman really disagree with specific points or are the Opposition just shadow boxing around various issues? I do not understand so far whether the Opposition really disagree with the Government's policy. If they do not disagree and think that the Government are doing a jolly good job, why are they opposing the Government tonight?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

This is all very fine, but we cannot just ignore the Government's record. Conservative Members staged a most impressive love-in during the debate; we shall see whether that is sustained during the vote. As I said at the beginning, this is not just a debate about what will be discussed in the Fisheries Council; this is the major annual fisheries debate of the year. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) can rest assured that I will come to some of our differences.

There is a serious point which all hon. Members know in their heart of hearts is an extremely important one. The truth is that the decisions in which the Minister will be participating this week will be taken against the background of, I hope, a recognition that we need more effective conservation measures for the stocks that are at risk. There is a legitimate and real concern about what is likely to happen to the fish stocks on which, among others, our fishermen are dependent if effective conservation is not implemented.

I had the pleasure of attending an interesting meeting at the House of Commons organised by the parliamentary and scientific committee; one or two other hon. Members were also there. I heard Professor John Beddington of Imperial college and Mr. Barry Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, give a splendid presentation on the issue. The professor was able to be a bit more detached, but his speech was powerful. Mr. Barry Deas was in some ways more impressive because his first requirement is to meet the daily concerns and needs of fishermen who have to earn a living. Anyone who attended the meeting and anyone who follows these issues knows perfectly well that there is a real issue here which the House of Commons will surely not pretend does not exist.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

In the light of what he has said, will the hon. Gentleman state how his party will preserve jobs in the fishing industry in the short term while providing stocks of fish in the long term? Bearing that in mind, he did not answer the point raised by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) in respect of the Hague preference and the Irish Republic. Will he address that point and say what his party would do about it?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am sorry, but that will not wash. I answered both hon. Gentlemen on the issue of Northern Ireland. However, I shall return to the important point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

To illustrate that there is some common ground, we should recall that in the summer the Minister of State advised the House that nearly 60 per cent. of the main stocks in the waters that we fish are at risk of biological collapse. Last month, the Advisory Committee on Fishery Management of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas warned that many EU fish stocks are outside safe biological spawning levels while fishing mortality rates are at historically high levels.

As the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology concluded in its excellent report, if action is not taken to conserve fish stocks, it will be too late to prevent total collapses in stocks, as has occurred in the American Georges bank, the Black sea and off the Canadian Grand Banks.

Let me turn to another point that must concern Members on both sides of the House. There is a worrying and growing discrepancy between the total allowable catches that are agreed every year—no doubt they will be agreed again this week in Brussels—and what is actually landed by our fishermen. As hon. Members have acknowledged—I am grateful to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) who represents an important fishing community—throughout the European Union substantial volumes of fish are being landed outwith the quotas. That is a measure of the failure of both Government policy and the common fisheries policy.

One reason for black fish landings is that fishermen sense that the total allowable catches—and the data on which the TACs are based—takes far too little account of either the fishermen's own experience of current stock levels or the socio-economic effects of wild quota fluctuations. That results in the vicious circle whereby under-reporting by fishermen further jeopardises the accuracy of the catch predictions on which the TAC should be based. Once again this year the ACFM has stated that misreporting had severely hampered its efforts to assess roundfish stocks in the west of Scotland. Conservative Members need to understand a simple point: if stocks are under pressure, there can be no justification for allowing the additional access of vessels from other member states to exploit those stocks. That is precisely what happened at the beginning of the year in the Irish box and the western waters.

Two Christmases ago, all the Government had to do to construct a blocking minority was to achieve the support of one large country and one small country. Yet even on an issue as clear cut as the over-exploitation of fish stocks in the waters off the south-west of England, they were unable to achieve that blocking minority. If I have pressed the Minister hard on the threatened cuts to our fleet under the multi-annual guidance programme IV, it is because of our experience on that occasion.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

Will the hon. Member give way?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

No, I cannot give way all the time. It is important not only that we use our veto when we have to, but that we construct and maintain a blocking minority and even sometimes achieve a qualified majority. That is how we have to engage in the European Union. There is no easy solution.

The common fisheries policy is fundamentally flawed. There is a conflict between the implementation of the principle of equal access of member states to the different fisheries within the jurisdiction of the EU and the conservation of fish stocks. Equal access to fish in all the waters of all member states is a concept that stems from the treaty principles of non-discrimination among member states.

Right hon. and hon. Members who have concluded that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the CFP are entitled to that view, but it is not the position of the Labour party. We believe that it is in the interests of the fishing industry that we stay at the European Union negotiating table.

I am pleased to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place this afternoon. He opened last year's debate and no one could have described the position better. I remind the House of his words: Renegotiating the treaty to exclude fisheries from the scope of Community competence would be a monumental and probably impossible task. It would require unanimity and ratification by all member states and that could be bought only at a huge price."—[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1353–54.]

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He criticised the principle of equal access to the common resource; however he seemed to imply that nothing would persuade him and his party to leave the common fisheries policy. Does he not realise that the principle of equal access to the common resource is the fundamental policy of the common fisheries policy and he cannot have it both ways?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am not attempting to have it both ways any more than the Secretary of State for Scotland did when he spoke in last year's debate. There is common ground between the Government and the official Opposition and indeed the other parties in the House of Commons that withdrawal from the common fisheries policy is not a practical option. I respect the opinion of some Conservative Members who want Britain to withdraw from the European Union. That is a perfectly respectable and arguable position, but the Labour party has no sympathy with that view.

The Labour party believes that the common fisheries policy is in need of radical reform. That is why we set out our commitment to CFP reform in "New Labour, New Life for Britain"—a document that has been endorsed at every level of the Labour party and that will be the basis for the manifesto that we will put to the people of Britain.

A Labour Government will attach a high priority to fisheries policy and to securing a reformed CFP. [Interruption.] The Minister would do well to read some of the debates on the CFP that took place before he took over the job. He should read our recommendations. We welcome his proposal for more regional control and more localised fisheries management. It is clear from the expression on his face that the hon. Member for St. Ives remembers that. I recall advocating that. I also remember the then Agriculture Minister, now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, attempting to rubbish that position. He did not succeed in that and I was pleased when that and some of our more important ideas were put forward in the report of the Common Fisheries Policy Review Group—the Goodlad report—which is an excellent document.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no quarrel with us over the fundamentals of the CFP. If he agrees with us on regional management and the other ideas that I put forward, why on earth is he voting against us tonight? That will only send a confused signal to others in Europe. He should join us in the Division Lobby tonight.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I can assure the Minister that we consider that the Government's record on fisheries has been a disaster and that they have been utterly ineffective in their ability to represent the fishing industry in the European Union.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

The hon. Gentleman said that the Labour party would push for the reform of the current common fisheries policy. Can we return to the original question of the Hague preference? The hon. Gentleman agreed with me that it was damaging to the fishing industry in Northern Ireland and, contrary to what may have been implied earlier in the debate, it has been damaging to the United Kingdom fishing industry not just recently, but for the past five years. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman consider it not on a regional basis, but on a United Kingdom basis and let us know what the Labour party would do? Would they work to abolish the Hague preference?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

With regard to the Hague preference, the Minister of State said today that he had all the fishermen's organisations—[Interruption.] I will answer the right hon. Member for Strangford in the way that hon. Members would expect of me.

Yes, we recognise the problem. Yes, we want action to be taken. When the Minister says that that will be achieved by international quota swapping—that is the phrase, I believe, but he will correct me if I am wrong—that is fine. But I must say honestly and fairly to the right hon. Member for Strangford—who, I am sure, would not expect anything else—that we cannot give the Government a blank cheque to wreak whatever damage they want on the fishermen on the south-west of England by taking away their quotas; obviously not. [Interruption.] The Minister of State understands the point, although the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) may not.

As hon. Members who follow such matters know, it is naive to think that there is a load of fish that we can be given for nothing by other member states of the European Union to solve the problem. We hope that the Minister of State will solve it, and that he will do so in a way that will not lead to his hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the south-west of England to denounce him in January or February. The problem can be solved, but it must be done sensibly.

We should recognise that this is an extremely important fisheries debate. It is not just about the minor points raised by Conservative Members. Of course, I do not refer to the Northern Ireland issue as a minor issue, nor is the multi-annual guidance programme IV a minor issue. The Government Front Bench should take the matter more seriously, or they may come to regret it.

I referred to the Goodlad report, which is an excellent document. I thought that the Minister of State might have dwelt more on it, but perhaps the Minister who winds up will develop it further. The report contains many excellent proposals for the short and medium term, and important proposals for the longer term. If a Labour Government were elected to office, they would want to take up many of the recommendations in the report.

The Government cannot escape their record on fisheries policy: 17 years of failure. Part of the problem is that when a difficulty arises, the Government play it down or ignore it entirely. I was a little disappointed in the Minister's reference to the Guernsey fishermen's problem, which he portrayed as a problem between Guernsey and France. I trust that he is not suggesting that the United Kingdom will wash its hands of an issue that is taking place in British waters.

The Government's policy should be a source of embarrassment to Ministers. It is a pattern of foolish and unfair decisions, often reversed in the face of protest by the fishing industry, the Opposition and Conservative Back-Bench Members, who argue the case for their fishing communities. Right hon. and hon. Members will remember the unfair and unworkable compulsory tie-up regime, which led to the demeaning spectacle of our National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations having to take the British Government to the European Court.

The hon. Member for St. Ives agreed at the time that the Government had deprived the industry of a decommissioning scheme for many years. Decommissioning is not a panacea, and it is unacceptable that our vessels should be decommissioned in order to give greater opportunities to vessels from other member states of the EU to fish in UK waters or waters within the jurisdiction of the EU.

I reminded the House of the Government's disastrous failure to keep the additional Spanish vessels out of the Irish box and the western waters two years ago. That came into force this year. [Interruption.] The Government could not even muster a blocking minority on that issue.

I am pleased that the Government are now addressing the issue of quota hopping. In the case of some high-value species, such as sole, hake and plaice, 40 per cent. of our national quota is affected. Across the national quota as a whole, the figure is about 20 per cent. That is huge—it is disastrous. The problem has not suddenly arisen in the past few months. The Government were in office when the common fisheries policy had its 10-year review and when the new CFP regulation was negotiated. Indeed, the Government held the presidency of the Council of Ministers at the end of 1992, when the new regulation was agreed.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

No, I will not give way. The Government knew full well that quota hopping was an issue then—the Factortame judgment was in 1991—but they made no serious attempt to resolve the problem. Statements made by Government and fisheries Departments on their negotiating list show no trace of any move to solve the problem. In the statement made by the then Minister—the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)— on the conclusion of the negotiations, there is no mention of any moves to resolve the problem of quota hopping.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

The Government are now talking tough on quota hopping. We welcome that. When the matter was raised at Agriculture Question Time, the Minister indicated that he was on the verge of resolving the matter.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I repeat: I am not giving way.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Again, I am not giving way.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) says that he is not giving way, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) should listen and resume his seat. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need a comment.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister—I am sorry, I mean Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether that was a promotion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am not sure which hon. Members were in the House for the most recent Agriculture Question Time, but those who were present will recall the assertive way in which the Minister said that the Government were on the verge of resolving quota hopping. Those of us who follow such matters closely saw the great build-up to his visit to Plymouth, where he was to announce his plan to tackle quota hopping. Many of us wondered what the Government's secret weapon was.

Hon. Members now know what the secret weapon was: English lessons for Spanish fishermen. That is what the Minister said. We would tackle the problem of quota hopping not just by the Spanish, but presumably also by the Dutch, by requiring those fishermen to speak English before they were given a licence to fish against our national quota. I give way to the Minister if he wants to add to that.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The hon. Gentleman knows full well how we are going to resolve the issue of quota hoppers. We have made clear to the House the change in the protocols, and I made that clear in my speech. The hon. Gentleman misunderstood some tongue-in-cheek comments by me. On the day the Spanish Prime Minister visited the UK, he was subjected to far more questions on quota hopping than on any other issue. He went away in no doubt that that the matter had to be resolved. That is what those comments in Plymouth achieved: we have ensured that everyone in Europe realises that the problem will not go away and must be solved.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

It is certainly a problem that must be solved. That is the second time the Minister has referred to all the questions put by journalists to the Spanish Minister of Agriculture. I very much doubt whether all the questions from all the journalists, whether in Plymouth, London or anywhere else, have the Spanish Government shaking in their shoes and saying, "We are certainly going to agree to change that in the IGC."

The Labour party is determined to address the issue of quota hopping.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I have explained that we could have tackled the issue during the 1992 review. That was not done. If the Labour party comes to power, it will be before the completion of the intergovernmental conference, and Ministers know that. Clearly, an incoming Labour Government could—I put it no stronger than that—pick up the hand. I was simply saying to the House and the country that we shall attach a high priority to the quota hopping issue. As the Foreign Secretary stated yesterday and the Prime Minister mentioned again today, there is no question that we can go on with quota hopping on such a scale.

Conservative Members have made great play of the fact that the Opposition will vote against the Government tonight. They must be living in some dream world. The Minister knows perfectly well from the reception that he and his predecessors have received when they have visited fishing ports that no amount of media management will alter the fact that the Government's record on fisheries policy is one of failure. Seventeen years of successive Conservative Governments have meant 17 years of failure in fisheries policy. The Opposition amendment is designed to advance the case of the fishing industry and fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to support it.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Before I call the next hon. Member, I should tell the House that 13 hon. Members wish to speak in the remaining two and a half hours or so. May we have modest-length speeches?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives 6:50 pm, 16th December 1996

As always, I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I must confess that I was a little baffled at the beginning of his speech but even more so by the end. I cannot understand why, since they agree precisely with what the Government are doing—at the moment at any rate—the Opposition are forcing a Division. I know that doing so is politics, to which I shall return. Not once during his speech did the hon. Gentleman give a reason for dividing the House on the motion before it. Trying to defeat the Government in such a way is purely opportunistic politics, and I hope that any Conservative Member—or, indeed, any Member on any other Bench—who is thinking of voting with the Opposition will bear that in mind.

Much mention was made in the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East of the Hague preference. Its origins of course lie in a previous Labour Government, which most people may have forgotten because it was a rather long time ago. A former Labour Minister—now Lord Owen—who then represented the west country constituency of Plymouth, Devonport, signed the Hague preference and made the arrangements. It was a political deal. That is the answer to the complaint by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about the rather mysterious cut-off point at Flamborough head. Northern Britain basically meant Scotland, and Northern Ireland and the south-west were excluded.

Even the part of the world represented by the then Member for Devonport was excluded from the Hague preference because, had it been included, there would have been awful problems with France over Brittany. The Hague preference was a political stitch-up and we are still bearing its consequences, just as the fishing industry, especially in the south-west, has had to bear the consequences of so many other political stitch-ups over the years. I therefore very much welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's comments on that subject. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland—perhaps this is more pertinent—will also very much welcome what was said.

The House will be relieved to know that this is almost certainly my last speech on fisheries matters. I have not missed a fisheries debate in the 13 years that I have had the honour to represent St. Ives. For reasons that are known to most hon. Members, I will not be standing at the next election. I shall miss these debates, which have altered considerably over the years. The times when a small group of us used to debate the issues and actually discuss which matters concerned our fishermen, rather than getting involved, as I am afraid that, inevitably, we have in this debate, in wider political considerations, seem like halcyon days. Before we lose sight of what is before the House, I hope that I may be permitted to comment briefly on some of the proposals that could affect fishermen in my constituency and the south-west constituencies of those represented ably by colleagues on both sides of the House. The fishing industry is very dear to hon. Members who represent the south-west. I am often accused by some of my hon. Friends of banging on about fishing, but the issue runs deep for anyone who has the great honour of representing a fisheries constituency.

Three areas of the Commission proposals that will be considered later this week give concern to the south-west. It must be said that the proposals before us tonight— certainly those concerning the south-west, but generally, too—about which we have not heard much detail so far, are not quite as draconian as others have been over the years.

A number of issues naturally cause concern, the first of which relates to megrim. Western megrim stocks are basically a by-catch, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear that in mind. There is also the question of monkfish. Although, as I said, this year's proposals do not appear to be draconian, it must be remembered that they are on the back of massive cuts in the monkfish quota four years ago. I hope that my hon. Friend will heed the representations that I know have already been made to him on that point.

The third area of concern relates to a species which is often mentioned—certainly by south-west Members—in the House: channel cod. The complaint is that area VII b-k is huge. Yet the matter really concerns two distinct fish stocks. To lump them together in such a way distorts the fact that, in my part of the world—if I may call it that—there is often what appears to be an abundance of cod. Cod stocks should therefore be separated into more meaningful areas.

I return to what is undoubtedly the background to the debate: the common fisheries policy and the vexed question of quota hoppers. What I believe is common ground between every hon. Member who represents a fishing constituency, wherever they sit in the House, is the view that the CFP is a disaster. It must be torn up and rewritten; we must start again.

I have no doubt that there must be some form of common policy. That is perhaps not a popular thing to say, but it is a fact of life, and I would be deluding people if I said that there was some magic way in which we could just withdraw from the CFP without consequence. Yes, we could withdraw, but there would be consequences. I do not believe that we can withdraw unilaterally from the CFP if we are to stay in the European Union. People would be more honest if they put that clearly, especially to fishermen. It would be more honest to say, "All right, let us come out of the EU, if that is what you want."

As I said earlier, the trouble with the CFP, which was put in place before we entered it, has so often been that it has been built on trade-offs; its consequences so often involve trade-offs. So often, fishing has been at the worse end of a greater trade-off. I hope that for once fishing will benefit, and I believe the Government when they say that they are absolutely determined to tackle the problem of quota hopping.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his solid and sensible work over many years for the fishing industry and for the south-west. If I should be fortunate enough to return here, I shall greatly miss his contributions. He and I have stood side by side on the issue of quota hopping. Does he agree that the original relative stability agreement in 1983 could not stand beside quota hopping and that the two cannot be reconciled? Was it not therefore inevitable that the Single European Act would reduce that original agreement to nonsense?

Is not it also true that the economic implications of what the hon. Gentleman and I seek to do suggest that the only way to get round the problem is either to tear up the single market legislation or to draw down funds—some of which come from our taxpayers' contributions—from Europe for our fishermen, so that they can buy quota from Brussels in the way that the Spanish have over many years?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about me personally. I am not sure that what he said subsequently was entirely correct. I do not think that quota hopping can be regarded as part of the single market, because there is a great difference between a quota, which applies to a scarce resource, and some manufactured product, which should be the subject of the single market. I have never therefore regarded the problem as arising from the single market.

The judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Factortame case, which has caused the real trouble in recent times, was perverse beyond belief. We cannot have a common fisheries policy that is based on national quota and yet allow companies and individuals from other member states to buy over boats and licences and get access to that national quota. That is happening to an alarming extent, as has been said, and more than 20 per cent. of our quota is now foreign owned. That is an intolerable position.

I gave the Government full marks when they introduced section 2 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, but I wish that they had done it earlier, before Spain came in. Frankly, I wish that they had listened to me and to others who were fighting the scourge of quota hopping—in the old days, the problem was with flag of convenience vessels—as long as 16 years ago. That was the time to take action. Unfortunately, the action that they subsequently took was struck down by the European Court of Justice.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

I am an ingenue in this debate, because I do not represent a fishing constituency, but I have always worried about this quota hopping business, because is it not the case that individual fishermen are entitled to sell their quota on the open market? Would not preventing them from doing that be an interference in one form of freedom in order to achieve another?

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

That could be said, but one must consider the national interest. Many fishermen who are accused of selling their licence to a foreign interest do not know that that is what they are doing, as quite often the licence is sold through a middleman—an agent, for example—who may suggest that it is being sold to another fisherman from this country, whereas in fact it ends up in Spain. I know specific examples of that.

Let me tell my hon. Friends who are considering not supporting the Government tonight that on new year's day this year I was so worried about the plight of the fishing industry that I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, spelling out the difficulties that the industry faced, not least in the south-west. I rehearsed the problems that all hon. Members who represent fishing communities know only too well. I was especially worried about the entry of Spanish vessels into Irish waters on 1 January; that is why I wrote on that date. In fact, they have not materialised in any great numbers, but the threat is still there.

I said to the Prime Minister—my hon. Friend the Minister will not mind my saying this—that he was the only person who could sort out the problems. I had a meeting with him in February, as a result of which—I believe—he asked his policy unit at Downing street to consider fishing. That inquiry ran in parallel with the Ministry's investigation into the common fisheries policy.

Those who lead the industry—a great industry—were extremely pleased that, within days of that policy review in Downing street beginning, they were invited there, as were I and other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) came with me to the meeting, and other hon. Members no doubt had some input. Partly as a result, we have witnessed the emergence of a fishing policy that, although not perfect—frankly, we can never have a perfect policy on fishing—goes a long way towards meeting the well-founded concerns of the fishing industry. In particular, it represents a genuine attempt to deal with quota hopping.

I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister's reply today to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), and the replies given over the past fortnight in the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs and on European Legislation by the Foreign Secretary, by Sir Stephen Wall—the United Kingdom representative to the European Community—and by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis).

All those replies confirmed that dealing with quota hopping would be a condition of our enabling progress to be made at the intergovernmental conference. In other words, we have a veto and we intend to use it. That is the assurance that the Government have given the fishing industry. For that reason alone, I have no hesitation in voting with the Government tonight. I urge my hon. Friends, who care about fishing even though some of them do not represent fishing communities, to vote with the Government tonight. As the House knows, I have never hesitated to vote against the Government on fishing matters—I have done it many times—when I thought that that was in the best interests of the fishing industry. This is not a night to vote against the Government.

I am reinforced in my opinion by what has been said by some of the leaders of the fishing industry over the weekend. I hope that they will forgive me for quoting them. They include my constituent, Mr. Michael Townsend, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation. He is of course also chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. He was reported in today's edition of the Western Morning News as saying: Fishing has always been cross-party. It's been a non-party issue and we want to keep it like that. Mr. Jim Portus, the chief executive of the South-West Fish Producers Organisation, urged all Members of Parliament to support the Government.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Yes, there is nothing to be ashamed of—I am a Tory, too. The hon. Member knows me well and is aware that I have never hesitated to vote against my Government when I thought that that was in the best interests of the fishing industry.

Today's editorial in the Western Morning News, a paper which no one can accuse of being partisan or Tory, stated: Don't sabotage the fishing industry.The Government faces a knife-edge vote tonight when the EU Fisheries Policy is debated in the Commons. It is its first major test since losing its majority … The Opposition may see it as an opportunity to hijack the vote to bring about a crushing defeat for the Government.But we would urge them not to do so, for the sake of the fishing industry. For the sake of the fishing industry and for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Minister, I do not intend to vote against the Government tonight. Even the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East could not find fault with the Government's policy—never mind the record, with which we all find fault—so he cannot urge his hon. Friends to vote against the Government.

I urge everyone on the Conservative Benches and perhaps even members of some of the minority opposition parties to back the Government so that at least my hon. Friend the Minister can attend the forthcoming meeting having won a majority vote and not, as last year, having suffered a defeat. A defeat would damage the fishing industry.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North 7:11 pm, 16th December 1996

First, I should like to echo the Minister's congratulations and tributes to the Royal National Mission for Deep Sea Fishermen. It has done a splendid job in the past century, and continues to do so, although it does not operate on the same scale as it did a decade ago.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and I share a number of common features. It happens that neither of us will be here after the next general election. I do not want to turn the debate into a mutual admiration society, but more often than not, he and I have shared common ground on fishery matters, and we have frequently been in the same Lobby. I intend to part company with him tonight. Later in my speech, when I outline why we should or should not vote against the Government, we shall part company again. However, we have been adversaries and sometimes allies on the fishing industry, as on one or two other matters.

There is no doubt that losing the majority does wonders for the Government's approach to, for example, a fisheries debate, when they are in danger of being defeated. As I listened to the Minister, I began to wonder whether Christmas had come early. It was as if he had gone through a checklist of all the things about which the fishing industry is unhappy. For example, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has expressed concern about the Norway agreement on North sea haddock; problems connected with achieving participation in the enhanced north Norway cod agreement; and the Commission's proposals for west of Scotland haddock.

The Minister responded favourably to all those concerns, so much so that I was surprised by some of the reactions to the speech of our spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang). The Minister said that everything was either high priority, or near the top of the list for the negotiations. The truth is, however, that he did not say what was his bottom line. To continue in the Christmas vein, the Minister reminded me a bit of the fairy on the top of a Christmas tree. I am sorry that he is not present, and I hope that he will not take my remarks amiss, but, like that fairy, he is very pretty and glittering, but has delivered nothing.

I do not see why the Opposition should take any lessons from the Conservatives about delivering policy, because the Conservatives are the Government. They have been the Government for so long that they have forgotten that they are the Government, so they do not seek to justify their policy. They seem to spend all their time attacking the Opposition. That is fair game and I do not object to that, except that when we attack them, the Government say that we are indulging in party politics. When they do it, however, they say that they are demonstrating sound common sense.

The House and the fishing industry must understand that there is a contradiction between deregulation and control of the fishing effort and control of the total allowable catch. One cannot opt for deregulation and at the same time expect control, nor can one expect such control to be exercised only on fishermen from other member states. Sometimes one almost thinks that that is what the industry is asking for. The industry understands that, and so must the Government.

That contradiction is at the heart of the common fisheries policy, which is regarded as part of the single market. It is impossible to argue that by analogy, so it is not possible to rebut the strong views of the Fisheries Commissioner, Mrs. Bonino, who says that it is a Common Market and that everyone can go into it. If that logic is followed, there is no common fisheries policy, except one which says that there is no control on effort or on who can catch the fish; instead, we simply have a total free-for-all. That means that everyone would keep on fishing until there were no fish left. If the North sea was regarded as simply part of the single market, that would be the inevitable conclusion, according to Mrs. Bonino. She cannot have it both ways.

We must opt for quotas and total allowable catches. I know of no one in the House or within the industry who disagrees with the proposition that there must be such controls. No one believes that, not even those who think that we should withdraw from the common fisheries policy, tear it up and start again. They argue for that not because they are in favour of a free-for-all, but because they believe that they can introduce stronger controls based on national interest.

The Fisheries Commissioner must cast aside the idea that the common fisheries policy is part of the single market. Those in the fishing industry must accept that if we are to have controls and regulations, and although the price may be great in some instances, we cannot afford to reject out of hand the possibility of satellite surveillance. If that proves to be the best way to check the direction of vessels and which waters they are or are not supposed to be in, I do not think that we can reject such a proposal. The industry must accept that it may have to swallow some unpalatable pills, whose consequences are necessary in the long run. I therefore do not reject satellite surveillance proposals.

I am glad that we have a full day for the debate. Our common objective in the past 17 years and beyond has been stability for the present and the future—without that, there can be no future planning. We want to know what is happening and we do not want quotas and TACs to change year on year, up and down like a yo-yo. We want certainty.

As the hon. Member for St. Ives and the Front-Bench spokesmen have said, the key issue is quota hopping. I was shadow transport spokesman when the first attempt was made to put the matter right. On behalf of the Opposition, I said that we would give the Government fair wind and would not frustrate the legislation. That action might be used against me tonight—it always is. In Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said that he did not believe that the Government were going the right way about it. We did not, however, try to stop the legislation. I do not blame the Government for getting it wrong, because they were attempting to get it right. That example shows that there has often been a bipartisan approach to the issue.

The Government's position is that the issue will be resolved at the intergovernmental conference. I would feel slightly happier if fishing was the only matter at issue at the ICC, but there are other matters to be discussed. We know of at least one other matter, and I suspect that the Prime Minister has a list as long as one's arm of the things that he wants changed. The trouble is that we have heard all this before. The Government talk tough, but they usually fail to deliver.

I do not want to extend the debate—clearly, it would be out of order if I did—but the Government have not delivered on bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The Prime Minister came back from Florence and said that, as a result of the Florence agreement, the ban on beef exports would be lifted by the end of November or the beginning of December. This afternoon, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food changed his mind and said that he would do things that he had ruled out a couple of months before, but there is still no end to the beef ban. Nobody knows when the ban will be lifted.

We remember also the Madrid conference where, again, there was a dispute during attempts to reach agreement among the Heads of State. At Madrid, the Spanish Prime Minister said to our Prime Minister, "I will not sign up unless Spanish vessels are given early access to British waters." Our Prime Minister said, "Okay. Fine. We agree." He gave way, and that, unfortunately, has been the history—fishing has always been a bargaining counter in almost every conference or agreement. Fishing always loses out. The hon. Member for St. Ives referred to the Hague preference as a stitch-up, but what is a prudent agreement and what is a stitch-up probably depends on the side of the House on which one sits. One thing about which I am certain is that fishing has always lost out, and neither main party has been able to ensure that that is not the case when in power.

One of the reasons why we cannot trust the Government is that they always have to say how well they have done. For example, on the working time directive, Ministers said that we had a great opt-out and were making changes. They were satisfied that the working time directive did not apply to us—they had won the battle. But what happened? They lost the battle, and they are now bleating about it.

One of our problems is that the political arguments do not help. I saw on the BBC teletext service today—a slightly different story was told in the House, I admit—that the Prime Minister had come to a cosy deal with the Ulster Unionists about the Northern Ireland fishing industry. As a concession to the Ulster Unionist Members of Parliament

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Just hear me out. The Prime Minister came to a deal, because he needed the votes of Ulster Unionist Members to avoid defeat. I do not know whether there is a shred of truth in that story, and if there is, I do not blame the Ulster Unionist Members, who are using their position to get the best they can for their industry. But that is not the right way to run fishing policy. Bargaining with a little bit here and a little bit there is not the answer. The Government might see a Conservative Member who may vote against them tonight and offer to take care of the problem in his constituency. Sadly, that is not the way to go about it.

The trouble is that all this talk about the intergovernmental conference is simply hot air, because the Prime Minister knows only too well that he will not be at the next IGC. After the election, the right hon. Gentleman might not even be the Leader of the Opposition. He might well be sitting where the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) currently sits, and the hon. Gentleman might well be the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

This is a serious debate.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Yes, it is a serious debate. The Prime Minister cares about only one thing—survival. He is treating the House of Commons as if it were a hospice for the terminally ill—he is trying to dull the pain and alleviate distress until the inevitable end comes.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry

The hon. Gentleman suggested some time ago that he believed the fairy tales put about by the media. He should understand by now that as every other Opposition Member is known always to vote against the Government almost regardless of the issue, the Ulster Unionists are the only Members about whom the media can speculate. Therefore, speculation is rife, and very often wrong. I can tell him that, on this occasion, the view expressed by the media about a cosy deal is totally without foundation.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

I am glad that I allowed the hon. Gentleman to put that on the record. I said that I was not concerned one way or the other whether there was a shred of truth in the story. We are all honourable Members in this place, and I take his word that no cosy deal has been done. It may be that a cosy deal was offered, but we shall leave that aside.

The one fortunate thing is that the end of this Government is not far away—it is four to five months away. It will then be for my right hon. and hon. Friends to take up the cudgels to obtain changes to the CFP, to give it stability and justice. I hope that whoever follows the hon. Member for St. Ives and me into this House will be as strong in their defence of the fishing industry as he has been. For that reason, I shall be voting against the Government. I want to bring them down as soon as possible, and I hope that we can do so.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston 7:25 pm, 16th December 1996

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) berated the Government in somewhat quieter tones than the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang). I have great respect for the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, especially for his views on agricultural policy, which we seem almost to share. I take it that he was as responsible as anyone for drafting the Labour amendment. I can think of only one word to describe the amendment, and I fear that it may be out of order. I can think of no more elegant phraseology than that word, which is "humbug".

The hon Member for Edinburgh, East berated with fury what has gone on for the past 17 years, but has he forgotten what he was doing in 1976? In that year, Community law was laid down in a regulation governing the future direction of the CFP. At the heart of that policy was the principle of equal access, so that we in this country and our fishermen had no more right to the waters that had previously been ours than any of the other member states. From that has stemmed all the troubles that we have with the CFP.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will know that in 1976 the then Labour Government had a veto, which they did not exercise. If only they had exercised that veto and prevented the 1976 regulation from coming about, we would not have had any of the consequences for the past 17 years, about which he has complained. But that is not what he did, nor what that Government did. I think that I am right in saying that he was in an office that had some influence over those matters.

I commiserate with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has a miserable job—it is an impossible job. He knows, as do all of us with an interest in any part of the fishing industry, that we could once again have a fishing industry as large and as prosperous as it was many years ago. But we cannot have that prosperity again—it is not possible—as long as we do not have the same rights to waters as those enjoyed by any self-governing nation state of the world. That is the truth of the matter.

As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has said many times before, we have lost that right of control and until we regain it, we shall never have an effective conservation policy and we shall never restore our fishing stocks. Furthermore, we shall never be able to deal with industrial fishing, which has now become an evil because it sweeps up millions of undersized fish which, in times past, would have been left in the sea to mature so as to be caught at a later stage when they were worth eating.

In the North sea, the numbers of five important species are now so dangerously low that they are nearing the point of irreversible decline. Those are herring, mackerel, cod, plaice and sole—five species that have been on the plates of all hon. Members many times. They are popular species and we should sustain those resources permanently, in large quantities, as they were sustained in the past. In the North sea, stocks have now fallen so low that we might soon reach an irreversible position. I hope that the Minister is aware of that problem and knows that it is deeply serious.

All of us who have any part of the fishing industry in our constituencies know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has travelled up and down the country explaining the Government's difficulties and their policies. He has been listening and learning and many fishermen appreciate what he has been trying to do. However, I wish that he would not use the term "non-negotiable" in respect of our six to 12-mile limit. That term is causing some anger among many fishermen because, if one says that those fishing rights are non-negotiable, it suggests that their ownership is ours, that we have a right to them and that we will not concede that right. The fact is that we conceded those rights long ago, when we entered the European Community. Those waters are as much Community waters as those beyond the 12-mile limit.

Let me underline that point. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is a lawyer, were my landlord who had given me a 10-year lease, and I were to go round telling my neighbours that I would continue to have possession and that my rights were non-negotiable, as a lawyer and a landlord, my hon. Friend would tell me that I was deceiving myself and my neighbours. I therefore urge him to abandon the term "non-negotiable". I know what he means, but his use of a phrase that fishermen resent is not doing him any good.

Fishermen feel that over the years they have been deceived, I regret to say, by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Liberal Democrats have probably been the worst offenders and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists have been no better. I have to admit that the Ulster Unionists on both sides of the House have probably behaved in the most frank and honest manner in respect of the fishing industry.

The time has now come for us to be frank with the fishing industry and to say that our hands are tied and that there is a limit to what we can do. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has said about the common fisheries policy. He has denounced it with great charm and great firmness, but the only real answer is to reassert ourselves. To concede that we should have a common fisheries policy of any kind is unwise and unnecessary. If we are to have a successful Community that is to enlarge to include 25, 30 or more countries, we have to forget about having a common fisheries policy. It would be impossible and absurd to allow countries such as Estonia and Latvia, which have their own fishing fleets, to have equal access with ours.

As part of any enlargement, we have to say that every member state should have its own fishing policy. Let us act as if we were a self-governing nation state, with control of our own waters, so that we can have a prosperous fishing industry in future.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 7:34 pm, 16th December 1996

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). He attacked my party and other Opposition parties, but it is fair to say that, after fisheries debates in recent years, we have found ourselves in the Lobby in support of the fishing industry more often than have Conservative Members. When he raises the red herring of access to waters, he must know that the derogation has been challenged in the courts by the Spaniards and that that case failed.

New members of the Community are generally excluded from waters that they have not traditionally fished and there is no reason to suspect that Estonia will be treated any more favourably, unless it gives us a major concession that blinds the Minister of the day. That is unlikely. To put up such Aunt Sallies does not help, because it increases uncertainty within the industry. Mrs. Bonino has indicated that there is no likelihood of the derogation on the six to 12-mile limit being challenged in the 2002 review.

I welcome the widespread attention being given to our annual fisheries debate and I am grateful to the Government's business managers for allowing it additional time. The Minister of State's tour of fishing ports around the country, trying to woo hon. Members, was interesting. My hon. Friends and I were speculating about how he would try to woo the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), but he was not prepared to compromise on a unilateral renunciation of the common fisheries policy. We look forward with interest to seeing whether enough has been said this evening to persuade the hon. Member for Ludlow.

Despite all the political attention focused on the vote at the end of the debate, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are considering the details of a regulation that will have a considerable impact in the forthcoming year on the lives and the livelihoods of fishermen and on the communities to which they belong, from Shetland to Cornwall. Against that background, I hope that the Minister will respond to several pertinent questions, many of which have already been raised and to some of which the Minister has already referred. When he winds up, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), will be able to take them on.

Traditionally, much of the December debate focuses on the total allowable catches—or TACs—for the next year. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and I have taken part in many of these debates over the years. We both first spoke in December 1983 and at that time, as in subsequent years, the Minister's remit at the Fisheries Council was that he should unequivocally negotiate the best deal for our fishermen. Of course, when TACs were negotiated at Fisheries Councils in the past, most of them were taken up by British fishermen. The position is different in respect of the TACs to be negotiated at this week's Fisheries Council: 44 per cent. of the plaice quota, 46 per cent. of the hake quota, 20 per cent. of the sole quota, and 29 per cent. of the anglers quota—all high-value species—will be fished by non-British fishermen. That is a result of the quota hopping that has been the subject of much of the discussion so far and to which I shall return.

Representations from fishing organisations have highlighted many of their concerns and, although I would agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives that the list is not quite as long as in some years, the points they raise are important. It is generally felt that the pelagic settlement is reasonably satisfactory, but disappointment is expressed at the fact that, despite the industry having taken a 50 per cent. cut in the TAC for herring earlier this year, the cut in sprats is only half that amount. Given that sprat fishing takes up a number of juvenile herring, that issue should be re-examined.

The Minister may wish to say something about the deal that was struck at the weekend on Atlanto-Scandian herring, which is welcomed by the industry. The EU amount is less in the forthcoming year, but it is thought that, given that fishermen will be allowed to fish some of it in Norwegian and Faroese waters and land in Norway, it has considerable value. It would be helpful if the Minister would say that there will be no impediment to British vessels starting fishing that on 1 January 1997, so that they can start establishing a track record for what may be a very important fishery for the future.

From a Scots perspective, with regard to the white fish species, there is major concern about the significant cut in the TAC for west of Scotland haddock, as the Minister of State acknowledged in response to a question by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). It is believed that the scientific evidence might justify a status quo for haddock; I hope, especially as it is a precautionary TAC, that Ministers will focus their minds on that in the forthcoming Council meeting.

Similar consideration applies to North sea haddock, where the TAC cut comes in the wake of a significant cut in the cod quota. Many people accept the need for tougher measures with regard to cod, to conserve a seriously depleted stock, but it does not follow that there should be the same cut for haddock, especially as it is possible to fish haddock clean of cod. I hope that North sea haddock will be given special attention.

There is scepticism about the precautionary TAC for west of Scotland saithe, a problem which might be better resolved by uplifting the TAC than by invoking the Hague preference, which has been a subject of some discussion.

On the subject of cod, there are obvious difficulties in fishing in the North sea and west of Scotland. The Minister will confirm that there is an increase in the cod available in north Norway for Community vessels. I shall not go into individual constituency cases now, but I hope that the Minister will accept that there is an opportunity for vessels from the Scottish fleet to go to north Norway, and that any representations that he receives on that will receive sympathetic consideration.

From the perspective south of the border, I know that the Minister is aware that on North Sea plaice, it is feared that the European Union agreement with Norway produced a situation where a swift recovery of stocks might lead to a dislocation in the industry, whereas a slower recovery, by retaining the status quo at 81,000 tonnes, would be helpful in maintaining the well-being of those who have been fishing plaice in the North sea.

A similar view is taken on the disproportionate cut in North Sea sole quota. I understand that, at last year's Council, there was direct negotiation with Norway on plaice. I hope that the Minister can confirm that, if it comes to it, he will be prepared to do that again.

The industry believes that, unlike other areas, the Irish sea boasts stable stocks of cod, and that a higher TAC there, thus avoiding Hague preference, would be better for English and Ulster fishermen.

We were told by the Minister of State that the industry had generally signed up to a review of the Hague preference. I understand that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation was told about the proposal at a meeting that the Minister of State came into today and that some things were said about it, but it certainly could not be thought that the federation had signed up to it.

I say as constructively as I can that, obviously, the issue is sensitive. In fisheries debates we have often appealed to Ministers to invoke the Hague preference, which has brought benefits over the years. It does not help if people feel that they have been bounced into a position that they have not. I hope that a greater sensitivity on that issue will be shown, perhaps even by the Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office when he replies to the debate.

I know that the Under-Secretary of State is especially concerned about salmon farming, which is a matter for the Council. He knows, as we all do, that the Government eventually agreed to apply to the Commission for a minimum import price. That has not been forthcoming. Apparently, Mrs. Bonino gave the Minister short shrift when he went on a special errand to try to get it. Is it possible for the Council to take the matter into its hands? It is intolerable that some of the most efficient salmon farmers in Scotland—in Shetland, my constituency—are obliged to sell their product at below production cost. As the Minister knows, that is unsustainable. An emergency response is needed, and we very much hope that he can make progress on that.

I said that in the past, and in relation to the current round, fishermen have expressed scepticism about some of the TACs that have been set. People might argue that the fishermen would say that because they want to fish more, but self-evidently it is not in the interests of the fishing industry to kill off the stocks on which it and future generations will depend. We should not dismiss the experience and expertise that skippers can contribute to the inexact science of stock assessments.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman had left the subject of salmon farming. Is he aware that, at the weekend, a former Commissioner, a Mr. Bruce Milian, attributed the failure of the Scottish junior Minister to achieve satisfactory results to ministerial inexperience? Regardless of whether it was inexperience, it was certainly a very belated effort.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

The House well knows that we argued for some time before the Cabinet would accept the position. I am not sure that it helps the Minister in his attempt to win something for us at the weekend if we all denounce him as being inexperienced. I know that the Minister and the Scottish Office have taken a very positive approach to that. Our complaint lay with other Departments. Now that, at long last, the Government have got a line on that, we wish the Minister well and hope that he can negotiate something positive for the salmon farming industry at the end of the week.

I was saying that, in proposing radical reform of the common fisheries policy, Liberal Democrats recommend the decentralisation of management, with the involvement of skippers and fisheries scientists. That would lead to better informed decision making, and decisions to which people have contributed are more likely to command their confidence and active co-operation.

What the Minister of State said today, repeating almost verbatim one of the points that he made in the 10-point plan that he unveiled in Plymouth, gives us cause for hope that that approach—a much more regional dimension, local management of fisheries—will gain momentum. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) said, Liberal Democrats have called for that in many debates. Sometimes Ministers have tried to rubbish us, but we will always welcome the sinner that repents. We only regret the fact that it has taken 17 years and a minority Government to bring about their repentance, but we encourage them in developing that line of thinking.

That was one of the recommendations of the common fisheries policy review group, in which my constituent, Mr. John Goodlad, played a constructive and distinguished part. When do the Government intend to respond formally to the 40 or more recommendations of the review group? The Minister said that that would happen in the near future, but following such a high-quality, constructive report, we want a better idea of the timetable for a response and implementation.

I agreed with many of the report's conclusions, including the non-viability of renouncing the common fisheries policy unilaterally and the need to boost decommissioning, to consider a scrap and build policy and to consider other institutional arrangements, including regionalism.

There are immediate issues to be dealt with, including the position on multi-annual guidance programme IV and flags of convenience. As we have heard time and again tonight, the two are linked, not solely because of the linkage that the Government have stated, but because it is unreasonable to set a further MAGP requirement for Britain when we are purporting to negotiate the removal from the fisheries register of 20 per cent. of the fleet flying the Union flag as a matter of convenience.

Do the Government intend to make any negotiations on quota hopping retrospective? The Government have said that they have taken the initiative by seeking a solution to the problem in the IGC, but what do they mean by a solution? Will it apply to future transfers of licences or will there be a retrospective element?

What is being done to pursue the initiative? The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), in an intervention, suggested that the reference to that important aspect of our negotiations on the IGC had been dropped from the Irish proposals and relegated to an appendix. I understand that there was a four-line reference to it on page 134 under the heading, "Part B—Other Issues". I am not sure that that is the type of profile that has been presented to us in the House. What profile are Ministers seeking for that? How often have member state capitals been visited by Ministers or by departmental senior officials to promote the ideas? I do not expect the Minister to show us his full negotiating hand, but we would like to be reassured that there is some tangible evidence of progress. His winding-up speech will give the Minister an opportunity to transmit such a message, not just to the House but to the fishing industry.

Related to that is a point that I raised in an intervention. What precisely is the Government's attitude to MAGP IV? Last June, the Minister was talking about assembling a blocking minority. In October, in a letter to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, the Prime Minister said: we have made it clear that we will not implement further compulsory cuts in the UK fleet while the quota hopping issue remains unresolved". The Minister of State gave a complex reply to that question, replying further to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East that the Government were not contemplating such action. We want to know whether this is a question of trying to block the provision, or whether it is a question of allowing an agreement to be reached by the other member states which we will not implement. It is important for that to be clarified. Those issues—quota-hopping and capacity reduction—have crept up on the Government because of their neglect in the past.

The hon. Member for St Ives (Mr. Harris) said that his reason for voting for the Government tonight was the response that he had received from the Prime Minister to a letter that he had sent him on 1 January earlier this year. The response that I have had is my reason for voting against the Government. Where were they for 17 years, if it is only now that they have woken up and have what the hon. Gentleman described as a fisheries policy? It is not as if the Government were not warned. At the time when pressure stock licences were introduced, some of us argued that, rather than being sold on, they should revert to a pool and perhaps be reallocated, thus ensuring that the remoter fishing communities of our country would not lose out through the licences' being drawn away to—as many of us thought—other parts of the United Kingdom, or, as has in fact happened, to other countries. The monetary ethic of Thatcherism prevailed, however. In time, many skippers found that the best offers came from foreign vessel owners. Nothing was done about the problem during our presidency in 1992, and it remains today.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Opposition Members and some exceptional Conservative Members—the hon. Member for St Ives was one, and we heard especially distinguished contributions from the late Alick Buchanan-Smith—argued for a well-funded decommissioning scheme, but too little was done too late. As a result, as other European Union countries, notably Spain, now receive grants to modernise their fleet, our fleet, unaided, grows older. That is due either to wilful neglect or to a cavalier disregard for the industry on which so many livelihoods depend, both at sea and on shore, in communities where alternative employment can be scarce.

We have heard much rhetoric, but the details of implementation have been scanty. The amendment that has been selected—like the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and me—calls the Government to account for their stewardship of fisheries policies over the past 17 years. Regrettably, it has been a record of neglect and failure, and we will vote against the Government tonight.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must point out that nine hon. Members wish to speak in the 97 minutes that are available before the winding-up speeches. I hope that, with a bit of co-operation, they will all be able to do so.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 7:52 pm, 16th December 1996

The fishing industry in Northern Ireland continues to suffer one blow after another as a result of policies dictated by the common fisheries policy in Brussels.

Let me remind the House of the vital importance of the fishing industry to Northern Ireland's economy. More than 2,000 people are employed in the industry, with another 1,200 actively engaged on fishing trawlers. The entire industry is worth more than £20 million per year to the Northern Ireland economy. In recent years, however, the industry has suffered one major crisis after another. Each year, fishermen's livelihoods are put in jeopardy as a result of annual cuts in the fishing quotas in the Irish sea, and this year is no exception.

Once again, we face the prospect of Irish sea fishing quotas' being reduced from a level that is already intolerable. Since 1990, the total allowable catch in the Irish sea has been reduced by 40 per cent. We are saying that we cannot take any more reductions: if the TAC is reduced any further, there will be no fleet left. Those are the stern, hard facts that the Northern Ireland fishing industry faces. This year, it is proposed that the cod quota should remain at 6,200 tonnes, and the sole quota at 1,000 tonnes. Whiting, however, is down 30 per cent. from 9,000 to 6,400 tonnes, and plaice from 2,450 to 1,800. The herring catch has been restricted to 7,000 tonnes.

Along with the leader of the SDLP—who, like me, happens to be a Member of the European Parliament—and accompanied by the chairmen of Mourne, Newtownards and Down councils and their staff and councillors and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), I was part of a delegation that met the top brass of the fishing commission. We were amazed at its ignorance of what was happening in the Irish sea. Its members told us that fish were scarce, saying, "We are only doing this to give you some industry." They said that conservation must take place.

Before we went there, the commission told the fishermen that they could not have any more haddock out of the sea—that they were very scarce. Well, there are more haddock in the Irish sea tonight than there have been since Noah's Ark floated on the waters. The commission's leading expert admitted something to is: he said, "When I was told that there were haddock in the Irish sea and that they were spawning, I did not believe it, but I went on my own and discovered that the fishermen were right." Why cannot those fishermen take the haddock out of the sea? That expert also confirmed something about herring. It is more than ever possible to fish for herring in the Irish sea—and not red herring.

We were told that nephrops—or prawns, as they are commonly called—were ample and abundant; yet the proposal is to keep the fishermen from fishing for them. What sort of scheme is this so-called common fisheries policy? That is what the fishermen who are sitting in the Strangers Gallery are asking, and rightly so. Why can they not fish for the fish that are plentiful? We look to the Government to do something.

There has been talk of the Hague preference. In 1992, a Minister promised in the House of Lords that the Government were determined to do something about the Hague preference in regard to the Irish sea. What did they do? They did nothing. Meanwhile, our fishermen must watch the spectacle of fishermen from the Republic—when the Republic takes up its option—coming into their fishing grounds, and fishing freely where our men are not allowed to fish for their own fish. That must cease.

I understand the worry about the Hague preference expressed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). In certain cases, it gave precedence to extra fish for British fishermen, but in the Irish sea we have a problem different from problems anywhere else. The Government must face up to that problem, and a satisfactory result must be found.

The Irish Republic has a very liberal quota and from its point of view it is right to say that there are not many fish in the Irish sea. The fewer fish that it says there are the better a quota it will have and the more it can ask for the Hague preference to be brought into play. I can understand Irish Ministers saying, "We have to be careful about the Irish sea or we shall take everything out of it." It suits their policy to say that.

Where there are fish in abundance people should be allowed to catch them. Northern Ireland fishermen are told, "Your catch has been reduced by 40 per cent. Now cut it again by 30 per cent. to give a total cut of 70 per cent." Next year, they will suggest that we cut it by another 10 per cent. Day after day our fishing industry is being decimated. I pity Northern Ireland Members who have fishing interests in their constituencies. We come here and speak about the industry and travel to Brussels but evidently there are to be no changes.

The Government should look at the Lassen report although, of course, it has been overtaken by other matters. It suggested reducing our fleet by another 40 per cent. It might as well state that we should give up the industry altogether. Now it has come up with another view of segmentation of the fleet, and that would be disastrous. Fishermen tell me that, because of its capacity, it would be impossible to do that with the Northern Ireland fleet.

Our prawn fisheries have also been attacked because it is said that prawns are scarce. But even the scientists say that there are plenty of prawns and Lassen is one of Europe's top officials. There is grave concern about the technical conservation measures that are being proposed by the Commission. They include measures about the size of the nets, the size of fish that can be landed and the areas in which fish can be caught.

In the Irish sea the proposals take no account of the regional diversities of home waters. For example, prawns are one of the most important stocks for Ulster fishermen, but the Commission proposes to increase the minimum landing size from 70 mm to 105 mm overnight. There is no justification for that and scientists are arguing about it. Even the Department's scientists advise us that if this measure is introduced in the Irish sea we would have to forget about 60 per cent. of all the prawns that are currently fished: 60 per cent. would be lost. What is left to fishermen who are faced with such percentages?The Government must go to Europe and save us from the discrimination that seems to be applied to Northern Ireland's fishermen. There is a vendetta to destroy the Province's entire fishing fleet. It is a matter of life and death.

We hear much about decommissioning, but what do Northern Ireland fishermen do when their vessels have been decommissioned? They have nowhere to go. Are we to say to those people, "Although there are plenty of fish you must decommission your boat"? A fishermen told me, "I thought that it was best for me to decommission, and I did. I did my best to start a company with the money but I had many problems and I was unable to run a viable company. I had to buy another vessel to eke out some sort of living in what I was brought up to do." The Government must adopt a vigorous stance in Europe. This is a fight for the existence of our fleet. It is a scandal that other member states, notably the Spanish, are effectively exporting their overcapacity problem to the United Kingdom by being allowed to operate vessels under the British flag and fish against our quotas. Government commitments on that issue must be honoured. No longer should our fishing industry have to work under the regime of a European fishing policy that is crushing to death the industry in Northern Ireland.

In 1992 the European Commission report entitled "Regional, Socio-economic Studies in the Fisheries Sectors" stated that Northern Ireland was the one area where fishing should be maintained as a priority because of unemployment. But what has happened? Many people in Northern Ireland wonder why the European Union strives to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in Northern Ireland—and of course that money is welcome—while adopting measures under the common fisheries policy which have the inevitable effect of making redundant people who are active in one of Ulster's most important industries.

The Government must recognise the tragic situation of fishing in Northern Ireland. They must not give us words: they must return from Europe having taken action that we can see.

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell , Great Grimsby 8:06 pm, 16th December 1996

The Minister started by painting a rather glowing picture of the industry. He said that it was prosperous, well-invested and coming along well under his ministrations. But the reality is rather different. The industry is in severe financial difficulties. It is not making enough to invest and finds it difficult even to keep going. Many people have to continue to fish to maintain a return on the borrowing with which they are lumbered. That is the real state of the industry and it is why British licences have been sold to quota hoppers.

I want to smash the television screen every time I see a European Commission official saying that British fishermen have sold licences to Spanish fishermen. They did that because they were in debt and were not making enough money. The Spanish were able to buy those licences because they had reached their multi-annual guidance targets by reflagging many of their vessels as British and therefore got access to European funds. That brought them within the target and opened the route to European money, but by the same token our fishermen were above their target and did not have access to European money and were forced to sell their vessels. It is a vicious circle.

The industry is not as prosperous as the Minister says. It faces threats and uncertainties and a reluctance by financial institutions to lend it money. That is one of the real problems. There is no confidence in the future because of constant threats of massive shutdowns and cuts in the British fleet, which has not had adequate backing from the Government, and because the common fisheries policy is not only wrong, as several Ministers have said, but is a conservation disaster.

The CAP is so disastrous that I am surprised that it has not been endorsed by the Spice Girls because it is on the same level as the disaster that the Government are achieving. The Commissioner is disastrous. Commissioner Bonino changes her mind so often that it seems from reading the press releases that there is a different Commissioner every month. She goes in for frequent changes of policy. She said at the beginning that she did not want the portfolio and did not understand it. She has demonstrated that at some length over the years.

The policy puts fishermen in competition with each other so that the natural character of fishermen to be hunters is not alleviated by any tendency to make them harvesters and get them to work together. They are compelled to compete, largely through the quota system and although quotas are an acceptable way to divide catches, they are disastrous when they are used for management purposes. They lead inevitably to discards. Fish caught over quota or fish that are outside quota are just dumped back in the sea—dead. As the quotas come down, the discards go up. The system forces fishermen into either discarding fish on an increasing scale or into illegalities.

The system is still not adequately policed because the control at ports of landing in Europe is totally inadequate. They do not care about British quotas. Why should they bother to enforce them? Vessels, particularly the quota hoppers, land not here, but in Europe, where they are not adequately policed.

Some quota hoppers of course come here to collect benefit, not to land fish. We cannot have a proper policy unless we have effective European policing. The policy goes for broad, lowest common denominator measures that will not work, such as the proposed increase in the mesh size to 110 mm. That is too big to provide an economic future for fishing.

I find it appalling that the industry's proposals for conservation—I refer in particular to those from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations in 1993—have never yet had a considered reply. They are the path of the future. They include technical and national measures and greater control for the coastal state. The NFFO put them to the Government, but there was no answer. Without consulting the industry, the Government made their own proposals to the European Commission, which came back with appalling conservation programmes that would never have worked.

The Commission insisted, for instance, on dealing with the Spanish catching and landing of small fish by reducing minimum landing sizes. It tried to deal with the discards problem by providing that discards did not have to be dumped overboard immediately, but could be carried until the end of the voyage, which we know means outside British waters, where the fish would almost certainly be landed before they were required to be dumped.

The only sensible proposals on conservation have come from the NFFO. It has proposed square mesh panels. The Commission has made that messy by insisting that such panels should be the same size as diamond mesh panels, which is impracticable. The NFFO has proposed a ban on industrial fishing, which we need immediately, and a system of sustainable fishing, which is to be achieved partly by more selective fishing, which is right in itself, but partly by technical conservation measures under the management of the coastal state.

That is the future. We need to devolve power down, under what might be called subsidiarity in other mouths, from Brussels and from the Commission to management by the coastal state and, within that, to regional management systems that involve people fishing in the region. In other words, we need systems that empower, involve and bring fishermen into consultation with scientists because there is far too little of that. The fishermen feel that they are being totally ignored and that their practical knowledge has been rejected. The systems should empower them to manage the system.

The Minister has moved a little way by talking of regional measures, but those are consultative proposals. We need regional management structures that involve fishermen in their own fate to make them stakeholders in their industry and to give them responsibility for feeling that it is their fish, so ensuring that they work together for the common purpose.

All that has been proposed by the NFFO and by North East Lincolnshire council. We shall put those proposals to the Minister. That is the way that the industry needs to go for power to be handed down from Brussels and for the producer organisations not only to manage their quotas, but to stop the transfer of licences outside their region. We have had a steady drain of Grimsby quotas to Scotland.

Under pressure from the House, the Minister has moved some way in our direction. I approve of his proposals on quota hoppers. I ask him not to agree to multi-annual guidance programme IV until quota hoppers are taken out of the equation. If he does agree to cuts in effort, they must be made after quota hoppers have been taken out of the equation because 20 per cent. of our fleet is made up of quota hoppers. The reduction in effort that will be demanded of us under MAGP IV is about 20 per cent. Take out the quota hoppers and we are bang on target and we have access to European funding. That is the way to go. The Minister must therefore resist MAGP IV until quota hoppers are taken out of the equation.

I hope that the Minister will resist too the barmy proposals—I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) who spoke earlier—on satellite monitoring because they will be divisive in the fleet in relation to vessels over 24 m. The proposals will be expensive and who pays? As usual in Britain, the fishermen will be asked to pay. The proposals will provide no guide to what fishermen are doing. If a boat is sat there with either its satellite transmitter or engine broken, it is committing an illegality under the system. It reduces other methods of control in favour of this broad brush approach that will not work.

I am not as critical of the Minister this year as I have been in previous years. He has helped and moved a considerable way in the direction of sense, particularly on quota hoppers, but also in considering regional structures and in giving a greater role to the coastal state. Having pushed him this far, we should vote against him to push him further because, obviously, nothing works on the Government as effectively as a lost vote, which produces the sort of help and support that they have denied to the industry.

The basic problem in the Government's approach has been that fishing has been hit by a double whammy. It has had a battering from Europe by a common fisheries policy that is unworkable, unsuitable and damaging to our industry. That has been compounded by the withholding of Government help, which has been provided to every other competing industry in Europe, but not to ours. That is the double whammy. The industry has been hit both ways.

At last the Minister has begun to do something about Europe. We shall encourage him to do something about the financing of the industry so that we can have a genuine scrap-and-build programme, and a genuine plan for fishing to restore confidence, for modernisation of our fishing boats and for giving confidence to institutions putting money into the industry so that financial institutions respond. We will be able to get something done about the fishing industry's needs by voting against the Government tonight.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington 8:16 pm, 16th December 1996

As someone who has represented a fishing port for 17 years, I have seen the industry progressively damaged by the common fisheries policy. In retrospect, we must be honest: it is clear that the industry was betrayed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who signed up to a treaty that forced the United Kingdom to surrender British fishing grounds to Europe. The industry was equally betrayed by the late Lord Wilson, who, at the time of the renegotiation, did not put the treaty right.

Fish inside our waters have ceased to be a national resource and today are a Community resource. It has always seemed strange to me that we pump up oil from the North sea and that oil is British oil, but the fish swimming around the oil rigs are European fish.

Leaving aside those objections, one must be fair. The CFP's aims were sensible. They were to improve conservation so that fish stocks would increase year on year and we would have a growing and prosperous fishing industry. No one, however, could believe that the CFP has achieved any of its aims. The British industry is in a parlous state. We have an aging fleet. There is a lack of investment and we are under continual pressure from the Community to reduce the size of our fleet and our quotas.

What are the specific failures? Far from stocks increasing every year because of the CFP so that we can increase quotas progressively every year, the stocks of many species are going down. Once more, there are proposals to reduce our quotas. The Community has failed to put into operation effective technical conservation measures. How can the policy be said to conserve when thousands upon thousands of tonnes of fish—the discards—are put back into the sea dead to pollute the oceans? As my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) said, there has been a complete failure to ban industrial fishing. There has been no attempt to deal with the growing problems of seals. The population is increasing dramatically in the North sea, with damage to salmon and to other fish stocks.

Above all, however, the policy discriminates against the UK. We provide much the largest portion of the waters of the northern seas of the European Union, yet we receive only about a quarter of the quota. May I give an example of how the restrictions affect Bridlington boats? Is it not nonsense that, in the British section of the North sea, we have virtually no quota for coley?

Coley is a large fish. Inevitably, when our fleet fishes from Bridlington for North sea cod and haddock, coley is also caught—but it has to be thrown back into the sea. For some reason, the French have a large coley quota in the North sea, in our waters, which they do not take up most years. Since I have been making this point, however, they decided to take up their quota last year. I do not know whether they are fiddling the figures.

European Union funds are given disproportionately to other European countries. I asked a parliamentary question on 21 November about how much of the fishing budget each country had received. Britain, with the largest waters, received 25 million ecu, whereas Spain received 174 million ecu and Germany—which has far smaller waters than Britain—received virtually the same. France received 37 million ecu.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

If I give way, I will not be able to keep to the requested 10 minutes.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what he is saying. However, is he unaware that the figures that he has just given are the result of the Government's policy of not enabling the fishing industry to have access to the very funds that he mentioned?

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

That does not get away from the fact that the Spaniards have been subsidised by the European Union to build boats and they have also been given the finances to buy our licences and become quota hoppers. The whole thing is absolute nonsense.

I support the Government's efforts to end quota hopping, but I only wish that the Opposition today had come out in full support of that policy and said that if they were elected at the next general election they would veto the intergovernmental conference if ii did not deal with the problem of quota hopping. However, they did not say that. They never make a commitment, they just imply that they will do something. I challenge the Labour Front-Bench spokesman to give a commitment to the industry that if the Labour party is elected it will veto the IGC unless it deals with the matter.

If we are opening up the whole issue, the Government should take the opportunity at the IGC to transfer British waters back to British control under the doctrine of subsidiarity. Once the fish in our waters are British again, we can have a sensible administration for the benefit of conservation and the British fishing industry, under a coastal management scheme.

We can but compare our situation with that of Norway, which is outside the common fisheries policy. My fishermen tell me that in the Norwegian section of the North sea the cod are much bigger and there are not the same problems with discards. The Norwegian industry is prosperous; there is no shortage of money for investment.

Despite all the commitments, if we do not take the opportunity now open to us my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston will be proved to be right. In the early years of the next century—2002, I believe—foreign boats will be fishing right up to our waters and there will be equal access for everyone. That will be disastrous.

I want to raise a few points that my fishermen feel are important and which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with when he replies to the debate. The fishermen believe it absolutely vital to maintain the fisheries industry safety group. They believe that there should be minimum landing sizes. They want an improvement in the stock assessment that forms the basis of quotas. For years, they have been based on the recommendations of scientists. If they had been right, we should have been able to look forward each year to increasing stocks. The scientists have not been right and the fishermen's perspective of stock should not be ignored, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said.

The fishermen want us to do everything possible to ensure that there is no cut this year in the North sea cod quota. Some 80 to 90 per cent. of my fishermen depend on cod, so a cut would be devastating for the Bridlington industry. There is also no justification for keeping down the quota for North sea haddock, which is not under the same pressure as cod, merely because it is caught in the same fisheries.

Finally, we must deal with the problem of seals—despite the view of environmentalists. The seals are reproducing at an enormous rate and it is wrong to say that they do not affect the fishing industry. I have seen salmon, caught by my fishermen, with big bites taken out of them. Seals are like foxes—they do not eat salmon, they just take big bites out of them and ruin them for the fisherman.

Having dealt with the problems of Bridlington, I want to say a word on behalf of those British fishermen who are not represented in the House. I speak, of course, of the fishermen of Guernsey, whose waters are now being pillaged by the French. The French have been breaking agreements and have had their naval fishery protection vessels supporting their fishermen in the waters off Guernsey.

Photo of Mr Michael Stephen Mr Michael Stephen , Shoreham

Our Navy has been present.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

I am pleased to hear that. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that, as it is not the information that I have been given? If the Navy is there, I hope that it will take a higher profile. We should let the fishermen of Guernsey know that we are prepared to fight for their rights, just as we were prepared to fight for the rights of the Falkland islanders.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady , South Down 8:25 pm, 16th December 1996

I want to place on record my appreciation to the Minister and to Baroness Denton, the Northern Ireland Office Minister responsible for fisheries, who visited my constituency a couple of weeks ago and discussed many problems with fishing organisations and fishermen.

I want at the outset to quote from a 1992 European Commission report, "Regional Socio-Economic Studies in the Fisheries sector". It said that in Northern Ireland there are currently very few alternate employment opportunities. Perhaps this is the one area where the maintenance of fish and related industry employment should be a priority. In other words, the Commission said that the Northern Ireland fishing industry is special and worthy of being given priority in its dealings under the general guidance and rules.

I raise that matter because we are talking about conservation matters. I must embellish what the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said by citing three statistics relevant to the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. First, to date there has been a reduction of about 35 per cent. in our fishing fleet. Secondly, there has been a 25 per cent. reduction in our catches or landings. Thirdly, 200 to 300 jobs have been lost from a work force of about 2,500.

I can conclude only that Northern Ireland has made a substantial, more proportional, contribution to fishing conservation in the Irish sea than anyone else. That was confirmed when, as the hon. Member for North Antrim said, we visited Brussels in the past couple of weeks, but we could still be penalised because Brussels alleges—I want the Minister to comment on this—that the United Kingdom as a whole has not fulfilled its obligations on conservation. Because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, it will be further penalised in the forthcoming multi-annual guidance programme IV. We will suffer disproportionately yet again, despite the fact that we have fulfilled our conservation commitment. That point needs to be made very clearly.

We were also alarmed by the proposals under Lassen for a further 40 per cent. reduction in fishing effort—a 40 per cent. reduction of a 70 per cent. remnant of the fleet of Northern Ireland. That would be devastating. There comes a point when fishing effort at sea—which, of course, supports the onshore process involving factories and jobs—simply collapses. If there are not sufficient catches coming ashore, the whole industry, both at sea and ashore, will collapse like a pack of cards.

The Lassen report has been scorned and opposed by all participating Governments, but it is the only report on the table. There is no other proposal. All the others are in the air, and we must be very careful, because Commissioner Bonino is very enamoured of it.

The quota restrictions that we think will be imposed are frightening for the Northern Ireland fishing industry. Whiting, plaice, herring and haddock have been placed in the same category. I shall deal with one of the species to illustrate our problem with all the quotas. In 1997, the Irish sea whiting total allowable catch will suffer its greatest reduction, from 9,000 tonnes in 1996. The scientific community recommended a TAC of 7,500 tonnes, but the Commission has now proposed one of 6,400—a cut of 29 per cent. We simply cannot withstand such a cut. We also do not understand it. All the signs indicate that, in 1997, the potential is good for whiting fishing.

On Irish sea whiting, the ICES scientists report stated: Whiting is taken mainly as a by-catch in mixed species otter trawl fisheries … The stock is considered to be within safe biological limits. An interesting comparison can be made on the basis of two quotations in the same report, one on whiting in the Irish sea, the other on whiting off the west of Scotland. On the latter area, the report states: Whiting is mainly taken as a mixed fishery and ICES considers the stock to be within safe biological limits. There is not a great deal of difference between the quotations about fish stocks in the different areas, yet a reduction of 2,600 tonnes has been recommended for Irish sea whiting, whereas an increase of 2,000 tonnes has been recommended for the west of Scotland.

Can someone explain that paradox? I hope that the Minister will take the point on board. I can run down the list—on whiting, haddock and herring, for example—and find similar contradictions. The cod regime will not be greatly diminished, yet we know from larval surveys that there are now three times as many cod in the Irish sea as there have been in recent years.

I was interested that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) dealt with the unique problems faced by the Northern Ireland fishing industry. We should remember that it is a fishing industry with three ports that are very close together. It uses a common fishing ground—which is at the confluence of the two tides, north and south—that comprises a specific ecological, fishing and breeding ground. It has a speciality of its own, which, as late as 1992, was mentioned in a paper issued by the Commission.

The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned the Hague preference. They drew certain conclusions, but they did not go far enough or draw the conclusion that I thought they could have drawn: Northern Ireland should be a top priority fishing region. There is nothing new about that conclusion. In all structural and social funds, the Northern Ireland region has a special connotation—category I. Why cannot that connotation be applied to the fishing industry? If we extrapolate the comments of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in today's statement on BSE, he was saying—or at least he was hinting at it; perhaps, once we examine the small print, it was only vote-catching for tonight's Division and not a reality—or insinuating that Northern Ireland will be a special region in relation to BSE and to lifting the ban, because it has fulfilled the Florence conditions.

Northern Ireland has a specific, coastal-fishing fishing industry. It forms a specific sector, and it has specific fishing grounds. In his speech today, the Minister said that different waters require different conservation measures. I shall take him at his word and ask him to apply other considerations to conservation measures in the Northern Irish fishing industry.

If I am still within my time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to deal with the issue of the Hague preference vis-à-vis the Republic of Ireland. Hon. Members' comments on that matter in today's debate have been correct. There is a surplus in the Republic of Ireland's quota for some species under the Hague preference, whereas there is a shortfall in the UK's allocation in Northern Ireland waters. Over the years, there has been a unilateral arrangement by which the adverse effects of the Hague preference have been diminished and alleviated by the Republic of Ireland swapping its surplus to meet the requirements of the Northern Ireland fishing industry.

I think that that arrangement should operate on a more regulated basis, rather than using the ad hoc-ery of past years. I ask the Minister to raise that issue with his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, and to conduct a small re-arrangement of the Hague preference to alleviate its adverse effects on Northern Ireland.

Despite the assurances given to us today that the Minister is going hell for leather against the Hague preference, he told me recently—in a letter of 12 December 1996—that it was not in the interests of the United Kingdom fishing industry to deal with the Hague preference now. That is a very different message from that which he gave the House today.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow 8:36 pm, 16th December 1996

In his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Minister said that I had expressed my concerns about the six and 12-mile limits. Although that is true, I should tell the House that those concerns pale into insignificance compared with my concern about the regime that we are now debating. There is no doubt that the common fisheries regime is both evil and corrupting. It is evil because of its devastating effect on the marine environment; it is corrupting because, among other things, it obliges otherwise honest men to become criminals.

That fact is well demonstrated by the words spoken in court by a Shetland fisherman, as reported in the Fishing News of 13 December 1996. He said: We can't help what we catch … I had dumped 400 boxes of saithe … Who has committed the biggest crime—me, who landed 25 boxes, or a system which made me dump 400 boxes? That is why I say that the regime is totally unacceptable.

The problem of discards and quotas is well known; perhaps less well known is the amount of fish that is destroyed onshore. In Peterhead harbour in June, and in Scalloway harbour in the Shetlands in August, colleagues and I saw prime fresh fish covered with red paint which was to be destroyed because it did not fetch the minimum landing price decreed by the European Community. How can we possibly claim that such policies—all of which were introduced in the name of conservation—are having their intended effect when thousands upon thousands of tonnes of fish are dumped at sea and when prime fresh fish is being destroyed ashore?

The common fisheries policy is not a practical policy. On the contrary, it is a political policy in which a vital British national interest is subjugated in the quest for European hegemony. It offends against common sense; it lacks credibility and any notion of morality; and its only principle—that of European integration—is one that I and thousands of fishermen cannot possibly support.

The principle that I do support is that of defending a vital national interest. I respectfully suggest that, the Government should not talk about national interests unless they are prepared to defend them, which they are at present failing to do in British waters around Guernsey where the perception is that the United Kingdom has not deployed the Royal Navy for fear of upsetting the French.

I met Guernsey fishermen in the Palace of Westminster last Thursday. They complained of harassment, intimidation, blackmail and of being set up for prosecution, all of which the Government have apparently not seen fit to counter. My hon. Friend the Minister has repeatedly stated that the six and 12-mile limits are not negotiable. Will he therefore tell the House why armed French naval vessels of the Affaires Maritimes have sailed into the six to 12-mile limits off Guernsey in support of French fishing vessels?

I deal now with some other aspects of the common fisheries policy. The House must not portray Jacques Santer, Emma Bonino and the other Commissioners as bogeymen and women; we should see them for what they are—Commissioners of the European Union, spelling out, often with disarming honesty and clarity, what we in the United Kingdom have already signed up to in three solemn and binding treaties leading inexorably to European integration.

I should like to say a word or two about fishing permits. In answer to a parliamentary question, my hon. Friend the Minister said: Council regulations 3760/92 and 1627/94 provide the framework for the Community's licensing and permit systems to enable member states to regulate fishing activities … They do not entail a European fleet run from Brussels."—[Official Report, 11 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 73.] I have just two points to make about that. First, the permits represent days at sea by another name. Secondly, they are aspects of European policy, and while member states may administer them, they will do so only as the designated agent of the central authority in Brussels. As I shall show in a moment, neither the UK nor any other member state of the European Community has competence in these matters.

I do not argue with the basic premise of permits. If one accepts the principle of a common fisheries policy, a permit system is entirely logical, but neither I nor a substantial—and growing—number of people in the fishing industry any longer want a common fisheries policy. I support the aims and objectives of the Save Britain's Fish campaign. I support the repatriation of powers and the establishment of a 200-mile exclusive fishing zone for this country.

The common fisheries policy is fundamentally flawed and quite incapable of sensible reform. On that point, we should perhaps remind ourselves of the words of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. In a press release dated February 1995, he said: There is no prospect of a unanimous agreement among the 15 Member States to amend the Treaties which provide the legal basis of the CFP … The fact is that the UK has accepted, by Treaty, that Fisheries lie within the competence of the European Community". The principle of equal access and the prospect of the permit system is wholly unacceptable both to this nation, which recognises it as a loss of sovereignty, and to the fishing industry, which sees it as a sell-out of British waters and as a giving away of the substantial fish stocks in them, not to mention the livelihood of British fishermen.

As for the immediate import of this debate, we shall soon vote on these important issues. I repeat now what I have said on previous occasions: this vote, whether the Government win or lose, will not change one jot or tittle of the common fisheries policy. It is quite bogus and, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), it is humbug for the Opposition parties to pretend that they have grounds for opposing the Government tonight.

When I intervened on him, the Opposition spokesman confirmed what we have long known—that the Labour party is committed to the common fisheries policy. It is committed to the principle of equal access to the common resource. Unless it changes its mind on that question, it has no locus to criticise or vote against what the Government are trying to do. The reality is that even if Labour were to form the Government tomorrow, it would still be bound by the common fisheries policy.

To conclude, I remind hon. Members of the extent of the House's power over fisheries policy. In a letter dated 19 June 1996, J. Almeida Serra of the Fisheries Directorate General XIV, said: Member States have transferred exclusive competence to the community with regard to the conservation and management of living marine resources. This competence applies in regard to waters under national fisheries jurisdiction and to the high seas. I say again that it is bogus for the Opposition parties to pretend that they could have any policy other than the common fisheries policy unless and until that policy is scrapped.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 8:46 pm, 16th December 1996

If the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) will forgive me, I have to say that it is his argument that is bogus and humbug. He made a case for not supporting the Labour party's amendment; he most certainly does not have an argument for supporting the Government, which is what he said he was going to do.

People in the fishing industry will hear that the Eurosceptics, who say that they support the industry, are now going to support the Government. Those people will cast their minds back to the voting behaviour of some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues during the days-at-sea controversy, for example, where again those hon. Members' support for the fishing industry and opposition to the Government were found wanting. The hon. Member for Ludlow may quarrel with the Labour party, with me and with the Liberal party, but according to the argument that he has advanced he does not have a shred of credibility if he is not prepared to oppose the Government.

The Minister said that he disliked the Scottish National party. I am afraid that that does not cause me any anxiety whatsoever. I have to tell him that the fishing industry dislikes the Government. It dislikes the Government not because of the 10-point plan that the Minister has introduced, but because of the past 10 years of inaction and failure to defend the industry's interests. The broken water of the do-nothing years, as one of the fishing industry's leaders so memorably put it only a while ago, is the reason why the fishing industry does not trust the Government.

There is no doubt that the Labour party's amendment is flawed, but it has the virtue of going over the record of the past 17 years and detailing some of the failures, the betrayals and the sell-outs in which the Government have engaged vis-à-vis the fishing industry. It would be enormously helpful if the Labour party would discuss its amendment with the other six Opposition parties, all of which have an interest in the fishing industry. It would not only be useful for the Labour party to show some humility in recognising that every Opposition party vote is necessary to defeat the Government, but the combined wisdom of the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Unionist parties, the Liberals and the Scottish National party might improve Labour's amendment. Judging from its document charting the road to the manifesto, which does not mention the subject, the Labour party's commitment to the fishing industry is minimal. Nevertheless, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru will support the Labour amendment and, if it comes to a vote, will oppose the Government motion as an indictment of the Government's track record on the industry.

I want to raise three specific fishing issues with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland before turning to some more general points. First, I reinforce the point made about sprat by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). There is a difficulty with the by-catch in the pelagic sector. I hope that the Minister will deal with that when he sums up.

Secondly, on the haddock quota on the west coast and in the North sea, it is vital to contest the argument that because the area is a mixed fishery, if there is a decline in the cod quota, the haddock quota must also decline. We can still have a clean fishery for haddock in a mixed fishery. On the west coast, cod fishing takes place in February, March and April and not in the rest of the year. It does not follow that haddock and cod quotas should go down in sequence. I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will devote the same amount of energy to the haddock quota in the North sea as was devoted to the plaice quota last year and that the decline of the haddock quota on the west coast will be visited before the final decisions are made.

Thirdly, I want to raise the issue of the Hague preference. I want at least one voice this evening to speak in support of the Hague preference, which is important for the Scottish industry. I hope that that will be acknowledged by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he sums up. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who introduced the debate, told us that all the fishing representatives had agreed that the Hague preference should be reconsidered. I consulted the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and found that it had not agreed; it had just been told that the issue would be reconsidered. The Minister then told us that the representatives had not agreed, but they had not objected when he had told them. He then told us—the record will confirm this—that there were differing views across the United Kingdom.

As a Member of Parliament representing Scottish fishermen, I shall obviously defend the Hague preference because it has played an important role in defending the Scottish fishing industry, particularly the haddock quota. However, one point about the Hague preference should not go unsaid. Negotiated in the mid-1970s by Garret Fitzgerald, then Irish Foreign Minister, it is the one part of the common fisheries policy that relates to fishing dependency. It may do that imperfectly, but that is a valuable principle to defend. Apart from the point that Ireland's great success in formulating and defending the Hague preference shows how a small nation in Europe can gain results by making one issue a priority, the Hague preference is worth defending in principle. I have a little advice for Labour Front Benchers. Perhaps they should address the concerns of hon. Members from Northern Ireland by saying that their interests will be defended in the swaps arrangements and that, unlike last year, the commitments will be delivered this year, whatever party is in power.

I come now to the issues at the heart of the problems with the common fisheries policy. I remind the fisheries Minister who opened the debate that I have been criticising the common fisheries policy since long before he became the Minister responsible for fisheries. Having seen fisheries Ministers come and go with depressing regularity, I fully expect to be criticising it long after he has stopped being the Minister.

The Government wonder why I doubt their commitment on flags of convenience. It is partly because of their record. Back in 1988, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and I argued in Committee on the Merchant Shipping Bill that the Government's measures were likely to fail in the European Court and we put forward an alternative proposal for residential requirements for the crews of such vessels. The Government told us that such a measure was silly and unnecessary. It was clearly not unnecessary and a residential requirement on the crew would have been more logical than imposing a language requirement, which seems to be the Minister's latest idea.

My real concern about flags of convenience vessels relates to the Government's recent record. I refer to the challenge made by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) to the President of the Board of Trade on 12 November, when he made a statement on the Government's objections to the 48-hour directive. My hon. Friend said: Despite its flexibility, the time scale for implementation and the existing derogations, will that issue now take priority over discussions about matters such as the common fisheries policy …? The President of the Board of Trade replied: There are other important issues to be addressed at the intergovernmental conference, but it is this issue"— the 48-hour directive— that matters to the Government and we intend to insist upon it."— [Official Report, 12 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 163.] I do not think that it is unfair for me to ask the Government what would happen if agreement were reached on flags of convenience vessels but not on the 48-hour directive. Would the Government block their own achievement on fishing in pursuit of their opposition to the 48-hour directive? As the Amsterdam summit comes conveniently after the general election, the question can also be addressed to those on the Labour Front Bench. Presumably they can apply their minds directly to flags of convenience vessels because they do not oppose the 48-hour directive. After so many years of betrayal, we are entitled to ask about the priority being given to this long-running sore for the fishing industry.

My second issue is relative stability. That is the rock on which the common fisheries policy becomes tolerable or intolerable. Many of us had our confidence in the future of the policy severely damaged when the Government—together with other Governments—conceded early access to western waters for the Spanish. That was a staggering achievement by the Spanish. They had to revisit and reinterpret their treaty of accession, achieve unanimity across all member states and win legal opinion. Having started with indefensible arguments, the Spanish managed to achieve early access against all the odds because they had it as a top priority.

The European Parliament fisheries committee elected as its rapporteur Ms Carmen Fraga Estevez—a Spanish Member of the European Parliament who is known to be a hard-line supporter of free access to all fisheries. That is depressing for the future of the policy. The House may be interested to learn that the British Conservatives in the European Parliament were among her sponsors for that post: they put forward a hard-line Spanish federalist as rapporteur for that crucial fisheries committee. It is little wonder the fishing industry has scant confidence in many of the Conservative party's statements.

My last general point is on low quotas. More than any other issue, the idiocy of having to throw back dead into the sea perfectly good fish has undermined confidence on the quayside in the common fisheries policy. At a certain point, the low quota policy starts to work in a perverse direction.

The ideas that have come from the industry of a tax on industrial fishing and technical measures to defend the industry have not been pursued with the urgency that is required. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may frown—

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Tripe, is it? I saw more action after the Government's defeat last year in the fisheries debate than I had seen in my previous eight years in the House. Nothing has concentrated the Government's mind more wonderfully than being defeated in the House last year. We have had 30 points from the fisheries review group and a 10-point plan from the Minister. Why? Fishing has at last become a key political issue because the Government know that they face defeat in the Chamber. It is the prospect of defeat that has concentrated the Government's mind. It is the prospect of defeat that has stopped fishing being traded off, as it has so often been before, in pursuit of other objectives.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will pardon us if, as Members who represent fishing constituencies, we look for a time when it will not require the imminence of political defeat in the House of Commons to concentrate the Government's mind on the fishing industry. We want a Government who concentrate on fishing full time, all the time. In my opinion, that means a Scottish Government.

Photo of Mr David Porter Mr David Porter , Waveney 8:59 pm, 16th December 1996

Every year, we have this pre-quota debate on fisheries, and every year we face huge cuts in the quota, the fleet or both. Every year the Minister, like his predecessors, goes off to Europe and returns waving a piece of paper and saying, "The cuts are less than first thought: that must be a triumph." Every year, in spite of and because of this ritual, the fleet gets smaller and the job gets harder.

Visitors to Lowestoft fish market are often shocked at the low level of activity when they have heard from people who recall walking from deck to deck across the harbour not so many years ago. The fishing boats were wedged in because there were so many of them. Anyone who looks at what is happening is shocked. Even those of us who have watched it happening are shocked at what has been done. The industry has not been calling wolf all these years. The warnings have been sounded and now we really are at the point of no return in so many aspects of fishing.

It is bad enough that coastal communities are being devastated, but the biggest tragedy of all is that fishing, managed properly, is a renewable resource. If gas, oil or coal is harvested to extinction, that is it and everybody understands that, but if fishing is wiped out, it is a failure of the regime that regulates it. The CFP and all that is done in its name is that regime. It is a monument to the nightmare world of bureaucracy where, in pursuit of a misguided ideal of a common European policy for something as diverse and varied as the whole European fishery, a British industry is in danger of being sacrificed. Everything comes back to that policy.

If cuts and restrictions to save the industry were being presented now as a make-or-break deal, the industry would accept them. It might have accepted this year's proposed cuts—for example, 48 per cent. in North sea sole against the background of the best sole fishery in living memory. However, cuts happen every year; there are more cuts every year because the previous year's cuts have failed.

I am encouraged—vindicated even—to find that no one now defends the CFP, although not enough people are yet arguing for our removal from it. As has been said, and as needs to be said again and again, the CFP is flawed from top to bottom. There is no incentive in it to conserve and manage the renewable resource because any savings in catch effort go back into the pool for the greedy Mediterranean fishermen to grab. There is the added problem in terms of conservation, which was mentioned earlier, of discarding dead fish over and above quota. Can there be a more bizarre, crazy and ludicrous political idea than the CFP, which does the precise opposite of what is intended?

Every year, more and more people are waking up to this madness. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has said, fishing has risen up the political agenda. This year, the Government have given almost a full day to the debate, which is very welcome. Every year, the media get into a frenzy about the chances of the Government being defeated. Last year, the Government were defeated; I abstained on that occasion, although I had voted against the Government previously.

The point is that defeat made no difference. The Minister still went off to Europe, still spent a weekend arguing with our alleged partners and still came back with permission to catch fewer British fish than before. If the Government are defeated tonight, it will again make no difference at all. The Minister will still go off and the 1997 quotas will still be set. Tonight I shall vote with the Government: the time to vote against is afterwards, when the Minister comes back with a deal that is too poor to accept.

Furthermore—[Interruption.] Labour Front-Bench Members laugh. Furthermore, to vote against the Government means voting with the Opposition, and their views on fisheries policy are muddled at best, as we heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang). I cannot stomach voting tonight with a party that has said that it will never be isolated in Europe and whose leader has ruled out leaving the CFP.

In addition, my hon. Friend the Minister has made a lot of the right noises. He has visited and made himself available to the industry around the country. He has understood the essential problems of trying to run an industry by agreement with other countries whose market tastes, cultural attitudes to rules and political agendas are all totally alien to ours.

The Minister has talked about and promised action on quota hoppers and he is looking at the regional management of separate waters. A dose of benefit of the doubt is due in the Division Lobby tonight. However, the Minister knows, as we all know, that talk of the reform of the CFP and of there being no IGC agreement until details such as quota hoppers and flagship piracy are sorted may be a further part of the con.

The future after the year 2002 is surely already settled. The treaties and regulations now in place and those that will be enforced if no new deals are stitched up in or before 2002 can be amended only by unanimous agreement. Only a fool would pretend that some European Union member states will vote away their only justification for access to our waters. Even under qualified majority voting, they can hold us to a policy which, increasingly, is in their interests.

If and when more countries enter the bizarre lunacy of the European Union for no other reason than that they will get something out of it at our expense, our position will become worse. We shall have little or no fishing grounds as large fleets are allowed access in return for a slice of equal access to the common resource, which appears to be open to every Tom, Dick and Harry except, of course, the British.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) referred to the European Union special fishing permit. It is based on the 1976 article setting out the CFP, which introduced the repulsive Soviet-style principle of equal access to a common resource. It gives Brussels ultimate power to control numbers of vessels, fishing times, catches and mesh and gear sizes and types. It also sets out fines, including seizure and withdrawal of permits.

The Commission tried to introduce the permit system during the negotiations on Spanish accession to the EU, but it was opposed. When Finland and Sweden joined, they were obliged to sign a treaty to the effect that access arrangements would apply for a transitional period ending by the date of implementation of the Community fishing permit system—not later than 31 December 2002. Treaties must be agreed unanimously, so all Governments of member states knew about the permit system and agreed to it. That leads me to ask whether talk of reform is a cover and whether a single Brussels-controlled fleet has not already been agreed for 2002 or 2003.

I wish my hon. Friend the Minister luck at the Council of Ministers meeting. Let him go to Europe and argue for the British fishing industry, which he knows is in a bad way. Let him go, knowing that that industry could have a bright future with good, lasting jobs and a steady supply of wholesome food. However, if he cuts the quotas or reduces the fleet at Lowestoft any further through the ludicrous decommissioning scheme, which compensates boat owners but not those who are put on the dole when the boats are scrapped, or if the cuts are greater than those of previous years, there will be no fishing left. At Lowestoft, a 40 per cent. cut could mean a 100 per cent. cut because the remaining 60 per cent. would not be viable.

If my hon. Friend has to come back with a deal that includes cuts, he should not come back. If he has to sell us out to get a deal, he should not come back. Our European partners need us more than we need them. We are answerable to the people of the United Kingdom and not the European Union.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 9:06 pm, 16th December 1996

When I first saw today's Order Paper, I was greatly cheered. We all thought that we would have a full day's debate, but when we arrived here, we realised that there were two long statements. No less than one hour and 55 minutes disappeared, so we have ended up with little more than the half day that we had last year for one of the most important debates of the year on a topic that is vital to the welfare of fishing communities throughout the United Kingdom. That is not acceptable. We really need a full day's debate, so that those of us who speak at the tail end of the debate can expand on the issues before us. We all have problems to relate, and if the debate were longer, no doubt other hon. Members would contribute to it.

Reference has been made to quota hopping. When we first entered the quota system, I wonder why nobody had the wit to ring-fence fish quotas in the same way as we ring-fence milk quotas and sheep quotas—which are distributed among the four countries of the United Kingdom and, for sheep, between lowland and upland flocks. If that had been done, we would not be facing the current problems with quota hopping. We are in our current predicament simply because there was not enough forethought when we put our name to the policy in the past.

When I examine the position in Northern Ireland, I am absolutely astonished to find that the Northern Ireland quota has reduced while that of the Irish Republic has increased. In last year's debate, the Minister said: I assure hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies that I shall be pressing the Fisheries Council for increases in the quotas proposed for the Irish sea. We fully appreciate the concerns of the Northern Irish industry about the Hague preference and of course we shall continue to seek to reduce the disadvantage to Northern Ireland resulting from the Hague preference"— which, of course, has the opposite effect on Scotland— by carrying out international quota swaps."—[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1398–99.] However, that never materialised.

I was told by the Minister in a letter on 12 December: These frustrations arise not because of the action by the UK in applying Hague Preference, but because of the approach taken by the Republic and I will be taking this up again with the Irish Minister at the December Fisheries Council. I hope that he will take it up with a great deal more success this year than was the case last year, when we got nowt, which was not much help to the fishermen in Northern Ireland.

We are all disappointed that the swaps that the Minister promised last year did not materialise. Towards the end of the fishing season, we pretty well ran out of whiting. Some were eventually procured from elsewhere, but that had more to do with good fortune than with Government action.

Although I welcome the Minister's remarks today about the Hague preference and revisiting, more needs to be done than that. Inequities must be resolved, but not at the expense of Scottish fishermen. Many communities in Scotland depend on fishing and would disappear if it is not kept up to scratch. Similarly, there are communities in Northern Ireland that are entirely dependent on fishing. We must realise that there is no alternative for those folk.

It would be a great blessing and enlightenment to us all if the Hague preference was published, as well as the appendices to it which, I believe, were never signed. We should all like to read them and see what we signed up to, or put our hand to.

The fish stocks of cod, herring, whiting and haddock in the Irish sea are in good shape or better. In the case of cod, there has been a reduction in fishing effort, which might account for the decrease in landings. Herring and whiting stocks seem to fishermen to be adequate; fishermen and scientists are often at variance. Whiting stocks, like those in the west of Scotland, are combined with other fish. Many of us cannot understand why that should be so. They should be treated as a distinct fishery, which they are.

At one time, haddock were scarce in the Irish sea. There is now a haddock stock off the coast of Down, and there is evidence that they are spawning there. I hope that that reflects the attitude of the Northern Ireland fishermen towards conservation, and the gear that they use. Those fish, however, are not being caught; we are not allowed to catch them, because area VIIa of the Irish sea is part of the larger area VII, which extends far beyond the confines of the Irish sea. Although haddock are scarce in the overall area, they are locally abundant. Surely it is time that we considered carefully a more localised fishing policy to deal with the changes over the years in the abundance or scarcity of particular species of fish.

Scientists often seem to get matters wrong. Would it not be a good idea for them to go out on the fishing boats, so that they could see what the fishermen are catching, and whether fish are abundant or scarce, rather than the scientists being taken round once or twice a year to take quick samples here and there? In theory, that could be accurate, but to be sure of accuracy, scientists should make many more stops than they can under the present system. If they were out on the boats, as they used to be, we would have a more accurate idea of stocks.

There is one topic concerning fishermen that has not been mentioned: the way in which the jobseeker's allowance impacts on fishermen. I hope that the Minister will take up the matter with the Secretary of State for Social Security. The JSA is not designed for the fishermen's life style. The scheme is for people who are out of work, but fishermen are not out of work. Their work is simply intermittent, and their working days are not foreseeable. When they go into the local office to make a claim, they are told that they can have an appointment in a couple of weeks' time. In two weeks' time, they might be fishing and they cannot go. It is an important matter, and I hope that the Minister will undertake to do something about it.

We have heard much about the Government's demerits. We have heard remarkably little about the Opposition's policy, and rather more about their hopes. As the real debate will take place in a month or six weeks, it might be as well to see the outcome of that before we make up our mind on our attitude to the Government.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge 9:14 pm, 16th December 1996

In view of the shortness of time, I thought that I would have to resort to the formula of saying that I would not be able to follow what the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said and the way in which he said it, but he touched on the Opposition's policy, and, as they were unable to say anything about it, it seemed only fair, in the spirit of bipartisanship, to comment on it, and perhaps help out the hon. Gentleman.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have either sparingly deposited or positively heaped praised on my hon. Friend the Minister of State, for the way in which he has performed over the past year, which is entirely right. What he has achieved has been quite remarkable. I have certainly noticed a difference in the perception and understanding of fishermen who have spoken to me of what the Government are trying to do for them.

The unhappiness that always underpins fisheries debates underpins the debate again today. The problem is that the Minister can swim only in the water in which he finds himself. The water in which he is swimming at the moment is that of the common fisheries policy. At first sight, it is easy to say that the CFP is dreadful, we should get out of it and some other policy out there would be so much better. I do not think that that is easy to say. The CFP is only a symptom of something that is very bad indeed; it is telling us something about the European Community's very nature.

It is all too easy to deride people with views such as mine and say, "Hang on a second. What you are really talking about is withdrawing from the European Community." I am proposing no such thing. There is no question of our being able to withdraw from Europe—a million war dead from two world wars testify to the fact that the fate of the Government and the country is inextricably tied up with Europe. The argument is about not whether we pull out of Europe, but the terms on which we participate in Europe.

Among other things, the debate illustrates that, after 25 years in Europe on the terms that we have had—and have—in Europe, we must ask ourselves whether they are the right terms for our continuing participation in Europe. It seems to me that they are not. One has only to look at the CFP and the circumstances in which the Minister must try to defend British interests to know that this business of the European Union as it is now constructed simply cannot go on. I hope that one day—not tonight, but perhaps some time in the not too distant future—the British Government will say to the EU, "You have aspirations about your destiny and a desire for political union and federation that make perfect and honourable sense, given your history, but they are not for us."

We have to find a relationship with Europe that makes us good Europeans—I perhaps speak just for myself—instead of bad Europeans. We cannot for ever keep on asking our so-called partners in Europe to do things our way when, universally, they want to do things their way. There will come a point when we shall have to ask our European partners, "What can we honestly and genuinely agree and co-operate on?" In my judgment, we shall agree on a trading arrangement, which will carry with it a number of features. Those features will include taking back our own destiny, making our own decisions, taking back our territorial waters and rejecting for ever the concept that, in some way, our resources are a common EU resource.

Although I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on their excellent attitude over the past year and although I have been heartened by what they have said about quota hopping, to which I shall return, I have to strike a sombre note. There is a limit to what they can do in Europe with a common fisheries policy while we are hobbled to the EU in such a way.

If time allowed, I would go through all the aspects that have been raised by my local fishing people throughout the year and set out what they would ideally like. In order that my hon. Friend the Minister takes note, I should simply mention that the total allowable catch of monkfish is of particular concern in the west country.

On quota hopping, one has only to look at the figures supplied by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to realise what an outrage is being perpetrated on fishing people at the moment. The Dutch hold 44 per cent. of the UK's plaice quota and 20 per cent. of the UK's sole quota. The Spanish—for crying out loud—hold 46 per cent. of the UK's hake quota, 35 per cent. of our megrim quota and 29 per cent. of our monkfish quota. Those figures, and the situations that they represent, must stop.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

Does my hon. Friend, who is my neighbour in Devon, agree that quota hopping is precisely the issue at the heart of all the complaints that we receive from fishermen in the south-west? Does he also agree that that has been recognised by the Government in their refusal to sign any further Maastricht treaty without having reached an accommodation on that crucial issue?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend is right. He is saying on the Floor of the House precisely what he and I have said to each other and on delegations to Ministers over many years. Quota hopping is the key point in the unsatisfactory nature of the current situation. Because we are locked into the European Union, to get some reform, we shall have to threaten to shake down the temple. That is essentially what Ministers are saying that they intend to do.

Inevitably, some people outside will say that politics is a matter of choice. Many people think that politics is a choice between the bad and the frightful; obviously I do not accept that. There must be people who are concerned about the fishing industry and have been watching this debate who have said, "What's on offer? There's going to be an election soon. Perhaps we should have a look at the other parties' policies."

It is completely in a spirit of friendship that I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) that his speech was truly frightful. I am glad that he has come back so as not to miss the words of praise that I am about to heap on him.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was frightful, not because he lacks forensic debating skills—I know from our past exchanges that he is endowed with those—but because he is too honest. It was impossible for him, with the brief that he had, to make a fist of supporting the proposition that the Labour party had anything constructive to say about its policy. Over and over again, he failed to talk about policy. Perfectly correctly, he refused to give way to me when I wanted to chide him about some of what he had said about Labour party policy in the past. He did not want to know, and he was perfectly right.

At one point, a look of horror spread over the hon. Gentleman's face and he asked what the Government were doing in 1991 and 1992. In 1992, the hon. Gentleman was fighting on a Labour manifesto that contained not a single word about the fishing industry. Not long afterwards, the European elections were fought. What did the Labour party say about fishing then? Absolutely nothing.

To be fair, even the Labour party can learn. It has now published a document called, "New Labour, New Life for Britain", which contains a statement about fish: it is one word shorter than the title of the document. It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman did not want to give way on his policy, because he does not have one that he can honestly state and, being the decent chap that he is, he was not prepared to pretend that he had.

The reality is that the hon. Gentleman is wedded hook, line and sinker to the common fisheries policy because he is a federalist. I do not know whether he genuinely believes in that and feels more comfortable as an arch-federalist in an arch-federalist party than he did in all the previous general elections that he fought as someone who wanted to come out of the Community, but the fact is that he is hooked, because Labour is in favour of a federal Europe, and policies such as the common fisheries policy are the inevitable consequence of that.

To try to attract people to the prospect of voting Labour because it might have a good fisheries policy, all that the hon. Gentleman can say is that he will put up with the status quo, that he will never be isolated in Europe and that he will abandon the veto. That is the sum total of the Labour party's policy on fishing. To put it as kindly as one can, that is not an attractive prospect.

The Liberal party will have a policy for every season. I tried to find out what the Liberal policy on fishing was. I was none the wiser for listening to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr, Wallace).

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

It is impressive to learn that the hon. Gentleman went away to find out for himself what Liberal policy was. Apparently, the Liberal Democrats believe in establishing a European fishing fleet managed by EU regional executives. That will terrify our partners in Europe about the desire and intent of the Liberal party to—

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

It is rubbish, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being prepared to admit that fact. What could one expect? The Liberal party does not have many principles that have not changed over the years, but the one principle of which it has always been in favour is a united states of Europe. After all, every Liberal parliamentary candidate will stick a commitment in his manifesto to the effect that, in any circumstances, the Liberals will opt for a European currency. What else on earth could one expect from a party that says that it has only one principle that matters to it—a united states of Europe? When a party has such a federalist agenda, it cannot possibly stand up for British fishermen.

What is the significance of tonight's vote? When our Ministers go to Europe to argue in the thoroughly unsatisfactory climate created by the common fisheries policy, it would be nice if they could argue with their opposite numbers and say, "Whatever else disunites us in the House of Commons, everyone is with us on this. We have certain irreducible demands." If the vote goes the wrong way, or, frankly, even if we win it narrowly, Ministers will be unable to say that. Out there, when my hon. Friends are negotiating with their opposite numbers in Europe, those European Ministers will have a sneaking suspicion that the Labour party does not have the resolve to stand up to them. They will say to themselves, "There is a general election coming along soon. Perhaps the Labour party will win. Well, we can see what the Labour party is like. It did not back the Government even on something such as this. We know that it will be a pushover." That is the problem we face.

It was put better than I can certainly put it by the Western Morning News, not a newspaper from which I am usually able to quote with approbation in the House. It is a stern critic, at times perhaps fairly so. It issued an editorial today under the heading, "Don't Sabotage Fishing Industry". It called for the industry to remain non-political and asked for unity in British interests. It said: Defeat would send the wrong signals to European leaders on this crucial issue—and weaken John Major's hand in fighting for a better deal for our fishermen. Ministers have said that they will stand up for the key issue that matters more than anything else to our fishing communities. They have said that they simply will not tolerate the continuance of the present practice of quota hopping. If we presented a united voice tonight, and if the Opposition said, "Whatever else disunites us, we will back the Government on this," what a marvellous bargaining position that would be for my hon. Friends. Instead, when my hon. Friends go to Europe next, they will be looking at their opposite numbers, who believe that a Labour victory is possible. They know that if that happens, they will have to do business with people who will ultimately sell this country's rights down the river. That is a pretty sombre prospect. That is why we should win the vote, and win the general election in six months' time.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe 9:26 pm, 16th December 1996

It is time to get back to reality after the fantasy world presented by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls).

It is true that this annual debate has had a higher profile in recent years than it had in the past. Of course that is not all to do with the fishing industry, but the narrow votes on the issue in the past couple of years have been far from damaging for the fishing industry. They have benefited it in all sorts of ways. The Minister offered us a grand tour of the fishing constituencies and uttered warm words about the Members who represent them. In fact, he uttered such words about Members who were not even here for the debate, including the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe).

In the past we have witnessed increases in decommissioning grants; the reinstatement of port improvement grants; and tonight we have been offered more promises of fish for the Ulster fishing fleets. It is not clear from the Minister's contribution, however, from where exactly the fish will come. Of course we are all delighted about an extra allocation for the Ulster fleets, or any other fleet, but we would appreciate some details about where those fish will come from and how the transfers will be made. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), will deal with that when he replies to the debate, because I am sure that I am not the only person who is curious about it.

I should also like the hon. Gentleman to deal with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and his hon. Friends about the Hague preference. Let me be absolutely straight and honest about it—it is important to start how we intend to go on in our future relationship. Of course, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) said, it was introduced by a Labour Minister. At the time it was welcomed by the industry because it gave the United Kingdom fishing industry an extra allocation of fish as a fallback when quotas were being pressed. In that respect it provided the industry with a safety net.

I have consistently argued that the Hague preference has its disadvantages, and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) may remember challenging me in Committee on this matter. At that time, I expressed concerns about the fact that the Hague preference operates against the interests of the Ulster fleet and some of the fleets from the east coast of England. As an hon. Member who represents a Humberside constituency, I understand the concerns of the Humber ports and the east coast fleet. But while recognising the disadvantages, the Labour party has always conceded that the Hague preference provides a safety net and we must look at the interests of the whole country. Having said that, we recognise that the calculations for the Hague preference are not working in the best interests of our country overall, and the Minister alluded to that. That is something that needs to be considered.

We have always argued in the past that, in terms of the quota round and TACs, the Minister should wherever possible argue for quotas that do not trigger the Hague preference because it can work against the Irish fleet. It can be a two-edged sword. In the longer term, we welcome the report from the working group on CFP reform, which has put forward some interesting arguments about more autonomy in coastal state management and regional management. That is very much in line with the approach that Labour has taken. We recognise the interests of the regions, and we aim to represent the interests of all the fleets and their own particular regional issues. We can look at that, but it must be debated in the context of the reform of the CFP.

The Government motion tonight is significant not for what it says, but for what it does not say. First, I wish to refer to the TAC details, some of which have been touched on in the debate. We have heard concerns about the details, and I know that the Minister is aware of the views of the industry on the matter. There is concern about the way in which the west coast cod and haddock quotas have been linked together to protect cod, as it is felt that the science—particularly on the west coast—is not as sound as it could be. I very much hope that the Minister will press the Commission on this point.

There has been a large cut in the whiting TAC in the Irish sea of 29 per cent. It seems difficult to justify a cut of that size, and I hope that the Minister will press that matter. There is a strong argument in favour of maintaining the North sea plaice TAC at the same level, and I am sure that the Minister is aware of that. There also has been a large cut in the sole quota, which will have severe effects on the fleet. We recognise that difficult decisions have to be made on the basis of good science, but I hope that that large cut can be justified.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I do not wish to refer to the Hague preference, as the hon. Gentleman knows my views on it. Does he take on board the view of a number of Members of other parties that it would have been useful and constructive if the other six Opposition parties had seen the Labour amendment and had had an opportunity to contribute some ideas to it?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

As a general principle, I believe in that, but the hon. Gentleman may not know that the Government did not table their motion until last Friday. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) only had last Friday to formulate an amendment, which had to be tabled then for today's debate. It was not possible in that time to contact other parties, but it is something to bear in mind for the future.

I very much welcome the fact that the industry has questioned why there should not be a cut in the TAC for sprats. If there has been a cut in the TAC for herring, it follows that there is some logic in reducing the sprat quota. That is also linked with the argument about industrial fishing in the North sea—the one issue on which there has been almost unanimous agreement tonight. Along with Members from all parties, I attended the launch of a report supported by Unilever which identified the problems of the impact of industrial fishing on the biomass in the North sea, and on the relationship between sand-eels as a prey item for commercial fish and marine mammals and marine birds.

The Minister mentioned the possibility of TACs on sand-eels and that is welcome, but the provisional figures that I have seen suggest that those TACs would be very high indeed and I am not sure that they would significantly reduce the impact of industrial fishery. It would be more logical to follow the report's recommendation, which is closing certain areas to industrial fishing on a precautionary principle. I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic thought to that proposal.

Other quotas need careful examination and, in addition, there is the issue of so-called banking and borrowing, with which the Minister will be familiar. The United Kingdom and its fishing industry have a good record on quota utilisation and the provisions on banking and borrowing should be kept to a minimum.

Apart from the TAC-related concerns, the Council of Ministers still has unfinished business in respect of multi-annual guidance programme IV, which has been mentioned tonight. We have yet to hear the Government's response to the report of the common fisheries policy review group and it would be useful if the Minister were to indicate when the Government intend to reply to that report. I congratulate those involved in the group, because their report was useful and took forward the debate on fisheries management. The Minister touched on the issue of technical conservation and the Commission's proposals and I share some of the concerns that he expressed. Finally, one of the most divisive issues is that of flagships, and a constant theme in tonight's debate has been how that problem can be dealt with. We believe that we can approach many of those difficulties within the context of a European fisheries management framework.

I agree with the Minister's comments in respect of the Guernsey dispute—a dispute relating to a country that is not within the common fisheries policy, which needs to be resolved through bilateral negotiations and agreements. With my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) I met the Guernsey fishermen to discuss the problem. The United Kingdom clearly has an interest and, although the Home Office is the lead Department in this matter, I hope that the Minister will look at the way in which the rules covering French territorial waters up to the 12-mile limit apply to the sort of trawlers that are banned from operating with the French 12-mile limit, but that are operating within the Guernsey island 12-mile limit. It does not seem unreasonable that the rules applicable in French waters should also apply within Guernsey waters.

Tonight's vote is not only about what is on the Order Paper, but about the fact that, for all the Government's fine words, nothing has been achieved on the flagship issue in the past 15 years. One attempt was made in 1988, but little has been done since. In terms of the motion, nothing has changed since last year—the Government have won no concessions on the flagship issue. I know that some hon. Members voted against last year's motion on a point of principle and I respect that, but there is no reason why they should turn around this year and embrace the motion tonight. Nothing has been gained for the industry and the same problems persist.

The Government have talked tough, but they talked tough about Spanish accession and that was conceded in the end. The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) called on the Labour party to use the veto in the intergovernmental conference, but there are legitimate questions to be asked, such as whether protocol changes in the intergovernmental conference are the best or most appropriate way of dealing with the flagship issue. If it is possible to deal with the issue of flagships in the IGC, will the Minister tell us whether that will apply only to ships that come on to the register in future, or whether it can be made to apply retrospectively to those ships that are currently on the register? That is the pressing issue. Other member states may legitimately ask why, if the issue is so crucial to the UK, the Government did not make more of it when the common fisheries policy went through its mid-term review.

I give the hon. Member for Bridlington an undertaking. A future Labour Government will explore all appropriate ways—not only the IGC—to resolve the flagship issue and issues such as the six and 12-mile limits, which to us are non-negotiable, and more autonomy for coastal state nations within the CFP.

The hon. Member for Bridlington should not have had to ask, because no issue that we discussed tonight will be resolved until after the next general election. In that respect, all those problems are being left for a Labour Government to resolve. That is why, after 17 years, the Government are talking tough. It is easy to make all sorts of claims and promises before an election, knowing that those issues will not be dealt with. I know the underlying agenda.

A year from now, there will be a Labour Minister at the Dispatch Box and Conservative Members will be asking about those issues and drawing them to the Minister's attention. A year from now, I will remind them of that.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South 9:40 pm, 16th December 1996

Tonight's debate was sometimes lively, sometimes thoughtful and sometimes very unthoughtful. It was made notable by the contributions and valedictory speeches on fisheries matters by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). They both said that, next year, when the fisheries debate takes place, for the first time for many years neither of them will be here. I say on behalf of the House that the annual debate will be the poorer, because no one doubts their commitment to fighting their constituents' corner. I will be here next year, however, replying to the debate.

Regrettably, for the second year in succession, no member of the shadow Scottish Office team bothered to take part in the debate. This year, no member of the shadow Scottish Office team even signed the motion standing in the name of the official Opposition. We may draw two possible conclusions: either that the members of the team could not be bothered or that they do not agree with the motion tabled in the name of the Opposition and might join the Government in the Lobby tonight. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), the shadow Scottish Secretary, did not even bother to attend the debate.

I hope to allay some of the fears that were expressed. We are all aware of the uncertainty of many fishermen about the future of their industry. Many of them feel threatened, for example by the growing interest of environmental bodies, by regulation from Brussels and by unfair competition. In the past year I have been at particular pains, therefore, to travel round Scotland to hear the industry's concerns at first hand. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), have done likewise.

I hope that I have been able to act as an honest and accurate observer. I say that because, not only do I have the privilege of representing the considerable Scottish interest in the UK industry, but I have a personal interest because of the key role that fishing plays in my constituency.

When we focus on the problems of the sea fishing industry, we tend to forget that the industry remains viable and profitable. It continues to provide opportunities and rewards. The income of the whole fleet is up by 7 per cent. at a time when the Government have achieved historically low inflation, and that income has been shared among fewer boats.

If we are to safeguard that viability, we must acknowledge that the sea's natural resources are finite. The industry has changed significantly in recent years. The greater capacity of vessels to fish for longer periods, during the worst weather, over a greater sea area, using new electronic aids, means that we run the constant risk of taking too many fish out of the sea. If we put at risk the ability of some species to reproduce, we shall all be poorer.

In the debate, the Hague preference was mentioned by the hon. Members for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and—repeatedly—by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). The EU has consistently recognised the need to sustain communities that depend heavily on fishing. That is why the system of Hague preferences allows the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to secure a higher share of certain fish stocks when the total allowable catches fall below a certain threshold. By invoking the Hague preference, the UK can increase its share of selected quotas. For others, the UK needs to invoke the Hague preference to offset in part the impact of the Irish Republic's use of the Hague preference.

We recognise that it is unfortunate that the Hague preference mechanisms can work to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland fishermen as a result of the Irish Republic's use of them to gain extra quotas. That is why we have always made clear our readiness to engage in international swaps in order to help fishermen in the Province, recognising that they too are in an area of particular dependence.

We shall continue to invoke the Hague preference when it is in the United Kingdom's interest to do so, but we shall also seek to mitigate any disadvantage that Northern Ireland fishermen might suffer as a result of Irish invocation. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said when he opened the debate, it is surely right, now that the United Kingdom is no longer a net beneficiary of the Hague preference, for us to review the whole system—away from this debate and away from the Council—early in the new year. At this morning's meeting, the industry accepted that.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Given the new policy on the Hague preference that the Minister has enunciated this evening, can he give a guarantee that, as a result of any review, Scottish fishermen's entitlement will not be disadvantaged by the Government's new approach?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

Throughout the debate, the hon. Gentleman has displayed a singular lack of knowledge—indeed, complete ignorance—of what the Hague preference means. Throughout the debate, for his own party-political reasons, he has tried to put Scottish fishermen at the throats of Northern Ireland fishermen. When we invoke the Hague preference to the benefit of Scottish fishermen, in no way does it affect the Northern Ireland catch; only when the Republic invokes it is Northern Ireland affected.

The hon. Gentleman is making speeches all over Scotland comparing Scotland to the Republic, and saying that he would like Scotland to be another Republic of Ireland. We wondered what he meant by that, but now we know what he means: he wants to put Scottish fishermen at the throats of their Northern Ireland counterparts. That is not what the Hague preference is all about, and the hon. Gentleman should wake up to the reality.

The questions of the multi-annual guidance programme and quota-hopping have featured throughout the debate, and rightly so. Earlier this year, the Commission presented its proposals for a new set of medium-term targets to reduce fishing effort—the so-called MAGP. We expect to have a further discussion about those proposals in the Council later this week. While there should be no doubt that some further cut in fishing effort is necessary, the Commission's proposed cuts in fleet capacity go far beyond what member states consider reasonable or practical. Along with other member states, we have therefore been instrumental in pushing for the development of alternative approaches.

Let me repeat the assurances given earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. What we are not prepared to do is run down the genuine United Kingdom fleet so that foreign interlopers can snap up UK quotas that are there for the benefit of our coastal communities. It cannot be right that vessels fishing against UK quotas, flying the Union flag, hardly ever land at UK ports.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill , Ludlow

Will my hon. Friend give the House a categorical assurance that, unless a satisfactory agreement is reached on quota-hopping, Her Majesty's Government will veto the proposed treaty at the intergovernmental conference?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I think that I can best answer my hon. Friend by quoting from the interview given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the BBC's "On the Record" yesterday. My right hon. and learned Friend was asked: It is not a case of speculating, is it? We know that there are some things that you will insist on getting out of that. He answered: That we have made absolutely clear. For example, we believe the social chapter should not be introduced by the back door—that is something on which the Prime Minister has made our position very clear; we have to look out for the interests of our fishing communities who have been gravely damaged by the way in which the quota-hopping phenomena have been distorted very much to our disadvantage. These are two clear examples which are fundamental to our objectives in the negotiation. My right hon. and learned Friend was further asked: And there will be no deal unless they go along with us on those issues? That is absolutely clear, is it? He replied: Yes. We have made it very clear. At the end of the day, the intergovernmental conference reaches a successful conclusion when all the member states are content with the outcome. We have indicated we will not be satisfied with an outcome that does not address … the two points I have just raised. I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) the categorical assurance that he seeks. We have told our European partners that this is a totally unsatisfactory state of affairs.

We shall resolve the problem of quota hoppers and we proposed a solution at the intergovernmental conference. As I have said, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear over the weekend that the Government attach a high priority to that in the IGC. There can be no question of an agreement at Amsterdam without the issue of quota hoppers being addressed. In the mean time, we have made it crystal clear that we cannot contemplate imposing further compulsory fleet cuts on genuine UK fishermen. I give the House the absolute assurance that we remain firm in our resolve to tackle that problem.

My hon. Friends the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) raised the issue of the six and 12-mile limits. I noted carefully their comments about our rights to inshore waters. I remind them that when my right hon. Friend the Minister opened the debate he said that we had made it clear that for us the six and 12-mile limits are and will remain non-negotiable and that any interference with those limits was unacceptable. He described them as an essential derogation from the equal access provisions of the common fisheries policy. That derogation was conceded in 1972 and it is our firm intention to establish those restrictions definitively. In that sense we would not be prepared to accept any move to end them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) inquired about the safety group. The Government attach great importance to safety, which is a matter for the Department of Transport's Marine Safety Agency. I understand that discussions about the future organisation of the group are still taking place and I hope that they will soon reach a satisfactory conclusion. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall make sure that his concerns are passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington and for Ludlow asked what was happening off Guernsey. It has been suggested that in some way the Government have abandoned Guernsey and its fishermen to pursue wider interests with France. That is untrue and in some ways misrepresents the efforts that are being made by Guernsey, the Government and France to reach a long-term solution. Both Guernsey and France are committed to act in moderation and have stressed the importance of reducing tension in the area. I understand that that constructive approach prevails and I welcome that development. The Royal Navy has been close to the area in dispute during the past week, and I assure the House that Royal Navy protection vessels will continue on standby should circumstances require it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington raised the issue of discards. I think we all agree that discarding fish is a terrible waste. We are concerned about how to tackle the problem, and that is one of the main reasons for the Government's decision to set up the fisheries conservation group. We shall pursue the conclusions of the group in respect of a range of conservation measures.

The issue of total allowable catches and quotas rightly featured prominently in the debate. The setting of TACs and quotas is always contentious and fishermen rightly see them as among the main constraints on the freedom to fish. Some regard them as a necessary evil while others think that they are completely unnecessary. However, they are happy to see increases from one year to the next and understandably dismayed when scientists recommend prudent reductions.

I do not adhere to the rather gloomy view that a reduction in one or other TAC necessarily renders fishing uneconomic. In practice, when fish are in short supply price increases can compensate for a reduction in volume, although the position varies from fishery to fishery. For example, following cuts in their TACs, this year's prices for mackerel and herring increased sharply from about £200 to more than £600 a tonne for good quality mackerel. Later this week the Fisheries Council will meet in Brussels to set a TAC for next year for stocks that we share with other member states. I do not expect that to be straightforward.

There have been representations about particular TACs and I shall seek to adjust the Commissioner's proposals where that is justified. We have already signalled to our European partners the importance that we attach to securing a range of increases on the Commissioner's proposals for white fish TACs around our coastline as well as for Irish sea herring. I am keen to maintain pressure to reduce by-catches of juvenile herring in the North sea, not least by setting a responsible TAC for North sea sprat. We shall be doing our utmost to secure an outcome that is in the UK fishing industry's best interests. This morning, my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I had a useful meeting with the UK industry and it was noticeable and heartening that its priorities and our priorities coincided almost identically. My hon. Friend and I have taken careful note of the views expressed by hon. Members today and, obviously, we will keep in close touch with fishermen's representatives before and during the Council on Thursday.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) raised the question of farm salmon. He knows that the Government are committed to the Scottish salmon farming industry, which makes an important contribution to the economy of the highlands and island of Scotland and to his constituency in particular. In view of the difficulties that have beset that sector in the past, I have been working with the Scottish industry to try to avoid further market disruption.

That has had one important positive result. Earlier this year, the Norwegian Government were persuaded to introduce feed quotas, which have reduced substantially salmon production in Norway, but, despite those measures, the salmon market has been depressed for more than a year, with the average market price for quality salmon having fallen by some 15 per cent. since last December.

Our industry's concern over competition in the European Union market has been such that the Government encouraged the Scottish Salmon Growers Association to submit an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy complaint to the EU. If convincing evidence comes to light from the Commission's investigation of those complaints, I have assured the industry of the Government's wholehearted backing.

I had hoped that the Norwegian Government's feed restrictions would lead to a recovery in the latter part of this year, but that failed to materialise, so the Government formally requested that minimum import prices for a limited period were reintroduced. Despite efforts to persuade Commissioner Bonino of the case for such temporary action, that request has been rejected.

I am appalled by such insensitive treatment of the industry and of the entire highlands and islands of Scotland, which the Commission recognises as an area of particular need. Mrs. Bonino told me that the European market for salmon had been stable in recent months, if prices were monitored in ecu, but she fails to realise that our salmon farmers are paid not in ecu, but in sterling.

Over the weekend at the Dublin summit, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear to President Santer the Government's dissatisfaction about the handling of the UK request. He has asked President Santer to take a personal interest in the matter, which we expected would have been considered by the College of Commissioners as a whole. At the Fisheries Council this week, I shall repeat that concern and I look to the Commission to recognise that Scottish producers are entitled to some safeguards while their complaints about dumping and subsidies are investigated.

We have had a useful debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have listened to various concerns—[interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The House must come to order. I can barely hear the Minister.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

My hon. Friend and I have listened to the various concerns that have been expressed and we will consider those further before Thursday's Council. Our basic aim for the Council on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday if necessary, is simple enough. It is to achieve the best deal possible for our fishermen, having regard both to their immediate and to their longer-term needs. Our primary concern in the debate has been to focus on the practical problems facing our fishermen, to show what action we have taken and what further actions we have in hand to protect the long-term interests of this great industry.

There are no simple quick solutions, no panaceas to these problems. I say to some of my hon. Friends who campaign for leaving the CFP that such an approach will be of no practical help to the fishermen whom we all seek to help. It will not solve any of the problems simply to draw new lines on the maps of our seas. Our fishermen are looking for their interests to be strongly and effectively represented at the Fisheries Council in Brussels. That is what my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I intend to do.

We recognise that our fishermen are looking for a fair deal on TACs and that Northern Ireland's fishermen are looking to be protected from the full impact of the Hague preference system. We know that our fishermen are not happy with the Commission's proposals for reducing fishing fleets—and certainly not with the erosion of UK quotas at the hands of quota hoppers.

Conservative Members are facing up to those problems. Not for us the playing of politics, using the livelihoods of Britain's fishermen in some tawdry little game that has nothing to do with fishing and everything to do with trying to embarrass the Government. We will have none of that. We will leave that to Opposition Members, but to treat one of our country's oldest and finest industries with such contempt is to the eternal shame of Opposition Members. We can represent the interests of fishermen more effectively if we go to Brussels with the wholehearted support of the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 305, Noes 316.

Division No. 30][9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeBenton, Joe
Adams, Mrs IreneBermingham, Gerald
Ainger, NickBerry, Roger
Allen, GrahamBetts, Clive
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Blair, Tony
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Blunkett, David
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBoateng, Paul
Ashton, JosephBoyes, Roland
Austin-Walker, JohnBradley, Keith
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Bray, Dr Jeremy
Barnes, HarryBrown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Barron, KevinBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Battle, JohnBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Bayley, HughBurden, Richard
Beckett, Mrs MargaretByers, Stephen
Beith, A JCaborn, Richard
Bell, StuartCallaghan, Jim
Benn, TonyCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bennett, Andrew FCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hain, Peter
Campbell-Savours, D NHall, Mike
Canavan, DennisHanson, David
Cann, JamieHardy, Peter
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Harman, Ms Harriet
Chidgey, DavidHarvey, Nick
Chisholm, MalcolmHattersley, Roy
Church, Ms JudithHenderson, Doug
Clapham, MichaelHendron, Dr Joe
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Heppell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHodge, Ms Margaret
Coffey, Ms AnnHoey, Kate
Cohen, HarryHogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Connarty, MichaelHome Robertson, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hood, Jimmy
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hoon, Geoffrey
Corbett, RobinHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Corbyn, JeremyHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corston, Ms JeanHowells, Dr Kim
Cousins, JimHoyle, Doug
Cox, TomHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, JohnHughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Dr JohnHume, John
Cunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)Hutton, John
Dafis, CynogIllsley, Eric
Dalyell, TamIngram, Adam
Darling, AlistairJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)
Davidson, IanJackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)Jamieson, David
Davies, Chris (Littleborough)Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Denham, JohnJones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)
Dewar, DonaldJones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)
Dixon, DonJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Dobson, FrankJowell, Ms Tessa
Donohoe, Brian HKaufman, Gerald
Dowd, JimKeen, Alan
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)
Eagle, Ms AngelaKennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)
Eastham, KenKhabra, Piara S
Ennis, JeffreyKilfoyle, Peter
Etherington, BillKirkwood, Archy
Evans, John (St Helens N)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Ewing, Mrs MargaretLewis, Terry
Fatchett, DerekLiddell, Mrs Helen
Faulds, AndrewLitherland, Robert
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Livingstone, Ken
Fisher, MarkLloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)
Flynn, PaulLlwyd, Elfyn
Foster, DerekLoyden, Eddie
Foster, Don (Bath)Lynne, Ms Liz
Foulkes, GeorgeMcAllion, John
Fraser, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Fyfe, Mrs MariaMcCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)
Galbraith, SamMcCartney, Robert (N Down)
Galloway, GeorgeMcCrea, Rev William
Gapes, MikeMacdonald, Calum
Garrett, JohnMcFall, John
George, BruceMcGrady, Eddie
Gerrard, NeilMcKelvey, William
Gilbert, Dr JohnMackinlay, Andrew
Godsiff, RogerMcLeish, Henry
Golding, Mrs LlinMaclennan, Robert
Gordon, Ms MildredMcMaster, Gordon
Graham, ThomasMcNamara, Kevin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Madden, Max
Grocott, BruceMaddock, Mrs Diana
Gunnell, JohnMahon, Mrs Alice
Mallon, SeamusRooney, Terry
Mandelson, PeterRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Marek, Dr JohnRowlands, Ted
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Ruddock, Ms Joan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Salmond, Alex
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)Sedgemore, Brian
Martlew, EricSheerman, Barry
Maxton, JohnSheldon, Robert
Meacher, MichaelShore, Peter
Meale, AlanShort, Clare
Michael, AlunSimpson, Alan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Skinner, Dennis
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Milburn, AlanSmith, Chris (Islington S)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Snape, Peter
Moonie, Dr LewisSoley, Clive
Morgan, RhodriSpearing, Nigel
Morley, ElliotSpellar, John
Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Steel, Sir David
Morris, John (Aberavon)Steinberg, Gerry
Mowlam, Ms MarjorieStevenson, George
Mudie, GeorgeStott, Roger
Mullin, ChrisStrang, Dr Gavin
Murphy, PaulStraw, Jack
Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Oakes, GordonTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
O'Hara, EdwardThumham, Peter
Olner, BillTimms, Stephen
O'Neill, MartinTipping, Paddy
Orme, StanleyTouhig, Don
Paisley, Rev IanTrickett, Jon
Parry, RobertTurner, Dennis
Pearson, IanTyler, Paul
Pendry, TomVaz, Keith
Pickthall, ColinWalker, Sir Harold
Pike, Peter LWallace, James
Pope, GregWalley, Ms Joan
Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)Wareing, Robert N
Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)Watson, Mike
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Welsh, Andrew
Prescott, JohnWicks, Malcolm
Primarolo, Ms DawnWigley, Dafydd
Purchase, KenWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Quin, Ms JoyceWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Radice, GilesWilson, Brian
Randall, StuartWinnick, David
Raynsford, NickWise, Mrs Audrey
Reid, Dr JohnWorthington, Tony
Rendel, DavidWray, Jimmy
Robertson, George (Hamilton)Wright, Dr Tony
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTellers for the Ayes:
Rogers, AllanMr. David Clelland and
Rooker, JeffMr. Robert Ainsworth.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)
Aitken, JonathanBaker, Nicholas (N Dorset)
Alexander, RichardBaldry, Tony
Alison, Michael (Selby)Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Amess, DavidBates, Michael
Ancram, MichaelBatiste, Spencer
Arbuthnot, JamesBellingham, Henry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bendall, Vivian
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel G)Beresford, Sir Paul
Ashby, DavidBiffen, John
Aspinwall, JackBody, Sir Richard
Atkins, RobertBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Booth, Hartley
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)French, Douglas
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFry, Sir Peter
Bowden, Sir AndrewGale, Roger
Bowis, JohnGallie, Phil
Boyson, Sir RhodesGardiner, Sir George
Brandreth, GylesGarel-Jones, Tristan
Brazier, JulianGarnier, Edward
Bright, Sir GrahamGill, Christopher
Brooke, PeterGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Goodlad, Alastair
Browning, Mrs AngelaGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Budgen, NicholasGrant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)
Burns, SimonGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burt, AlistairGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Butcher, JohnGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Butler, PeterGrylls, Sir Michael
Butterfill, JohnGummer, John
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Hague, William
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)Hamilton, Sir Archibald
Carrington, MatthewHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carttiss, MichaelHampson, Dr Keith
Cash, WilliamHanley, Jeremy
Channon, PaulHannam, Sir John
Chapman, Sir SydneyHargreaves, Andrew
Churchill, MrHarris, David
Clappison, JamesHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)Hawkins, Nick
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hawksley, Warren
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHayes, Jerry
Coe, SebastianHeald, Oliver
Colvin, MichaelHeath, Sir Edward
Congdon, DavidHeathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, DerekHendry, Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)Heseltine, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hicks, Sir Robert
Cope, Sir JohnHiggins, Sir Terence
Cormack, Sir PatrickHill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Couchman, JamesHogg, Douglas (Grantham)
Cran, JamesHoram, John
Critchley, Sir JulianHordern, Sir Peter
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHoward, Michael
Curry, DavidHowell, David (Guildf'd)
Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Day, StephenHunt, David (Wirral W)
Deva, Nirj JosephHunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)
Devlin, TimHunter, Andrew
Dorrell, StephenHurd, Douglas
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJack, Michael
Dover, DenJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Duncan, AlanJenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)
Duncan Smith, IainJessel, Toby
Dunn, BobJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Durant, Sir AnthonyJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dykes, HughJones, Robert B (W Herts)
Eggar, TimJopling, Michael
Elletson, HaroldKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Emery, Sir PeterKey, Robert
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)King, Tom
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Knapman, Roger
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Knight Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evennett, DavidKnight Greg (Derby N)
Faber, DavidKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fabricant, MichaelKnox, Sir David
Fenner, Dame PeggyKynoch, George
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fishburn, DudleyLamont, Norman
Forman, NigelLang, Ian
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Forth, EricLegg, Barry
Fowler, Sir NormanLeigh, Edward
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Freeman, RogerLidington, David
Lilley, PeterShaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lord, MichaelShephard, Mrs Gillian
Luff, PeterShepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Lyell, Sir NicholasShersby, Sir Michael
MacGregor, JohnSims, Sir Roger
MacKay, AndrewSkeet, Sir Trevor
Maclean, DavidSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickSmith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Madel, Sir DavidSoames, Nicholas
Maitland, Lady OlgaSpencer, Sir Derek
Major, JohnSpicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)
Malone, GeraldSpicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Mans, KeithSpink, Dr Robert
Marland, PaulSpring, Richard
Marlow, TonySproat, Iain
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Stanley, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Steen, Anthony
Mates, MichaelStephen, Michael
Mawhinney, Dr BrianStern, Michael
Mayhew, Sir PatrickStewart, Allan
Mellor, DavidStreeter, Gary
Merchant, PiersSumberg, David
Mills, IainSykes, John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Moate, Sir RogerTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Monro, Sir HectorTaylor, Sir Teddy
Montgomery, Sir FergusTemple-Morris, Peter
Moss, MalcolmThomason, Roy
Needham, RichardThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Nelson, AnthonyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Neubert, Sir MichaelThornton, Sir Malcolm
Newton, TonyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholls, PatrickTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Tracey, Richard
Norris, SteveTredinnick, David
Onslow, Sir CranleyTrend, Michael
Oppenheim, PhillipTrotter, Neville
Ottaway, RichardTwinn, Dr Ian
Page, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Paice, JamesViggers, Peter
Patnick, Sir IrvineWaldegrave, William
Patten, JohnWalden, George
Pattie, Sir GeoffreyWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Pawsey, JamesWaller, Gary
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWard, John
Pickles, EricWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Porter, DavidWaterson, Nigel
Portillo, MichaelWatts, John
Powell, William (Corby)Wells, Bowen
Rathbone, TimWheeler, Sir John
Redwood, JohnWhitney, Ray
Renton, TimWhittingdale, John
Richards, RodWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Riddick, GrahamWiggin, Sir Jerry
Rifkind, MalcolmWilkinson, John
Robathan, AndrewWilletts, David
Roberts, Sir WynWilshire, David
Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Roe, Mrs MarionWolfson, Mark
Rowe, AndrewYeo, Tim
Rumbold, Dame AngelaYoung, Sir George
Ryder, Richard
Sackville, TomTellers for the Noes:
Sainsbury, Sir TimothyMr. Timothy Wood and
Scott, Sir NicholasMr. Patrick McLoughlin.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 316, Noes 304.

Division No. 31][10.16 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Aitken, JonathanDavis, David (Boothferry)
Alexander, RichardDay, Stephen
Alison, Michael (Selby)Deva, Nirj Joseph
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Devlin, Tim
Amess, DavidDorrell, Stephen
Ancram, MichaelDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arbuthnot, JamesDover, Den
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Duncan, Alan
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel G)Duncan Smith, Iain
Ashby, DavidDunn, Bob
Aspinwall, JackDurant, Sir Anthony
Atkins, RobertDykes, Hugh
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Eggar, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Elletson, Harold
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V)Emery, Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Baldry, TonyEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bates, MichaelEvennett, David
Batiste, SpencerFaber, David
Bellingham, HenryFabricant, Michael
Bendall, VivianFenner, Dame Peggy
Beresford, Sir PaulReid, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Biffen, JohnFishburn, Dudley
Body, Sir RichardForman, Nigel
Bonsor, Sir NicholasForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Booth, HartleyForth, Eric
Boswell, TimFowler, Sir Norman
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bowden, Sir AndrewFreeman, Roger
Bowis, JohnFrench, Douglas
Boyson, Sir RhodesFry, Sir Peter
Brandreth, GylesGale, Roger
Brazier, JulianGallie, Phil
Bright, Sir GrahamGardiner, Sir George
Brooke, PeterGarel-Jones, Tristan
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes)Garnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs AngelaGill, Christopher
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Budgen, NicholasGoodlad, Alastair
Burns, SimonGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Burt, AlistairGorman, Mrs Teresa
Butcher, JohnGrant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)
Butler, PeterGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, JohnGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)Grylls, Sir Michael
Carrington, MatthewGummer, John
Carttiss, MichaelHague, William
Cash, WilliamHamilton, Sir Archibald
Channon, PaulHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Chapman, Sir SydneyHampson, Dr Keith
Churchill, MrHanley, Jeremy
Clappison, JamesHannam, Sir John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)Hargreaves, Andrew
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Harris, David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHaselhurst, Sir Alan
Coe, SebastianHawkins, Nick
Colvin, MichaelHawksley, Warren
Congdon, DavidHayes, Jerry
Conway, DerekHeald, Oliver
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)Heath, Sir Edward
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cope, Sir JohnHendry, Charles
Cormack, Sir PatrickHeseltine, Michael
Couchman, JamesHicks, Sir Robert
Cran, JamesHiggins, Sir Terence
Critchley, Sir JulianHill, Sir James (Southampton Test)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHogg, Douglas (Grantham)
Curry, DavidHoram, John
Hordern, Sir PeterOttaway, Richard
Howard, MichaelPage, Richard
Howell, David (Guildf'd)Paice, James
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Patten, John
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Pawsey, James
Hunter, AndrewPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hurd, DouglasPickles, Eric
Jack, MichaelPorter, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Portillo, Michael
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, TobyRathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRedwood, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Renton, Tim
Jones, Robert B (W Herts)Richards, Rod
Jopling, MichaelRiddick, Graham
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineRifkind, Malcolm
Key, RobertRobathan, Andrew
King, TomRoberts, Sir Wyn
Kirkhope, TimothyRobertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Knapman, RogerRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Roe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Rumbold, Dame Angela
Knox, Sir DavidRyder, Richard
Kynoch, GeorgeSackville, Tom
Lait, Mrs JacquiSainsbury, Sir Timothy
Lamont, NormanScott, Sir Nicholas
Lang, IanShaw, David (Dover)
Lawrence, Sir IvanShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Legg, BarryShephard, Mrs Gillian
Leigh, EdwardShepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkShersby, Sir Michael
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)Sims, Sir Roger
Lidington, DavidSkeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, PeterSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lord, MichaelSoames, Nicholas
Luff, PeterSpencer, Sir Derek
Lyell, Sir NicholasSpicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)
MacGregor, JohnSpicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, AndrewSpink, Dr Robert
Maclean, DavidSpring, Richard
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickSproat, Iain
Madel, Sir DavidSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Maitland, Lady OlgaStanley, Sir John
Major, JohnSteen, Anthony
Malone, GeraldStephen, Michael
Mans, KeithStem, Michael
Marland, PaulStewart, Allan
Marlow, TonyStreeter, Gary
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Sumberg, David
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Sykes, John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mates, MichaelTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Mayhew, Sir PatrickTaylor, Sir Teddy
Mellor, DavidTemple-Morris, Peter
Merchant, PiersThomason, Roy
Mills, IainThompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Thomton, Sir Malcolm
Moate, Sir RogerTownend, John (Bridlington)
Monro, Sir HectorTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Montgomery, Sir FergusTracey, Richard
Moss, MalcolmTredinnick, David
Needham, RichardTrend, Michael
Nelson, AnthonyTrotter, Neville
Neubert, Sir MichaelTwinn, Dr Ian
Newton, TonyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, PatrickViggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Waldegrave, William
Norris, SteveWalden, George
Onslow, Sir CranleyWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Oppenheim, PhillipWaller, Gary
Ward, JohnWilletts, David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)Wilshire, David
Waterson, NigelWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Watts, JohnWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Wells, BowenWolfson, Mark
Wheeler, Sir JohnYeo, Tim
Whitney, RayYoung, Sir George
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Miss AnnTellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, Sir JerryMr. Timothy Wood and
Wilkinson, JohnMr. Patrick McLoughlin.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeCunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Adams, Mrs IreneCunningham, Dr John
Ainger, NickCunningham, Ms R (Perth Kinross)
Allen, GrahamDafis, Cynog
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Dalyell, Tam
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Darling, Alistair
Armstrong, Ms HilaryDavidson, Ian
Ashton, JosephDavies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Austin-Walker, JohnDavies, Chris (Littleborough)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Barnes, HarryDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Barron, KevinDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Battle, JohnDenham, John
Bayley, HughDewar, Donald
Beckett, Mrs MargaretDixon, Don
Beith, A JDobson, Frank
Bell, StuartDonohoe, Brian H
Benn, TonyDowd, Jim
Bennett, Andrew FDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Benton, JoeEagle, Ms Angela
Bermingham, GeraldEastham, Ken
Berry, RogerEnnis, Jeffrey
Betts, CliveEtherington, Bill
Blair, TonyEvans, John (St Helens N)
Blunkett, DavidEwing, Mrs Margaret
Boateng, PaulFatchett, Derek
Boyes, RolandFaulds, Andrew
Bradley, KeithField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bray, Dr JeremyFisher, Mark
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Flynn, Paul
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Foster, Derek
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Foster, Don (Bath)
Burden, RichardFoulkes, George
Byers, StephenFraser, John
Caborn, RichardFyfe, Mrs Maria
Callaghan, JimGalbraith, Sam
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Galloway, George
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Garrett, John
Campbell-Savours, D NGeorge, Bruce
Canavan, DennisGerrard, Neil
Cann, JamieGilbert, Dr John
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Godsiff, Roger
Chidgey, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin
Chisholm, MalcolmGordon, Ms Mildred
Church, Ms JudithGraham, Thomas
Clapham, MichaelGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGunnell, John
Coffey, Ms AnnHain, Peter
Cohen, HarryHall, Mike
Connarty, MichaelHanson, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hardy, Peter
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Harman, Ms Harriet
Corbett, RobinHarvey, Nick
Corbyn, JeremyHattersley, Roy
Corston, Ms JeanHenderson, Doug
Cousins, JimHendron, Dr Joe
Cox, TomHeppell, John
Cummings, JohnHill, Keith (Streatham)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms MargaretMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hoey, KateMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)Milburn, Alan
Home Robertson, JohnMiller, Andrew
Hood, JimmyMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hoon, GeoffreyMoonie, Dr Lewis
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Morgan, Rhodri
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morley, Elliot
Howells, Dr KimMorris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hoyle, DougMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardey)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Morris, John (Aberavon)
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)Mowlam, Ms Marjorie
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Mudie, George
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Mullin, Chris
Hume, JohnMurphy, Paul
Hutton, JohnNicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Illsley, EricOakes, Gordon
Ingram, AdamO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)O'Hara, Edward
Jamieson, DavidOlner, Bill
Janner, GrevilleO'Neill, Martin
Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)Orme, Stanley
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)Paisley, Rev Ian
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môon)Parry, Robert
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pearson, Ian
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Pike, Peter L
Jowell, Ms TessaPope, Greg
Kaufman, GeraldPowell, Sr Raymond (Ogmore)
Keen, AlanPrentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen)Prescott, John
Khabra, Piara SPrimarolo, Ms Dawn
Kilfoyle, PeterPurchase, Ken
Kirkwood, ArchyQuin, Ms Joyce
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Radice, Giles
Lewis, TerryRaynsford, Nick
Liddell, Mrs HelenReid, Dr John
Litherland, RobertRendel, David
Livingstone, KenRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Llwyd, ElfynRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Loyden, EddieRoche, Mrs Barbara
Lynne, Ms LizRogers, Allan
McAllion, JohnRooker, Jeff
McAvoy, ThomasRooney, Terry
McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCartney, Robert (N Down)Rowlands, Ted
McCrea, Rev WilliamRuddock, Ms Joan
Macdonald, CalumSalmond, Alex
McFall, JohnSedgemore, Brian
McGrady, EddieSheerman, Barry
McKelvey, WilliamSheldon, Robert
Mackinlay, AndrewShore, Peter
McLeish, HenryShort, Clare
Maclennan, RobertSimpson, Alan
McMaster, GordonSkinner, Dennis
McNamara, KevinSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
MacShane, DenisSmith, Chris (Islington S)
McWilliam, JohnSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Madden, MaxSnape, Peter
Maddock, Mrs DianaSoley, Clive
Mahon, Mrs AliceSpearing, Nigel
Mallon, SeamusSpellar, John
Mandelson, PeterSquire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)
Marek, Dr JohnSteel, Sir David
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Steinberg, Gerry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Stevenson, George
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)Stott, Roger
Martlew, EricStrang, Dr Gavin
Maxton, JohnStraw, Jack
Meacher, MichaelSutcliffe, Gerry
Meale, AlanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michael, AlunTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)Wicks, Malcolm
Thumham, PeterWigley, Dafydd
Timms, StephenWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Tipping, PaddyWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Touhig, DonWilson, Brian
Trickett, JonWinnick, David
Turner, DennisWise, Mrs Audrey
Tyler, PaulWorthington, Tony
Vaz, KeithWray, Jimmy
Walker, Sir HaroldWright, Dr Tony
Wallace, JamesYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert NTellers for the Noes:
Watson, MikeMr. David Clelland and
Welsh, AndrewMr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That this House takes note of European Community Document COM(96)641 relating to the fixing of total allowable catches for 1997 and certain conditions under which they may be fished; and supports the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for British fishermen consistent with scientific advice and the need to sustain the stocks for the benefit of future generations of fishermen.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A rumour is spreading round Westminster that a car park pass in the name of an hon. Member is being used by someone else who is associated with the leadership of the official Opposition. Will you confirm that car park passes should be used only by those who are officially authorised to use them?