Interested parties have until 15 May to comment on the Government's proposals to establish a system of designated ports for landings of fish made by vessels over 20 m. We shall then consider the representations received before any final decisions are taken.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that in this, as in many other areas of European regulation, it is not so much the Commission's policy as the enforcement of policy by member states that is the real issue at stake? The present Government recognise that distinction. The previous Tory Government's failure to do so left them and the British fishing industry up the creek without a paddle.
My hon. Friend is right to say that, although we are pressing for stronger Europewide enforcement, we have a responsibility in our country to ensure that our fleets abide by the regulations. We have had difficulties on the black fish issue. The proposals on designated ports demonstrate that the Government intend to take the issue seriously.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In Fleetwood in my constituency, the idea of designated ports has been widely welcomed, but there is concern that the restrictions will apply to the British fleet, but not to European vessels fishing in the area. Can the Minister give cause for hope by reassuring me that the scheme may be extended to include foreign vessels?
My hon. Friend makes a very serious point. The creation of a system of designated ports is a national measure, taken by us as an individual member state, to deal with a national issue of enforcement. United Kingdom vessels are free to land abroad, as they always have been. However, we are pressing for increased and more effective Europewide fisheries enforcement, and we know that our proposals for designated ports are attracting the interest of other European member states. That measure may well be taken forward across the Community.
Will the Minister acknowledge the general unease in the fishing industry? Every problem in the fishing industry is answered with increasing bureaucracy, and there is a failure to tackle the industry's fundamental underlying problems, associated with the common fisheries policy and the drive to make British fishing waters part of a common resource, to be shared with all other nations on the basis of equal access.
We have debated common access previously, and the hon. Gentleman knows that, in our view, the principle of relative stability takes precedence over the issue of common access. On bureaucracy, unfortunately, in an industry where regulation is inescapable, and where there have been enforcement problems—problems within our own UK fleet—we must have regulations that are enforced fairly and properly.
Will my hon. Friend accept our assurances that the creation of a system of designated ports is an effective way in which to tackle the pressing problem of black fish? However, will he remember that it would be iniquitous if the hours of landing at those designated ports—of which Grimsby will be, I hope, the foremost and the prestige designated port—were restricted by the hours of work of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials? Fishermen need to be able to land whenever they have to, and if they are buffeted by weather and bound by very difficult conditions, they need the opportunity to land 24 hours a day.
I can confirm that Grimsby is one of the ports that has been designated. The hours of landing are designed to reflect traditional landing patterns in those ports and, I acknowledge, to ensure that sea fish inspectors are available when boats unload. However, consultation is continuing, and my hon. Friend's arguments can certainly be considered.