I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Union Document No. 2341/2002 of 20th December 2002, a Council Regulation fixing for 2003 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required;
European Union Document No. 2369/2002 of 20th December 2002, a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector;
European Union Document No. 2370/2002, a Council Regulation establishing an emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels;
European Union Document No. 2371/2002, a Council Regulation on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy;
and European Union Document No. 14886/2002, a Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on a Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish.
As I reported to the House in the pre-Fisheries Council debate on
In our previous debate, I set out the Government's objectives and our intended action against the background of scientific advice that the North sea should be closed to all fishing for cod-related stocks and the serious consequences of that advice for the fishing industry. I made it clear that total closure of the North sea, or an 80 per cent. reduction in fishing effort, which is frankly hardly different from total closure, or, indeed, the seven days a month limit were not acceptable and would simply destroy the infrastructure of the UK fishing industry. There would not be much point in introducing difficult and painful stock recovery programmes if there was no infrastructure left in the UK to benefit in future.
Those proposals were successfully resisted, but I have no illusions about the severe impact that the recovery proposals that were finally agreed will have on sections of our white fish fleet—I shall say more about that in a moment.
I apologise for not being able to stay for the whole debate because of commitments in Committee. As my hon. Friend knows, some hon. Members fought to get compensation for distant-water trawlers after the Government's action in the cod wars. What is he doing to ensure that fishing communities get compensation quickly if they lose their livelihood so that we do not have another 25-year fight for their rights?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Of course, there is a case for a support package for the fishing industry, and I shall say more about that later. I recognise that many fishing communities, including those in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, will be affected to a varying extent by the changes—we are not going to ignore that.
There are aspects of the three amendments tabled by Opposition parties with which I do not disagree. However, I find the Conservative amendment the most unreasonable. One issue raised by the amendments is the need to recognise the impact on fishing communities. We do recognise it, and take it seriously. I shall come to that in a moment.
When the Minister returned from the Fisheries Council blinking into the sunlight, he describe the package as Xa balanced outcome" and Xa turning point", whereas the Scottish Minister who was carrying his bags that week described it as Xinequitable, unfair and crude". Which was it?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make such points, but I can assure him that Ross Finnie was involved in every stage, every aspect and every detail of the negotiations that week. I very much appreciate his support and backing in an extremely difficult negotiation. I do not disagree with anything that Ross Finnie said in the Scottish Parliament about those discussions. If the hon. Gentleman listens to what I say in the debate, he will find that there are echoes of what Ross Finnie said.
I made it clear in discussions before the Council that I could not and would not ignore the scientific advice, which was serious, and that we had to respond to that advice in a credible and responsible way. Destroying fish stocks will, of course, also destroy the fishing industry. My approach was guided by the views of Members of the House and reports from the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, which considered the common fisheries policy and concluded that
Xthe manifest failure of the CFP during its first two decades has been in large measure due to lack of political will in the face of clear scientific advice."
I had to take that comment seriously. It was echoed by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am pleased to see that its Chairman, Mr. Curry, is present. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on the CFP stated that
Xthe state of some stocks, particularly that of North Sea cod, is so poor there can be no excuse for failing to act rapidly to reverse the declines."
The report continued:
XCourageous and decisive action is needed to safeguard both stocks and the fishing livelihoods that depend upon them."
I took those comments from the two all-party Select Committees very seriously.
The EU documentation makes it clear that discards—the throwing of dead fish back into the sea—is a massive problem. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish are needlessly wasted every year under that mad policy. Why did the Minister press not just for study and discussion but for immediate action to stop the scandal of killing all those small fish, throwing them back into the water and making no use of them?
We do want action, and we want it to be effective. That means identifying the problems. I am pleased that one of the positive outcomes related to CFP reform, including a discard policy, which addresses part of the right hon. Gentleman's point. I should emphasise that the vast majority of discards in the fishing industry are of undersized and non-commercial fish. We must address the matter as an aspect of fisheries management. I shall speak about that in due course.
As the Minister knows, we have been going round this track for about 30 years. We could go back 30 years or so—the hon. Gentleman would not have been in government—and find Ministers of both parties saying that there were too many fishermen and too few fish, and that we must do something about it. Nothing has been done about it. Ministers keep saying that the scientific evidence is terribly important and we must do something about it, but nothing happens. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says. I enjoy hearing him say the same thing every time. Are we going to make any progress? Surely the only way to make progress is to recognise that there is only a certain amount of fish and that there must be an auction. The fishermen should decide who will bid for each quota, dividing the amount of fish by the number of fishermen. We cannot go on trying to decide that fishing—
As always, Mr. Steen has some interesting suggestions regarding fisheries. I know that he has extensive experience of and background in the subject. There is some truth in what he says. For many years the problem has been acknowledged and people have been saying that we must do something about it, but action will inevitably be painful. It has always been resisted both by Fisheries Ministers from European countries and by the industry. Even now, there are people who deny the need to take action on the basis of the scientific advice. If we do not address the problem, there will be the constant spiral of decline that the hon. Gentleman correctly identifies.
On the absence of political will, does the Minister recall that a decade ago the House voted to introduce effort control in the form of days at sea? That was never implemented and, like practically every other conservation measure, it was fiercely opposed by the industry. Does the Minister think that, in retrospect, had it been applied, we would be in quite the mess that we are in now, including over days at sea?
I thought the right hon. Gentleman might mention that, and he has every right to do so. There are different forms of effort management. I recall the debate on the proposals to introduce effort control. There were problems with that. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there were great difficulties in terms of bureaucracy, ascertaining people's right to days, and the appeal procedures. It was a difficult and complicated structure, and there were some valid criticisms from the industry, which I acknowledge.
There is no perfect system of fisheries management. If there were, it would have been introduced long ago. We must therefore examine the range of management tools available and try to adapt them in the most effective way. I have always had an open-minded approach to these matters, including effort control. I listen to what the industry says. I tried to persuade the Commissioner to take a different approach and consider a recovery programme that did not involve effort control of that kind. With reference to Ross Finnie's remarks, I agree that the measure is crude. Of course, it is an interim measure, and I shall discuss the details in a moment.
The Minister is right to say that there is no perfect system of management of stocks, but would it not be an awful lot easier to tie the industry in if we had proper, effective regional management of the industry in the North sea? How soon does he believe he can achieve that?
Yes, I do agree with that. One of the successes of the CFP reform is that we have put in place the regional advisory councils. We want to get them up and running as quickly as possible. It is the beginning of a process, and we need to build on those councils. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that an element of regional management and regional involvement, particularly the involvement of the industry, is essential for future fisheries management. That is the direction in which we want to go and for which we were arguing.
Will my hon. Friend immediately discount the suggestion made by Mr. Steen that the market should play some part in divvying up the fish? The birthright of my constituents in Hastings and Rye, who cannot afford to enter the market, would be compromised. Will my hon. Friend discount that Conservative proposal entirely?
I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend, who has been a great advocate for and friend of the Hastings Beach fleet. I made it a priority to exempt the under-10 m fleet from the effort control restrictions, recognising that it is a low-impact fishery. I understand the concerns for such fleets, which are unlikely to become involved in an open-bidding market. Quota is bought and sold; that is a feature of the fishing industry, but the under-10 m fleet is not part of the inshore fleet. The inshore fleet is non-sector, and managed by the Department. We recognise the low impact that it has. It should be exempted from the range of measures that we were successful in achieving.
May I pass on to my hon. Friend the thanks of the Ramsgate under- 10 m fishing fleet for his efforts? He gets all too little praise in the House. The fleet is broadly pleased with the outcome of the negotiations and wants to thank the Minister and also his officials, who are unfailingly helpful to it.
I appreciate that. It is worth remembering that the majority of the boats in the United Kingdom fishing fleet are under 10 m. They support many small, isolated communities. They employ low-impact, traditional methods. I have always had a great deal of admiration for the way in which they operate, and always tried to take their needs into account.
On the issue of under-10 m boats, will my hon. Friend also confirm my understanding that recreational fishermen who have diversified from the main fishery would fall into that category and therefore not be affected by these proposals?
Yes, I can confirm that both under-10 m boats involved in recreational fishery and larger boats that are not carrying fishing gear but are involved in recreational fishery are exempt from the restrictions.
Can we just inject a little reality into this? The overwhelming majority of the white fish industry does not depend on boats under 10 m, important though they are in certain communities. The overwhelming majority of the white fish industry depends on reasonably sized boats. That sector is now at risk of total financial and fishing collapse over the next few months. I know that the Minister has been asked a variety of questions, but will he now turn his attention to the question of whether it is his policy to see that vital historical part of the fleet survive or not?
It is absolutely my priority to ensure that that part of the fleet survives. Our fishing fleet is divided into different sectors which have different priorities and operate in different ways. They are all equally important to me as the UK Fisheries Minister. It is worth remembering, however, that the majority of vessels are under 10 m, and that an awful lot of people are involved in that sector. They have needs and rights, which I recognise. I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, particularly in relation to his own constituency, that the white fish fleet on the east coast of Scotland is a very important economic driver in the fishing industry. I absolutely concede that point.
I thank the Minister for giving way once again. His taking of interventions is one of the valuable aspects of this debate, because a great deal is elucidated by it. In the light of the issue raised by my hon. Friend Sir Archy Kirkwood about regional management committees, which we would prefer, does the Minister agree that there has been a change of culture in the industry in recent years? Does he also agree that we need a change from treating fishermen as perpetrators to treating them as partners in the management of their industry? That is the big change that has taken place over the last 10 years, and I urge the Minister to take that on board in future deliberations on the development of the policy.
Yes, I absolutely accept that. It is unfortunate that there has been a widening gulf between the fishermen and the scientists, for example. One of the objectives to which I want to turn my attention is how to bring those two sectors together in future. I shall touch upon that again later.
One or two of the Minister's Back Benchers mentioned two or three boats with six or eight people running them round the bay in Bexhill or Ramsgate and tried to distract him from the important point that I made earlier. I should be grateful if he could deal with it now. Would it not be a way forward to have an auction of the quota, once the European Community has fixed the quota? That way, the fish would be allowed to live, and we could then eat them.
I shall give the hon. Gentleman a serious answer to that. I can see some major disadvantages to his suggestion. I know exactly what he is saying, and there is an element of market forces at work in quota trading as it stands. That can be beneficial, particularly in relation to producer organisations ensuring that quota remains within their regions. There are advantages to that. If, however, we follow the full-blown logic of the hon. Gentleman's proposal, it would result in the disadvantage of the Icelandic individual transferable quota system, which, although it has some advantages in management terms, has had the effect of concentrating ownership of the quota in the hands of a very limited number of companies. That is a problem. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's rather disparaging remarks about those who work the in-shore boats in my hon. Friends' constituencies. They are as important to me as anybody else; they support families and communities, and they have every right to be taken into account and to have their needs recognised. I intend to ensure that that happens.
I appreciate the comments of Andrew George about interventions. I do hope that my taking interventions will not lead to the length of my opening speech being held against me. I had prepared a speech of a fairly standard length, but I am happy to take interventions because this is an important debate on serious issues and I know that everybody who attends such debates has a genuine and sincere interest in them. I take that very seriously.
May I return my hon. Friend to remarks that he was making earlier about the importance of scientific advice? The fishing communities that are being hit by the cuts in quota feel that it is equally important that the views of the fishermen are taken into account when determining the level of fish stocks. Nobody disputes that the levels have gone down, but the extent of that reduction can be disputed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he takes seriously the views of the fishermen who are actually fishing for these stocks?
I do take that seriously, and I shall touch on that matter in a moment. The experiences and views of the fishermen—the data from their log books, for example—are taken into account in relation to stock projection. I recognise that there are some problems, however. In that respect, I want to try to bring the two sides together and involve them more to ensure that the fishing industry is involved in the scientific projections and that the scientists listen to what the industry has to say.
We welcome that assurance. Andrew George mentioned a spirit of partnership, which is necessary. Mrs. Humble takes a great interest in the Fleetwood fishermen, and she will recall that I reminded the Minister that, in 2000, there was a tie-up east of the Isle of Man based on the sort of scientific advice that he now advocates, because the scientists claimed that it was not a cod spawning area. It turned out to be one, and the tie-up was a disaster. The fishermen were right and the scientists were wrong on that occasion.
I do not know who the hon. Gentleman has been talking to, but that is totally wrong. In fact, the fishermen in Fleetwood have raised a number of technical issues with me about the cod recovery programme, which I took very seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood arranged meetings for me in Fleetwood and I went along and talked to the fishermen. Their concern was about the level of cod in the eastern Irish sea. As a result of their representations, which I took seriously, we arranged trial trawls in the eastern Irish sea—by chartering boats from the fishing industry—which demonstrated that the cod population in the spawning period was extremely low. In fact, the closed area in the western Irish sea was precisely the area in which there was a concentration. That has been the basis of the three-year cod recovery programme, which is supported by the fishermen of the Irish sea.
It was inevitable, given that the UK had the majority of the quota for the most threatened stocks, that the December Council was never going to provide a good outcome for the fishing industry as regards quotas. But not responding to those threats or to the scientific advice was not an option for us either, not least because the threat of emergency measures being imposed by the Commission was a very real one, and we had to take that into account. We paid a great deal of attention to the details of the common fisheries policy and, in terms of the reforms, this at least provided a better outcome for the UK.
In relation to the reforms, the UK achieved all its principal objectives. Those objectives have been repeatedly called for by hon. Members in the House and they include a commitment to a multi-annual approach to stock management and to recovery plans for depleted stocks, and the renewal of our six and 12-mile zones. We pressed very hard for that measure to be without limits, but, unfortunately, the Commission's legal services advised that all aspects of Commission and Council decisions have to be reviewed at intervals. The wording of the final decision contained an assumption that these provisions will continue even though they are up for review. That was important.
As the Minister knows, the Spanish fleet now has access to the North sea, but not to pressurised stocks. I have read the Commission's account of the Council meeting, and it seems to suggest that inspections of Spanish boats in the North sea can be carried out only with the consent of the Spanish authorities. If that is the case, it will be a disaster. I hope that it is not the case. Will the Minister tell me whether it is the case, and clarify the account that I have seen in the Commission's explanatory notes?
That is most certainly not my understanding. Any EU vessel within a member-state zone is subject to the enforcement and inspection measures agreed by the EU.
This country inspects all vessels that are fishing in our waters and we will continue to do so. Indeed, enforcement and inspection is one of the areas that have been strengthened and we strongly argued that that should happen.
We also obtained the retention of the principle of relative stability, which is very important and is one of the priorities of our fishing industry, as hon. Members have said. We have also retained the Hague preference. That was not easy, because it benefited only the Republic of Ireland and us, but it has nevertheless been retained. As has been pointed out, there was no adjustment of stock allocations in the North sea in favour of Spain or Portugal. Even though they have access under accession, that is meaningless economically without a quota to go with it.
The Shetland box has been retained pending a review of all restricted areas in 2003. Public aid for fishing vessels is being ended, as is aid for the transfer of EU fishing vessels to third countries from
Countries that use public funds for building will, in addition to the aggregation penalties of 1:1.35 that they will have to apply for vessels of more than 100 tonnes, have to reduce capacity by 3 per cent. over two years as a penalty. That was also agreed at the Fisheries Council. There is also an increase in the maximum rate of scrapping grants in the EU.
Major improvements in enforcement arrangements are important in relation to what I have been saying about better information and co-operation, and information sharing between member states. Provision to establish regional advisory councils has been mentioned. We regard the councils as very important and see them as the beginning of the process. We want to strengthen them over time, but the priority was to establish them, as the proposal was controversial when it was originally made.
The policy on discards, on which I can now provide some details, includes technical measures dealing with the structure of nets and making them more selective. The policy will take into account the issue of minimum landing sizes, which has been raised before in the House. Hon. Members will be pleased that the landing sizes are going to be reviewed with a view to the possibility of raising them. Catch composition in relation to defined mesh sizes also needs to be considered, as will the application of closed areas and real-time closures when, for example, there are temporary concentrations of juvenile fish or spawning areas are identified.
The fishing industry has been keen to make progress on all those issues, which hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised on a number of occasions. I am pleased to see that those points have been agreed.
The Minister suggested that the Government were effectively satisfied that they had got all the CFP reforms that they wanted. Does that mean that they are now satisfied that the CFP will deliver for British and Scottish fisherman in the next 30 years, just as it has failed them for the past 30 years?
These are important improvements, but I do not want to pretend that they are the be-all and end-all. As far as I am concerned, this is the beginning of a process. However, the changes are beneficial and address some of the problems in the CFP. Of course, we want to make further progress, and we will do so over time.
May I join other hon. Members in welcoming my hon. Friend's achievement in exempting under-10 m vessels from the days-at-sea regime? Will he also confirm that he has secured extra days' fishing for those whose method is long lining? Most of them are covered by the rule, but will he confirm that the figure is 19 days for those who are not covered, bearing in mind that people would want a couple of days off a week or eight days off a month? Does he agree that that is quite an achievement?
Following the representations that my hon. Friend has made and having met long liners from his constituency, I told the Commission that, in relation to recovery plans, we should take into account the sort of gear that is being used and how selective it is. Long lining is very selective and involves minimal discards. Indeed, it is often possible to return the fish to the water alive and that has been recognised in the 19-day allocation. Other forms of gear may be equally selective. I should like to explore that issue and will continue to argue for further exemptions for gear that is selective and minimises discards.
One of the most selective and conservation-efficient forms of fishing is anchor seining, which is practised by Grimsby vessels. Will my hon. Friend work to ensure that that is excluded in the same way as long lining?
Yes, I most certainly will. I know that the Grimsby anchor seiners use a net with very large mesh because they are targeting large, high-quality fish. Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that we have a severe problem with cod. That includes taking into account the total allowable catch and total quotas, and that involves the anchor seiners. However, as we develop the cod recovery programme, we will have to take into account the issue of minimising discards and selectivity. It is perfectly legitimate for whatever system is in place to recognise that fishermen are using selective gear, and the anchor seiners are certainly a case in point.
In considering very selective forms of fishing and the settlement that has been reached, we see that Danish factory boats can sail off into the sunset with a by-catch that is effectively unlimited and unaffected. That seems a totally inequitable settlement and I would be obliged if the Minister would comment.
I agree that that is unfinished business in relation to the industrial fleet, and yes, the arrangement is inequitable. As I have said before, the problem is a lack of scientific information in relation to the level of by-catches of the industrial fleet, especially of the sand eel. There is no argument in relation to the Norwegian pout fishery, which is included in the discards strategy. One of the assurances that we have in relation to reform of the CFP is that the impact of industrial fishing and its by-catch in particular will be examined in detail, which I very much welcome. In case I have not written this down in my notes, I should also say that we reached agreement on extension of the closed area to industrial fishing off the east coast of Scotland and Northumbria for a fourth year. That is the first time that a closed area has ever been agreed in relation to industrial fishing.
If I remember rightly, that area was agreed because of the potential effect on sea birds, as the Minister will recall. Given that the area has been agreed, that he has been banging on about industrial fishing for as long as he has been speaking for the Government about fisheries and that he has now been the Fisheries Minister for more than five years, why is no research available on the impact of industrial fishing, which we all know is devastating to a marine environment? He is telling us that there is no research. Why not? Is he not the Minister?
I said that there were no clear scientific findings. Research has been conducted, but to date, it has not identified a very high white fish by-catch. We need to do more work on that issue, but I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that nothing has happened. The problem is that the work that has been done has not identified the sort of problem that is being portrayed.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, fishing for human consumption should always take priority. I believe that the scale of industrial fishing must have an impact on ecology and ecosystems, so we must take the issue seriously and examine it. Progress is slow and I am not exactly pleased about that, but since I have been fisheries Minister, a TAC has been applied to industrial fishing for the first time. That TAC has been cut since I have been a Minister, although not by as much as I would like, and closed areas have been introduced. That is a bit of progress compared to what happened in the past. I am not pretending that it is enough, but I do not think that he should allege that nothing has been done.
The Minister said that there had been insufficient research and therefore implied that there is insufficient information. He will know that, as was reported in Fishing News on
I know that. I raised the issue with the Commission and referred specifically to the story in Fishing News. However, the Pout industrial fishery has a white fish by-catch. The story covered an illegal landing and the Danish authorities are dealing with the fishermen. Denmark has far more draconian penalties than this country. It can remove people's fishing licences—a penalty that I might like to consider.
Although the story covers illegal activity, that does not mean that we should not tackle the issue, which demonstrates the impact of industrial fishing. However, we must deal with illegal activity wherever it occurs. It is unfortunately not restricted to one country. Any fisherman who has been involved in black fish landings or misreporting has done equal damage to stocks and the reputation of our industry. When we pressed the Commissioner for alternatives that involved technical measures, we encountered some cynicism in the Commission because of the record of widespread abuse of the rules and black fish landings. Any fishermen who have been involved in that have undermined not only conservation and the future of the fishing stocks for their companions, but the credibility of their countries when they argue for change.
The Under-Secretary said that the Danish authorities had draconian penalties, which he would consider introducing in the United Kingdom. If he had read more than the introductory paragraph in Fishing News, he might have stumbled across the fact that the Danish authorities have withdrawn the licences of the two boats for one month. Is that a draconian measure?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to ask fishermen about the effect of not being able to go to sea for a month. That is not the only penalty that has been applied.
The Minister mentioned cynicism about black fish and other illegal activity. However, according to the Commission's figures, there have been fewer prosecutions of UK fishermen than those of other EU nations. In that case, why does the burden appear to fall on this country's fishermen?
Because the hon. Gentleman refers to a one-year report. I am glad that our enforcement and control measures are so effective. That has been one of our priorities. However, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the infraction proceedings, which proved humiliating for the UK because of our failure to enforce quotas properly for 11 years up to 1997. My comments apply to the past because enforcement and control has improved. Nevertheless, such a reputation dies slowly. I repeat that all those who have been involved in misreporting and black fish landings have done the fishing industry no favours.
The recovery plan is an interim measure. The arrangements will be established pending further discussions, with the end of March as the target date for agreement and July as that for implementation. A great deal of work remains to be done. I understand the fishing industry's anxieties about the proposals for the North sea and the west of Scotland. During the negotiations, I met industry representatives regularly in Brussels. Leaders of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations made powerful arguments and forcefully presented their members' views. I tried to respond to them and take them into account as much as possible.
Short-term pain is inevitable given the scientific advice and the relevant stocks. The aim is to secure a long-term future, and I regret the short-term effect on individuals and communities. I understand the implications, and that is why we have worked so hard to provide as much flexibility in the schemes as is consistent with scientific advice. That involved Government activity at all levels, including the intervention of the Prime Minister, to ensure the maximum flexibility that we believed that the science justified.
The Commission was rightly adamant, given the state of the stocks, that the emergency recovery plan had to be agreed and implemented without delay. It needed to be simple, even crude if necessary. The Commission was also adamant that the plan had to make a genuine impact on fishing effort—another justifiable position given the fair scientific conclusions that the dire state of the stocks is directly attributable to the failure of the TAC-based management policy that has been pursued until now to achieve the necessary reduction in effort.
The Commission originally proposed that white fish demersal trawlers should be allowed a mere seven days a month out of port. That would have meant unacceptable devastation to the economies of most of the relevant UK vessels. My colleagues and I spent almost the entire five-day Council meeting arguing for an increase that would strike a balance between maximum flexibility and the scientific advice.
The solution that we eventually secured will allow the UK's demersal trawlers 15 days a month. I shall explain some of the details. Hon. Members will note that the regulations specify a monthly allowance of nine days for such trawlers. However, the EU text allows extra days to be allocated to member states to compensate for steaming time between ports and fishing grounds. There is also provision for the allocation of further days on the basis of the achieved or expected results of the decommissioning proposals. In line with what the industry pressed for, I ensured that the decommissioning round last year and the technical measures that the industry had implemented were taken into account in the effort calculations.
The relevant provisions are in annexe 17 of the regulations, which set TACs and quotas for 2003. They will result in UK white fish demersal trawlers receiving an extra six days a month—a total of 15 days. That days-at-sea scheme applies in the North sea and the west of Scotland from
The nephrops fishery fears that effort will be diverted as a result of the closure. Will the Under-Secretary give some assurances to places such as Eyemouth in my constituency, where such fishing takes place?
Yes, we recognise that there is always a risk of diversion of effort. However, measures exist to counter that, such as the ceiling and way in which the calculations work. Those who fish for nephrops must also have a nephrops net. However, we take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously.
For clarity, will the Under-Secretary confirm that even the 15 days have been bought at the expense of not only past decommissioning and technical change but an expected further decommissioning round? The industry did not argue for that, and the Under-Secretary knows it.
It is true that the UK has made a commitment to a decommissioning scheme. The inevitable result of the pressures on the industry is that a decommissioning scheme must be part of the package. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. As it was always inevitable that we would have to consider that, there is nothing wrong in obtaining extra days for the fishing fleet as part of the commitment.
Will the Under-Secretary confirm the percentage reduction that is required for us to buy the extra days? There is currently a dispute in Scotland about the number of white fish boats in the fleet. Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that an unrealistically liberal number of boats will not have to be taken into account?
I can confirm that the decommissioning reduction will take place in the North sea white fish fleet. We will be considering a reduction of between 15 and 20 per cent. That is a reasonable target. I cannot give exact figures immediately for making an impact on the problem and helping the fishing industry, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. As he appreciates, management of the Scottish fleet is a matter for the Scottish Executive.
The Under-Secretary said that the nephrops fleet was exempt and was allowed 25 days at sea. Does he realise that some nephrops vessels in the west of Scotland use twin rigs and mesh sizes of more than 100 m—Interruption.]—I mean 100 mm? There is therefore an anomaly. Those vessels are restricted to 15 days at sea, but if they used a smaller mesh size, they would get 25 days at sea. Will the Under-Secretary sort out the problem so that nephrops fishermen can continue to use larger mesh sizes?
I suspect that that is the kind of catch balance that individual fishermen are going for. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that such points of detail need to be addressed as part of the talks about the regime that will be in place from July. That is inevitable, and no one is pretending that this is not a crude scheme. It is not our preferred option, and in trying to refine it between now and March, we will address some of the hon. Gentleman's points.
What happens between now and July? Will the prawners have to revert to 80 mm to get the extra days? The Minister will appreciate the cost of re-gearing a boat.
I do, but I do not know the exact catch composition or the fishery concerned, and the best way to deal with that point is to consider the advice of the department in Scotland with responsibility for fisheries.
Most of the interventions have been from the Scots. [Interruption.] I am not holding that against them, I am just stating a fact. The concern in the west country is that Scottish fishermen will move south. The deal that the Minister has managed to pull off for the south-west was better than most Members thought he could pull off, and we are grateful for that, but what happens when the Scots come marauding down into the English channel, eating up the fish that are currently fished by west countrymen. Is he going to erect some sort of barrier to prevent that from happening?
No, their vessels are UK vessels, and they are entitled to fish in UK waters according to the rules and to their quota—as, indeed, is every fishing vessel. Our job is to look at the immediate problems, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the south-west has been exempted from the effort control regime. That happened because it does not have the same kind of problems. The industry also asked me to ensure that measures that have been in place for some years in respect of the Irish sea—and which are showing some welcome, if modest, signs of improvement—are also taken into account, and I have done so.
The days at sea scheme will be applied to the North sea and the west of Scotland from
In addition, the Council adopted TACs, which represent reductions of some 50 per cent. on 2002 levels for key white fish stocks of cod, haddock and whiting. Taken as a whole, TACs for pelagic species are largely the same as in 2002. In respect of the three nephrops stocks that are of interest to the UK, we secured a repeat of the 2002 levels, despite the Commission's original proposal for reductions. We considered that proposal to be unjustified, and we successfully argued against it.
I fully recognise that many members of the UK industry consider days-at-sea restrictions to be anathema. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to argue that things should carry on unchanged, or to ignore the scientific advice, and we must act if the mixed white fish fishery is to have any long-term future. The agreed provisions are much less devastating than the original proposal, but I understand that they are unwelcome and will have an impact. They represent the best balance that could be struck at this time between the industry's long-term and short-term interests, and in terms of the level of support within the council.
We shall obviously need to take further management decisions in future as we travel the road to recovery—not least when the Commission fulfils its intention to introduce proposals for a more sophisticated and longer-term recovery plan. That is supposed to happen by
It is at least encouraging to note that in future discussions on fisheries management, we shall be working under a stronger and sounder common fisheries policy framework than in the past, but unfinished issues remain. We have touched on industrial fishing, minimum mesh size and minimum landing size, which are being addressed. Moreover, the hake recovery plan is also supposed to be finalised by July. We did achieve what the industry asked for, which was a mid-term review of the scientific advice on cod, and if it proves to be different from previous advice, it will of course be linked to TACs. That will also be dealt with by the scientific and technical committee, and it will provide an opportunity to look at the details of effort management.
During the recovery programme, I want also to look at ways of decoupling haddock and whiting stocks from cod recovery, because I realise that they are not in as poor shape as cod stocks. However, we do not want to over-emphasise the condition of those stocks, because there is cause for concern. I am very interested in work on separator trawls. Certain designs of separator trawls could allow the use of 110 mm mesh in a mixed fishery, with a larger mesh underneath to allow cod to escape. I want to explore such initiatives with the industry, and for it to become more involved in scientific studies.
On separator trawls, has my hon. Friend had a chance to read the information—I sent it to him this week—from a retired constituent of mine who used to work in the fishing industry? He did a great deal of work on that initiative a few years' ago, and he hopes that the ideas that he developed then might be of use to the industry.
I should be very interested to read about those ideas. Separator trawls for mixed fisheries have been trialled by the Sea Fish Industry Authority, so some work has already been done. Of course, if we are to get acceptance it is likely that we will have to demonstrate to the Commission the effectiveness of that initiative.
The Minister is detailing the empathy that he feels for the short-term pain of people at the quayside, and many people in my constituency are fearful of bankruptcy in the short term. Can he tell the House what efforts he has made to hold discussions with banking institutions or regional development agencies in England? Can he also say a little about the real concerns of the safety implications of the measures that he has outlined?
On the safety implications and the days-at-sea regime, we recognise that there are potential problems. They have been addressed via pressure from the UK, in that there is 20 per cent. flexibility in terms of the months during which one can bank and borrow, to reflect bad weather, for example. In an extreme case whereby someone was tied up in port for the whole of February because of bad weather, under the arrangements the total number of February days can be added to the March days over a two-month period. In that way, the days can be accumulated. That gives people the flexibility to cope with weather conditions, and it takes some pressure off them.
I cannot give details of the financial package today, because it is still being worked on. I spoke to my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry this afternoon, and we are also talking to the regional development agencies. Of course, the Prime Minister is taking a personal interest in this issue, and he will meet industry leaders towards the end of the month. That work is therefore ongoing, and similar work is under way in parallel in the Scottish Parliament, in terms of the support package required by the Scottish industry.
We do not apply a general criterion in relation to the condition of vessels; it is entirely up to individual owners as to whether they want to submit their vessels for decommissioning. There is a legal standard that must be applied to any fishing vessel that is operating normally. Funds are available for modernisation and improvement through our financial instrument for fisheries guidance programme, which is open to all fishermen. I want information to be available in all fishing ports about the grants and so forth that are available to the industry as part of the recovery package, so that those who feel that they could benefit can take advantage of what is there.
The Minister has mentioned aid. A circular letter that he sent Members this morning states:
XWe will be considering further arrangements for decommissioning vessels for those who wish to leave the industry, and will make a further announcement as soon as possible. In addition the regional agencies will be ready to assist fisheries-dependent communities through the range of instruments available to them."
Will the Treasury give the agencies any extra funds—particularly in Scotland, where the impact on many communities will be devastating?
The work is still under way, but various agencies and other bodies are provided with funds to help communities affected by restructuring, and the fishing industry has as much as a claim to support as, say, a large factory that has had to close. Funds are already available to deal with such eventualities; it is a question of the best support that can be given to the industry.
There is a history of such funds' not reaching communities at the quayside. That is regrettable, and offensive to those affected by restructuring. Will the Minister try hard to persuade his colleagues in other Departments that fishing communities must be targeted?
I appreciate that necessity. In the last round of English decommissioning, funds to help fishing communities were made available through what was then the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. Some of my hon. Friends felt at the time that the funds were spread too thinly and were not aimed at the appropriate targets as effectively as they should have been, but I assure my hon. Friend of my determination that that will not happen this time. I will discuss the application of the funds with the regional development agencies: I have already given them written warning that I shall want to do so.
When he looks at the economic packages, will the Minister consider giving financial support to keep the industry alive, rather than just providing money enabling fishermen to decommission their vessels and get out of the industry? Fishermen are suffering cuts now so that they will be in a position to fish when—hopefully—stocks recover in the future.
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but we cannot ignore such issues as state aid rules. However, we are trying to take all these points into account in putting the package together.
There is plenty of scope in existing regulation and, for that matter, in the new Commission guidelines. But, as Mrs. Humble pointed out, we want an aid package that sustains the industry. If the predominant part of the package is another decommissioning scheme it will be good news for the clearing banks, but few other people will benefit, and communities that depend on the fishing industry will suffer. There must be new money. Will there be new money from the Treasury, or will it be a case of reshuffling money that is already there?
I repeat that money is made available for circumstances such as these. It can be directed to communities and industries that need it. I appreciate the need for ongoing support, but whatever happens decommissioning will be an element, because when people simply are not viable and want a way out it is one of the answers. We cannot escape the issue of state aid, which makes provision of the kind of support at which some Members are hinting very difficult.
The Minister rightly says that decommissioning money can be provided, and that money is already available to help communities adjust to economic problems. What discussions has he had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who told my hon.—and beknighted—Friend Sir Archy Kirkwood—[Hon. Members: XBenighted?"]—whom she told at Scottish Question Time that she was having discussions with the Treasury and considering additional packages? Is the Minister involved in those discussions?
I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend. As I have said, a range of issues are being considered. We are thinking about what we can offer, and how we can offer it. I cannot give details now because the work has not been completed, but an announcement will be made as soon as possible.
Will the Minister confirm that the purpose of these schemes is to ensure that the industry is viable when stocks recover?
The Minister mentioned the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think Scotland will have observed that its representative at Westminster is not present today, and that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not present either. Those two absences from such a crucial debate are very significant.
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that a range of important issues affecting a range of people in the industry must be addressed by a very busy Department. I do not think that that was a very fair comment.
I can only say that, while I appreciate all the points that are being made, it should be recognised that existing funds are being allocated for exactly these circumstances.
The Minister's position is clear, and obviously work is being done to try and quantify the package, but there is great uncertainty in the fishing communities. Is it safe to assume that when the Prime Minister meets the industry later this month that work will have been completed, and the money will then be provided?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of Departments are outside my control—not least the Scottish Parliament, which is of course an autonomous body. They are doing their own work. The impact of the cuts does of course fall heavily on Scotland, and we should not pretend otherwise, but other Departments are involved and must be consulted. I can say, however, that I think the Prime Minister would expect the package to be ready by the time he meets the industry.
I am pleased that we are talking about communities as well as decommissioning. In the past, some decommissioning schemes have seemed quite properly to consider the concerns of owners, but without considering the problems of employees and ex-employees sufficiently.
That is, unfortunately, in the nature of the structure of the available packages, but we must look at employment prospects and also at the potential opportunities. It might be possible to retrain people and to support those who might like to use their skills in, for instance, the marine sector.
I will, for the last time. I sense that Members want to continue this interchange, but I want to finish my speech.
I think I had better conclude.
Above all, our guide in this problem is the key principle that fisheries management must be sustainable. That principle guided us when we put in place better management tools. Those tools are not everything that we could have wanted in the circumstances, and we will continue to argue for changes in the light of the representations that the industry has made to us. I emphasise that we have not achieved a final shape in the process of putting in place recovery measures, and that the process is not at an end.
We recognise the impact of the proposals on the white fish sector, but the industry has many successful sectors. I believe that the industry has a good future, to which the Government are committed. This is the start of the process, not the end. We wish all sectors of the industry to be involved in the recovery programmes and to develop better measures for a profitable and sustainable future. I believe that we can achieve such a future, even though there is no doubt that there will be short-term pain in order to achieve the longer-term gain.
I beg to move, in line 14, at the end, to add the words:
Xnotes the failure of European ministers to address adequately the issue of industrial fishing;
believes that the measures agreed by the Fisheries Council will be ineffective in restoring white fish stocks;
deplores the devastating and disproportionate impact that the policies embodied in these documents will have on the UK fishing industry;
and calls on the Government to set out a clear strategy to conserve fish stocks, offer a sustainable future to the United Kingdom's fishing communities and to establish national and local control over the United Kingdom's fisheries."
Many of our kingdom's fishermen face ruin. Fishing communities face devastation. That is the cruel light in which we must debate these matters in the House today. I have acknowledged before, and I do so again today, that there are hon. Members of all parties who are knowledgeable and concerned about fishing. The Minister is among them: he has a certain unlikely and curious charm, and that was evident in his speech. He was generous in dealing with interventions, and I hope that we can have a reasoned and civilised debate.
We last debated this matter before Christmas. That debate was held in a good spirit, but we did not know the extent to which the EU would punish our fishermen and their families. There can be few in the Chamber who know more about this subject than the Minister, and we sent him to defend our national interest, protect vulnerable communities and contribute to the development of an effective policy to ensure adequate fish stocks into the future.
Those were the vital tests that we set the Minister, more in hope than expectation. He failed those tests. He says that the outcome of the discussions is not a humiliation for the British Government, that the deal represents the best balance that could be achieved, and that the Government have attained all the objectives that they set. However, he simultaneously tells the House that the deal represents unfinished business, that it is a crude settlement and only the beginning of the process. He implies that there are more cuts to come. He says that the settlement is not the end of conservation, but just the beginning.
The Minister's failures will not be paid for principally by him, but by the thousands of fishermen and their communities—perhaps up to 50,000 people in total, if one takes the wider communities involved into account—who will suffer and pay with their livelihoods.
Fishermen and their representatives regard the December deal as so disappointing and damaging for three principal reasons. First, despite their economic consequences, the measures will not deliver stock recovery in the North sea. Secondly, the day-at-sea restrictions that will apply from February will push many vessels beyond economic viability but will not bring effective conservation. Thirdly, as Sir Archy Kirkwood pointed out, the diversification of effort into derogated areas and small-mesh fisheries is an inevitable consequence of the scheme. A direct result will be that fishermen will struggle to fish in fewer and fewer areas, putting additional conservation pressures on those areas and on their stocks of fish.
What will be the effects on the communities involved? They are still waiting to hear the details of the financial support that they will need to avoid ruin. Mrs. Humble was right to say that this deal is not about decommissioning money but about giving those communities some interim payment or ongoing support to enable them to maintain their businesses until such time as fish stocks recover and can be harvested.
I make no projection about that, and no notional judgment about the figures but simply ask whether that money will be available. Will those communities be supported? If not, and if the Minister is right that the recovery programme will be successful—although I do not buy that argument—those stocks will be harvested by vessels of other nations. It is as simple as that. Britain will no longer have a fishing industry able to take advantage of them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I should like to make two points. First, I really do not need him to tell me the views of the fishing industry, as I can talk to industry members directly. Secondly, as Opposition spokesman, it behoves him to say what his alternative would be. Would he have ignored the science involved? Would not the Opposition have taken action when it was projected that the cod stock could have fallen as low as 30,000 tonnes of spawning biomass? I remind him that that figure fell to 28,000 tonnes when the stock off the Grand Banks collapsed.
I would also be very interested to know how the hon. Gentleman claims to be a great advocate of financial support, coming from a party committed to cutting public expenditure by 20 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman should have listened to me more carefully. I simply asked a question. I am not in Government. I do not have the Chancellor's ear. I do not have the power to give this lifeline to the fishing industry. I asked the Minister what he intended to do about it, as did hon. Members from all parties during his speech. Hon. Members from his side asked about the short-term support and payments he would give.
What the hon. Gentleman said about conservation was weak, coming from a man who knows so much about the subject. Is he really suggesting that the only way to conserve fish stocks—the only way to put in place a recovery programme—is through days at sea? He knows that that is not true, and it has never been accepted as true by either party or by him as Minister. There are many conservation policies. The Government could have implemented many fish recovery policies as part of the programme.
As I shall explain, the Minister had the opportunity to pursue those avenues in the European Fisheries Council. He has not chosen to do so. He has ended up with a days-at-sea policy. That is a matter of judgment and choice, a choice that he and other Ministers made, but he knows that it is not the only option. He is not being entirely straightforward in suggesting that it is.
Is my hon. Friend aware how delighted both I and the Southend fishing industry have been to read the terms of the Opposition's amendment, and in particular the clear indication that the Conservative party would want to re-establish national control over UK fishing? We are thrilled with this proposal. I hope that he will be able to find time in his speech to explain how Parliament could do that.
Even my hon. Friend would find it hard to trump me on those matters. I shall be happy to say more about that during my speech.
Let us first talk about the communities that will be so badly affected. The Minister said that he would speak directly to the fishermen and their organisations. I understand that they have been promised a meeting with the Prime Minister, because it is clear that the Prime Minister understands the political, electoral and other effects that these matters may have on his fortunes. Let us hope that they have more success with the Prime Minister than we did when we asked him to raise them at Copenhagen.
I have a copy of a letter to the Prime Minister written by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The House will know what a strong stand my right hon. Friend has taken on these matters. He has visited the fishermen. He has gone to the communities. He has had many discussions with them, and he invited the Prime Minister to raise these matters in Copenhagen when European leaders came together.
That would have been an ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister to take a personal lead. When we last debated the issue Mr. Salmond, with me and other hon. Members, asked the Prime Minister to do precisely that. We said that he should take the matter in hand at an early stage and not come in at the last minute, as he had to do, to try to prop up the Minister when he could not do a decent deal for us. He was invited to take that personal lead and raise the matter in Copenhagen. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote:
XYou had an opportunity at Copenhagen this week to make it clear there is no justification for these proposals" that will damage our fisherman's interests.
The Prime Minister replied:
XI believe to raise the issue at the European Council would be a mistake."
That was the level of priority that the Prime Minister gave to this matter and the livelihood of these people. We hope that, when he meets the fishermen, he will be able to offer them a little more hope, a rather more positive perspective, a little more generosity and a little more empathy than he showed on that occasion.
I am grateful to the Conservative spokesman for giving way on the subject of leadership. I notice that he says that it is important that the Government should have raised such matters at the Copenhagen summit—the Scottish National party first called for that—but can he tell the House how many times before that summit meeting the leader of the Conservative party raised fishing during Prime Minister's Question Time? Will he confirm that it was none?
That is a cheap point, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. He also knows that I would be first to acknowledge that even the SNP, firing grapeshot as it does—
Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that it would be for the convenience of those who are trying to record proceedings and in conformity with normal courtesies if he would address his remarks to the Chair?
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that reminder.
Even Angus Robertson, who speaks on behalf of the SNP, will understand that when his party fires grapeshot, it will occasionally hit the target. SNP Members did so when they called for the Prime Minister to take a lead, and he failed to do so.
Fifteen-day tie-ups mean that many boats will be tied up for ever. Fishermen will be driven out of business, unable to meet their costs or feed their families. If fishing effort is reduced by 15-day tie-ups, there is no reduction in fishermen's mortgage payments or the cost of feeding their families, let alone the overheads faced by their businesses. At least 900 vessels are likely to be affected. Hon. Members are right to emphasise the fact that the effect is particularly profound on the Scottish east coast, where fishing is the principal source of employment in many communities.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the estimate that 20,000 jobs will be lost in the Scottish fishing fleet? Will he explain why France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Holland did relatively well in the December talks compared with the British fleet, which was sold down the river?
I will answer—mindful of the need to address the Chair—in two parts. First, those countries did relatively well because their Ministers care more about fishing than ours do. Their Ministers and Prime Ministers place high priority on such matters and our Government simply do not. That is the truth of the matter.
I do not want inaccuracies to be recorded. Denmark was severely affected by the changes because it had the second biggest cod quota after the United Kingdom. Those management methods affect the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France and Ireland to varying degrees, depending on their fishing practices. It is ridiculous to suggest that some members have got better deals; things depended on the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman can find one member state that received quota against the scientific advice, I shall be very interested in hearing about it. The Prime Minister raised fishing at the margins of the Copenhagen summit meeting.
I am not sure whether the Minister's intervention was intended to relate to me or to my hon. Friend Bob Spink, but I shall come to the point about job losses in responding to my hon. Friend's original intervention. With the typical understatement and moderation for which he is well known in Essex and the House, he underestimated the effect of the changes. Estimates suggest that up to 40,000 people could be affected. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan quoted precisely that figure, although he now looks bewildered, when we debated fishing in November. If he checks the record, he will find out. If account is taken of the other industries and people affected—those who work in harbours, in boat building or repairing businesses or in the wider fishing economy—the number is much greater than 20,000. I suspect that it is more than 40,000, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is about to trump me on that.
The overall figure for fishing industry dependent employment is 44,000. Obviously, not all those people are employed in the white fish sector, but none the less, thousands of jobs will be lost, and the effect will be heavily concentrated in Shetland and a few east coast ports. People in those areas desperately want to hear what will be done to protect their livelihoods.
The hon. Gentleman's estimate is right: the figure is 44,000. To amplify his point, it is important to emphasise that the job losses will be concentrated. In some communities, the fishing industry accounts for a significant proportion of total employment and there are knock-on effects for families and the wider economy.
A large number of vessels are affected, yet the Minister and the Government do not appear to be taking the industry seriously enough, despite landings in 2001 to the value of #574.4 million, a figure revealed through a parliamentary question.
The Government's half-cocked and half-hearted defence has been mounted on conservation. In meetings with me, fishermen's organisations have pointed out a number of flaws. Contrary to the Minister's assertions that we are making gradual progress on minimum landing sizes, they have been reduced for certain species. The opposite should happen: the minimum landing size should be edged upwards, with corresponding escape opening areas. We know why that issue is so contentious for many who debate such matters in Europe: the taste in southern Europe for baby fish. We should not be frightened of acknowledging that fact; it is well known, widely understood and should be stated in this place.
Furthermore, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood said, we should not be frightened of raising the issue of the quota system, which has caused the dumping of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of prime fish, dead, back into the sea. The quota system was never designed to aid conservation or fish recovery; it is all about EU integration.
As other hon. Members have said, the impact of the deal is mainly on vessels that use large-mesh nets of more than 100 mm. It thus encourages vessels to move to smaller-mesh nets—for example, the prawn fishery uses 80 mm—or smaller-mesh areas such as the southern North sea where 80 mm is permitted for white fish, to escape the impact of day-at-sea restrictions.
The Minister asked me to suggest an alternative and I shall speak more about what could be done, but he has to answer the point that day-at-sea restrictions are the most likely of all the conservation options to deliver precisely that movement of effort from one part of our coast to another—from one fishing area to another.
For quite some time, there has been concern about diversion of effort in coastal areas that are reliant on prawn fishing, but can the hon. Gentleman give the House an estimate of whether the pressure would have been greater had the Council gone for a cut in white fish of between 80 and 100 per cent?
I shall deal with that matter in some detail later on. The Government claim that we achieved some sort of victory because we edged up the Commission's original proposal, but it was a pyrrhic victory. The arguments are hollow, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I am glad that he at least acknowledges that the displacement factors that I described are true. I am sure that he will also acknowledge that they will be exacerbated by the current arrangements.
We are exploring alternatives to quotas. Earlier, I suggested to the Minister that there should be an auction of quota limits for all fish. The Minister was helpful, as he normally is, but I am sure that my hon. Friend can be even more helpful. Has he considered the concept of such an auction?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee studied those matters. Indeed, Andrew George will recall that, when I was a member of the Committee, we enjoyed many an evening discussing Europe and the United Kingdom and looked closely at issues such as the one raised by my hon. Friend. Such matters are worthy of consideration and further study—I put it no stronger than that—and he is right to raise them. I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity to deal with them when he sums up.
The open areas for the saithe fishery mean that larger vessels, in order to remain viable, will direct their effort to those fishing grounds that are not subject to effort control. Part of the saithe designated area appears to overlap with the 2001 cod area and other fishing vessels will undoubtedly take advantage of that north-east zone. Many believe that the sector received special treatment to please the French, as, two years ago, stocks were said to be in a perilous state. Perhaps that is another example of unfinished business. The Minister may speak of unfinished business; I speak of the finish of the businesses of fishermen around our coast in Scotland and England. That is the real story: the finish of our industry, our businesses, our fishermen.
The proposals that the Minister has now agreed are peppered with anomalies and inconsistencies. He will know of the anomalies in respect of the north channel, which is an important area. As Members who represent Scottish constituencies will know, many boats going out of the Clyde, some Ulster boats and some English boats fish extensively in the north channel. In the north-west Scotland zone, there are restrictions on carrying a 150 mm net on board. Cod stocks will not be replenished, as fishermen will be guilty if they carry their net across that zone. I regard that anomaly as a nonsense; it is certainly impossible to enforce or police.
Fishermen will not be guilty, however, if they travel without their net, pick it up in Norway, and then fish. The truth is that fishermen will not just be penalised for catching fish but for the potential to catch fish while they cross one of these zones. That is a nightmare, and it is foolish. The Minister must know that that is not practical or enforceable. Vessels operating out of ports on the east coast of England that fish in their traditional grounds in the North sea will be discriminated against because of their longer steaming time. No allowance is made for geography. The UK fleet has been uniquely disadvantaged by the deal, and the social and economic consequences will be severe.
Perhaps the greatest scandal of all, which has been highlighted in several interventions, is the failure of European Ministers adequately to address the continuing nightmare of industrial fishing, practised principally by Denmark and Norway.
Has my hon. Friend considered the point that I made in an intervention on the Minister about the discrimination against long liners who are given some deal in Europe? There is total ignorance, however, about the scandal of the Danish boats creating soup from the North sea bed, which is totally unsustainable in terms of by-catch?
My hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters and defends the interests of his fishermen vigorously, will understand that there are two aspects to this. He is right about the effect on the food chain, which is profound. He is also aware of the considerable by-catch. The Minister suggested today that there is scientific evidence to support the claim that there is very little white fish by-catch from industrial fishing. As has been stated several times, however, two Danish boats were prosecuted—I think that Andrew George mentioned a figure of about 65,000 tonnes out of 100,000 tonnes yearly. In practice, the one-month penalty was served over the Christmas and new year period.
The substantial by-catch from industrial fishing is incompatible with a cod recovery programme in the North sea. The Minister must know that: the whole House and fishermen and their representative organisations and their communities certainly know it well. I suspect that the Danes and the Norwegians know it, too. The Minister knows about the destruction of the food source by industrial fishing, as he secured a closure around the Isle of May and the firth of Forth for three years, and he knows that when he did so it was extended because of the birdlife. Fish stocks recovered. He knows very well that industrial fishing is a major issue. He has taken an honourable position on that point, but he has failed to do anything about it.
The Minister says that he has pointed out what he has done, but he describes the prawn restrictions as negligible and as of no consequence, because prawn fishermen are allowed to fish for 25 days a month. However, industrial fishermen will be allowed to fish for 23 days a month, and he leads us to believe that that is a significant step forward and real progress. Presumably, that is what he has done.
How did this sorry situation come about? I come to the real charge that I make of the Minister. The situation came about because of the hesitation, prevarication and poor negotiating skills of our Government. He will know that the bullying and arm twisting of the EU—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but I have received a report that I hope he will investigate. I will not go into fine detail now, but I have a report that suggests that a senior official abused members of the UK delegation. They were told that they were wasting their time and that a deal had been done before they had even arrived at the meeting. I will be prepared to give him full details after the debate, so I hope that he will look into the matter.
I will give the hon. Gentleman the full details now. That is utter nonsense. I do not know where he gets such things from. Some people, including Richard Lochhead from the Scottish Parliament, were hanging round the bars at Brussels, and that may explain how such rumours get running. However, this one is complete and utter rubbish.
Before the Minister says that things are rubbish, he should consider the full details. I will furnish him with them out of the context of the debate. He will then find that he may want, at the very least, to consider them carefully to see whether there is any truth in them.
It is certainly not rubbish to say that the Council of Ministers sent signals that there was no prospect of agreement on the Commission's proposals for the cod and hake recovery programme based on limits of time at sea. The Minister will know that that happened twice last year—in June and November. Had the Government worked with the other states who share a common interest in these matters, we could have done a very different deal. He knows very well that a conservation arrangement or a recovery programme could have been arranged around capacity reduction, closed areas and technical measures that excluded or, at least, limited the effort-control measures that we now face with such trepidation.
On the point about ministerial representation at Council of Ministers meetings, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the concern in Scotland at the quality of representation by the Scottish Minister responsible for fisheries. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Ross Finnie has bothered to attend only 26 per cent. of agricultural and fisheries meetings since he took responsibility for these issues in the Scottish Executive? He was not even recorded as being present at seven of the 10 meetings to which he turned up. Is that not perhaps a reflection of the quality of representation that we have in Scotland from a Liberal Democrat Minister for fishing?
Once again, I suspect that it reflects the priority that the Government attach to fishing, which is not high on their agenda. When these matters are debated in Europe, we give most ground on fishing so as to gain ground on other issues. We all celebrate and are aware of the benefits of the European Union, and we may hear more about them in the debate. The fishing industry, however, has certainly not benefited from the negotiations.
Had the Minister taken the steps that he could have taken and seized the opportunity to bring together a coalition that would have agreed a very different recovery programme, I suspect that we would not be in this position. As we have already heard, the Commission seized on our failure to follow through the signals that were sent that it might be prepared to opt for something that would have been more agreeable to us and came out with the ludicrous proposals for seven days at sea each month. The Minister now asks us to accept that he did a good job by raising the proposed seven days to nine. He got us only two days extra; the Prime Minister, at the eleventh hour, having refused to raise the matter any earlier, stepped in and upped the nine days to 15 days at sea a month. The Minister acknowledged that the Prime Minister helped—I think that he made a passing reference to the assistance that the Prime Minister gave him.
What else did the Minister fail to secure, despite claiming that this was not a humiliation but a victory, a triumph, a real step forward and real progress? There is no redress over previous upgrades—the Spanish have banked their port and fleet upgrades and bolted the door behind them. They still have the most modern vessels and best facilities.
There is no urgent revision of the method for scientific monitoring. There is a pledge that they will consider it at some time in the future, but it remains distant from people's communities and experience. As the hon. Member for St. Ives said, there must be a partnership between fishermen and scientists drawing together all available expertise to deliver science that is trusted and enforceable.
No binding agreement was reached on the reform of scientific method in line with experiences elsewhere, such as landing all catch rather than discards. Good practice proposals seem to be the best that the Minister can come up with.
Why was industrial fishing not more severely restricted?
What was achieved by the red tape, regulation and bureaucracy that fishermen regularly face as they go about their business?
Will there be new guidelines for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials who work at ports?
Under the agreement, the derogation of the 12-mile limit has only been extended. If the 12-mile limit is so important to the Minister, why has it not been made a permanent arrangement? He said that some EU rule or convention meant that things were not done in that way. However, that is what we need and deserve.
The common fisheries policy has never delivered a viable fishing industry or the maintenance of fish stocks. Ironically, it has punished fishermen and fish simultaneously. In Britain, the fishing industry has steadily eroded. Places around our coast, once proud to be known as fishing towns and villages, have seen fishing reduced to a cottage industry. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan reminded us, up to 40,000 people owe their employment to the Scottish fishing industry.
The figures are stark but worthy of examination. In 1980, there were 23,309 fishermen; by 2000, there were 15,121, and the figure is still falling. The CFP can never be made to work in the interests of British fishing, partly because fishing is given too low a priority by our Government, who have been complicit in a Commission-led plan to tie up boats. Other Governments fight for their fishing industry—ours do not.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that Ministers say that scientific back-up is important, but year after year it comes down to political barter. Far from being at the heart of Europe, the UK always ends up at the back and Scottish fishermen get it in the neck every time.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend Mr. Steen said, we have been round this course many times. Mr. Mitchell, who is a stalwart in these matters, knows it, as does the Minister, who has been stuck in this job for a very long time and has been involved in many of these debates.
We have been round the course too often. The CFP cannot be reformed to work in Britain's interests. All those who look at these matters objectively know that the CFP is intrinsically flawed. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently, it is rotten at its core. Those naive enough to maintain faith in the CFP—mainly those on the Liberal and Labour Benches—must surely realise that this aspect of the European dream has come to an end.
I want to draw my remarks to a close so that other right hon. and hon. Members can speak in the debate.
There is no better example of the contemptible nature of EU fishing politics than the sorry saga of quota hopping—the DEFRA report came out on
Let me be crystal clear on that, as my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor invited me to be. I pledge that an incoming Conservative Government will restore national control of our fisheries. We fully understand the constitutional and political implications of that, and will take the necessary legislative steps to achieve it.
My hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor knows how EU treaties have force of law in the House and what I mean by that pledge, as does the Minister, so there is no point in him crying out, XHow?" The difference between our parties is that we will do that and the Government will not.
Serious questions remain for the Minister to answer. Did the Commission use the most recent data, or are the suggestions that cod are still around but have moved north for climatic reasons accurate? Will the Government veto the convention proposal that there should be an integrated maritime agency to cover a maritime approach to such matters and to monitor fish? Does he agree with the statistic offered by the Commission that 28,000 fishermen will lose their jobs, and, if so, how many of those will be British? What extra moneys have been set aside for decommissioning, given the proviso that an extra 20 per cent. may be on offer above the usual rate?
Can the Minister clarify what final decision has been made on how the Commission will judge relative stability in respect of changes in national catches over time? Does Spain gain access in the North sea under the interpretation of historic access, or are its accession rights upheld? Will he assure the House that cuts will be a total percentage of all fleets rather than those fishing in home waters? Most of all, do the Government have any long-term projected plans for rebuilding the fleet after the crisis is over? Instead of decommissioning, they could offer support to allow the fleet to be maintained so that it can harvest the stocks once they have recovered. Does he concede that other Community vessels will move in?
Fishermen and their representatives have come to fear that the December betrayal is part of a long-term plan within the Commission and other countries to break up the established North sea fishing fleet. A determined island race with a proud maritime history will look to the Government's record on fishing with an unhappy mix of derision and despair. The Minister will be aware of the anger in Scotland and the English North sea ports at the horrendous injustices inflicted on them and other parts of the United Kingdom. They accuse him of leaving them in total despair after his debriefing meeting with them on
Fishing is about more than cold statistics and dry debating points. It is about more even than jobs. It is about lives, families and communities. Greater still, however, it is about culture, identity and a way of life that reaches across generations, which challenges and inspires. In the words of Eliot:
XThe river is within us, the sea is all about us:
The sea is the land's edge also,
The sea has many voices, Many gods and many voices . . .
Pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended the voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them".
We are an island maritime race. Just as the CFP epitomises the shoddy, shabby, shady politics of the EU, so fishermen and their families embody the spirit of our nation. We should pray for them, as Eliot implored, but with equal faith we must work for them, argue for them and fight for them. All hon. Members should support the amendment because our battle to save the fishing industry is at the very heart of our battle to save our nation.
Before I call the next hon. Member, I ought to say that in a debate that can occupy 224 minutes, 103 of those minutes have now been taken by two Front-Bench speakers—albeit that they were generous with interventions. At least 10 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye in the time remaining. If they each voluntarily impose a limit of 10 minutes on themselves, we may accommodate every hon. Member who wishes to participate.
This is the second time in succession that I have followed Mr. Hayes in a fisheries debate. His presentation is becoming interesting—quite Churchillian in aspiration, although certainly not in content. Hearing the hon. Gentleman's espousal of Tory party policy towards the common fisheries policy gives new meaning to one of Churchill's famous phrases,
Xwe shall fight on the beaches".
Churchill was a historian. The hon. Gentleman needs to mug up on his history. He made a major point about the priority that the present Government attach to the fishing industry when for the last Conservative Government there was no lower priority than the fishing industry.
I welcome the reforms outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister and I am pleased that despite the industry's difficulties, those measures were welcomed also by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation—particularly the protection of the six and 12-mile limits, success with preserving the Shetland box, relative stability and the Hague preference. In these difficult times, all are extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that issues for the Scottish fleet will be the preserve of the Scottish Executive. It is important to emphasise the significance of the Scottish fleet not just to Scotland but to the whole UK fishing industry. The bulk of the white fish caught in the UK is landed in north-east Scotland, which is crucial to the whole industry. If we are forced to rely on imports, that will have serious consequences not just for the industry but for the consumer.
The industry faces dark times. One of the difficulties of making any assessment—or, indeed, any contribution to the debate—lies in calculating how long the problems will be with us. The industry is familiar with the huge uncertainty that is the direct result of the European Union's decision. It is still a mystery to me that any industry can survive when the availability of its raw product is determined the week before the financial year begins. The sooner a multi-angled approach is taken, the better.
It is clear why the industry is concerned and fishermen are genuinely afraid for their future. One major problem is the availability of fish. The severe reductions in the total allowable catch seen this year emphasise the severity of the situation. Is my hon. Friend the Minister able to make an assessment of how long the current regime is likely to last? Now that the new arrangements are in place, what incentive is there for the European Commission and other member states to change them? The UK has come out of the negotiations worse than any other country. It would helpful to know how my hon. Friend sees the process moving forward.
Another major concern is the particular form of the control, which is effectively a tie-up. The industry faces the removal of half its working time and probably half its income. No matter how extensive and effective decommissioning may be, it will not help the boats that are still fishing, because they will be tied up and unable to catch fish. Everyone will be seriously affected. I accept that an egalitarian approach would spread the misery across the industry, but where is the hope for those who want to remain in the industry? I should be grateful if the Minister would address that.
There is a particular problem with the large white-fish vessels in the North sea. They will be subject to the same regime and a 15-day tie-up, but they are the vessels in which most investment is made, as regards quality, size and, in many cases, the acquisition of additional quota. Many of them need at least 300 days at sea just to break even and to continue to be able to pay the mortgage to the bank. Is any particular emphasis or assistance likely to be targeted on them?
I accept that the details of the scheme have to be worked out, but the industry faces other costs. From my discussions with the Minister, I know that the Department will look at having scientists on board vessels, although I accept that there are difficulties with that. Vessel operators have to meet other costs such as harbour dues and light dues. Such costs are relatively small, but every little bit of assistance helps. I should be grateful if that could be looked at.
As anyone who has listened to these debates and my contributions over the past few years will be aware, my major concern is the fish processing industry, where the bulk of jobs in my constituency are. I have heard it said that fish processors should not have too many problems because the bulk of fish that is processed is imported. That is not the case in the north of Scotland—40 per cent. of such fish is imported, but 60 per cent. is dependent on the North sea catch. In my own area, many processors have a particular requirement for small haddock, which cannot easily be imported. I urge the Minister to make sure that that is taken into account.
The hon. Gentleman is talking a great deal of sense. However, I clearly remember that he has been quoted as saying that the processors could depend on imported fish. Was he again misquoted before Christmas?
When the hon. Gentleman asks such questions he usually pulls a newspaper clipping out to prove me wrong, so I had better be careful about what I say. I know that the industry has become much more reliant on imports—I have certainly said that in the past—but I have always acknowledged the importance of locally caught fish. I am simply trying to emphasise that point—and I know that the situation is exactly the same in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
The fish processing industry is extremely important. According to the industry itself, there are some 200 fish processing companies left in Scotland employing about 10,000 people in direct jobs; there are another 2.5 jobs in the wider community for every job in the industry. There has been a considerable contraction since 1995, with the loss of about 150 companies. The industry has faced very difficult times recently, mainly in coming to terms with new requirements such as new water charges and the introduction of European hygiene regulations. One of the industry's main fears is that if there is further contraction—most people accept that that is almost inevitable—that that part of it that has invested most heavily in new equipment, and in coming up to scratch and providing the necessary quality of service would be least able to cope with the new pressures. I hope that when plans for support are drawn up, that will be taken into account.
There are other ways in which the industry could be helped. For example, the industry pays about #3 million by levy to the Sea Fish Industry Authority. That is an extremely important body, but the levy is a considerable drain on resources.
With reference to processors, will the Minister confirm that they will be invited to the meeting with the Prime Minister and will be part of the discussions on the future of the industry? It is essential that they are taken fully into account in all considerations.
My hon. Friend Shona McIsaac, who could not stay for the debate, raised an important point in her intervention. In the past, most of the help directed to the industry has been directed to vessel owners through the decommissioning scheme. She rightly recalled the decommissioning that took place in the late 1970s. Substantial sums were paid to the fishing industry to decommission the fleet in the immediate aftermath of the Icelandic cod war. At the same time, many hundreds—probably thousands—of men lost their jobs or were disadvantaged in other respects because of the consequences of the cod war. It is only in the past two or three years that those men have been compensated. They were completely ignored in the 1970s and subsequently when their case was presented.
Because of the particular nature of employment in the sea fishing industry, fishermen tend to have no contracts of employment. They are share fishermen or, in the case of my constituency, they worked in a pool system, with no direct employer. In 10 years' time, I do not want us to have to cope with the consequences of the fishermen who may be made redundant in the downturn that we all anticipate. I hope that the nature of their employment will be taken into account in compensation packages or schemes to support them.
A particular concern of mine relates to the fact that in the north-east of Scotland, when times have been difficult in the fishing industry, there have always been opportunities for fishermen in the oil industry. They have been able to get jobs on stand-by vessels or supply vessels and in some other parts of the merchant navy. Those opportunities are receding, not just because of the downturn in the oil industry—the price is high and the North sea industry seems to be suffering a little at present—but for other reasons.
For some reason that I find it difficult to understand, the work permit system that operates onshore does not apply in the offshore oil and gas industry or in most of our inshore shipping. For example, the new ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge operates under a British flag, but with foreign sailors. In the shipping industry that services the oil industry in particular, most of the employment is now going to what we might call cheap foreign labour. There are substantial numbers of Filipino and growing numbers of Ukranian and Polish nationals. I ask the Minister to take into account the need for those job opportunities to be made available, which is not the case at present. I will be lobbying the Minister responsible for such matters for the extension of the work permit scheme to the offshore industry and to certain other shipping areas within our territorial waters. If we are to face difficulties in the industry, it is important that the work force—the day-to-day fishermen who may not own a fishing boat but are vital to the industry—are taken fully into consideration.
I congratulate Mr. Doran on his considered remarks in this debate, as in other debates on such an important subject. I hope that the Minister will take on board the hon. Gentleman's penultimate point about the parlous state of share fishermen who are joint venturers in fishing ventures. In my constituency, the vast majority of fishermen are engaged in that way and will face particular difficulty if the significant decline that is predicted in many regions occurs. Bearing in mind your very appropriate strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will do my best to contain my remarks from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench to 15 minutes plus any injury time incurred through interventions.
As I said earlier, I very much value the graciousness of the Minister, in this debate in particular, in taking the number of interventions that he does. Of course, that takes up some time, but, because he answers the questions raised in the interventions, a great deal of extremely useful debate is achieved by that method. I hope that, in future fishing debates, the Minister will not feel that he needs to curtail his speech, because many hon. Members consider this issue very deeply and come here with very sincere interests in the subject, and they value the way in which the Minister responds to the debate.
The Council dealt with two main issues in December. The first was the annual quota settlement; the second was the very important 20-year review of the common fisheries policy, which was clearly critical. The quota settlement was the issue that drew the publicity at the Council meeting. The problem with the blunderbuss approach of quota settlements and the crude use of days at sea is that they provide a stick without a carrot for the industry—a straitjacket without hope. As I said earlier, the approach treats fishermen as perpetrators rather than partners. We believe that they should be seen as partners in the future management of fishing stocks. There has clearly been a change in culture over the last five to 10 years in the way in which the industry approaches this issue, and it has come forward with proposals to contain and constrain its own activities by a number of measures that are certainly more sophisticated than the blunderbuss approach of quotas and days at sea. I believe that those measures should be very much part of the management regime of future stocks around our coasts.
My Liberal Democrat colleague, the fisheries Minister in the Scottish Executive, described the outcome as inequitable, unfair and crude, as Mr. Salmond said earlier. Having looked at it in detail, I think that my colleague was pulling his punches. It was a disaster for many areas, and it was a great disappointment that the more sophisticated approach that I have tried to describe could not have been used in a better way.
I listened carefully to the response from Mr. Hayes. It was the customary brass neck ritual rant—
Indeed. We are used to such responses to these debates. The faces change, but the ritual rant never seems to. I noticed that the Minister came to the last debate with a large pile of Christmas cards. I was judging the interest and importance of the speeches by the number of cards that he signed during them. I think that he signed most of them during the speech from the Conservative Front Bench. On this occasion, he and his staff probably had ample time to revise for and complete the psychometric tests that they are undertaking at the moment.
I referred to the Conservatives' brass neck because, if it were so apparent that the common fisheries policy needed to be revised in the way that they describe—they wish to repatriate it, as they say—why did they not do that during the 18 years of Conservative rule? Why was it never put on the agenda during that time? Why did it suddenly became apparent to them that they should have pursued that policy only on the day after the 1997 general election? We are invited to believe that they would have done more and done better, and that the leader of the Conservative Opposition would apparently have done more and intervened a great deal more than the Prime Minister has done. I have to say that the Conservatives appear to be suffering from the Xbenefit of hindsight" disease when looking at this matter.
When Mr. Weir pointed out in an intervention that the Leader of the Opposition had not raised fishing in Prime Minister's questions, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that that was a cheap remark. However, if fishing were the priority that those on the Conservative Front Bench claim it is, he would have raised it. The Conservatives still need to explain why, according to records made available under their 30-day rule—[Hon. Members: X30-year rule."] Perhaps we should have 30-day rules. According to information released under the 30-year rule, it is clear that the Conservative Cabinet felt that fishermen's livelihoods were expendable when we were negotiating a future role in the common fisheries policy.
On the common fisheries policy, some significant agreements were made in respect of six and 12-mile limits and, as I understand it, increased unilateral powers to introduce conservation and management measures. I am looking forward to seeing such measures and I hope that the Minister will expand on that matter. Agreement was also reached on the continuation of relative stabilities, the Hague preference and multi-annual quotas. Five years ago, when I first suggested the introduction of multi-annual quotas to avoid the eleventh-hour brinkmanship that occurs at the end of each year and often continues two weeks into the next one, the proposal met widespread derision. I do not know whether I can claim credit for it—perhaps others were making the same suggestion—but I am pleased to see that it has been agreed to, as it ensures that fishermen and their financial backers can plan for the future, certainly in the medium term. The regional advisory councils are another especially important development, but I shall return to them in a moment.
The Minister is right that the removal of subsidies for construction and modernisation, while limited grants for modernisation will continue, is a step forward. As he said, those subsidies should have been stopped immediately, but it is important for them to be phased out as quickly as possible.
I want to focus on two further issues. The Minister believes that there is a need for further research on industrial fishing. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, I and other hon. Members have made it clear that we believe that sufficient information is already available. The illegal catches found on board two Danish vessels shortly before Christmas demonstrate the problem that we face. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from fisherman to suggest that it would be impossible for such industrial fishing vessels to operate in areas where they have been seen to be operating without taking a very significant by-catch of white and other illegal fish.
It is therefore important that the Minister does not simply wait for further research, which is merely a delaying tactic on an issue that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. The reason why the industry feels particularly cynical about the issue is that, even though mesh sizes as small as 16 mm are used by those in the industrial sector, they are given 23 days at sea, while those with much larger mesh sizes have the fewest days at sea available to them. Surely, that is a contradiction.
Those in the industry will need a lot of persuasion that the regional advisory councils will provide an opportunity for them to work in partnership in its future management. I hope that the Minister and his Department will concentrate a great deal of attention, time and resources on ensuring that the councils work. The industry is on the verge of becoming cynical. It doubts whether the advisory councils will have teeth and fears that they will be expensive, large and pointless talking shops. The Government must encourage the industry to make policy, not advisory proposals, for fast implementation.
There are many fertile spawning grounds around the coast that need protection. The Trevose ground, which is off the coast of the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Tyler, is one of the most fertile and productive spawning grounds in the UK. Juvenile spawning stock of cod, sole, pollock, whiting and haddock can be found there, especially from this time of year. It is worrying that the area is not protected.
I recently met Paul Trebilcock, general secretary of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation. The organisation has devised responsible proposals for closing two areas around the Trevose grounds between
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reference to Trevose. It vividly demonstrates his central point that some people in the industry are doing their utmost to act as partners in conservation. Language is therefore important. The more people treat those in the industry as genuine partners, not potential perpetrators of steps to remove conservation measures, the more likely our chances of success.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising that. The industry will present the proposal that I mentioned as soon as possible, before the establishment of the advisory councils, which should be set up as quickly as possible. The test for the Under-Secretary is the speed with which the advisory councils can implement the proposal. There is no justifiable argument against it, and it should have been implemented years ago. It should now be effected as quickly as possible.
If the advisory councils were regional management committees with genuine power to make decisions and implement them, they would be able to effect the proposal quickly. However, they are advisory councils and we need a mechanism to ensure that good and sensible proposals have a fast track to the Council of Ministers so that decisions are not only made but acted upon quickly.
Let us consider dolphins and the cetacean by-catch. I know that the Under-Secretary is worried and frustrated by the many dolphins that have been washed up as strandlings on the beaches in my part of the world. Bass pair trawlers are likely to be one of the main culprits, and the Department was planning to trial new separator grids this year. That is welcome, but I believe that the Under-Secretary's efforts have been frustrated by an accident. Many people in Cornwall, including those in the industry, are also upset by strandlings. Those in the industry believe that they are being blamed for them, when they are innocent.
I am deeply frustrated by the delay in the trials. The matter is beyond our control because the vessel is damaged. However, on the point about strandlings in Cornwall in the past month, no British pair trawlers have been operating in the vicinity. That shows that there is a European Union problem, and we are therefore pressing the matter. The CFP regulations acknowledged that we must deal with cetacean by-catch and devise a strategy to eliminate it.
I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's remarks. The majority of pair trawlers are French and he is right to say that we must look to a European Union solution to the problem. However, I shall press him further on that important issue.
My time is up and I have taken a certain amount of injury time, but I want to raise one final issue—the need for a recovery programme. The Minister said that there is of course money for decommissioning, and that it will be made available to assist the industry. Such money will be essential for the North sea. Government money is available to assist those communities facing structural decline, but it is clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland is discussing with her Treasury colleagues other ways of assisting the industry. It is important that we look seriously at a recovery programme and some transitional aid, rather than managed decline.
Three years ago, the Minister agreed with the Agriculture Committee that what we need is a clear British fishing policy to help direct the industry, and to help provide a clear guideline on the way forward. The Department has still not responded to that, and is still not producing the industry policy that we need. The setting up of the regional advisory councils will provide the framework that the industry requires to direct its future.
I am sorry that the Liberal Democrat motion, which the Minister might even have been tempted to support, was not selected. It addresses many of the issues arising from the Council meeting in December, and I hope that the Minister takes heed of the issues that have been raised.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on a major success in these negotiations. I do so with a certain amount of grovelling servility, in that I am trying to use a nice cop, nasty cop routine within the confines of a single speech. It is certainly true that he was very effective in resisting what some people, including me, feared would be the consequences of renewing the common fisheries policy. To us, there seemed to be a threat of fishing up to the beaches, a threat to relative stability, a threat to ending The Hague preference, and a threat of a European fleet. All that has been averted, and in that regard I join in the congratulations that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations offered him.
However, the CFP has been extended, and we have to accept the fact that these cuts are directly attributable to the failures of the CFP. It is not a conservation policy; it has always been essentially political. The programme, which was foolishly accepted by a Conservative Government in 1972, is one of equal access to a common resource. That simply means doling out that common resource to other countries in the form of quotas, even though most of the waters—very fertile waters—to which access has been given are British. Such quotas constitute a very ineffective means of policing. That failure has culminated in the stark reality of the cuts that we now face. So there has to be a Xnasty guy" element in my speech.
I accept that my hon. Friend was put in a difficult position. The main threat was to the cod, haddock and white fish that are in our waters and caught by our vessels, and for that reason he was on the defensive. However, as Fishing News argues, it seems that other nations were bought off. It appears that concessions were made to them in order to impose the main sacrifices on Britain. The list of those nations is long, and it includes Ireland. I should say in passing how appalled I was to see Ireland among that crowd of greedy predators. The Irish describe themselves as the friends of fishing, but that is a major betrayal. Ireland got away with no limitation on days at sea in the Irish sea, with another two years of subsidies, and with more herring quota.
Hake was dropped from the Spanish stock recovery programme, which suited them. They, too, will enjoy two more years of subsidy and support for new investment in fishing, which will result in a lot of building in Spain during that period. France got the 80 mm mesh for saithe in the southern North sea, and 25 days at sea per month for vessels fishing with that mesh. They had already had a better deep-water deal than us.
Denmark, the home of industrial fishing, was given 25 days a month for the purpose. All who have spoken today have described that as a major cause of the problem, a view echoed by the industry. I have a document prepared by Grimsby fish producers organisation. I think that I sent the Minister a copy; if not, I will send it to his Department hot-foot—or hot-fish. It says that the Danish and Norwegian industrial fishing fleets account for 20 per cent. of fish mortality. It is well documented that, in the winter of 2001–02, industrial fishing by-catch varied from 21 per cent. haddock to as much as 97 per cent. herring, and all that was illegal. As others have said, boats in Denmark have incurred the minimal penalty of not being allowed to put to sea for a month. As it was Christmas, they were not going to put to sea anyway.
That was presumably a concession to the Danes. As for the Netherlands and Belgium, cuts in plaice and sole were reduced to 5 per cent. and 1 per cent. respectively. The result was that all those states could concur that the major cuts in fishing effort should be imposed on this country, which has left us in a messy situation. It has hit the vessels with the bigger mesh, which are the most effective for conservation purposes. Fishing effort will be diversified into smaller meshes when we want to increase mesh sizes. Vessels will rush out of ports and catch the maximum that they can catch as quickly as possible within their limited fishing period, and then belt back with little regard for conservation.
We all indulge in nostalgia. There is a syndrome in the fishing industry which I call NITDIMW, or XNot If They'd Done It My Way". Those of us who believe that ownership of a nation's waters is the best guarantor of the protection and development of that nation state's fishing industry and of proper conservation think that, if we had not thrown that away in 1972, we would not be in our present position. The Scottish nationalists clearly think that a better deal would have been negotiated by an independent Scotland. I doubt that, because Scotland would have experienced the same pressures that hit the British Government.
My hon. Friend is partly right. Of course there are pressures, and of course member states vote in different ways. Outcomes will be influenced by majority voting and blocking minorities. The situation is more complex, however. Some member states that have traditionally supported our view, such as Germany and Sweden, want a complete closure, while others—including Denmark—which have been hit just as hard as us on cod have supported the days-at-sea proposals. In regard to the Irish sea, for instance, we pressed for no effort control because our industry was arguing for that. As for saithe, we have a big interest in that on Humberside.
What my hon. Friend described as concessions to other countries were actually measures that we wanted as well. The situation is not quite as simple as he suggests—although the way in which member states ally themselves of course has an influence.
I accept that, but the fact remains that because of the white fish difficulty, the main problems were incurred by us. It is permissible to ask, as some in the industry have asked, whether France would have gone gentle into that good night if they had been in our position.
The hon. Gentleman is chairman of the all-party fisheries group and knows the answer to his own question. As he goes through the list of countries that have established fishing as a priority, he will realise what can be done. Surely he would never suggest that any Scottish Minister would have signed up to a common fisheries policy that regarded the Scottish fisheries as expendable? That is what the Conservative Government did in 1972.
I accept that that is true. I have long regretted that fishing is not given the same priority in this country, as it is not considered economically important. An independent Scotland might not have accepted the 1972 CFP, but I doubt that it would have been able to put up a better and more effective fight than did the British Government of the time, in which English and Scottish Ministers worked together.
In any case, there is no point wasting time on historical matters, however interesting. My argument is that the Government have accepted this settlement, and therefore must accept the consequences. They are that measures, mainly financial, will have to be taken to ensure that a viable fishing industry survives to inherit the benefits of what I hope will be more effective conservation.
My hon. Friend the Minister will have seen the report from the Sea Fish Industry Authority on costs and earnings. It says that the average profit of the white fish fleet was 2.6 per cent. That is pathetic. The report states that 35 per cent. of vessels in the fleet were fishing at a loss, and estimates that the new measures would impose a further loss of #135 million on the fleet.
An interesting table in the report shows the effects of various levels of profit reduction. Even the most minimal reduction would lead to 953 job losses in the whole UK on the catching side, and to 2,186 lost jobs on onshore industries. That is a total loss of 3,500 jobs, and a reduction in output, in financial terms, of #279 million.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister accepts those figures. It is often argued that the fishing industry often poormouths itself, and I agree: it often presents itself with its trouser bottoms hanging out, saying that it is going bankrupt. However, all the conversations that I have had with fishermen show that this time they are facing a disastrous financial situation. They cannot go on without substantial Government intervention to help them financially.
First, that help must certainly include a substantial decommissioning package. I disagree with other hon. Members in that respect, as it is clear that getting as many as 15 days at sea per month has required the acceptance of a 15 per cent. decommissioning package. Secondly, the quotas of the decommissioned vessels should be bought by the local producer organisations, so that they are kept in the locality. I hope that the Government will consider helping them with that, as many cannot afford to buy up quota in that way.
Thirdly, there has to be compensation for the men who are losing their jobs. They are share fishermen, and so not entitled to redundancy. However, it would be appalling if we were to allow another scandal to happen similar to what happened with the failure to pay compensation to the Icelandic trawlermen. They were later deemed to be employed, but it took 25 years to come through. The fishermen involved are losing their livelihood, and some form of compensation—I accept that it would be an ex gratia scheme—must be made available.
Two other things are needed as well. The first is operating support. It is a vexed issue, but vessels will not be profitable if they are allowed only 15 days at sea a month. Indeed, the Sea Fish Industry Authority estimates that 90 per cent. of the fleet will not be profitable in that situation. Therefore, there must be some support for the fixed costs that it incurs if it is to be kept going.
The World Wildlife Fund has proposed what seems to me to be an eminently sensible scheme. It points out that this is an investment in the industry, not a subsidy, to keep it going. If we do not keep it going, other countries investing in their industries, giving support to their industries, will keep theirs going. Therefore, there must be a measure of operator support and there must be aid for communities, as my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac argued earlier. Last time it failed, because it went through the regional development agencies and not directly to fishing. It went on lighting schemes, new paving on seafronts, and all sorts of other things, but did not go to fishing. It needs to be directed to fishing.
My hon. Friend the Minister must apply his very inventive mind and Department to other methods of support for the industry, which I hope would include paying fishing vessels to take scientists to sea, because the industry and the science are far apart.
My hon. Friend Mr. Doran made suggestions about how the fishing and sailing skills of people in the industry could be used in other areas if we changed the regulations on the people on vessels in Scottish waters. Particularly for Scotland, that might sustain those skills for a longer period, until the fishing industry can use them again.
I agree absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very valid and important point.
We also have to face the problem of port and dock charges, which are quite substantial in this country, whereas in many of our competitor countries, fishing pays no dock charges. They are paid directly by the Government or the municipal authority. There are ever-escalating charges on the processing side. Our industry bears light dues, whereas European industries do not. It needs help with installing the satellite surveillance system, which was going to be financed by Europe, but now the industry has been asked to pay for it itself.
Any way in which the industry can be helped in its current difficulties should be used. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is conversant with the problem. I hope that he will apply himself to developing a package for fishing that ensures that we have a viable fishing industry in three or four years, when the catches begin to pick up and we can inherit the future, to ensure that that future does not go to other industries whose countries are providing the support that we should give.
The Minister behaved extremely well in the debate, and I pay tribute to the intelligence and concern that he brought to all the issues and to the fact that he took so many interventions.
I wish to make a few brief remarks in the spirit of trying to offer some constructive suggestions about how the position of this badly damaged industry could be bettered.
I draw the Minister's attention, first, to the question of how much fish is wasted. We see from the European Union documents before us that 50,000 to 75,000 tonnes of whiting are known to be dumped every year. The figures on haddock range from 55,000 to 125,000 tonnes. If we multiply that by all the different species of all the catches and by-catches, we must be in the realm of well over a million tonnes of fish being crudely dumped back into the sea. That is an environmental disaster, a biological disaster and an economic disaster.
I understand that the Minister wishes to wrestle with the problem, and I see from the good documentation before us that the EU, after these many long years, has at last made some suggestions that might begin to tackle the problem. I would ask the Minister to show a greater sense of urgency. I know that he has to work with 14 other member states and I know that the Commission often grinds very slowly when one wants it to do something—I attended enough meetings to find that out for myself—but there is much common sense on the side of those of us who say that we must stop this disaster in its tracks. We must be able to mobilise public opinion and ministerial opinion in the Community to do a better job.
The documents are long and copious. The Minister knows better than I do the various proposals that have been made. It would be possible, for example, to land all the fish that are caught and find some economic use for them. People are prepared to buy smaller fish if they are cheaper than bigger fish. Sometimes they are prepared to pay a premium for smaller fish if they are attractive and can be cooked in different ways.
We should certainly reconsider mesh sizes to ensure that fewer small fish are caught. There must be better guidance and systems of temporary control to deal with shoals of younger fish, which we need to protect to ensure that they can grow into bigger fish and to encourage recovery. We must be able to do something about the consequences of too much industrial fishing being undertaken, which is damaging so much of the seabed and the marine environment.
I also hope that the Minister will have another go at the overall quotas. Those who said that they are not fair are quite right. That problem has been greatly exacerbated by the final dénouement of the open policy, bringing in many vessels from elsewhere. We are cursed with a common fisheries policy, but, fortunately, from the point of view of the Spaniards, French and the others, we do not have common policies in areas where we could benefit.
Why, for example, do we not have a common wine policy, whereby we could supplement the grapes produced by our own wine growers with some of the higher quality grapes from Bordeaux? Perhaps we should have a quota. Why do we not have a common olive policy? We do not seem to grow many olives in Britain. Is it fair that the Spaniards and Italians grow so many but we do not have access to their resources, when they have access to the prime marine resource that we have brought to the Community, as we happen to have most of the important fish stocks and fish breeding grounds?
I know that it is more difficult to reopen all the quota issues—I do not suggest that the Minister should recommend other common policies, given the failure of this common policy—but it is vital, for the sake of the communities that are facing decimation as a result of the changes, that we have another go. I remember visiting the English ports a few years ago and seeing the consequences of previous quota decisions, which had been extremely damaging.
There has been a little bit of crude party politics in the debate, which is not particularly helpful. Many Liberal Democrat and Labour Members delight in saying that a Conservative Government first took us into the European Community and therefore that a Conservative Government first signed up to the common fisheries policy, but all those Members should remember that the 1974–79 Labour Government, supported for quite a long period by the Liberal Democrats, renegotiated our relationship with the EU and presented what they said was a much better solution to the British people in a referendum and the British people voted in favour.
At that point, if not before, all the parties in the House—particularly the Labour party, but also the Liberal Democrats—effectively signed up to the whole deal, including the common fisheries policy. So I am afraid that the blood of the fishing settlements and fishing industry is on the arms and hands of all the legislators of all the parties that have supported that renegotiated package and our continued membership of the Community ever since.
I have been a long-standing critic of the common fisheries policy. I was an unsuccessful critic of it in a Conservative Government, when colleagues did not agree with some of my views on how far we should go in demanding renegotiation. I was no more successful in trying to get the Conservative Government between 1995 and 1997 to accept my advice on this issue when I decided to return to the Back Benches and when I visited many of the fishing areas to see for myself the tragedy that was unfolding.
In recent years, I have been much more successful. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague was very sympathetic and changed Conservative policy on fishing in the light of the tragedy unfolding in the fishing communities and fishing industry. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is carrying on with the work that was commenced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks.
I am not expecting the Government immediately to demand the fundamental renegotiation that the Conservative party now currently stands for and demands, but I hope that Minister will think again and see that for a long period, some 30 years, whatever party has been in power, our fishing industry has been in continuous decline, that far too much fish is being taken by vessels from other countries and that far too much damage is being done by the fishing techniques still permitted for a very precious marine environment off our coasts.
This could be a great industry and fish are a vital natural resource. The common fisheries policy is proven to be an environmental, economic, social and industrial disaster. I hope that the Minister will follow up at least my ideas on making better use of the fish that are currently wasted and changing the rules on what kind of fishing is permitted because the wrong kind of fishing is coming in from outside. I hope that, one day, we will get cross-party support for the idea that fishing could be better regulated and controlled in Britain than by the EU.
Usually when I rise to speak I say what a pleasure it is to engage in the debate, but unfortunately I find precious little pleasure in taking part in our discussions today. There is gloom not only among hon. Members but also in the fishing communities that we represent, with only a very dim light at the end of a very, very long tunnel.
However, I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister on the efforts that he has made on our behalf, because, as my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell outlined, many people were fearful before the discussions at the end of last year and many of those fears have been allayed. Despite that, we should not underestimate the serious impact that the agreement will have on all our constituents. It was not as bad as we feared, but it was still a dreadful result for all too many of the fishermen we represent.
Tomorrow, I shall meet representatives of the Fleetwood Fish Forum. I want to be able to offer them some hope and reassurance, but I find myself in a difficult position. What reassurances can I give them about this year, next year or the years to come?
I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister assured us that he would look into an appropriate aid package. I emphasise the point that I made earlier: any economic assistance must bring positive benefits to our fishing communities. Such a package will have to include help with decommissioning, but it must also recognise that our fishing communities want to remain fishing communities.
In Fleetwood, there is still optimism. On a recent visit to my constituency, my hon. Friend met representatives of the local fishing community who told him about the investment that they were making. He met Chris Neve who was investing in new vessels. That is positive. Many people hold out hope for the future, but they want reassurance that their investments are appropriate for that future.
When I meet the forum tomorrow, I shall certainly ask its members to give me details of how the negotiated package will affect them in the future. I look on this debate as merely the start of discussions and give notice to my hon. Friend the Minister that I shall undoubtedly be writing to him after my meeting tomorrow to outline the concerns of my constituents.
However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that Fleetwood fishermen understand the need for conservation. Over the past three years, they have taken an active part in the Irish sea cod recovery programme; they understand that, without conservation, there will be no fish.
I am interested in what the hon. Lady says about her meeting because, tomorrow, I too shall be meeting representatives of fishing-based industries in my constituency. Does she agree that it would be useful if we could tell our constituents that there will be additional money from the Treasury for an aid package? Was she as disappointed as I was with the Minister's earlier answer on that point?
I was not disappointed with the Minister's answer; I was pleased that my hon. Friend is considering the type of aid package that he outlined. I realise that my hon. Friend is at the start of negotiations and I shall do everything in my power to help him in his negotiations with other Departments and I look forward to an outcome that satisfies my constituents.
The position of my constituents is rather different from that of people in many of the fishing communities that were referred to in the debate. There is no effort limitation in the Irish sea; Fleetwood fishermen are allowed to go out and fish, but they are not allowed to catch much when they do so. The context for any aid package for them will be different from that for Scottish and North sea fishermen.
The Minister mentioned the nature of the Irish sea cod recovery programme, and it has been confirmed that the western Irish sea will be closed. I must remind him, however, that Fleetwood fishermen believe that the eastern Irish sea should also be included, as substantial cod stocks are to be found there. I know that his scientific advice disputes that, but I was told that in the first quarter of 1999, the model year used by the Commission, more cod was caught in the eastern Irish sea than in the western Irish sea. The Dutch and Belgian beamers that fish those waters, although they target sole, have a substantial cod by-catch. I am told that, last year, in area 7A, the Belgians had a sole catch of 674 tonnes and a cod catch of 283 tonnes. That is a considerable amount of cod. If cod stocks in the Irish sea are perilously low, we need to examine carefully the closed areas to make sure that we are protecting what cod is there, and other species.
As I mentioned, Fleetwood fishermen are allowed to go out in the coming year, apart from in the closed areas, but they are deeply shocked at the level of the cuts in quota. The Minister agreed that there had been some recovery in cod stocks, which is what the fishermen tell me. They say that they enjoyed a good year last year in terms of catches, so they are seeing benefits from the cod recovery programme, although they moderate their remarks by saying that it is a slight recovery. They think that the 59 per cent. cod reduction, 55 per cent. haddock reduction and 56 per cent. whiting reduction imposed on them is not justified by the evidence that they see as fishermen in the Irish sea, and they are especially concerned about the 65 per cent. cut in plaice, as they tell me that the plaice stock is within safe biological limits. Will my hon. Friend therefore consider whether the scientific evidence justifies those quota cuts, and whether they can be re-examined?
I also want to raise a technical issue with my hon. Friend. He will recall that I corresponded with him in 2001 about extending the Irish sea cod recovery programme technical measures up to 56° north and 7°30 west. Many Fleetwood men go up into the northern channel, and they were concerned that the nets that they use and the technical measures imposed on them changed once they had crossed over an arbitrary line in their fishing ground. My hon. Friend agreed, and the Commission changed the rules so that there was one set of EU rules all the way up to 56°. There is some confusion now about whether the technical measures applying to the Irish sea cod recovery programme still apply up to 56°, because there is an overlap with area 6A, where the effort control measures now apply. Will he consider that issue, so that I can reassure the fishermen of Fleetwood that, as they take their vessels all the way up into the northern channel, they are sailing under one set of Commission rules, not two?
Finally, I want to reinforce the point that I made in an earlier intervention: it is vital that the voice of fishermen is heard in these discussions. I was pleased to read in the Minister's letter that we have all received today:
XIn the Irish Sea, the 2002 cod recovery arrangements, including the closure of an area for a period in the spring, will be repeated. The Council envisages consideration of a more sophisticated effort control regime for all member states with vessels fishing the area concerned on the basis of a Commission proposal, which would be brought forward by mid-February, with the possibility of adoption by the second half of 2003."
That is a chink of light and a glimmer of hope for the fishermen of Fleetwood who want to engage in constructive discussions about the future of any proposals for the Irish sea. Will my hon. Friend assure me that they will be included in the discussions about the future of the cod recovery programme? They feel that they have a lot to offer to the debate. I shall certainly do my best to represent their wishes. I conclude my remarks now to allow other Members to make their important contributions.
I return to the central paradox of the debate. We have heard that the Scottish Fisheries Minister—a similar point is made in the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National party amendments—accurately described the deal coming out of Brussels as unjust, unfair and discriminatory. He was thoroughly depressed. The Minister in this House agreed with that at certain points in his speech, but he also described the deal as the best-balanced process. We have even heard the word Xsuccess" used in terms of the outcome of the Brussels negotiations. If we have more successes like this, there will be no one left in the fishing industry to celebrate.
The Minister, Mr. Mitchell and I have debated these issues on innumerable occasions, and I have a memory for what people have said over the past few years. I could direct the Minister's attention to the debates on the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992 when he described an eight-day tie-up—not a 16-day one—as a betrayal. If an eight-day tie-up under the Conservative party was a betrayal, what is the 16-day tie-up that the Labour party has agreed to in these negotiations?
I have other comments from the Minister in the debates of 11 years ago. It is excellent stuff. He said:
XWe have long argued for an end to industrial fishing. The position is now so critical that our fishermen are being forced to tie up their boats in port compulsorily, and there is no longer any role for industrial fishing."
That is what he said 11 years ago when he was facing the Conservative party.
I have with me an industrial fishing net. It is like a hair net—absolutely nothing could get through such a net. Industrial fishermen fish in the same waters as other fishermen, but the Minister tells us that there is no real scientific back-up for an end to industrial fishing. Eleven years ago, he thought that there was absolutely no doubt about it. It could not be allowed to continue. It was unacceptable. There had to be an end to it. Eleven years later—for half that time he has been in office—we find that he believes that the science is ambiguous.
The hon. Gentleman knows me very well, because we have debated these issues for many years. I think that he will recognise that my remarks have always been consistent. If we are arguing for change in the face of deep-rooted opposition from other countries who do not believe a word that we are saying, we must have the evidence for our case. My problem—I shall be quite open about it—is that the evidence is not as definitive as I would like it to be. Nevertheless, the case is still there for tackling industrial fishing and its long-term consequences on the marine environment.
The only European Union country with a real interest in industrial fishing is the mighty state of Denmark, with its 5 million people. It attaches great priority to its fishing industry and was chair of the Council meeting. The mighty state of Denmark was able to resist all the other countries and sustain its interest in industrial fishing with the type of hair net that destroys the feedstock and the future of the fisheries.
Even if industrial fishing was directed and did not result in a by-catch—such a suggestion is laughable—it would still destroy the ecosystem. One cannot destroy 600,000 tonnes of feedstock and sand eels from any marine environment without depressing the stocks of other fish. What do the cod, the haddock and the other fish eat? They eat material at the bottom of the food chain. Removing the bottom of the food chain removes the fish at the top. We do not need a degree in fisheries science to know that.
As the Minister conceded, the pout fishery is not a directed fishery. The thousands of tonnes of small and tiny fish caught in the pout fishery represent millions upon millions of potential large fish. So 1,000 tonnes in the pout fishery is many thousands of tonnes in a human consumption fishery. It is unacceptable that in the human consumption fishery, fishing with 120 mm nets with square mesh panels should be limited to 15 days a month while in the same waters, a fishery used for pigfeed, poultryfeed and for drying pellets for animal consumption gets 23 days and virtually no restriction on quota. The Minister knew it 11 years ago and it is to his shame that he is not more forceful about it now, and that in his five and a half years as Fisheries Minister he has not demanded the research that gave him the base to argue for that at European Council meetings.
The Minister made an excellent speech 11 years ago and I recommend he read it again. He said:
XThere are other, more constructive ways of reducing effort than making boats tie up in port. Has the Minister considered arguing in the European Community for fishermen who use large mesh and receive a special payment?"—[Hansard, 8 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 56.]
The Scots fishing industry, using the largest mesh in the whole of Europe, does not get a special payment. We get a special deal of only 15 days a month if we are prepared to accept another 15 per cent. decommissioning on top of the 20 per cent. decommissioning that took place last year. That is certainly a special deal for the Scottish white fish industry, but not the right one. I hope that the Minister will read his speech again and find constructive ways in which to assist an industry that has been trying to pursue a conservation fishery.
Of course there will be difficult negotiations, but the Minister's central failure is clear: it was not to extract the whiting and haddock quotas from underneath the cod quota and the recommendation. He had the evidence to do it in the groundfish survey, DEFRA's major annual survey. Incidentally, Mr. Fischler told me in December that he had never seen it—he thought that it was produced by fishermen. The Commissioner actually thought that the major DEFRA survey on fish stocks in the North sea was produced by fishermen and therefore discounted it.
The DEFRA survey on spatial distribution shows no cod in many areas of the North sea but very substantial quantities of haddock and whiting. How on earth the grounds could not have been prepared to extract the haddock and whiting allocation and quota from the cod recovery plan or the emergency measures, goodness only knows. I say that it is because of lack of preparation, thought and concern.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the very good year class of haddock is based on the 1999 year class. The surveys since then, including the groundfish survey, show that recoupment has been very poor—in fact, some of the poorest on record. We must look at conserving the current haddock stocks and, in relation to mesh sizes, which the industry has agreed, minimising what has been an unacceptable discard rate, calculated at about 100,000 tonnes a year, of under-sized haddock.
Yes, and the Minister sat with me when I asked DEFRA scientists whether they had been setting a haddock and whiting quota as a stand-alone measure. They agreed that it would have been about a 20 per cent. reduction in quota. How on earth did we arrive at a situation in which the cod quota was reduced by 45 per cent., with the stock under pressure, haddock by 50 per cent. and whiting by 60 per cent.? The Minister should listen and use the arguments adduced by his own scientists. It should have been possible to extract haddock and whiting by geography and by time of year out of the cod emergency measures, and the Minister knows it.
In addition, scientific voyages have taken place over the past year which, as the fishermen found out in November, had not even been presented as evidence to the European Commission at that stage. That research would have showed that, for whiting, up to 70 per cent. of escapes were of marketable quality. If fishermen are using 120 mm nets with square mesh panels, the haddock and whiting stocks are totally protected in that environment. The Minister is nodding. I hope that when he sums up he will be able to offer encouragement that trying to recover the ground that has been lost in terms of haddock and whiting will be a priority.
We have heard a fair bit of the history of the common fisheries policy. It is important to consider that. With due respect to Mr. Redwood and his selective interpretation of it, the history tells us how we got where we are. It may even tell us how to get out of this situation. National control is an excellent idea. It would be far better than the current arrangements. The problem is how we achieve it. Unfortunately, the series of negotiations that started in 1971 make that difficult. The release of a 30-year-old document has allowed us to see that the fishing industry was considered to be expendable in the context of wider British European interests. In 1983, the great Lady Thatcher, that anti-European, signed up for the quota allocation policy. When the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government, the Maastricht treaty put the fisheries policy into treaty form. In 1994, the Spanish were allowed to rewrite their treaty of accession so that they could have early access to the west coast. The UK agreed to that on the basis of Spanish support for our opt-out from the single currency. On each and every occasion, fishing was traded away in pursuit of wider British European interests. Mr. Hayes did not satisfy us on how things would be different in the Conservative party of 2003.
Mr. Mitchell was kind enough to explain that the evidence shows that if a country makes fishing a priority, it is able to extract concessions for their industry. Every other nation emerged from the Brussels talks with their industry intact although not totally undamaged. [Interruption.] I thank Mrs. Lait for her charity in providing me with a glass of water. It is definitely not good Scottish water. Even fish would find it difficult to survive in it. However, it has done the job and cleared my throat.
Those countries in which fishing is a priority emerged from the negotiations with their industry protected. Only Britain emerged with our industry, or part of it, under mortal threat. The industry has to be offered the hope that something will be done to rebalance the disastrous package over the next few months, including in next month's negotiations on the more formulated cod recovery plan. The deal cannot be allowed to stand for any length of time. If it does, there will be no way around it. It will mean thousands of job losses and that is that. The industry must be given a sign from the Dispatch Box that there will be an attempt to salvage something from what is a total and utter disaster.
In the meantime, a financial package should be provided to protect and keep intact the integrity of as much of the industry as possible. I very much agree with Mrs. Humble who said that decommissioning, even if it is a necessary tool of policy, does nothing for the economic fabric of the fishing areas. It does a great deal for the clearing banks, however. Most of the decommissioning money goes straight into them because they are the first line of credit. Some of it does not even pull the fishing businesses out of debt and often other creditors get no money at all.
If the Minister believes that it is a balanced package and there is hope for the future, he should try to keep the industry intact so that it benefits from the recovery in stocks. A mere decommissioning scheme is not the answer. New money from the Treasury must be forthcoming. It will not be enough to rebalance existing budgets. I do not know about Blackpool and Fleetwood, but there is no huge surfeit of money in the enterprise budgets in north-east Scotland to allow the transfer of substantial sums into the fishing industry. The money simply is not there. The Treasury has to provide new money to keep communities intact.
Fishing has been given low priority. The total number of UK jobs is not huge by comparison with many other industries. At the Scottish level, fishing has about 10 times that level of importance and jobs are concentrated in key areas. In Fraserburgh in my constituency, more than half the employment is dependent on fishing, In Peterhead the figure is pushing towards 30 per cent. The level is about the same in the constituency of at least one other hon. Member. Up the Moray coast, in Arbroath and down to Eyemouth, places that depend on the white fish fleet as a key part of their industry are gravely and totally in peril.
If the Government did not give the industry the required priority in negotiations, at least it should be given priority in terms of an assistance package to tide it over until a better deal can be done.
I have asked the Library about the common fisheries policy many times, over several years. I always get the answer that the only way we can get out of the CFP is to achieve unanimous agreement at a meeting of the Council of Ministers to renegotiate the treaty. There might be a strong argument for calling for national control, on the basis that it would put Commissioner Fischler into the position of having to make concessions. One concession might be to zone all management—a policy first advocated by the late Dr. Alan McCartney. No policy can survive when the country contributing the vast majority of its resource base is totally opposed to the policy's nature and direction.
Although the Minister was not really supported by the Prime Minister in December—
The fisheries Minister says that he was supported. There was a last-minute telephone call to Fischler. The matter was on the margins of the summit agenda. If we had hired Rory Bremner to telephone Fischler, we could have achieved more. We should have got Rory Bremner to telephone him and say, XI am the Prime Minister. I think that fishing should have the highest priority." Or to say, as the French representative did to Fischler, that Chirac would be there on Friday morning unless the French industry got out from under—which it did.
I have never doubted the Minister's knowledge of the industry but I wonder whether he was fully backed up and supported. When fisheries account for 70 per cent. of a country's resources, I do not understand how negotiations can be brought to a conclusion when that country totally rejects what is happening.
What optimism does my hon. Friend have that the Government will come up with a substantial aid package when the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot be present at an important fishing debate? He is acting as a tour guide for the Prime Minister at a Labour party meeting in Scotland. Or when a debate—
I take my hon. Friend's point. Hopefully the Secretary of State is lobbying the Prime Minister as we speak. At least that is a face-to-face meeting, not a telephone call from the right hon. Gentleman to the Prime Minister or vice versa.
It is absolutely vital that the Minister realises that the package cannot be allowed to stand for any length of time because it aims a dagger at the heart of an aspect of the Scottish and Yorkshire fleets, which have survived flagging out but will not remain intact if the new measures are allowed to stand. And while a better deal is renegotiated, there must be a substantial package of assistance funded by new money from the Treasury, in giving the industry the priority that it deserves but to which it is certainly not accustomed.
Representing as I do the largest beach-launched fleet in the whole of Europe, never mind the United Kingdom, the fishermen of Hastings are thankful that my hon. Friend the Minister has once again shown his commitment to their industry. They are grateful to him for listening and doing his best in the negotiations.
Almost by definition, the under-10m sector comprises natural conservationists. The overall catch is minimal compared with the number of jobs dependent on the industry. It is not just jobs in fishing that are important to an area such as Hastings but also in tourism and related areas of employment that depend on the industry's survival. The fact that the under-10 m sector will be exempt from days at sea is a welcome concession, and is in marked contrast to the impositions made when the Opposition were in power and faced a similar crisis.
I want to put that right on the record immediately, as I was the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. There was indeed a derogation from days at sea under the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992 which allowed boats under 10 m not to take part in the scheme.
The hon. Lady knows better than I because she was MP for Hastings and Rye at the time, and I apologise to her if what she has just said is the case. Undoubtedly, local fishermen did not think so, otherwise they would not have hung her from the yard-arm before the 1997 election. The present derogation is certainly important and the Minister is to be applauded for achieving it. My constituents are concerned about survival until better times are with us. Recent decisions mean that they will not be too distant, although we have some way to go.
My local industry has little interest in decommissioning and wishes to preserve its historic birthright—it does not want out, it wants a future. To be parochial, it is important that my local fleet has access to the reduced cod quota. At present, it has access only during the winter period, because that is when the fish are in the eastern end of the channel. Often by November and December, the quota for the whole channel is nearly exhausted. My hon. Friend has certainly made efforts on this, but has he made any progress on achieving a sub-quota for area VIId, which would allow the fleet its full allocation at the end of the year, when it became available naturally?
We need to look at alternatives during the short period when the fish are returning. My local fishing industry has a side catch of spider crabs, an important delicacy in southern areas such as Spain and parts of France. Is there any opportunity to provide, for example, capital for holding equipment, so that such a catch can be exploited? There may be other opportunities as well.
As hon. Members have said, financial support is needed while people get through these hard times. The Conservative proposals, some of which are quite outrageous, are not the answer. For example, Mr. Steen made an outrageous suggestion, with which those on his Front Bench seemed to have some sympathy, when he said that markets should be opened up. He said that there should be opportunities for quotas throughout the market. That is simply not on. To suggest that my constituents should bid for their birthright is as objectionable as it is impracticable. That needs to be stated clearly.
Most hypocritical of all, perhaps, was the Conservatives' suggestion that withdrawal from the CFP is a practical solution. In recent years, they have said that they would withdraw, then that they would not. Today, it appears that they are withdrawing again. My fishermen constituents are unequivocally in favour of withdrawal from the CFP, but they are unequivocally in favour of withdrawal from the European community anyway—there is no misunderstanding their position. The Conservative spokesperson refused to allow an intervention on the hypocritical proposal to withdraw from the CFP while leaving open the question whether the Opposition would seek to withdraw from the EU. I ask and hope that during the remainder of the debate, there will be some opportunity for the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman to say honestly whether it is their policy to withdraw unequivocally from the EU. That is the only possible way that they could withdraw from the CFP. In any event, fish do not carry passports, so it is within the EU that the answer must be found. We can achieve that and so much more through our membership.
First, we must all recognise that the Minister is Mr. Fish. If he were on XBrain of Britain", he would be able to answer every question about fish. Nobody knows more about fish. Secondly, he does his best. When he goes to Brussels, he negotiates as much fish as he can for Britain. There can be no doubt about that. However, under a system of quotas, he will always have to argue about how much is coming to Britain. He does his best, but it is never enough. The Scots, the North sea and the west country all want more. What is the Minister to do? All he can do is be a whipping boy. He comes to the Chamber every few months like a masochist. He gets beaten, goes off with his tail between his legs, and comes back for another performance. That is all he can do, as long as we have a common fisheries policy.
Mr. Foster, in his customary way, misunderstood everything that I proposed. I have a great affection for him and expect him always to misunderstand me. I suggested that we need a different system. As long as we have the old one, under which we come to the Chamber and argue about how much should go to Scotland, whether we should have more cod, whether the scientists are wrong, and whether we can have more crab, please, we will just go on arguing about it. The Minister will be benign and good-natured, and do his best. I have been going round the course for 20 years.
Although we cannot expect Labour Members to come round in the immediate future to our way of thinking on the subject of withdrawal from the CFP, surely even they must be made to admit that that cannot be worse than the situation currently facing British fishing communities.
I am always puzzled by the fact that the Government go on arguing. They must know that that is the scenario. I shall explore a different idea, if the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye will bear with me. I shall go slowly, so that he can understand the argument.
The system already operates in New Zealand, Iceland and the Philippines. It sets a limit on the total available catch of any fish. Within that total catch, quotas are established, either by auction or by gift to incumbent fishermen, so incumbent fishermen get a share of the quota. The quotas are tradeable among individual fishermen. That offers an escape clause for some fishermen who are no longer able to operate economically. It encourages more successful fishermen to buy fishing rights and exercise their property rights responsibly by fishing within that quota and monitoring others to make sure that they do so, as well. It also encourages brokers to speed up transactions to allow environmentalists to enter the market and buy and retire quotas if they believe stocks are being overfished.
I do not know whether such a scheme is the answer. All I know is that the present system does not work, so we must find some alternative. The anguish of the Scottish fishermen is understandable. I agree with them and with my west country fishermen. The situation will not get any better.
Society wants to eat more fish. There is a recognition that fish is better for our health. There is also a recognition that there are 6 billion people in the world, and that that figure will rise to 12 billion by 2060, according to the scientists, although they may be wrong. Where will the fish come from to feed them and maintain their health? Perhaps one should take a Machiavellian view and say that we should all eat meat so that we do not live so long.
I want to explore the topic of fish farms. I am concerned about the piece in the Daily Mail that hon. Members may have seen a few weeks ago, which said that salmon fisheries were poisoned and that the fish were being fed pellets which were not good for them and which were coming into the food chain. I am concerned about fish farms. If they are to be the future of the fishing industry, are we going to get rid of our boats and have fish farms for all types of fish? Are we then going to feed those fish with chemicals and colouring which will come into the food chain and which is bad for us? The Minister needs to look at that issue.
If we are not going to change the common fisheries policy, are we going to have arguments like this every few months? Are we going to keep on coming back to the House and arguing that the Minister is not doing well enough? Or is he going to follow a new thought process about how we are going to produce more fish? Are we going to reduce the amount of fish by over-fishing and then develop fish farms, with all their consequent problems? I also wonder whether he is going to pursue the idea of an alternative approach to the quota system. Is there a proposal on the cards to change the other EU countries' approach to fish quota?
My hon. Friend invites my intervention, which I am happy to supply him with. Does he share my concern that one of the important issues that we have to address in this debate has not been addressed by the Government? That is the targeting and direction of the aid package that is to be provided for fishermen in Scotland. Does he support the motion that is being proposed by Struan Stevenson, the Member of the European Parliament—
I am immensely grateful to Mr. Steen for giving me three minutes in which to say something about an industry that, as Mr. Salmond has pointed out, is responsible for one third of the economic product of Shetland, which is half of my constituency.
I could say a great deal about the conduct of this debate and of last month's Fisheries Council. I shall restrict my comments on the latter to saying that it showed the old common fisheries policy at its very worst. It involved protracted negotiations at all hours of the day and night and the worst sort of horse-trading at the very end of the year. Would any other industry tolerate having its future determined in that way? Manifestly, the answer is no, and there is a good reason for that. It is because to do so is frankly crazy.
The Minister has already referred to the new, improved common fisheries policy, and I sincerely hope that it is improved. It is very much on probation as far as I and my constituents are concerned. I was particularly pleased to see the retention of the six to 12-mile limit, the Shetland box, relative stability and The Hague preference. I was also pleased by the establishment of regional advisory councils. I am not suggesting for a second that they are a proper substitute for what we really need, which is regional or zonal management, but I accept that they represent a foot in the door. The fact that the councils will be answerable directly to the Council, rather than the Commission, is important.
I hope that the Government will take a leading role in establishing the first of the regional advisory councils and ensure that they work, and that the industry is involved right at their heart. That is the basis on which the common fisheries policy will have to be built if it is to have any credibility. The councils must be able to ease the Commission out of its micro-management of fisheries, because that has been at the root of the failure. If ever there were a good example of that failure, it was last month's Council in Brussels, and the lead-up to it.
I want to say a few brief words about the financial situation from here on in. It was not lost on me or other hon. Members that the Minister was asked directly whether there would be more new money from the Treasury but did not answer. There has got to be more money, it has got to be new money and it has got to come from the Treasury. We are in a dire situation and that is of the UK's making, so the money has got to come from the UK Treasury.
How is the decommissioning going to be determined? In Shetland, there is a critical mass below which the community is no longer viable if we keep decommissioning. In a situation such as ours, once the fishing is lost, the people will be lost. Once they are lost, that is it—the whole economic fabric of the community will disintegrate. There has to be recognition that island communities have a particularly high dependency on fishing.
We have been promised long-term benefits, and I am prepared to accept that we will get them if the Minister will see us through the short-term difficulty. In concluding his speech, he said that what was important was a sustainable fisheries policy. What we have got is simply not sustainable. It will not sustain the communities that I represent and that is what he has must solve.
May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your office for extending this debate from the three hours that were allowed on the Order Paper until six o'clock? I hope that the Leader of the House will note that even more than four hours would be helpful in future fishing debates because of the sheer number of people who wish to contribute.
I feel some déjà vu in returning to the issue of fishing. As Mr. Foster mentioned, 10 years ago, I made my maiden speech on the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill. Mr. Salmond and indeed my right hon. Friend Mr. Curry, who intervened earlier and was the relevant Minister at the time, have pointed out that, in respect of the difficulties in which the Minister now finds himself, and on which he has been negotiating and responding so effectively to our concerns, he was arguing precisely the opposite 10 years ago.
I should also like to pray in aid the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for Banff and Buchan and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood). I am sure that the latter has been involved in fishing debates for a very long time, as has my hon. Friend Mr. Steen. All of us are very familiar with the arguments and hope that we will not have to repeat these debates for much longer, although we suspect that we shall.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I cannot comment on all their speeches. Many heartfelt contributions were made. Mrs. Humble—I have noticed that Fleetwood is in Lancashire, not Yorkshire; some Scots do not understand geography—and the hon. Members for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) and for Hastings and Rye raised their concerns. I hope that the Minister got the message after an hour and two minutes. He is very generous with his time, and as somebody who has been doing the job for 10 years or more, he is certainly an expert and handled all the queries well. None the less, I hope that he got the message from everyone who has spoken about their worries on the crisis that is facing the fishing industry. The situation has been bad before, but after my experience on the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill, I never thought that I would say that an eight-day tie-up seemed very reasonable, as it does in comparison with a 15 or 16-day tie-up, which is what the fishing industry now faces.
Before I entered the Chamber, I read the amendments that the three Opposition parties had tabled and was intrigued by the similarity in tone between the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National party amendments. Both parties picked up on the hapless Ross Finnie's words—Xinequitable, crude and unfair"—but there are other similarities. In the Scottish Parliament today, the SNP tabled a motion on Iraq, and I am advised that the Liberal Democrat amendment is no different in substance. Perhaps a new coalition is emerging in Scotland between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. That means that the Labour party in Scotland could be in trouble, and we all look forward to that.
The hon. Gentleman may have had his chips soon.
There have been many crises in the fishing industry in the past 10 years and many similar debates. The Minister has often responded to our anxieties about, for example, tie-ups and the need for conservation measures. He said that a proper package of conservation measures was needed and we have supported some of his proposals. Indeed, we argued for them for a long time.
The Minister said that there should be full consultation with the fishermen's organisations. After 10 years, the message is precisely the same. The fishermen's organisations continue to claim that whatever they say, the Government do something contrary to their interests.
Ten years ago, the Minister said that he supported greater co-operation between scientists and fishermen. Why, therefore, do such passionate disputes persist about the scientific facts? Today, he said that he believed that the need for such co-operation continued to exist. However, if one talks to fishermen—I spoke to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation today—they claim that they co-operate much more with scientists, especially in Aberdeen, than any other European fishing fleets. They find that science is quoted back at them and used politically against their best interests. It is sad that, after 10 years, the scientists and the fishermen still do not work together.
As other Conservative Members pointed out, there is a lack of urgency in the Minister's approach to fishing. There is no drive behind getting the science and fishing properly integrated and presenting a clear message to the Commission.
The debate has covered all the issues that affect fishing. There is much anxiety in all fishing communities and among almost all participants in respect of the package of help. We hope that a long-term conservation programme will allow the fleets to continue fishing. In the meantime, the Minister needs to make a genuine commitment to providing a package of help that will be in place from
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We have had an interesting debate, and I must agree that the Minister has been more than courteous in answering all our questions, but whether we are satisfied with those answers is another matter altogether. I doubt whether any of the fishing communities in Scotland, Lancashire or Yorkshire will be reassured by his saying that they have a future in the coming months.
I begin by welcoming Mrs. Lait to the Dispatch Box on her first outing on fisheries. I believe that it is the first time that she has been involved in such a debate, and I certainly welcome her contributions and her courtesy. As she was involved in the previous days-at-sea scheme, she will know that it took a very different approach; it applied to the whole of the UK and to the entire industry. However, as I have said before, I do not dispute that there are problems, not least with administering such schemes. Indeed, I made that point to the Commission.
On the alternatives, Mr. Hayes made a strong case against quota control, but in doing so he simply played into the Commission's hands. The Commission advocated days-at-sea effort control because, in its view, quotas and traditional management methods have failed to deliver. All that he has done today is to give comfort to the Commission and credibility to its alternative proposals. The days-at-sea scheme is a possible alternative to quotas. It could deal with issues relating to discounts, and I have never been one to close my mind to different approaches.
My hon. Friend Mr. Doran made a very good point about the various processes and about crew nationality. The latter point is certainly worth considering in some detail, and I shall do so. Andrew George mentioned industrial fishing, as did several other Members. He made some very positive suggestions, including one relating to the Trevose grounds. We are advocating that suggestion to the Commission, and we want to pursue the issue in respect of closed areas as part of fisheries conservation. I was very pleased to learn of the support offered by his local industry.
On mesh sizes, the chairman of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation presented me with what I suspect was an off-cut of the piece of mesh to which Mr. Salmond referred. In turn, I presented it to the commissioner, in order to make the point about the impact of industrial fishing. The campaign will be ongoing, and other member states are indeed beginning to take an interest. That is what we need, because for many years mine has been the sole voice on this issue in the Council. Things are beginning to change, but we need the arguments to make the change that we are trying to achieve.
My hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell discussed the impact on fishermen, and, as he knows, I take that issue seriously. He came to see me today to make the case for his fishermen, and we will consider what he said as we put together a package for the industry. Mr. Redwood discussed discards. It is indeed an important issue, and I have made it clear that we want to make progress on it. Of course, there are problems with any approach. For example, there is a case for landing all discards, but enforcement is a real problem. Norway and Iceland have a discard ban, but my colleagues in those countries concede that it presents real difficulties—unless one puts people permanently on board ships to ensure that, for whatever reason, they are landed. There are also dangers associated with targeting. Nevertheless, I rule out no particular approach, and discard bans have been mentioned as a possibility.
My hon. Friend Mrs. Humble mentioned the cut in plaice, and the overlap with restricted areas. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and sea fish inspectors will give her fishermen details on the rules and how they work, but if she has any queries, I am only too pleased to help.
I recognise that the constituents of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, and of other Members, will be greatly affected, but I disagree with him in one respect. He said that there are problems with the settlement, and I do not disagree with that. I am not claiming that it is a huge victory or a great success; it will have severe consequences for the fishing industry. However, he did not touch on the issue that I cannot ignore: the scientific advice and the need to respond to it, and the effect in terms of mixed fisheries.
We are doing our best to decouple the issues, as I said earlier. We cannot ignore the fact that in a mixed fishery the fish will be caught together, but I would be only too delighted to reduce the impact on those two stocks if it is possible to do so. I am prepared to explore possible methods.
My hon. Friend Mr. Foster made some good points about his beach fleet. We are making suggestions to his local industry about differential cod quotas according to season that may address some of its worries. We will try that this year, and if it does not work we shall be willing to look again at decoupling. As for spider crab, there is a possibility of financial support through the financial instrument for fisheries guidance for marketing. I should be happy to discuss that further with my hon. Friend.
Mr. Steen is a veteran of these debates, and I always enjoy his speeches. I was interested by what he said about the New Zealand management system. The system has both strengths and weaknesses. As with all the issues we have been discussing, there is no perfect system: there is no system that has no disadvantages.
Mr. Carmichael welcomed the establishment of regional advisory councils, which I too consider important. I appreciate the potential impact of the settlement on Shetland and other fishing-dependent areas. These are predominantly matters for the Scottish Executive, who I know are addressing them.
I have been in touch with my ministerial colleague in Northern Ireland, and have also met Northern Ireland fishing representatives. We are trying to deal with their problems.
I was interested by the contribution of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. In quite a long speech, yet again there was no suggested solution or alternative approach to the very real problems that we face. Not long ago, members of the hon. Gentleman's party were telling us that there was no way we would achieve relative stability after January, that there was no way we would maintain coastal limits, and that we would have an EU fleet with EU permits under EU control. None of that has happened in connection with the agreement on CFP reform.
The idea that what we are doing in relation to quota management will allow more quota for other countries is complete nonsense. What we are doing is improving UK national quota for the benefit of the UK national fleet. We have heard what has been said today about national control many times. Yet again we have asked the Conservatives what that means, how it will be achieved and how it will be applied. I think it is a cruel deception of the fishing industry to suggest that there is a magic solution when there is not.
The Conservatives have criticised the priority given to the fishing industry. We now know, as a result of the 30-year rule, what priority Conservative Governments gave the industry in terms of negotiation. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings says that we should have joined others to secure a better deal. I take it he means we should have joined Spain, which wanted access to the North sea. I take it he means we should have joined those who wanted to continue building grants, an entirely unsustainable solution to our problems.
The truth is that when it comes to trying to negotiate in Europe, the Conservative Government are regarded as even more of an irrelevance than the Conservative party is today. It does not help the fishing industry to take a pompous little Englander approach based on Eurosceptic nonsense that is a betrayal of environmental responsibilities and the genuine needs of this country's fishing industry.
There are real problems to address, but we believe that the industry has a future. We believe that we must respond to the science, even if it means tough decisions. We recognise that there will be consequences, but we will face up to them. We will work with the industry to give it a sustainable future, rather than making false and empty promises.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 2341/2002 of 20th December 2002, a Council Regulation fixing for 2003 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required; European Union Document No. 2369/2002 of 20th December 2002, a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector; European Union Document No. 2370/2002, a Council Regulation establishing an emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels; European Union Document No. 2371/2002, a Council Regulation on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy; and European Union Document No. 14886/2002, a Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on a Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish.—[Mr. Heppell.]
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier today, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, I was obliged to point out that, yet again, a Minister had given information to the Press Association before bringing it to the House.
Sadly, I have to bring a similar matter to your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker. I heard it on my radio at 5 o'clock and it appears on something called a BBC website—I have a copy before me—and concerns a package Xleaked" to a BBC political reporter in which the Secretary of State for Education and Skills appeared to speak about a massive increase in student tuition fees.
This is the second time that such a matter has occurred in one parliamentary week. Will you, Madam Deputy Speaker, be prepared to consider suspending the sitting until Mr. Speaker can be made aware that, for the second time, his firm instructions to Ministers have been casually disregarded and that a matter of such importance appeared on the BBC long before the House could have a chance to hear direct from the Minister responsible and to question that Minister? The point is of the utmost parliamentary gravity, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I ask you, therefore, to consider suspending the sitting until we can bring Mr. Speaker to the House to sort out the Government.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you had any intimation from the Government that they might consider the benefits of tabling a substantive motion for the upcoming debate on the international situation, given the close vote in the Scots Parliament on just such a substantive motion this afternoon? Have the Government intimated the benefits of genuine democracy to the Chair ?