|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you have anything to add to the statement that you made yesterday about the debate on the Loyal Address? You may recall that a number of my colleagues pointed out in the subsequent exchanges that the House was in some difficulty because it had not had sight of a letter which the Editor of Hansard apparently sent to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) some weeks ago.
Mr. Speaker rose --
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) rose --
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) rose
I have had a letter from the Editor of Hansard . However, before I read it to the House, it would be appropriate for me to give a full account of what took place. My statement is rather long but I ask the House to listen carefully.
It is necessary for me to set out the sequence of events as they have now been established in order to be entirely fair to all involved in this incident. It is clear that there were facts to be established, and that, in the first instance, the wrong information was given about what happened.
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) knew that the Official Report of 25 October contained an error. As a result of the matter being raised, it is now possible to set the record straight. On 25 October, in a debate on the economy, the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) as follows :
"The hon. Gentleman talks of the need for self-discipline. In view of his party's wild promises to spend money, will he say how much more than £38 billion his party would now spend?"
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is recorded in Hansard as replying :
"I do not know from where the hon. Gentleman gets his figures, but they are clearly wrong. If he produces a list for me I shall look at it, but I can tell him that there is no such commitment."--[ Official Report, 25 October 1988 ; Vol. 139, c. 174.]
It is now agreed on all sides that what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East actually said was, "there are no such commitments."
On 27 October, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) asked me about the accuracy of the report. I informed the House that the report was wrong and added :
"On reflection, the Official Report accepts that this change should not have been made and has expressed its regret."--[ Official Report, 27 October 1988 ; Vol. 139, c. 494.]
That statement left the House with the impression that the change had been made at the request of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East and that misapprehension arose because at the time the Editor thought that that had been the case.
The Editor subsequently wrote to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East apologising for the error and explaining that he had since discovered that the change had been made by a member of his staff. The Editor sent me a copy of this letter, but since it was not addressed to me I was not at liberty to read its terms to the House as I was asked to do yesterday. I was, however, in a position to
Column 898correct the hon. Member for Suffolk, South when he alleged on Tuesday that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East had sought to "pressurise the Official Reporters to amend Hansard ."--[ Official Report, 29 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 582.]
I also made it clear, in column 583, that this was on the basis of fresh information supplied by the Editor since my statement on 27 October, which I now know to be misleading.
I now confirm that there is no truth in any suggestion that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East either changed the text of what was proposed to be reported or asked for it to be changed.
So that the precise order of events may be placed on record, I have asked for a letter from the Editor which I shall now read : "You have asked me for an explanation of how the misreporting of Mr. Gordon Brown on 25 October occurred.
Initially, the reporter reported exactly the words used by Mr. Brown. That is to say, Mr. Brown's response to Mr. Peter Thurnham's intervention was in the plural. The senior sub-editor decided that the response was more grammatically put by using the singular. On reflection, he reverted to the plural but after more consideration he went back to the singular. These several changes of mind resulted in the typescript being untidy. When Mr. Brown read the typescript, he improved the legibility of that final sub- editorial alteration. He did not make any alteration to what the sub-editor had finally decided. When, following normal practice, the sub-editor checked for any alterations by the Member concerned, he saw that Mr. Brown had merely improved legibility. He saw no reason to assume that an alteration of fact had been made and had he done so, again following normal rules he would not have allowed the change. At no time did Mr. Brown discuss that or any other part of his speech with the sub-editors.
I stress again that the responsibility for the error is entirely mine. I deeply regret the embarrassment that has been caused to you and the House, especially to Mr. Brown and Mr. Yeo."
That is the text of the Editor's letter to me.
The House is aware that I have already regretted the way in which the issue was raised. I also referred yesterday to the fact that I would deplore it if there were any truth in the suggestions that there had been an organised attempt to disrupt Tuesday's debate. [Hon. Members :-- "There was."] Order. Perhaps in my own interest I should make it clear that I was not making an accusation that there had been such organisation, let alone suggesting who might have been responsible for it.
I apologise to the House for the length of this statement. It cannot be debated now. If there is a desire to pursue any of the matters my statement contains, I hope that the House will first take time to consider it and then seek advice about the appropriate ways of taking the matter further.
Mr. Robert Hughes : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is normally an extremely tolerant place. The House understands perfectly well that some hon. Members use intemperate and perhaps unparliamentary language. The House also understands that sometimes in the passion of events some hon. Members behave in a way which, on reflection, they would rather not have done. However, the tolerance of the House is such that if an hon. Member, even on reflection, finally apologises, that is accepted and is the end of the matter. I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the way in which the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) refused to do that means that the continued efforts to raise the matter are a sad attempt to rescue the tattered reputation, credibility and future of the hon. Member for Suffolk, South.
Column 899Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the House will do as I said in my final comment and reflect carefully upon the matter. I called upon the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) at the time to withdraw an allegation that he made, and he did so.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Prime Minister's Question Time I made an intervention in the heat of the moment which might have appeared to cast some aspersion on the Chair and yourself. If that is the case, I totally and unreservedly withdraw it. I would not wish to raise a point of order today for that reason. However, as you so rightly said, if points of order are to be raised, they should be raised at the first possible opportunity.
Hansard , page 432-- [Hon. Members-- : "Erskine May?"]--"Erskine May" ; I thank the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
32 of "Erskine May" lists expressions which are unparliamentary. That includes the accusation of right hon. and hon. Members of "misrepresentation". The Leader of the Opposition accused the Prime Minister of mendacity in various particulars. If one looks-- Mr. Speaker : Order. He did not do that. I made that plain at the time. It was a general accusation which was not made personally. [Interruption.] I suspect that I know "Erskine May" rather better than the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He knows that personal accusations against hon. Members are unparliamentary and are not allowed. In the cut and thrust of debate, general accusations are frequently made.
Mr. Marlow : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can I ask you to look at the written text when it appears in the Official Report tomorrow and if you wish to reflect on your judgment, perhaps you would be kind enough to come back tomorrow?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. About nine months ago, you made a statement following four questions having been asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition during Prime Minister's Question Time. There may not be many Labour Back Benchers sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman who wish to cross swords with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but many Conservative Members wish to participate in Prime Minister's Question Time. Nearly 10 minutes passed today before any Back-Bench Member had the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Will you say that you will not allow the Leader of the Opposition so much time during future Prime Minister's Question Times?
Column 901necessarily a withdrawal of the allegation in itself. It is a matter on which we should have at least some further consideration.
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens
Mr. John Greenway
Dame Jill Knight
That the draft Advice and Assistance (Scotland) (Prospective Cost) (No. 3) Regulations 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Advice and Assistance (Assistance by Way of Representation) (Scotland) Regulations 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Mr. Mullin : It is, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed that the Attorney-General packed up his files to go home before you announced, Mr. Speaker, that you were calling time on the private notice question. Is it in order for the Attorney-General to know in advance how long you intend to allow for such a question?
That this House takes note of the Commission's amended proposals on total allowable catches and quotas for 1989 described in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum of 30th November 1988, European Community Document No. 9312/88 on total allowable catches and quotas for 1989, the Commission proposal on the 1989 Reciprocal Fisheries Agreement with Norway described in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum of 23rd November 1988, the Commission proposal on mesh sizes described in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum of 30th November 1988, European Community Document No. 9185/88 on fishery guide prices and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1989 consistent with the requirements of conservation of stocks.
We are grateful, as on previous occasions, to the Select Committee on European Legislation for its consideration of documents referred to in the motion. I am sorry that complete proposals were not available for its meeting on 23 November, but we were able to provide these for consideration at its meeting yesterday. I realise that the Committee and the House have been asked to address the fisheries opportunities for 1989 with only short notice of the Commission's full proposals. I agree that that is unsatisfactory. With advice from the scientists delayed until the autumn surveys, and the December Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting having been brought forward, we have all been squeezed. That explains the short notice. This is, however, a very important debate, and we thought it right to have it in good time to enable us to take full account of the views of the House in our preparations for the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting next week.
First, let me report to the House the outcome of the Community's annual consultations with Norway which concluded in the early hours of this morning. The details of this are in an explanatory memorandum which was placed in the Vote Office earlier today. Briefly the agreement confirms the Commission's proposals for total allowable catches of North sea cod and haddock. which are jointly managed with Norway. It modifies the Commission's proposals to reduce the TAC for western mackerel by 20 per cent. to a 12.7 per cent. reduction, but a reciprocal cut in Norway's own quota has been achieved. Importantly, Norway has agreed to flexibility in catching the western mackerel stock east of 4 deg west to which I will refer later. Our herring opportunities will be slightly greater than last year. Our quota for cod in north Norway will, however, be almost halved under the agreement because of the state of the stocks but our distant water fleet can look forward to increased opportunities off west Greenland. I shall return to some of these matters later.
1988 has been a mixed year for the United Kingdom fishing industry, and one not without its difficulties. The total value of landings during the first three quarters of the year was 5 per cent. lower than in the same period in 1987, but that was a record year. Fishermen are fully aware that the fisheries management decisions are certainly not the only reason for that slight decline. In some cases, the fish, for purely biological reasons, have not always been sufficiently plentiful for legitimate quota opportunities to be fully exploited. And there have been cases where the
Column 903industry itself has found it difficult to manage its own sectoral quotas to the satisfaction of all those directly involved. During this year we have seen cuts in quotas of cod at north Norway and Svalbard, although that has not unduly fettered the industry as there is still some quota left to take. We have found the quota for Channel cod inadequate but have not been able to take anywhere near the quota for North sea haddock because of the state of the stock. There are, however, plus points. We achieved a change in the minimum landing size for nephrops which has helped the west of Scotland and northern Irish industries without adversely affecting the North sea. We have changed the price arrangements for herring so that the withdrawal system can operate and carry-over premia obtained. We have secured a ceiling on expenditure on the costly tuna regime. We see on 1 January 1989 the final step to the introduction of a 90 mm mesh size in the North sea, which should assist conservation of the stocks.
The main purpose of this debate, however, is to look to the future and in particular the prospects for 1989. The Commission's proposals present a clear picture of what these might be. I do appreciate that in some respects these are a cause for concern.
As I have often stated, not least on the last occasion that we debated fisheries, the Government are firmly committed to the conservation and efficient management of all the fish stocks on which our industry depends. We must ensure that short-term gains do not imperil the longer-term viability of the industry, and that point cannot be repeated too often because it is of such importance for the long-term stability and prosperity of our industry.
The Commission's proposals on total allowable catches where available reflect the objective advice of international scientists. Where sufficient scientific data is not yet available, less stringent though equally important precautionary TACs are recommended. These are designed to reflect the needs of the industry provided that the level of effort by the fishermen shows no significant growth. The TACs for the main whitefish stocks in the North sea are, as I have already said, subject to agreement with Norway during the annual consultations. The Commission and Norway in provisionally fixing the TACs for 1989 have had very much in mind the scientific advice which seeks a general cut in mortality rates for these stocks of 20 per cent. This approach is necessary in order to improve the exploitation pattern in the North sea for what is essentially a mixed fishery. The proposal is intended to have the very desirable effect of minimising the quantity of discards, particularly in the whiting and the hard-pressed haddock fishery.
The proposed TAC for North sea cod is 124,000 tonnes and for haddock 68,000 tonnes. These proposals reflect the fact that we are heavily dependent upon individual year classes and a poor year class spells serious consequences for quotas. The spawning stock biomasses are at unprecedentedly low levels. The Government are well aware that both these proposals will present the fishing industry with severe cuts in their fishing opportunities and this is an issue which we will be examining with particular care in the Council meeting. However, we shall have to take proper account of the biological imperatives. We must ensure that we do not settle for short-term gains which will make the long-term losses even greater. The
Column 904possibility of the collapse of those important fisheries might be at stake and we must bear that in mind and probe it particularly closely.
Mr. MacGregor : Many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate which has now been truncated. It might be better if I did not give way and allowed my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to respond to the points that have been raised.
Mr. Wallace rose --
For saithe and whiting where the proposed TACs are only very marginally different from last year at 170,000 tonnes and 115,000 tonnes respectively, the fisheries will be less restrictive, whilst for plaice the proposal is to retain the current TAC level of 175,000 tonnes. For North sea sole, which is not jointly managed with Norway, the Commission is proposing a TAC of 14,000 tonnes, as in 1988. In addition, given the close relationship between sole and plaice fisheries, the plaice TAC is recommended at a level which would require conservation measures to protect the associated sole fishery. On Monday the Commission therefore presented proposals for both a restriction of the size of beam trawlers in the North sea and an increase in minimum mesh size for the first six months of the year. I am aware that that is causing concern and we are urgently examining the likely impact on our industry in order to strike a balance between the difficulties that it might present to our industry against the long-term gain of healthy sole stock levels. As on previous occasions, we shall be exploring the possibility of enhancing our quota through a swap with another member state. We are disappointed that the Commission proposal for a precautionary TAC for Channel cod is no higher than this year's original TAC, prior to the upward adjustment made subsequently which we pressed for and achieved at the October Council meeting. We shall be pressing the Commission for a more realistic approach to such precautionary TACs. I am pleased, however, that the precautionary TAC for plaice in the Channel has been increased.
On the north-west coast of the United Kingdom the proposals are for a slight decrease in quotas of haddock, saithe, hake and anglerfish, which reflect mainly the annual variations in stocks that we have to expect with biological and environmental factors.
One of the most intractable problems facing the Community and Norway in recent years has concerned western mackerel. The House will be familiar with the difficulties which our own industry has faced in not being able to pursue the shoals as they have crossed the 4 deg west line from the western area into the North sea. It was with considerable disappointment that, notwithstanding the fact that the Commission negotiated the principle of
Column 905flexibility with Norway a year ago, the Council failed last December, in spite of our considerable efforts, to agree to the implementing of this technical solution to a major Community problem.
In the interim, the difficulties have not gone away. If anything, they have increased. I therefore welcome the fact that the Commission has been able to negotiate again the principle of flexibility with Norway. The package this year is somewhat more comprehensive than formerly in that the Commission has now agreed with Norway to recommend to the Council that the autonomously determined western mackerel TAC should be set at a limit which will reduce the level of catches. That, however, is in line with scientific data available for this important stock. It is helpful therefore that the Commission has also been able to negotiate a more restrictive level of Norwegian catches in its exclusive zone north of 62 deg and that both parties are agreed on the desirability of protecting that stock.
At the Council last June when we found no support for flexibility around 4 deg west we warned that we would be raising the matter again. We did that strongly in October pointing out that the problem, far from going away, was, if anything, deepening and a solution had to be found. That prepared the way for the consultations with Norway and strengthened the Commission's resolve to secure the principle of flexibility. At the Council meeting next week we shall be pressing very strongly for the principle of flexibility around the 4 deg line to be implemented. I think that it is fair to say that with our unceasing efforts the Commission and other member states are very much more alive this year to the necessity to resolve this important technical problem.
Finally, on pelagic opportunities, I wish briefly to mention herring in the North sea. For 1989, scientific advice suggests a cautious policy in respect of the level of TAC. Consequently, the Commission has agreed with Norway that for 1989 that should be set at 514,000 tonnes. This should enable the spawning stock biomass to recover from current levels. In those circumstances, the Commission has again agreed the zonal attachment for Norway should be 29 per cent., representing 149,000 tonnes. However, the level of transfers by the Community to Norway will be considerably down on the 1988 figure of 53,000 tonnes to 17,000 tonnes, thus enabling opportunities for United Kingdom fishermen to be slightly above current levels. Of course, once the TACs and United Kingdom quotas have been agreed, we have to decide on their allocation among our fishermen. For the main North sea and west of Scotland stocks, that involves allocations both to those producer organisations which have taken on quota management responsibilities, and to other fishermen in the so-called non-sector. We shall be aiming to better last year's timetable and, provided that we get the necessary information from the industry, we expect to notify interim allocations at the end of January. We have also continued our strenuous efforts to deal with the quota hopper problem. The Merchant Shipping Act 1988 provides for new tighter registration arrangements for fishing vessels. I am glad to say that those arrangements came into effect today. They require that vessels on our fishing vessel register should be predominantly owned and controlled by British citizens
Column 906resident in this country. I fully share the strong concern that has been felt in this House and among our fishermen on this issue, and I know that the new arrangements have been welcomed by our fishermen. At the same time we have continued to defend vigorously the licensing conditions which we introduced to regulate the crewing and operations of fishing vessels with United Kingdom licences. The Advocate- General's recent advice to the European Court in the Agegate and Jaderow cases has been encouraging and we now await the court's decisions.
In addition to our national measures, we have also pressed for Community action. I am very pleased that the October Fisheries Council agreed new control measures which will allow us to require other member states to report to us on a vessel-by-vessel basis landings there by United Kingdom vessels and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the vigorous efforts that he made to achieve this. These measures were originally set out in document 4893/88 which is amongst those under discussion in the debate today.
The proposals for guide prices for 1989 were agreed at the Council on 28 November following the advice of the Scrutiny Committee that this debate need not hold up adoption. I am very pleased that we have been able to secure a seasonal price for herring which, coupled with the facility to use carryover premium for herring which we secured earlier this year, means that our industry now has a real chance to take advantage of the market support arrangements. The House may recall that the Community have had three reports on the herring market, the third of which is mentioned in the motion, which addressed the problem of herring marketing. That has been of particular concern, I know, to our pelagic fleet in Scotland. I am sure that the measures that we have now secured should give them a firm base on which to build. Other changes were comparatively minor, generally 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. difference or no change. From the comments that we have had from the fishing industry these prices would seem satisfactory.
To sum up, I recognise that this will not be an easy year for some of our fishing industry. Opportunities will be more limited, because of the position of the stocks. Nevertheless, by making the most of the swap mechanism, we hope to maximise usable opportunities to our industry. Let us remember that overall the common fisheries policy is serving us well as the value of landings has increased by 50 per cent. between 1983 and 1987 with only minor fluctuations in the tonnages landed.
Looking to the future, strong measures taken now on TACs should ensure better TACs in the future. We in the Community must also continue to develop sensible ideas on technical conservation measures which are complementary to TACs.
Mr. MacGregor : In fairness I said that I was not going to give way. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. This is their main opportunity in the year and it is important that they should have the chance to express their views. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will respond at the end. We shall both be at the important Council meeting and I shall be listening throughout the debate.
Column 907All this can be done within the framework of the common fisheries policy, to which we are fully committed. I shall listen carefully to the arguments and my hon. Friend and I shall be reflecting on all the points made during the debate.
I can assure the House that my colleagues and I will do all that we can at next week's Council to ensure that we maximise the opportunities for our industry within biologically safe limits so that we also preserve its future prosperity. I hope that that approach will have the support of the House.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Here we are yet again at the tail end of the year--I almost said at the tail end of the bank--debating total allowable catches and quotas for the new year. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Select Committee on European Legislation which noted that
"late publication by the Commission of its fisheries proposals is a perennial problem and reiterates the concern it expressed last year about this and the prejudicial effect on the chances for proper Parliamentary scrutiny."
That is a significant problem for the House. Here we are, four weeks from the end of the year, and we are just debating the proposals for TACs. That is no way to manage an ice-cream cart, let alone an industry which gives employment to 120,000 people, many of whom live in remote constituencies.
Most of our 17,000 fishermen are facing a bleak--not an uneasy--new year with some of these TACs. In May this year, speaking at the annual general meeting of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Minister said : "The Common fisheries policy has brought the British fishing industry stability and prosperity under the CFP the industry can look to the future with confidence." Not many of them can look to the near future with any confidence. The Minister has repeated today that the CFP appears to be working fairly well, but British fishermen are much less sanguine than he appears to think. White fish prices are down. They continue to decline and here we are facing a savage cut in certain quotas. I feel deeply sorry for our fishermen. We cannot blame them for some of the hostility that they are now displaying towards the CFP. Among fishermen, the CFP commands the growing disrespect and lack of trust that many of our farmers show towards the common agricultural policy.
One stark example of that anger and distrust has been expressed recently by the English Channel fishermen who depend largely upon cod, but, unlike the French, are denied reasonable and fair access to the stock. I think that I am correct in saying that the French share of that particular cod quota is 76 per cent., while our fishermen are given a miserly 8.3 per cent.
The British fishermen suffered a closure of the Channel cod fishery in the middle of April. It was opened for two weeks in October and, I am pleased to be able to say, thanks to the prompt delivery of the press release from the Ministry, it was reopened yesterday at 2400 hours.
That two-weeks fishing effort was damaged, as many other cod fisheries were damaged, by the supply of Icelandic cod, principally to the Humberside markets. Fishermen in England and Scotland have sufferd from