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Column 908those Icelandic supplies. Is it the case, as many fishermen allege, that supplies are coming in from Iceland below the reference price? If so, it is a disgrace.
There is no way that the French will agree to any revision of the share of the cod fishery catch. They will defend the CFP with all the charm that they display in their defence of the CAP. However, changes should be made to give our Channel fishermen a better deal. We should also be demanding a better deal for fishermen throughout the United Kingdom.
Following the Minister's excellent lead, let me hurry along without too many interventions to talk about the proposed TACs for 1989. First, trying to be even-handed in what I have to say about TACs and quotas, I am pleased that the United Kingdom vessels will be able to harvest 2,700 tonnes of west Greenland cod. I should declare a family interest since I have a brother who is the mate of a freezer trawler and that may give him some employment. Naturally, I am pleased about that, but why he wants to go fishing in those dreadful waters God alone knows.
Dr. Godman : I am the fair-weather fisherman in the family. As the Parliamentary Secretary says, that figure, in one of these infernal numberless documents, represents an increase of about 200 per cent. Will he give an assurance that that Greenland catch will be equitably shared among those vessels which have the safety provisions to fish those harsh waters? There should be a fair share of that Greenland catch.
Another sensible proposal referred to by the Minister and contained in another of the documents is the introduction, for the first half of 1989, of a mesh size of 120 mm for the beam trawlers. Despite the problems to which the Minister referred, that is a good proposal and it should enable the growth of the depleted spawning stock. There is precious little else to commend in the documents. For those fishermen who harvest North sea haddock and cod, the prospects are exceedingly bleak. As Mr. Robert Allen, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, has recently observed : "There is no doubt that the latest scientific advice about the state of the North Sea haddock and cod fisheries is extremely pessimistic and, as fishermen with a vital stake in the future well-being of these stocks, we have to take cognizance of this and be prepared to discuss the relevant conservation issues in proper and reasoned consultation with our scientists."
Mr. Richard Banks of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisation has also expressed serious reservations about the proposed TACs. It appears that the United Kingdom fleet faces the dismal prospect of a fishing quota of 46,000 tonnes of haddock compared with 128,000 tonnes in the current year, and for 55,000 tonnes of cod compared with this year's total of 71,000 tonnes. Those are wild and dismal fluctuations from one year to another, which is unscientific.
Fishermen must adhere to the needs of fisheries management and must listen to what the scientists have to say. Our fishermen acknowledge the need to do so and are not as avaricious as, for example, Japanese whalers. They will listen to scientists' warnings and predictions, but sometimes I think of such utterances and statements as being as elegant, accurate and precise as an old
Column 909side-trawler staggering and wallowing through the Pentland Firth in a force eight gale. I believe that is how such statements are viewed by many fishermen.
Scientific assessments of the state of valuable fishing stocks should be examined in a tough-minded and realistic way. Current scientific dependence on precautionary TACs are an example of what I mean. They are based on guesswork and not on rigorous analysis of the fishing stocks. Again I quote Mr. Allen :
"If there is no change in the proposed agreement terms on cod and haddock, the Scottish white fish fleet will be faced with the prospect of a prolonged programme of tie-ups in 1989."
Both the SSF and the NFFO have expressed fears that a drastic reduction in the domestic catch will encourage Icelanders to send even more fish to the United Kingdom. That view is shared by the Grampian regional council. A letter from its chief executive that I received yesterday informs me :
"With the threatened serious reduction in home supplies of fresh fish in 1989 the case for better control of Icelandic imports appears overwhelming. The Council trust that Government will be able to secure a formula, in collaboration with the EEC, which allows in sufficient supplies to keep the processing industry active, but at a price that does not further depress the earnings of the British catching fleet."
I say to the Minister who will be winding up this debate that, as part of such a formula, it might be worth while examining with the Icelandic Government the possibility of resuming British fishing activity in Icelandic waters. I know the Icelanders well, and as they are overwhelmingly dependent on fish, I have the idea that they will refuse to discuss such an innovation. However, raising the subject will at least show them that the House and the Government are deeply concerned about Icelandic imports and their effect on the livelihoods not only of fishermen but of those working in ancillary industries. I do not want to keep the Minister too busy, but I have another question to ask. I remind him that, in agriculture, overproduction has led to a plethora of remedies, one of which is the set-aside scheme. With their savage cuts in the fishing effort, it seems that the Government are agreeing to a fishing set-aside scheme. Are they currently considering proposals for a fisheries set-aside? If so, fishermen should surely receive the same sympathy that is extended to hard- pressed farmers ; why should fishermen be treated differently? Do the Government have any such proposals--I nearly said, on the stocks?
In truth, too many fishermen are pursuing too few fish. That is acknowledged throughout the Community, with the exception of the French and the Spanish. Recently, it was conceded by the Danish fisheries Minister, Lars Gammelgaard, in a speech he made in Esbjerg, that
"The Danish fishing fleet is too large in relation to the amount of fish it is permitted to catch."
That problem is shared throughout the Community. He added that at the beginning of 1987, fishing vessel tonnage amounted to 136,000 gross registered tonnage but it had since been reduced to about 127, 000 GRT at present, and predicted a fall by the end of 1989 to 117, 000 GRT. That is very different from the British experience. In that regard, the British Government failed to act decisively. In the task of matching the fishing fleet's capacity to the viability of the fish stock, they have been incompetent.
Dr. Godman : No, I shall follow the Minister's exemplary lead. How will the Government meet their obligations to the multi-annual guidance programme for 1987-91? Is it not the case that, in the absence of a fair and reasonable decommissioning scheme, the United Kingdom fishing fleet will remain at its present level? In his latest annual report, the chairman of the Sea Fish Industry Authority comments :
"Expansion was the 1987 theme for the UK fleet. By the end of December it had 1,951 vessels of 40 ft and over."
Elsewhere in the same report, he observed :
"Ageing continued to be a problem, with more vessels crossing the 26-year- old threshold. At 646 boats, this total increased by 68. Almost two-thirds of Northern Ireland's boats were in this category."
That means that instead of there being a noticeable reduction in the fleet's capacity there has been an increase. We are heading in the wrong direction.
Is it not the case that, if the Government are to honour their obligations, they must implement a reduction in fleet capacity in excess of 11 per cent. before the end of 1991? If so, how will it be achieved--by natural wastage, or by tying up ships because of the savage TAC reductions?
We supported the Merchant Shipping Act 1984 which sought, among other things, to reduce the number of Spanish-based vessels fishing under United Kingdom quotas. We were happy to support the Secretary of State in that respect, but unfortunately that sensible Act has been challenged in the European Court and certain sections may have to be repealed. In addition to removing vessels that are not engaged in fishing, the Government must reintroduce a decommissioning scheme.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : On decommissioning grants, is my hon. Friend aware that when those grants were given before they were given exclusively to owners and that the fishermen who served on the vessels received nothing? There has been pressure on the Government to provide some form of compensation ; one is only talking about 3,000 or so individuals. Does my hon. Friend agree that some cases have been outstanding for five or six years and have not been heard by the courts? There is terrific concern and a feeling of betrayal--certainly in the port of Hull. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good thing for the Minister, with his new responsibilities, to talk to his counterpart in the Department of Employment and ascertain whether a political decision can be made to solve a problem that has existed for many years?
Dr. Godman : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Of course, he is absolutely right : the trawler owners who received decommissioning grants did fantastically well out of them. The owner of the Pict received over £500,000, in addition to the £500,000 or so that he received in construction grant. The owners laughed all the way to the bank, but the fishermen were treated very badly. In the short run, the Government must do all in their power to mitigate the appalling effects of the severe reductions in the 1989 North sea catch figures for haddock and cod. The Minister must reduce the effects of the cuts by referring to The Hague preference, which limits the reductions imposed on United Kingdom fishermen if they lead to social and financial difficulties. The imposition of
Column 911The Hague preference in regard to haddock should mean that the TAC should not go below 60,000 tonnes for United Kingdom fishermen. Even that is an appalling reduction, but I think that the industry would survive such a drastic measure, and I should be grateful for such a commitment from the Minister.
I hope that the clearing banks involved in the fishing industry will act sensibly and sympathetically towards their fishermen clients, who do not need harassment from the banks at this time.
The industry itself has offered radical solutions to the problems bedevilling the Government and the catching sector. They include the acceptance of a tighter licensing scheme which would involve the licensing of all bona fide fishing vessels, including those with an overall length of less than 10 metres. The Government must also reintroduce a fair and reasonable decommissioning scheme that will encourage older fishermen with aging vessels to leave the industry in a sensible way. They deserve no less from the Government and from the House.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : There is a great deal of interest in the motion, and in the best interests of all concerned I hope that hon. Members will respond to my appeal for short speeches.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has said about the worries that beset our fishermen. That is not surprising, because they are well known and I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's knowledgeable interest in the subject.
Our views are voiced out of concern for the fishermen. I speak on behalf of the inshore fishing fleet of Scarborough and Whitby. Despite all the worries, there is still a great respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister, and an understanding that he is doing his best in very difficult circumstances. My local fishermen are also grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for having taken the trouble to meet them personally as soon as he took office. That was much appreciated.
My hon. Friend will have discovered the deep concern that was felt, particularly about North sea cod quotas. In 1985 the quota was 250, 000 tonnes ; last year it was 160,000, and this year the Commission's proposed quota--as recommended by the international scientists--was down to 124,000, a further drop of some 22.5 per cent. That is bound to create serious difficulties, which I hope will not be made worse by late announcements of quotas for the various parts of the country. I know that that will depend on how quickly the figures are available.
That latest quota reduction will cause my local fishermen real hardship. I have always said, and I still believe, that the Community agreement had to be reached : even if we had not been in the Community there would still have had to be an agreement with the countries bordering on the North sea. But, having reached that good agreement at the outset, we must ask whether the quota system is working. Many fishermen feel that it is not, and that unfairnesses are creeping in. I do not think that there
Column 912are any deliberate unfairnesses, but the exact methods of calculation must be explained as fully as possible so that there are no more mysteries about the results.
The truth is that there are simply not enough fish in the North sea for everyone to catch as many as they want, but perhaps we can find a close season for spawning. I understand that there are difficulties, but we finally managed to arrange a close season and a ban on herring fishing off the Yorkshire coast. More particularly, is it not possible to find a close area for the "nurseries" so that the young fish can grow and there is a better catch in the long run? That idea seems to have a good deal of support among local fishermen. Are other factors, perhaps environmental or biological, involved in the absence of sufficient fish? I have made some inquiries, and I do not believe that there are enough facts to make that theory believable. One or two fishermen, however, have raised it in connection with the quality of fish that they are catching. I know that the Minister is doing his best despite great difficulties, and I hope that the local fishermen will find that they can pull through despite the new and greater restriction imposed on them. If quotas are reduced and fishermen's livelihoods are made more difficult, it is even more important that the conditions under which they fish and the port facilities should be the very best that can be made available.
If fishermen are obliged to catch fewer fish, it is important that the fish that they are allowed to catch should be of the highest quality that can command the highest price. The port and handling facilities, the arrangements with the processors and the marketing of fish should be brought completely up to date. Scarborough and Whitby want all the help that they can get. They are going through a difficult time.
I wish my right hon. Friend every success in the negotiations. Our good wishes go with him. I hope that he will fight as strenuously as I know he has fought in the past to ensure that further quotas are obtained for those who fish for cod in the North sea.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I welcome the opportunity of this debate in advance of the meeting of the Council of Ministers which is to be held on 12 December. It will help the Minister to understand how anxious hon. Members on both sides of the House are about the drastic cuts in the total allowable catch, particularly those for cod and haddock. I had thought that the presence of the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Treasury Bench showed that at last he had begun to take an interest in the fishing industry, but unfortunately he has gone.
These cuts in the total allowable catch, particularly of haddock, in Scotland will have a devastating effect on the economy and on the communities who live around the Scottish coast. It will have as devastating an effect on those communities as, for example, the redundancies that have been announced at Bishopton. That is the relative scale of the problem. It is regrettable that the Scottish Office
Column 913Minister who usually answers questions about fishery matters in this House has not bothered to turn up for the debate.
I have already referred to the savage reductions in the TAC, particularly of haddock, which could lead to a £40 million withdrawal of income from the fishing industry. Many people might argue that the fishing industry is overreaching itself and that it does not have the interests of conservation at heart. Fishermen realise,
however--perhaps more than anybody else--how important conservation is to the long-term interests of the industry. They know that tomorrow's short- term easy gain jeopardises the long-term benefits to the industry.
It is also important to point out that the TAC for haddock in all but one of the last five years has been no higher than that recommended by the scientists, and that in none of those years has the catch been higher than the TAC. When it was announced last year that there was to be an increase in the TAC for haddock, many people in the fishing industry queried the wisdom of that increase. Therefore, they have every right, when such a savage decrease is announced, to query its wisdom also.
There is something very wrong with the way in which the TACs are set. Such wild fluctuations from one year to another do not allow the industry to develop against a stable background. For that reason the Minister must grasp the importance and seriousness of the proposals, particularly those relating to haddock and cod. Their effects will be serious. Boats could be laid up, with devastating implications for the communities concerned. There will be a knock-on effect on the fish processing industry. The industry stands to lose £40 million on its haddock catch, but the loss of income to the processing side of the industry could be very much more and that would also affect the fishing communities.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked about The Hague preference. When I sought to intervene during the Minister's speech, that was the very point that I intended to put to him. It would have been useful if the Minister could have told us whether he intends to raise the question of The Hague preference when he goes to the Council of Ministers' meeting on 12 December.
I understand that The Hague preference sets a bottom line limit of 60,000 tonnes of haddock. If the agreed amount for the whole of the North sea, shared between the EEC and Norway, is 68,000 tonnes and Norway gets its share, and if we allow for any industrial by-catch, that leaves about 1,500 tonnes to be shared among all the other EEC countries. That being the case, is the Minister able to deliver on The Hague preference? If he is not prepared to give the House an assurance that he can deliver on The Hague preference, is he prepared to say that he is willing to open up again the agreement on the 68, 000 tonnes
Column 914between the EEC and Norway and to renegotiate that amount? We must know the answer to that question if the fishing industry is to be reassured. Even 60,000 tonnes represents a very serious decrease in the total allowable catch for the current year. It will put enormous strains on the industry.
The Minister may say that he will seek a mid-year review. I suppose that that would be better than nothing, but it would still put enormous strains on the industry. It would have to look forward to working during the first six months under tight constraints and with no real expectation of an increase. We want more than just the possibility of a mid-year review.
The Minister referred to fishing for mackerel east of 4 deg west. He knows that that is important to my constituency. He referred to the agreement that has been reached with the Norwegians and to the number of occasions on which Her Majesty's Government had suggested at Council of Ministers' meetings that there should be flexibility. He also said that an agreement had been reached with Norway for the forthcoming year. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say why he thinks that there will be even greater prospects in 1989 of the United Kingdom being able to achieve agreement with her EEC partners on flexibility.
I have received representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) about the cod quota for the United Kingdom as it affects fishermen in Devon and Cornwall, particularly those who can fish only inshore. They feel that the United Kingdom quota should be increased to take account of the fishing needs of that area. I should welcome the Minister's comments on that point.
When does the Minister expect a decision on the current licensing review? If the fishing industry is expected to reduce its capacity this year by 16 per cent., by how much more is the industry to be asked to reduce its capacity by the EEC to take account of lower total allowable catches? That fear must be in the hearts and minds of those who are engaged in the fishing industry. This Bench and the industry never had much confidence in the previous licensing system as an effective means of conservation. I look forward to the Parliamentary Secretary saying when we can expect an announcement about the Government's proposals for a future licensing system. The Minister showed remarkable complacency. It cannot be denied that in recent years the income of the fishing industry has gone up, but the Minister cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the common fisheries policy is working well when in 1988 the haddock TAC shoots up, and in 1989 it shoots down. Something is fundamentally wrong, and it is sheer complacency for the Minister to say that all is well.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : The purpose of the debate, coming just before the annual meeting of the Fisheries Council, is really to gauge the feeling of fishermen around our coasts. I follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) quite often, and I am always struck by the fact that there is almost a uniformity of opinion among fishermen, be they from my part of the world in the far south-west of the United Kingdom or from his part of the world in Orkney and Shetland. Let me acknowledge straight away that fishermen in the
Column 915south-west do not face the cuts that face fishermen in the North sea. However, one has to recognise that cuts or pressures on one species or one area often have a knock-on effect on other species and in other areas.
Although in his concluding remarks the hon. Gentleman was somewhat critical of my right hon. Friend, no Minister, whatever his attitude--and we have an excellent Minister in my right hon. Friend--can create fish when there are no fish. We all have to acknowledge that the catching capacity of the United Kingdom fleet has increased dramatically, as have the catching capacities of the fleets of other nations in the European Community. Unfortunately, fish stocks in general have not increased by anything like the same amount, and in some species stocks have decreased. That is a problem we face today.
Because of those factors there has undoubtedly been a marked change in attitudes expressed in the debate and the attitudes of fishermen in the past few years. In the past couple of years this debate has been quite optimistic. Everyone has recognised that the fishing fleet has done pretty well. In the past 12 months, there has been a change in mood.
A couple of weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was good enough to come to a Committee Room and meet representatives of fishermen of Devon and Cornwall and hon. Members representing Devon and Cornwall. I am sure that it was clear to him that a change of mood has taken place this year. I am glad to say that he is coming to Newlyn in my constituency on Monday and I believe that he is going on to Brixham in Devon later that day. The fishermen there will have an opportunity to tell my hon. Friend exactly what they feel. I suspect that the Minister will have a robust meeting because the mood has changed and the unease which existed perhaps even a year ago has now given way to deep disquiet, and, among some fishermen, to anger. The concern of those fishing the waters off south-west Cornwall and Devon has centred largely on cod, which appears to be in some abundance. The quotas are not fixed on precise scientific evidence or data- -although I share the views of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about some of the attitudes of scientists. However, the cod quota is certainly based on a precautionary TAC. The evidence faced by the fishermen does not bear out the thinking behind that precautionary TAC and the quotas that stem from it.
For historical reasons, the United Kingdom quota for cod in the Channel is very low compared with the extremely large French quota, and that is a constant source of anger. There is nothing worse for a fisherman than to catch fish, sometimes by accident, and because the quota has been exceeded or because a stop has been put on catching, to have to throw those fish back. I believe that that is one of the main sources of anger felt by many fishermen in Devon and Cornwall today.
If one word can sum up the hopes of many fishermen in Cornwall and Devon, it is "flexibility". We do not like it, but we realise that it is difficult to get larger increases in quota. We have had a small increase this year and we hope that the Minister will press for a larger quota for Channel cod in particular. I was a Member of the European Parliament for five years and am aware of the constraints involved for any Minister in negotiating quotas with our partners in the European Community. Frankly, sometimes there has to be horse trading, and that cannot always be easy.
Column 916I am convinced that better management of the existing quota for cod in the Channel is not only possible but absolutely necessary and that there is a greater need for flexibility in the management of that quota. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider that point. Time is pressing, so I shall mention just a couple of other issues. First, the mackerel box fortunately has not been a great matter of contention between me, as an hon. Member representing the south-west, and Scottish Members, as it has been in the past. Without trying to provoke a row, I must say as gently and as nicely as I can that I utterly reject the views of one Scottish fisherman reported in Fishing News who claimed that the mackerel box, the conservation area for mackerel off the south-west coast, was a political box. It is not. It is a genuine conservation measure to safeguard and protect the juvenile mackerel which are found off the south-west coast. Frankly, I should like some relaxation of the box if, and only if, that were possible within the framework of conservation. I am dreadfully conscious that the few processors in the south-west are feeling the very marked effect of the box on their activities. If it were possible to have a small local fishery without driving a coach and horses through the conservation aspects of the box, nothing would give me greater pleasure than for a local fishery to be opened, but we cannot afford to have the Klondikers back in the box servicing a bigger fishery, as that would be a dreadful mistake.
I now turn to a theme which I have raised in every fisheries debate since I entered the House and at every opportunity in the European Parliament--the scourge and the scandal of the Spanish flag of convenience. I am very pleased indeed that, as my right hon. Friend has said, on this very day the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 comes into force. We hope that its provisions will deal once and for all with the scandal, and will result in the Spanish boats being taken off our register so that they no longer fish against our quotas to the detriment of our own fishermen. I hope and pray that that will be the outcome of that piece of legislation.
However, putting legislation on the statute book is not enough. It also requires application to ensure that the legislation is implemented. My earnest plea to my right hon. Friend, and through him to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport who has the duty of implementing that legislation, is that strenuous attempts should be made to rid our register of the Spanish boats which have caused so much harm to our fishing industry. How we have put up with it for so long is really beyond my comprehension. If he gets rid of the boats, in a year of uncertainty, disquiet and even anger among our fishermen, that will be one really positive step forward. The Minister has a difficult task at the Fisheries Council. I know that he will fight for British fishermen. He knows that behind him is the feeling in the industry that I have tried to describe, and I urge him to remember that when he attends the Fisheries Council meeting. 6.10 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : I shall focus on one area in the interaction between the Government and the Commission--one that belies the claim in the motion that the Government will negotiate fishing opportunities
"consistent with the requirements of conservation of stocks."
Column 917I refer to the Government's failure to prevent the moratorium on FEOGA assistance for the construction of fishing vessels in the United Kingdom. If we are to develop fishing opportunities consistent with the conservation of stocks, we should think about building up fleets that are undercapitalised, work with old and small boats and pursue stocks that could withstand larger catches. They are not pressure stocks. One example of that is the fleet in my constituency, and the same is true of many areas in the west of Scotland. The moratorium has hit such fleets especially hard and unfairly. I say "unfairly" because the moratorium was a consequence of the general catching overcapacity of the United Kingdom fleet this year. The fleet in the Western Isles does not contribute to that overcapacity. It pursues nethrops, lobsters and crabs, which could easily withstand an expansion of catching capacity. Stocks of lobsters and crabs would benefit from more catching capacity. It is unfair that those fleets should have been so affected, and the responsibility for it lies squarely with the Government.
Earlier this year I visited Brussels to talk to people in the fisheries directorate of the European Commission to discover the thinking behind the moratorium and to see whether an exception could be made for the boats that do not affect overall capacity. That was impossible, but the clear message that I received was that the moratorium had been imposed reluctantly. It was imposed because of the Government's failure to meet the capacity agreement that they had reached, and their clear failure to give any practical signs that they were serious about resolving the problem of overcapacity. An important short-term measure could be the introduction of decommissioning grants. The EC would be more than helpful in setting up a scheme. It is not good enough for the Government to decline to consider their introduction on the basis that the previous scheme was not used and did not work well. The failure of the earlier scheme was entirely the fault of the Government, and the use of the failure as an excuse not to proceed with the scheme now greatly compounds the Government's overall failings.
The Government's responsibility is clear. The problems have hit many fishermen who, using their limited capital, have made plans to develop their boats and fleets, with the assistance of the EC. The Government's failure to resolve the problem has cut their legs from under them. It is incumbent on the Government to pursue all possible solutions to the problems, especially of the fishermen who were caught out this year.
May I make one suggestion in relation to fishermen who had applied for FEOGA assistance this year but who were not even considered for such assistance? Some of them were on their last application for FEOGA assistance, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to urge upon the EC the possibility of fishermen whose cases were not heard this year having their applications rolled over into next year. Those fishermen do not pursue pressure stocks and work with small boats. They desperately need the capital. It is not fair that their applications, whose merits have not been heard because of the Government's failure to resolve the problem, should fall by the wayside.
Column 918I apologise to the Front Bench spokesmen for the fact that I shall not be here for the closing speeches because I must be elsewhere. I hope to return to the Chamber later tonight.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I support the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) in saying that we cannot allow the problem of fishermen's compensation to go away. I urge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to do what he can to persuade his colleagues in the Department of Employment to consider these matters once the latest court cases have been dealt with.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) that a difficult year lies ahead and that we must take every opportunity to use the facilities that are available to our fishermen.
The extensive documents involved in the proposals make for difficult reading and illustrate one of my main points : that too many bureaucratic regulations have a detrimental effect on our fishermen. I urge my hon. Friends to call for greater simplicity and a more straightforward approach. I hope that my plea is heard not only by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but in Brussels.
There is little doubt that complications in obtaining licences and transferring licences from one vessel to another, to say nothing of their intrinsic value, regardless of which vessel they are attached to, make life difficult for skippers and vessel owners. Therefore, I should like to see flexibility in the interpretation of the regulations and their enactment to take into account the difficult position in which individual fishermen find themselves.
In that context, I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the way in which he recently dealt with a problem arising from the transfer of a licence from one vessel to that of a fisherman in Fleetwood in my constituency. The solution was satisfactory, and it was a correct interpretation of the regulations used sensibly. I thank my hon. Friend also for taking the time recently to visit Fleetwood and to see at first hand the state of the fishing industry in that port today compared with what it was like many years ago. There is little doubt that, on the west coast and elsewhere, the industry needs all the support it can get from his Department to ensure that it remains viable within the context of the European community's fishing regime.
During his visit, my hon. Friend was interested in the initiatives that had been shown by the local council--the Wyre borough council--in setting up the fish dock management company, which is already taking steps to make the port of Fleetwood a better port and, in particular, improve facilities in the Channel. Another initiative is being taken by the council and by Associated British Ports to widen the scope of activities in the port of Fleetwood, in particular to build a marina.
I am keen to see at least one scheme that is already on the drawing board go ahead as soon as possible. The borough council and I want a scheme to be chosen that has in mind the interests of the fishing industry. Such a development has potential not only further to improve navigation and port facilities but to reduce the cost base of fishing activities out of that port--that is important--and, in so doing, make fishermen operating out of Fleetwood more able to compete with fishing fleets from countries
Column 919abroad. There is little doubt that such developments will result in more employment both within the industry and elsewhere in the local community.
I stress the importance of one aspect, and that is stability within the quota system, as far as that is possible, bearing in mind the points that my right hon. Friend the Minister made earlier. Obviously, fishermen recognise the need for restraints on their activities to maintain fish stocks. They find it hard to understand the wide fluctuations that take place in their quotas almost from month to month. Additionally, the lateness in the year when provisional quotas are turned into firm quotas causes hardship.
As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows, as late as September, the 1988 provisional quota for one skipper in my constituency was reduced by nearly 20 per cent., which effectively meant that he had to stop fishing. I sincerely hope that, in future, we can avoid that circumstance.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is taking such a close interest in fishing activities in Fleetwood and elsewhere. I urge him to continue to fight for simple, understandable regulations based on relatively stable, flexibly enforced quotas.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : I am sorry that the Minister is no longer in the Chamber, as the burden of my remarks about the financial state of the fishing industry would leave him under no misapprehension at all. The Parliamentary Secretary will have to act as a substitute for the time being. I, too, detected a note of substantial complacency in the opening speech.
Fishing income depends on four factors : quantities, prices, interest rates and fuel costs. Already, two of those four vital factors are extremely adverse for the industry. I refer to the high level of interest rates and the low level of prices. My constituency has the largest concentration of white fish landings in Europe, never mind the United Kingdom.
I have a bundle of letters addressed to the Prime Minister. For the benefit of the Parliamentary Secretary, I shall read extracts from two of them. All constituents' letters are important, but those letters are particularly important because they say something not only about the financial state of the industry but about the character of the industry in Scotland. Our fishing industry is not composed of a small number of people or companies with extremely large boats. The fish-catching industry in Scotland is composed of small family-run businesses, share ownership, and people who work for those businesses.
One letter is from a young skipper's wife in Fraserburgh, who writes :
"The industry merits recognition but we feel that it has largely been neglected. What will happen when our men can no longer meet their bank interest payments and the banks start to repossess the boats, which no one will want to buy because they are no longer viable? The N.E."--
" will be left with a fleet of useless vessels and our livelihood will be gone. I won't go into lengthy personal details, but suffice to say that because my husband is struggling to maintain his bank interest payments on the boat I am not receiving enough to manage my household accounts etc. The fishing is the only way of life we know and there is little else in Fraserburgh for our men to do. We don't want to be wealthy, all we want is to be able again to manage."