Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Tony Banks : I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says. Will he acknowledge that in countries such as the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia problems such as homelessness and poverty that seem to be endemic and inherent in our capitalist society have largely been eliminated? My hon. Friend should not enjoy

Column 100

too enthusiastically the cacophony of attack that is now being made on countries such as the German Democratic Republic.

Mr. Winnick : If my hon. Friend is saying that there have been some positive gains in housing and social security in those countries he is probably right. What has not been achieved, as I am sure my hon. Friend would be the first to concede, are elementary political rights. People want to live in freedom. Fortunately, the demonstrators in East Germany succeeded in what they set out to achieve and after last week's demonstrations in Bulgaria we have now had the demonstrations in Czechoslovakia.

The Opposition's commitment to democratic freedom and liberties is total and consistent, as my hon. Friend knows. We are not hypocrites. Unfortunately, Conservative Members, including the Prime Minister, seem to be blind to the dictatorships that exist in various other parts of the globe, such as South Africa and Chile. I have not heard many protests, if any, about the death squad actions which resulted in the murder of six priests in El Salvador. Those death squads were undoubtedly organised by that country's Government.

The Opposition are concerned with basic freedoms, and if it is right for us in western Europe to have parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, it is also right for the people of eastern Europe. But it is also right for the people of El Salvador and Chile. Let us not forget that when a coup took place in Chile in 1973 against the elected Left-wing Government there, some Conservative Members not only approved of what happened but argued that it was necessary in the circumstances. Therefore, we do not need lectures from Tory Members when it comes to civil liberties. I spoke about Czechoslovakia in 1968. I was involved at that time in the protests against the way in which the junta took power and ruled Greece. Some Conservative Members found excuses at the time for what the colonels did in Greece. As I have said, our commitment to freedom and civil liberties is total and consistent, and that applies to South Africa as well.

I want to conclude, as I began, by saying that this will be a disappointing Queen's Speech for so many of our people. High interest rates and other measures being taken by the Government undoubtedly mean that unemployment will grow again. The homeless will have no remedy and many more people, including families, will live in squalid conditions in bed and breakfast hostels, or a few yards up the road in the open or, like so many of our constituents, have to live with their in-laws or their parents having been told by the local authority that they will have to wait literally years before they stand any chance of being rehoused with their spouse.

Far too many of our peoples will continue to live in poverty and near poverty, and we know only too well the difficulties faced by so many pensioners as a result of the Government's actions over the past 10 years. This is a Government dedicated to the interests of the rich and the prosperous, and they deserve to be defeated at the first opportunity, at the next general election.

9.47 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : The most Gracious Speech contains proposals which will take us through the next decade to the year 2000. It was very much a speech looking to the future. What a stark contrast was the speech

Column 101

of the Leader of the Opposition, who was clearly living in the past. Many speeches made this afternoon by Opposition Members have been full of gloom and doom. I am hard put to find one Opposition Member who had a good word to say for any of the proposals in the Queen's Speech. What a negative attitude that is. Moreover, Opposition Members have personalised the debate and focused their attention and their obsession on one person--my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

How much longer will the Opposition be able to get away with not putting forward any positive policies? We have heard about their policy reviews. All the various departments have reviewed their policies. When shall we hear what their policies are?

The Leader of the Opposition intervened during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make some reference to wanting to spend more money on this and that, and one of my hon. Friends asked whether that meant that the Opposition's policy was to raise taxes. As Socialists, you should be proud to say that, but to continue without articulating your policies is a fraud on the general public. You have got away with it for two and a half years

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman would speak through the Chair.

Mr. Amess : The Opposition should be much clearer about their policies than they have been so far. I do not believe that the general public will allow them to get away for much longer with their reluctance to articulate precisely what their policies are. The one thing that has marred a splendid occasion today has been the televising of our proceedings. I regard this place as the Mother of Parliaments and I feel that after today things will never be the same. We have not entirely been ourselves today. In many respects, we have behaved in a way that we think will please our constituents, who may see us on television. We are engaged in a serious business. We were not sent here to entertain the general public, yet we have succumbed to the vanity of the television screen. I very much regret that, and if in six months' time we are given the opportunity to vote for the continuous televising of our proceedings, I hope that we shall vote against it.

I was particularly astonished by the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition about reforms in eastern Europe. The right hon. Gentleman seemed intent on rewriting history. It really is a bit rich for a supporter of CND to lecture us on what we should do next. Had we followed his policies, we should not be embarking on the momentous events that are taking place in Europe. It is crass hypocrisy for Opposition Members to pretend that their lack of a defence policy would have got us to this point. It is a bit much, too, for the Leader of the Oposition to give advice to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Throughout the world, people are rejecting Communism and Socialism. I very much hope that the British people will continue to reject Socialism as espoused by the Labour party.

I was delighted to learn from the Gracious Speech that a Bill is to be introduced to improve the National Health Service and the management of community care. Basildon and Thurrock health authority has already put forward our hospital for consideration as a self-governing trust.

Column 102

Basildon and Thurrock health authority is willing to work within the Government's proposals on the Griffiths report. The way in which the Opposition and the BMA have misrepresented our proposals is an absolute disgrace. I should have hoped that there would be common agreement in the House that it was sensible for consultants to deal with their patients through proper appointments, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon. I had hoped for more constructive opposition from the Labour party than the nonsense that we have heard today.

Above all, what has given me most pleasure is the reference in the Gracious Speech to abortion and embryo research. There is not much point in being a Member of Parliament if one is not concerned about life. We all recognise that life is the most fundamental and important thing. If it is not, why on earth are we spending time discussing legislation which is supposed to improve the lot of the British public? Since 1968 something like 3 million babies have been aborted. I recognise that I take an absolute view of these matters. I believe that life begins at conception, but I am realistic enough to recognise that the majority of hon. Members do not share that view. It is nonsense to hear hon. Members speaking of special baby care units in their constituencies being under threat. How can it be right for abortions to be carried out up to 28 weeks, when in each hospital in our constituencies special units are trying to keep babies alive at 23 or 24 weeks? That surely must be nonsense. I hope that there will be a free vote on the issue. It will be a disgrace if a political party puts pressure on its members to follow a Whip. I hope that there will be a free vote on this issue of conscience among the political parties.

I am glad that the Government have chosen this Session to honour their pledge to introduce a Warnock-style Bill, with alternative clauses on embryo research--one allowing the use of human embryos as guinea pigs for up to 14 days and the other outlawing such practices altogether--on which we shall be allowed a free vote. When the Powell Bill was introduced, I well remember Professor Jerome Lejeune arousing the fury of the pro- experimentation lobby by telling parliamentarians that current developments in medical research suggested advances into the research of genetic diseases which would not involve the use of human embryos. I shall vote against any experiments on human embryos. I applaud much of the work of scientists, but I do not trust them to stick to the law for experimentation up to 14 days. I defy any hon. Member to come up with a plausible scheme to police such experimentation.

Much concern has been expressed about environmental matters. People are concerned about the ozone layer, the Amazon rain forests, lead-free petrol and many other matters, but whenever the words "litter, graffiti and vandalism" are mentioned, their eyes just go up into their heads. The state can do something about the ozone layer and the other matters that I mentioned, but it is within the power of each of us to do something about litter, which is a disgrace in this country. People regard it as a joke, but I think that litter is a disgrace.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : Will the hon. Gentleman say what has happened to Mr. Richard Branson, whom the Prime Minister introduced amid some publicity some time ago to deal with the litter problem? What became of that initiative?

Column 103

Mr. Amess : I understand that he is doing an excellent job throughout the country and that work is still being done on the project.

I commend to the House a campaign that we are running locally called "I love Basildon". Its aim is to state that we are building a fine town and that we wish to keep it that way. Recently, a number of Opposition spokesmen have visited my constituency. They seemed to regard Socialist- controlled Basildon district council as some symbol of virtue for their party. I give them a general warning that in future they should be briefed before they arrive in Basildon. Only last week, the shadow Leader of the House, whom I much admire, opened our new civic centre. He was not briefed that the civic centre cost £18 million, and that we did not have any money to pay for it. He was not briefed that, on the very day it opened, it could not house 350 members of staff. He was not briefed that we have opened a civic centre which does not contain a council chamber. In future, councillors will meet not in a council chamber but on a stage in a theatre.

The shadow spokesman on housing recently met one of my local councillors and was presented with a number of petitions about the transfer of housing from the Commission for the New Towns to the local authority. He had not been briefed--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Column 104

Scottish Fishing Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]

10 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : I should like to transport the House from the high-flown rhetoric that we have enjoyed in the past few hours of this momentous day. The debate concluded with the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) giving us an exposition of his no doubt sincere views on the delights of his constituency. I should like to transport the House to the problems of the fishing communities of Scotland and a more bread-and-butter issue. In the work of the House of Commons we often move from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the problems of the Scottish fishing industry require the attention of the House.

It is appropriate that the first Adjournment debate of the new Session should be about the Scottish fishing industry. The next 12 months will be a crucial period for the industry--not only for the fishing fleet but on shore for the processors, boat builders and the service sector. I intend in the few minutes available to me, ably supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends, to argue the case for urgent Government action. If it is not forthcoming, when the House meets to reply to the Gracious Speech next Session, it will do so against the background of a substantially reduced fishing industry north of the border.

It is worth dwelling on the importance of the industry to the community that it serves. Although the industry is not big in terms of international or national commercial activity--whether measured in turnover or otherwise- -it is crucial to the communities providing the fishermen, boats and ports that are the haven for the fleet. It is no exaggeration to say that if the industry went into a steep decline, the effect on those communities would be as catastrophic as were the pit closures at Ravenscraig and other mines to the central belt in recent years.

The people who work in the industry tend to be close knit, resourceful and hard working. They are exasperated because they are no longer in control of their destiny. Any further decline in the next few weeks and months will have a devastating effect on them. My right hon. and hon. Friends have a direct constituency interest in this matter and in past months have all made urgent representations to the Government to get across the message of trouble in store in the immediate future. Representations have been made by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan -Smith), whom we wish a speedy recovery from his illness. He has been at the forefront in advocating the case for the industry. There is always a danger of tending to exaggerate problems, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the inshore fleet is now confronting financial disaster. The problem is clear and, reduced to essentials, it is that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. That argument has been rehearsed several times in the House, but I do not know whether the Government have realised the full impact of the problem.

Governments must, of course, pay careful attention to the scientific advice that is given to them. However, if the scientific advice is accepted for the next year and if nothing else is done, no one in the Scottish fishing industry will be

Column 105

able to fish profitably next year and too many fishermen will go bankrupt trying. We have to accept the scientific advice as the best available, but it is understandable that the industry has become sceptical when the yearly variations in the advice that the scientists of the ICES have produced are so great that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has properly taken steps to obtain its own independent advice. I urge the Minister to ensure that the scientists take advice from the skippers and the people who catch the fish when they interpret the raw data for recent months. That would give the scientists a better base on which to make important judgments about the quantity of fish that can be caught in future.

I have the impression that if the pressure stock total allowable catches are reduced again in 1990, the fleet's future viability will be jeopardised. The difficulties are becoming daily more acute. The House will know that the authorities summarily closed the North sea haddock fishery recently. According to the Government, the problem was caused primarily by producer organisations not being sufficiently disciplined, but that argument is not good enough for the producer organisations such as the one in my constituency which serves Eyemouth and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The Anglo-Scottish producer organisation has been denied access to almost 700 tonnes of haddock in the latter stages of this year and that represents about £500,000 to the local economy which we seek to represent. That is a substantial sum in anybody's language and the Government are ultimately responsible for the management of the fisheries. It is wholly unfair that compensation should not be allowed. Some accommodation can be reached at the end of next year, but that is cold kale to the fishermen of Eyemouth who are struggling to meet high and increasing bank charges. It will also encourage a more cavalier attitude to the way in which the fishery is fished in future months.

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth) : Will the hon. Gentleman accept that in North Shields a similar feeling is held about the outrageous way in which the fishermen have been denied their quota as a result of overfishing elsewhere? Does he accept that that should not happen again and that compensation must be found for those who have suffered?

Mr. Kirkwood : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because it is especially valuable to receive support from Conservative Members in trying to make this important point.

What are the prospects for next year? In 1987, the haddock TAC for the Scottish fishing industry was about 120,000 tonnes. It has come down to 54,000 tonnes and the prospect is that it will be as low as 38,000 tonnes next year if the scientific advice is accepted. The Anglo-Scottish producer organisation calculates that over the past two years it has suffered a 45 per cent. decrease in the income available to the fishing industry. Against that background, there is nothing that the fishermen can do to increase their income and to try to meet their escalating costs.

I repeat that I do not think that anyone will make a profit next year, and the situation is even worse than that. Those who will suffer most are new young skippers who have recently invested--large sums, in some cases--in new boats and who are bearing large mortgage payments to

Column 106

repay their capital costs. They will be the first to go, and the older boats, with more mature skippers who have paid off their mortgages, will be left in the industry. In many cases, given proper compensation, the older skippers would happily leave the industry and go into retirement or find other ways of earning a living. The industry has been calling for a decommissioning scheme for up to two years in the full knowledge that their crew men--who are mostly self-employed because of the share fishery arrangements in Scotland--will not be particularly well looked after in terms of unemployment benefit if they are made redundant. In spite of all the difficulties that the industry foresees, it has been calling for a reduction in catching capacity because it believes that the current level is unsustainable in the long term.

In addition, the European Community has made available to the Government the method of reducing capacity by encouraging them--some would say that the Community has twisted our arm--to implement a decommissioning scheme to reduce the capacity of the fleet. It is no use to the industry or the Government going for temporary expedients such as lay-up schemes under which boats would get up to £100 a day--which does not add up to a big row of beans to someone running a major fishing vessel out of a harbour such as Eyemouth. Such schemes will not be countenanced with any sort of good will by the European Community if we drag our feet, or appear to drag our feet, on a decommissioning scheme, which represents a much more fundamental long-term solution in the view of both the Community and the industry. An early decommissioning scheme would remove capacity from the fleet in an orderly way and would keep modern boats in the fleet with fishing opportunities to keep them viable in the longer term. Let me deal with some ancillary aspects. A decommissioning scheme would benefit boat builders, who would have access to EC building grants to help them to renew and modernise the fleet at a much smaller capacity. It would assist processors who are suffering great difficulties in obtaining security of supply of raw materials. It would also assist a longer-term programme for capital investment in the vital ports around the Scottish coastline.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : My hon. Friend knows of my interest in the proposed improvement to the harbour at Pittenweem. Does he agree that that is precisely the kind of programme of improvement that the Government ought to be supporting by capital grant?

Mr. Kirkwood : That neatly makes my point for me. I have a vested interest myself. I am also in the queue because we are thinking of developing Eyemouth. That would be a significant improvement and would enhance the whole of the south-east Scotland hinterland. The consequences of doing nothing must also be considered. If the Government do not introduce a scheme as a matter of urgency, there will be serious consequences, not least in terms of conservation. All but the biggest fish caught will be discarded to maximise the value of the trip. Quayside markets, especially those dealing in pressure stocks, will close for increasingly long periods--echoes of what happened with the old herring fishery closure : after seven years, the fish returned but the processors had gone. That is in no one's interests. Perhaps most important of all, skippers will become increasingly desperate about the

Column 107

financial pressures under which they have to operate. They will start taking risks that they would not normally take to maintain income levels and keep the bank at bay.

What can skippers do against that background? The industry is in an impossible bind. The Government now regulate what can be caught. They have allowed catching capacity to rise inexorably and--in the meantime and on the sidelines--scientific advice varies wildly over two and three-year periods. The Government cannot shirk responsibility any longer for that combination of circumstances, because that would be inimical to the long- term interests of the fishing communities that we represent. We must reduce catching capacity with generous terms through a decommissioning scheme.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Does my hon. Friend also agree that an overall strategy is necessary so that a decommissioning scheme does not lead to valuable licences being lost from a number of fishing communities including those in his area and those in the Highlands and Islands? We need an overall fishing strategy that will involve some form of regional management.

Mr. Kirkwood : That is a very important point and my hon. Friend has pursued that argument tenaciously.

We must implement the industry's own valuable advice on conservation measures. In the longer term, we must have a rolling programme of total allowable catches over three or four years to allow sensible planning.

Government inactivity is no longer an option. The men who go down to the sea and do business in great waters deserve the support of the House. They also deserve urgent support in their desire to match capacity to fishing opportunity. If the Government do not seize the opportunity that exists now, they will regret it in the long term and so will the fishing communities that we represent.

10.15 pm

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is to be congratulated on securing the first Adjournment debate of this Session and also on securing the first televised Adjournment debate. The fishing industry is a subject worthy of that distinction. It is an important industry in Scotland and particularly important, as the hon. Gentleman said, to the concentrated communities where it is the main industry. I also thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who I am sure all hon. Members wish a speedy recovery and an early return to the House.

This is the third occasion since the summer when the House has had the opportunity to debate the problems of the Scottish fishing industry--twice in the Chamber and once in the Scottish Grand Committee. One reason for that is that the industry is undoubtedly facing difficulties at the moment. However, the frequency of debate also reflects the importance which attaches to the industry, particularly in Scotland. I therefore welcome without reservation the fact that the problems facing the industry are once again being debated.

The main focus of our debate today has been the problems that the industry will face in 1990 and I shall devote the bulk of my remarks to those issues. Before we

Column 108

look ahead, however, I think that we are sufficiently close to the end of the year for it to be possible to take stock and to assess how the industry has fared in the current year.

This time last year the scientific advice was for a very sharp reduction in the total allowable catch for North sea haddock. It is no exaggeration to say that that was a bombshell for the industry--and, I may say, for the Government. Everyone recognised that the total allowable catch for 1988 was too high, but no one knew 12 months ago that the stock was in such a poor state as to justify the drastic measures which were proposed. Indeed, the very volatility of the stock might make it difficult to implement the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for planning ahead on TACs over a period of years.

Not surprisingly, the industry expressed very grave concerns about its future, and some of those concerns have proved to be entirely realistic. The management of the fishery, which is largely handled by the industry itself, has been difficult. In some cases allocations have been caught before the end of the year. In other ways, however, the industry's immediate fears have not been borne out. Although the reduction in the total allowable catch was substantial, the Government were, for the first time, successful in invoking the Hague preference, and by that means secured an extra 5,600 tonnes of North sea haddock for the United Kingdom. That increased the United Kingdom's share of the North sea haddock quota from 78 per cent. to 87 per cent. All of that additional tonnage, which is substantial, was subsequently distributed to those parts of the industry which are heavily dependent on haddock. These are mainly, but not exclusively, in Scotland.

In addition, we have taken every opportunity to transfer to other countries quotas that the United Kingdom would not fully utilise so as to obtain additional North sea haddock. By that means we have increased the United Kingdom's total quota by almost 1,000 tonnes. The fact that prices at the beginning of 1989 fell very sharply for the main white fish species increased the industry's anxieties, but that situation has not persisted throughout the year. By the end of October, the earnings of the Scottish industry from North sea haddock were almost identical with those of last year, despite a reduction of 15 per cent. in total landings. The same was true for the other main white fish species--despite reduced landings, total earnings were either much the same or only slightly less--and, of course, for species other than haddock, the fishery remains open so we cannot yet see the final picture.

The industry was concerned also lest there should be a flood of imports and that the traditional markets for fresh fish would be damaged. That has not happened. Imports of some species have certainly risen. That was inevitable, given the reduction in fishing opportunities. It was also necessary if the requirement of the processing sector was to be met, and keeping it in business is clearly important, as the hon. Gentleman said, if the catching sector is to flourish. But the impact on markets and prices of increased imports has not been nearly so significant as appeared possible at the beginning of this year.

Taken overall, I think that the industry would now accept that, although this has been a difficult year for the management of the fisheries in the North sea, the industry has survived 1989 in better shape than it expected.

Column 109

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : The Minister must recognise that those sections of the industry which have carried out disciplined fishery management are indignant that they should be denied the tonnage to which they are entitled. I am speaking of the Anglo-Scottish fish producers organisation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) referred. If the Minister seeks allies in properly managing fishing, it is hardly fair for them to be penalised when they are doing their job properly.

Mr. Lang : I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point.

Against that background, I want to refer now to the prospects for 1990. I wish to deal in some detail with the scientific advice, but, before I do so, there are two general points that I want to make. First, what is before Government is scientific advice, and no more than that. Decisions on total allowable catches for 1990 will not be taken until December. The scientific advice requires careful study, in the course of which we may well find that the scientists have sometimes been too cautious. Moreover, the House will have the opportunity, as it does each year, to debate the proposals for total allowable catches for 1990 before the December Council of Ministers takes place. There will, therefore, be a further opportunity for the House to express its views at a point when we shall have a better assessment of what quotas for 1990 are actually likely to be. My second general point is that the Government's prime concern has to be to protect the future of the industry. That is something which I and my ministerial colleagues have said before and we shall no doubt say it again. It is easy for those not directly involved in the industry, or for the less responsible members of the industry, to say that the scientists have got it wrong and that quotas can be set at a much higher level than those being recommended. Those who say that do not have to take the decisions and would not have to give an account of themselves if the wrong decisions were taken. In considering the scientific advice, the Government's approach will very largely be dictated by the need to secure a sound future for the fishing industry. But, with that proviso, we shall of course take every opportunity to maximise the fishing opportunities available to our industry.

Against that general background, I want to discuss the scientific advice for next year for the stocks of greatest interest to the Scottish fishing industry.

For both cod and haddock in the North sea, the scientific recommendations are for reductions in the total allowable catch, particularly for haddock. Both stocks are in poor shape. The spawning stocks are at low levels--in the case of haddock, the level is the lowest ever recorded. For both stocks, recruitment--that is, the number of fish joining the fishery each year--is insufficient to maintain the stock in most years. There is, therefore, a real danger that stocks will decline to a point from which they will not regenerate themselves. That would be a real disaster for the Scottish industry. The size of the stocks is subject to large natural fluctuations, for reasons which are not at all well understood. We may well find that in the near future the stock will recover to healthy levels, but we cannot rely on that happening. We must take the scientific advice seriously if we want to protect the future of the industry.

Column 110

I turn now to the implications of the scientific advice for the management of the fisheries. The first and most important implication is that the stocks clearly need to be conserved. There are two essential requirements for successful conservation. First, we must identify measures that work. Secondly, to be effective, the measures must be implemented, which means that they must have the support of the industry. I am glad to say that good progress has been made on both fronts.

The North sea is not a fishery in which it is possible to identify spawning grounds which could be closed to fishing for a period to allow stocks to increase. That approach has been examined exhaustively, but the fishery is too complex for it to be practicable. It is now clear that the right approach to conservation in the North sea is to prevent juvenile fish being caught and, if they are unavoidably caught, to use fishing gear which enables them to escape undamaged.

This is broadly the approach advocated by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in the proposals that it put to the Government and to the European Commission earlier this year. Briefly, the SFF's ideas were that, in general, attachments to nets that make it difficult for juvenile fish to escape should be banned ; that nets of only a single mesh size should be carried during any individual trip, with certain very limited exceptions to take account of the special needs of particular groups ; and that enforcement should be based on a prohibition on the carriage of illegal gear rather than its use. Those proposals were the subject of a great deal of debate within the industry. The Government recognise the difficulties ; conservation measures by their very nature reduce catches and, although in the long term they are bound to improve the earnings of the industry, in the short term losses are almost inevitable. It is, therefore, very much to the credit of the leadership of the industry that it recognised the need for steps to be taken to conserve the stocks and to protect the industry's future, and that it was prepared to devise a package of measures which make sense and which are directed at the achievement of those objectives. The Government certainly welcome that.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lang : No, I shall not give way. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, he has not been present throughout the debate, and I have only a limited time in which to reply. In addition to the proposals put forward by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, we ourselves have been undertaking research at the marine laboratory in Aberdeen. This has demonstrated that the broad thrust of the SFF's ideas is right and that with some expansion real conservation benefits could be achieved in a relatively short time. Fisheries departments circulated last week a note summarising the results of this work at the marine laboratory and setting out the proposals that we intend to put shortly to the European Commission. The proposals build on the SFF's own ideas. Following discussion with the industry, in the near future we shall be putting our ideas formally to the Commission and pressing it hard to come forward with proposals based on our ideas early in the new year.

A further implication of scientific advice for 1990 is that extremely careful thought will have to be given to how the

Column 111

fisheries in the North sea and off the west coast of Scotland should be managed for 1990. It is too early to announce decisions. There will first have to be consultations between the Department and the industry, but there is one point that I wish to make today. Broadly, the same situation arose this time last year, but at that stage the industry was resistant to proposals to improve the management arrangements. That is entirely understandable. At that stage, the fact that the stocks were in such a poor state was not generally recognised. We now know that we face a potential crisis and that if the stocks are not protected they will collapse. Sensible management arrangements are as important in the achievement of this protection as conservation measures of the kind to which I referred a few moments ago. We shall take whatever management measures are necessary to protect the stock. Management regimes, like conservation measures, have to be accepted by the industry. They have to be seen to be workable and necessary. I have no doubt that we shall be talking to the industry in the near future about how to manage the fisheries next year, and I have no doubt that the leadership of the industry will adopt as responsible an attitude to the mangement of the fisheries as it has towards conservation policy.

Finally, the House will expect me to say something about the control of fishing capacity. The House will be aware that fisheries departments recently circulated proposals for changes to the fishing vessel licensing scheme. These are designed primarily to make that licensing scheme more flexible and to enable the fleet to modernise itself without increasing total capacity. That will, of course, have some beneficial side effects for the boatbuilders, to whom the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire referred. The proposed changes also include proposals which we believe would lead to modest but useful reductions in total fishing capacity. We shall be discussing the proposals with the industry in the near future, with a view to implementing changes to the licensing system early in the new year. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned decommissioning. This is, indeed, under consideration, as are other options

Column 112

for achieving a reduction in the total fishing capacity of the fleet. But before we can devote taxpayers' money to this task, we have to be sure that decommissioning would work and that it would represent good value for money.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) rose --

Mr Lang : I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I have only a little time and this is an important point.

We also have to take into account the criticisms made of the last scheme by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, although my view is that those criticisms could be met. Those are issues that we are urgently analysing. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), said recently, in the context of a similar debate on fisheries matters, that he hoped that decisions would be announced before Christmas. That remains the Government's hope.

To sum up, the industry has come through this year better than many expected, but it faces a difficult future. It would be easy to assume that the scientific advice was wrong and to argue for total allowable catches well above the levels now proposed. The Government will not do that. We shall adopt a more responsible attitude. If there is room for manoeuvre, we shall take it. If there is not, we shall accept the scientific advice but seek to maximise the fishing opportunities open to the United Kingdom within the framework of rules laid down by the common fisheries policy. We shall urgently pursue conservation measures along the lines advocated by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. In 1990, we shall manage the fisheries responsibly in consultation with the industry and always with the objective of securing the industry's long-term future.

None of these steps will make the Government popular, either at home or abroad, but we shall not let that cloud our judgment. The fishing industry is an important industry, particularly in Scotland. We want it to flourish. We shall therefore take whatever steps are needed to secure its future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.


  Home Page