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Mr. Banks : I refer to the point of order that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It is well known that you are fair and impartial in the way that you apply the rules of the House, but, just in case you make an error, you have someone who reminds you who has asked a question and when. Will you advise the House on whether you think that it is courteous for hon. Members on both sides who come in here, perhaps not as often as they should, ask a question, particularly during business questions, and disappear immediately afterwards? Do you agree that that is discourteous to the House and to you?
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can inform the House that if, for example, any hon. Member raised the victimisation of and attack on the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) following his courageous stand against the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister would not be able to answer that question because it is not within her responsibility, but she would be able to take part in a debate about such victimisation?
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : I beg to seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, to discuss a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the announcement today of the closure of the Brogdale fruit station and the future of the national fruit collection."
This is the first possible moment to bring this matter to the House, as the Government's decision was announced by written answer at only 3.30 pm today. The future of the national fruit collection is a specific matter and it is of the utmost importance to the House and to the nation. Indeed, it is of international importance. The reason it is so important is that the fruit growing at Brogdale forms the largest collection of temperate fruits in the world and it is of international renown. There are more than 2,000 varieties of applies there, including varieties dating back to mediaeval and Roman times. His Royal Highness Prince Charles's recent recognition of the importance of this collection has reinforced everybody's determination that it should be retained and encouraged.
Today's decision by the Government to close Brogdale and to try to re- propagate at another site is bad and precipitate, and it contradicts assurances given in the House of Commons. On 6 April this year, the Leader of the House, answering at Prime Minister's Question Time--she was absent at the time--gave an assurance on the Floor of the House that, as the local Member, I would be included in the consultation process. My contacts with the Government on this matter have been a travesty of consultation. It adds to the urgent case that I am making for a debate but it gives me no pleasure to say that, after nearly 20 years in this House, I have never been treated as badly as I have on this issue, whether by Labour Ministers or Conservative Ministers.
Further evidence of why a debate is now urgent and appropriate is a letter dated 11 December, in reply to my letter dated 22 October, in which the Minister states that the Ministry was still in discussion with other interested parties, including my local authority, Swale borough council. Like many people, including experts, that council has expended a great amount of time and effort on producing proposals for a new national fruit centre, which would be locally funded. However, all that has been swept aside because, instead of still being in discussion, at 3.30 this afternoon the Government announced their decision to embark on this foolish and costly exercise of moving the collection. That will take between five and eight years, involve some risk and unknown costs and appears to us to be a totally unnecessary and bad exercise--
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the announcement today of the closure of the Brogdale fruit station and the future of the national fruit collection".
Column 1195As the House knows, under Standing Order. No. 20 I have to announce my decision without giving my reasons to the House. I have listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I regret that his application does not fall within the requirements of the order and I cannot submit his application to the House. However, he may have other opportunities for raising the matter next week.
Mr. Secretary Parkinson, supported by Mr. Secretary Hurd, Mr. Secretary Waddington, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Secretary Wakeham, and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, presented a Bill to give effect to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation which supplements the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation ; to make further provision with respect to aviation security and civil aviation ; to give effect to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf which supplements that Convention ; to make other provision for the protection of ships and harbour areas against acts of violence ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 11.]
[Relevant document : Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's un- numbered explanatory memorandum of 13 December 1989 on the Fisheries Agreement between the European Community and Greenland.]
That this House takes note of the proposals described in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum of 12th December 1989 and Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 13th December 1989 on Total Allowable Catches and Quotas for 1990, its un- numbered Explanatory Memorandum of 13th December 1989 on the Reciprocal Fisheries Agreement between the Community and Norway for 1990, European Community Document No. 9888/89 on fishery guide prices, and of the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the United Kingdom fishing industry for 1990 consistent with the requirement for conservation of the fishing stock.
I must first record the fact that the late arrival of these proposals has been most inconvenient for the House and Ministers. The House as a whole must record its dissatisfaction at the fact that once again, for the purposes of their negotiations, the Norwegians have pressed the arguments nearer and nearer to Christmas so that it is difficult for this House properly to consider these important matters. I am grateful to the authorities of the House, to the Select Committee on European Legislation and to spokesmen of all parties for their understanding, but I still believe that it is more difficult for us to have a proper debate because of the way in which the negotiations are carried on.
Indeed, it is made worse when we are faced with the conclusions of those negotiations with Norway. The Commission will find it extremely difficult to explain to Ministers how, at a time when we have reduced the total allowable catches offered to the fishermen of the Community below--as far as we can find out--the recommendations of the scientists, it has found it possible to do a deal with Norway which increases the proportion of the fish available to Norwegian fishermen. Although it is difficult to second- guess people who have been carrying out negotiations, it is also difficult to see how the Commission can substantiate the claim that this is a proper outcome to the negotiations with Norway, although in these negotiations the Norwegians have considerable cards in their hands and start from a strong position. I do not under-estimate the negotiators' difficulties, but in trying to explain to English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish fishermen that they will have to accept considerable reductions in their fishing opportunities, it will not be possible to explain why, at the same time, the Norwegians will have proportionately greater opportunities ; although we know that the Norwegians have severe problems in the fisheries that they control in their northern waters.
We are discussing documents that are not complete, but which are based upon the best evidence that we have. I thank the House for its forbearance.
It is right that we should start by pointing to the fact that important communities in the United Kingdom
Column 1197depend upon fishing. For them, fishing is not only a matter of livelihood and support for the whole economy of their community : it is also of great emotional importance because that is why their community is there. One thing that makes this an issue on which many hon. Members of different parties can coalesce is our recognition that those communities, which are represented by hon. Members of all parties, have a particular call upon us. The real problem is that they are communities of people who hunt for a natural product and whose future depends upon its availability and their opportunity to catch. If such an industry finds that, from year to year, that availability falls, it is bound to be caused considerable worry about the future. None of us should under-estimate what that means. It is perfectly possible to point to the fact that in most cases the income from those opportunities has increased over the past 10 years. There is no doubt that it has increased in both money and real terms. I should not wish anybody to think that I do not recognise that, apart from in the present year, in those terms the fishing industry has done better year on year. However, the psychology and the fear of a reducing opportunity are not cancelled out by the experience of receiving a higher price for the smaller amount of fish that can be caught.
None of us must under-estimate the position in those fishing communities, which has been made worse by the fact that, in 1989, for the first time for some years, the volume of catches, which has reduced by 11 per cent., has not been offset by an increase in prices, which have risen by only 9 per cent. in total. Therefore, to some extent we have a reversal of the continuing trends and an increase in the fear and concern in those communities.
Last year the fishing communities saw significant cuts in their North sea cod and haddock quotas. Now they face another year of cuts and are beginning to feel that the benefits promised are always for tomorrow, never for today. Therefore, we must consider what we can do in the context of the scientific advice with which we are presented. We have a real problem here. This industry is not like any other, because its catching opportunities depend upon the fish that are available. What we do today will have enormous effects upon what we do tomorrow. One cannot distinguish between the demand for conservation at sea and the demand for terrestrial conservation. I should find it extremely difficult to demand that the Brazilians are restrained in their treatment of their rain forests, while insisting that our fishermen should have the right to fish as many fish as they like, irrespective of the effect on the stock-- [Interruption.] The problems that we face--I know that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) agrees with me on this--are, first, that the statements by the scientists are extremely worrying this year. Secondly, in most stocks we do not seem to have benefited from the conservation measures that we have now had for the past eight years. Thirdly, the Commission is asking us to take even lower figures than those that are strictly necessary according to scientific judgments. We must face three matters clearly. First, the position with regard to stocks is serious, particularly in the North sea. There is no doubt about that. Even those who would like to be as flexible as possible in interpreting the scientific advice must accept that fact. Therefore, I could not countenance proposing figures at the negotiations which are outwith the scientific advice. There is no other firm base on which to stand. If I offer anecdotal evidence from
Column 1198the experience of Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English fishermen, I shall only be countered by similar disadvantageous anecdotal evidence from the Dutch, Germans and Danes with whom we negotiate. We must have a serious agreed base for discussion. The best scientific advice is the only base upon which anyone concerned with conservation can stand.
Secondly, why is it that, despite all the conservation measures, there has been no upturn in stocks in many areas? As Minister responsible for fishing, I have expounded the reason for that for some years in fishing negotiations. While the Community accepted a total allowable catch in line with what the scientists suggest, Community fishermen illegally overfished as much again. Only recently have we begun to bring such overfishing under control. That was done by the international police force pioneered by Britain and supported by both Conservative and Opposition Members, who felt that it was a proper area of Community competence.
Overfishing does not prove that TACs and quotas have failed. Policing is only just beginning to overcome a willingness to cheat throughout the Community. We need to make sure not only that TACs and quotas work but that they are complemented by other conservation measures to make them more effective. It is self-evident that a TAC and quota system which ensures that large numbers of immature fish are cast out in order to meet the demands of the quota is not proper conservation. That is why I honour and recognise the suggestions put forward by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. I hope that we can encourage them to go further and to accept considerable changes. We must face the fact that conservation measures that work mean significant changes in fishing techniques. They cannot be entirely comfortable, and hurt no one. If that was possible, we should have agreed such measures a long time ago. Hon. Members who travel around their constituencies telling fishermen that, if they accept a certain package of conservation measures, they need not worry, do considerable damage to the future of the fishing industry. Conservation is a tough thing to achieve, particularly in circumstances where stocks have fallen so low.
It is wrong to suggest that conservation measures remove the need for TACs and quotas. We need both. People who suggest otherwise are selling the next generation, indeed the fishermen of the next few years, down the drain for current political advantage. I hope that those concerned with the future of fishing will care for its future not just in this year and the next but in the next 10, 15 or 20 years.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : If the emphasis on fisheries and conservation is to move towards technical measures--which some of us have supported for many years--is the Minister maintaining that TACs, which he says have failed during the past eight years, must be kept at the same low level, and not abolished? Is he saying that quotas must be held at an insupportably low level if new conservation policies are implemented?
Mr. Gummer : I am pleased with that intervention. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been keen on conservation measures for some years. If that is so, I am surprised that those conservation measures were not mentioned in the Scottish National party manifesto for the last election. I am pleased that he has corrected the
Column 1199impression that it gave. I have not only believed in them but fought for them year in, year out, without the support of many of the fishermen who are now prepared to ask for them.
When I ask for absolute straightness with fishermen, I mean that we must tell them that TACs cannot be increased merely because we hope that conservation measures will have effect. TACs can be increased only when the conservation measures will have had effect. Otherwise, we shall be in exactly the same position as when we had to stop all herring fishing, and nearly destroyed that industry. I shall not be the Minister who does that. I am determined to fight for fishermen and the future of fishing, which means being prepared now to say that conservation measures must march hand in hand with TACs and quotas. The moment that we see that the measures are working, we can increase TACs and improve quotas.
Mr. John Townend (Bridlington) rose
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) rose
Mr. Townend : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation on the east cost is disastrous? The quota system has failed and the time for prevarication is over. For several years, my fishermen have asked for considerably larger mesh sizes, a ban on industrial fishing, larger landing sizes and the closure of breeding and spawning grounds in a large part of the area. If that action is not taken in the next 12 months, the industry will die.
Mr. Gummer : I am sympathetic with much of what my hon. Friend says and has said in the past. I was about to announce not only that we have already put to the Commission a series of proposals to improve conservation, but that I have asked for a major package of proposals to be prepared for the next stage in pressing them for conservation. One of our problems is that we constantly lead in our demands for conservation measures. So far, we have not attracted sufficient support from some sections of the industry or, more importantly in terms of voting, from our colleagues in the European Community. There is one piece of relatively good news to announce to the House today. The case that we have pursued in the European Court of Justice on Spanish quota hoppers appears to have been decided. I say that it appears to have been decided because I have received merely the report of a judgment rather than a full judgment. It gives grounds for cautious optimism. Although we failed in our contention that fishermen who claim part of the British quota should be resident in this country, we gained almost every other point. That will enable us to do a good deal more than some had feared about non-British fishermen who have their own quota in some other country taking fish on the British quota. That was unacceptable. At a time when TACs are as tight as they are, it is an affront to British fishermen if their small quota is partly taken by people who already have a quota which has been negotiated over many years and is meant to reflect their historic fishing rights. It does not mean that they can add to their quota by pinching the quota of others. That is why
Column 1200we have taken such a strong line. I am sorry that we have not won everything, but we have won a sufficient amount at least to make a significant effect on that.
Mr. Gummer : I must tell my hon. Friend that I should not give way. I said that I would give way once more, but I should reserve that for a Member of the official Opposition because then I shall have shared out interventions fairly well. That is a quota operation which I think is right.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I shall attend the Council on Sunday night and Monday morning and the argument will probably proceed through Monday, Tuesday and perhaps Wednesday. Clearly, major issues are involved. I am pleased to announce that the Commission has recognised the need to retain the security which comes from the common fisheries policy. That was of crucial concern to British fishermen north and south of the border. Relative stability is a crucial issue for Britain. We fought hard and won a reasonable deal from the common fisheries policy, and we have accepted the way in which it shares out fish. But we cannot have some new mechanism for sharing out any other fish stocks which are found. That would always be to our disadvantage. Therefore, we welcome the Commission's intention to deal with the Greenland fish as we believe the common fisheries policy dictates-- according to relative stability--thus ensuring that we have our fair and proper share of that fish.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Will the Minister assure the House that, over the weekend and on Monday, he will resist Spanish demands for a share of the west coast of Scotland cod allocation, given that Spanish fishing firms have no history whatever of fishing in those waters?
Mr. Gummer : I give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance that I have no intention of allowing the present sharing system of the common fisheries policy to be changed. I shall oppose resolutely any suggestion, either now or at an interim date when a review is possible, to change the way in which we treat various parts of the waters of the Community. I can give the hon. Gentleman the further assurance that we have sought allies in that and believe ourselves to be well supported by our neighbours, who also feel that this hard-fought share should not be upset by those who have no historic claim on our waters and who have sought to take from us quota which is rightly ours and certainly not theirs.
I am determined to fight for the highest possible TACs consonant with scientific advice. I hope that the whole House will support me when I say that it would be wrong for a country--I say a country, not a Government-- committed to conservation to ignore the scientific advice and demand more fish than is safe for next year and the year after. I am adamant that we shall not move from that scientific advice. We should seek to give ourselves as much fish as possible, consonant with that advice.
Therefore, I shall oppose strongly the Commission's proposals which give less fish than scientists have suggested it is possible for us to take. When we are squeezed as hard as we are, it is unacceptable to suggest that we should squeeze still further. Because we have a
Column 1201high proportion of many of these stocks for historic reasons and because of our negotiating successes, it means that, if our allocation is pushed below what the scientists demand, our suffering is proportionately greater.
Mr. Gummer : I promised not to give way again because it was necessary to use up as little time as possible. I have given way once to the Government side, once to the official Opposition and once to the non- official Opposition. I shall not be driven to divide blue whiting from whiting. There is a grey problem in that. [--Hon. Members : "That is absurd."] It is extremely difficult to give way in the circumstances, but if no hon. Member takes it as a precedent, within the scientific advice I give way.
Mr. Wallace : I am extremely grateful to the Minister. May I assure him that we on these Benches support what he has just said about not going beyond what scientific advice allows? Can he say whether he will seek compensatory increases in precautionary TACs not dependent on scientific advice to make up for the limited TACs for haddock and cod?
Mr. Gummer : That was a helpful and useful extension of the debate, and I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. The answer is that that depends on the precautionary TACs. Where there is a relatively widespread view that a precautionary TAC is not unreasonable, it would be wrong to change it. Others seem to be shots in the dark without much basis, so they might be varied in either direction without any real knowledge.
Where it would be safe to do so, I shall seek the best possible deal. I am not sure whether I would want to do that in recompense for a tough TAC somewhere else. I would do so because I believed that we must provide the maximum possible fishing opportunity which is proper for a Government and an Opposition who are committed to conservation.
I have already said that the first main issue that we shall face is relative stability. It seems that the Commission is committed to that, but we shall have to fight hard to keep it. The second is the fight for TACs at the highest possible level consonant with our conservation aims. The third relates to the Hague preference. I shall seek to invoke the Hague preference because TACs have fallen so low and the quotas that depend on them will cause real hardship in several fishing communities. Hon. Members can rest assured that I shall fight for that as hard as possible, but they must know the arithmetic and that we have a limited number of friends on that. Nevertheless, I believe that we must fight and that it is right to do everything possible to gain that.
The next priority concerns western mackerel. We have a problem which it would be wrong to ignore. Our rightful insistence on relative stability means that we cannot easily explain why it is necessary to take into account the fact that shoals of fish move. Although the relative stability is based on lines drawn on a map of the sea, it may be that the lines related to movements of fish, which have since changed.
Therefore, it has always been our view that, by relative stability, we mean stability in the stocks as they were at the time. If they have moved to some extent, it is not unreasonable marginally to change the way in which those
Column 1202lines are drawn. That is why we put the western mackerel issue before the Council and why we successfully obtained some help last year. Whether we can obtain the same amount, or any, this time will depend on some tough negotiations.
We want to see major changes in the proposals put to us by the Commission. TACs and quotas are not enough, but we do not accept that we can do without them. Further conservation measures will be essential if we are to begin to see the day dawn in which the stocks begin to grow not just occasionally, but much more widely. There must also be major changes if the Commission's commitment to conservation is to be believed and it is not to be suspected of seeking to achieve other aims by the negotiations carried out.
Therefore, the House will wish me to be able to say to the Commission and my colleagues in the European Community during the discussions and debates of the next few days that the House recognises the difficulties placed on us by the shortage of fish, but demands that the maximum opportunities must be provided for fishermen of the Community, and therefore for the fishermen of these islands. We shall fight to do that and shall need the wholehearted support of the House if we are to have some chance of obtaining an answer which can be accepted by today's fishermen and protects the future livelihoods of tomorrow's fishermen.
Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I agree with much of what the Minister said. He seems to realise that Britain's fishing communities face a crisis. If the proposals are carried out they will cause immense hardship, mass unemployment and destroy many fishing communities. The purpose of this take note debate is for the Minister to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. I am sure that he will get the message that he must go and fight for the fishing communities, fishermen and fishing generally. He has our support on that.
I also share the Minister's view--I think that I speak for the House--that it is most unsatisfactory, although not of his making, that the EC has not been able even to consult the individual legislatures about quota proposals until this late date. It will not be until the middle of next week--12 days before they become operative--that the Community's fishermen know the quota for the coming year. That is unsatisfactory and I hope the Government will take the opportunity to press for it to be changed. There are difficulties with the Norwegians, but we must fight to change that unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I suspect that most of this debate will centre on the North sea because the species most at threat live in that vicinity. But other seas around us are equally affected. The quota reductions of sole and whiting in the Irish sea will have a major effect on the western part of Britain. It is essential that we retain as high a proportion as possible of the Channel cod available, and I hope that the Minister will press for that.
We must turn our eyes from our near coasts to the far seas and to the lack of access to distant waters. The north Norway quota is down this year by 47 per cent.--75 per cent. less than it was two years ago. I am advised that this
Column 1203means that it is only viable for two of our 15 vessels available to work that sector. That is ridiculous and unacceptable.
I heard what the Minister said about Greenland. As he knows, under the 1983 agreement, the allocation for Greenland waters was based on historic fishing. It is important for the Minister to reinforce that point, on which we have allies in the EC. I hope that he will not give way one inch on those waters.
The main and most contentious issue is the North sea. The House knows that the proposals agreed between the Norwegians and the EC led to a massive reduction in quotas of about three of the principal stocks. Haddock is down by 39 per cent.--taking into account the swaps--cod is down by 24 per cent. and saithe by 30 per cent. Those figures need examination. I agree with the Minister that we should press for the highest sustainable scientific figures. The figures that I gave were reached in negotiations with the Norwegians. The European Commissioners were not effective in those negotiations and the results have been absolutely disastrous. For whatever reason--it is beyond me--the Commissioners do not appear to have played any of their bargaining cards. I hope that the Minister will press the Commission on that.
Why have we not raised the herring issue? We have a guarantee--a zonal attachment--of 25 per cent. Why have we not received that? Why has not the Commisson played the mackerel card? What about the north Norway access linked to the Greenland shrimp? If the Minister goes to Europe and argues these points, he will have the support of the House.
We are talking about uncharted waters, but we should seriously consider asking the Commission to go back to Norway and, even at this 11th hour, start renegotiating with it, even if that means that we operate temporarily on limited quotas on a monthly basis in the early new year. I hope that the Minister will take that on board because we have wasted all our bargaining chips in the negotiations. There is also agreement that there is a problem with declining fish stock in the North sea. We may disagree about the figures, but we all agree that the scientists have discovered this problem. I took the trouble to familiarise myself with the way in which the scientists work and I was staggered by the quality and intensity of their research. I understand that they measured that 160,000 haddock were landed at Aberdeen alone last year. They have such figures going back to 1960. They cannot explain why there is such a variation of spawning stock, but it exists and this year it is particularly critical.
The scientists say that there is a problem with the declining fish stocks. I represent a fishing constituency and my fishermen have been telling me anecdotally for a couple of years that they cannot find fish. I noticed reports in the Sunday papers about Bridlington fishermen spending a full day at sea and returning with two cases of fish. We all agree that there is a problem and a need for radical reassessment.
I agree with much of what the Minister said about conservation and I am pleased that he said it because it widens our approach. In the past, many people in Europe have adopted what is commonly known as the one-club approach--we are familiar with it from the Government's handling of the economy. However, I shall try to be less
Column 1204contentious. We have relied too much on TACs and quotas. Of course, they are necessary but we need other measures, too.
I talk to fishermen in my constituency and I know from my experience that there is horrific pollution in the North sea. We have been dumping far too much industrial waste there and it is having an effect on the fish. I get complaints from my fishermen about fish that are obviously suffering from the effects of pollution, and we have many reports of fishermen on the east and south coasts suffering from dermatitis.
In a recent parliamentary answer to me the Minister gave what I thought was some reassurance. He will know that at the ministerial meeting held in London on 24 and 25 November the signatories to the Oslo convention agreed that they would phase out by 31 December 1989 the dumping of industrial waste in the North sea. However, they said that an exception would be
"inert materials of natural origin or other materials which can be shown in the competent international organisations to cause no harm in the marine environment".
In his answer the Minister said that he hoped that within two years he could phase out industrial waste licences and that we could stop dumping toxic industrial waste in the North sea. I hope that the Minister is quite specific about that and will stick to what he said. I see that he nods his assent. We must do all that we can to stop the dumping of any industrial waste except the most inert material in the North sea.
The other issue affecting the depletion of stocks is research. It is incumbent on us to maximise the use of a declining catch and we should aim to add value to our fishing industry when we can. We tend to speak about fishermen but we all know that they provide a livelihood for fish processors and many other people employed in associated industries. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Minister persists in his obsession about making massive cuts at Torry fishing research station in Aberdeen, which is probably the premier fishing research station in Europe. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will have second thoughts about that because it is crazy to cut the budget by one third and to axe 18 vital schemes. I visited that station, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), and I have heard about schemes which seek to maximise the use of fish and add to their value. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the fact that such work is in the public interest.
Fishermen increasingly talk to me about conservation. The vice-president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, Derek Heselton, lives in my constituency and is a good friend of mine. He told me at the weekend that his ambition is to see his son follow him into the industry. He recognises that if there are no fish there will be no future for his son and the next generation of fishermen. Many people are in that position and they recognise the problem. I compliment the fishermen in the north-east of England on their voluntary ban on twin rigs for prawn trawlers. That is a step in the right direction.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Teeed) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the voluntary conservation efforts of fishermen in the north-east of England. He will be aware that in managing and working to their quota specifically and carefully, they were in the end penalised because fishermen in other areas had gone
Column 1205beyond their allocation. That meant that fishermen in the north-east of England were denied the right to fish the quota that had been allocated to them.
Dr. Clark : The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that that matter has been brought to my attention. I do not wish to trespass into area disputes at this time because I know that many hon. Members want to participate in the debate.
I urge the Minister to look more closely at prawn fishing. Does he agree that there should be TACs for prawns? Such a step would be supported by fishermen in the west of Scotland and the north-east of England. Prawn fishermen face the danger of a knock-on effect ; as fishermen are driven out of other grounds, they may enter prawn grounds.
Not only fishermen in the north-east of England are affected. We have had a report from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation containing a whole package of conservation measures to which the Department recently published its response. I hope that the Minister will press our case very hard when he addresses the Fisheries Council. I think that he hinted at that, and I hope that he will take encouragement from our support.
We have to take many radical measures on conservation and must face the prospect of bigger mesh sizes and extension pieces. We may even have to face the issue of discards. We talk about difficult negotiations with the Norwegians, but they do not have our problems with discards. Discards count against quotas. It may be unpalatable, but the Norwegians and the Canadians do it and we do it north of 62 deg. latitude. There is no reason why we should not consider that as part and parcel of conservation. We should think seriously about landing round cod and round haddock because landing them is not the best way to maximise the value of our fishing industry.
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : When the Select Committee on Trade and Industry published a report about 10 years ago on the British fishery industry, it drew attention to the disruption of quotas by discards and said that we were not getting a true record. Ten years have gone by and that warning has not been heeded.
My final point relates to a fundamental disagreement between the Opposition and the Government. I talked about a one-club approach, but perhaps that was not the best analogy. We might say that we are trying to solve the problem while firing on three cylinders when we should be firing on all four. For some reason the Minister refuses to countenance one of the best weapons in his armoury and I suspect that that is because it costs money. It is the weapon of decommissioning. The Minister and the House know that by 1992 we have to reduce our capacity by 22 per cent. Yet the industry grew by 16 per cent. last year. That is the enormity of our task in the next two years. The sooner the Minister comes to the House with proposals for a proper decommissioning scheme, the better. I understand the Minister's reluctance, because he was responsible for the last scheme, and had his knuckles rapped by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office for it. But a new scheme need not have the same weaknesses.
Column 1206I hope that the Minister will come to the House with such proposals, because the only way that we can reduce the number of vessels--it may have to be by up to 400 vessels--is by having a proper decommissioning scheme. I hope that when the scheme is introduced, because it will have to be introduced, payments will go to the employees working in the industry as well as to skippers and owners.
The facts are there, and we all understand the seriousness of the problem. The Minister is listening to the voice of the House, and I hope that he will hear the message that he has to fight for the British fishing industry, which is in a state of crisis. The industry knows it, and we know it. The time has come for us to take some bold steps. I suspect that the key is decommissioning. That is the one thing that the Minister has not argued for.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. Now that we are well into the season of good will to all men and women, I urge right hon. and hon. Members to demonstrate that good will by making short speeches. Many hon. Members wish to be called in the debate. 6.21 pm
Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East) : As a preface to my remarks, I welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister and the comments of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. D. Clark), about the timing of the publication of the draft proposals in relation to the Fisheries Council meeting and the commencement of the new fishing year. We face the same problem every year and, inevitably, it is raised in the House. Unfortunately, very little has been done about it in the past, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will be more successful on this occasion. I am a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, and I know that we have only just received the European Commission's draft proposals. That makes it difficult for us to undertake our function and responsibilities to the House. I appreciate the fundamental problems facing United Kingdom Ministers. As my right hon. Friend said, fish stocks are declining, we have a surplus catch capacity and we have to deal with over-fishing in some areas. As a consequence, we have to have restraints if we are to maintain effective conservation measures and safeguard the viability of our fishing industry.
I wish to make three points about the effects of the draft proposals, if they are implemented, on the south-west of England because fishing is an important component of our regional economy. First, there is a proposal that the total allowable Channel cod catch should be reduced, and that will be reflected in the United Kingdom quota. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the background to the situation carefully, as many hon. Members believe that it is essential that we retain at least the figures that we had in 1989. I am not trying to contradict the scientific advice that we have received, but the Commission has suggested that the cod TAC should be reduced to 21,500 tonnes. I hope that the Minister will defend our position robustly and ensure that the United Kingdom quota is upheld. Closer examination of the scientific evidence shows that it is variable and I hope that the Minister will argue in favour