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Column 1207of the higher of the parameters rather than accept the Commission's proposals. The least that my right hon. Friend can do when he responds this evening is to give the House a commitment, at this preliminary stage, that when there is a variation in the scientific evidence we will argue for the higher parameter, although the Commission has suggested a lower figure.
We expect that there will be a reduction in the TACs in the Channel for plaice and sole. On paper they may not seem to be of major proportions, but over the years the figures have been constantly reduced, so the overall situation is becoming worse. I hope that there will not be a need for any alteration in the figures for the south-west's mackerel catch. We have enjoyed stability in that area in recent years, and I hope that that will continue.
My second point is that we need greater flexibility in the application of quotas, and I do not think that any other hon. Member has touched upon that this evening. In the south-west there was considerable evidence that the circumstances had changed compared with this time last year when the TACs and quotas were negotiated. It seems that a major renegotiation of TACs and quotas was required so that we could achieve a modest increase halfway through the last fishing year in the cod quota that the south-west is allowed, and there is ample scientific evidence and local knowledge to support that.
Due to the shortage of time, I shall not spell out the reasons why we should reconsider conservation measures as a total package, but it is no good singling out one or two specific aspects each year. We must consider increasing mesh sizes. The present situation is ludicrous, as many small fish are caught and subsequently killed. Small fish not only represent future fish stocks, and the viability of the industry, but the future livelihood of fishermen. I hope that the Minister will include that in the package of conservation measures that eventually emerges.
Time prevents me from mentioning in any detail any other equally significant subjects--for example, licensing smaller vessels and the need for fleet reductions. That requires a financially attractive and effective decommissioning scheme, as the hon. Member for South Shields suggested.
In conclusion, I emphasise that the fishing industry is of great importance to the regional economy of Devon and Cornwall. Looe is the principal fishing port in my constituency, and it now supports more than 50 fishing vessels, a significant increase since 1979. In the past two years alone, £1 million has been invested in landing facilities, introducing a fish market and a packaging scheme. Larger sums have been invested in our fishing vessels. I want that momentum to be maintained. We look to my right hon. Friend the Minister to safeguard our interests in Brussels during the forthcoming negotiations.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : I frequently pursue a slightly different tack from other hon. Members, and I do not apologise for doing so again today. The reason is that I have the pleasure to represent a constituency with special and distinctive problems.
There is not just one crisis in the fishing industry in the United Kingdom because there is not just one fishing
Column 1208industry. Fishing differs radically between England and Scotland, and within Scotland from east to west coast. There are many dimensions to the industry.
I wish to emphasise the special nature of the difficulties that confront fishermen in my constituency and on the west coast of Scotland as a whole. It is a fragile area. In social and economic terms, its communities live a fragile existence. Time does not permit me to dwell on that, but I hope that it is obvious to the House. We are not over capacity in the Western Isles, at least as regards our main fishing effort, which is directed towards prawns. We do not have the same problems and constraints as other sectors of the Scottish industry have had for the past decade. Indeed, our fleet has diminished during the past decade. The reduction has been among larger boats.
Another example of the special nature of fishing in the Western Isles is our attitude to total allowable catches. There are many criticisms of TACs. They can be only one of the tools used for conservation and to achieve sustainable stocks. Many criticise the Government for underestimating the amount of fish in the sea, but we tend to fear that they have overestimated the amount in our area, particularly the amount of prawns in the Minch. Although we believe that there is a possibility that TACs are too high in the Minch area, I shall make no final judgment about that, but merely observe that it shows our different attitude. One fear is that so much scientific research has gone into the North sea, and latterly the sand-eel controversy, that not enough has gone into the west coast fisheries to discover the true stocks of prawns so that we might establish a sustainable yield.
I emphasise that we are dealing with a distinctive style of fishing but, despite our specialness, we are constantly caught up in the general crisis that affects the national fleet. For example, some years ago, the European Commission, recognising the fragility of the west coast area, decided to award it a higher percentage grant than was available in other parts of the United Kingdom for the construction of new fishing vessels. Hardly a penny of that theoretically high grant arrived because of overcapacity in other parts of the United Kingdom.
A fisherman in my constituency is going after crabs and lobsters and wants to build a new boat with Vivier tanks to be able better to service the markets. He presents no problem in terms of catching capacity but has been denied the funds that the EEC wants to give him because of overcapacity elsewhere.
There must be urgent and tough measures to reduce national capacity. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) spoke of the need for a decommissioning scheme, he emphasised the need for a proper scheme. It must not miss the target. It must not vacuum up the small boats and small fleets and leave the large ones untouched.
There is a second way in which we are being caught up in the national crisis. We are suffering from increasing fishing pressure. Boats from the east coast, confronted with reduced quotas, come to the west coast to try to earn a living. We get caught up because of the pressure on prawns and white fish. We fear the drastic quota cuts that appear to have been agreed for cod and haddock on the east coast because we believe that one result will be a less favourable solution of the haddock quota on the west coast. We fear that boats from other areas will fish off the west coast, as they may fish against two quotas whereas we
Column 1209may fish against only one. Boats from the east coast could come over to the west, reduce the quota there, leaving nothing for local fishermen in the latter part of the year, and then return to the east, where we may not go, and finish their quota during the remainder of the year. That problem must be tackled. Such issues may seem rather detailed, but we must remember some of the special facets. I realise that time is short, but I must say something about the amendment that I tabled. I understand why it was not selected, but in it I tried to convey what I have attempted to say in my speech--that we must recognise the very different nature of fishing fleets in different areas. Fish are obviously a finite resource. That is the crux of the problem. Whatever arrangement we arrive at, it obviously cannot be a laissez-faire free-for-all. There has to be controlled management. Because of my appreciation of the different types of fishing done in different areas, I believe that that management would be best organised at local level.
Some organisation of local management and local control is needed as we move into the 1990s and a new common fisheries regime. The fishermen whom I represent look to what has been achieved in the Shetland box, for example. They believe that something along those lines is needed round the Western Isles. That sort of approach will achieve the most benefit for the national interest, and that is the maximum sustainable yield of fish from the west coast area at the lowest cost to the Exchequer. Management regimes do not necessarily cost any money but they achieve the maximum benefit to the community in terms of jobs and downstream processing. That is why the fishermen in my constituency look to the Government to ensure the early introduction of some form of local managment scheme.
Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough) : I shall not take up the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) save to say that I agree that we must remember that the fishing industry comprises many local industries, many of which have special features. I represent two fishing fleets that have individual characteristics. Whitby and Scarborough both have long traditions. They have their own communities and they have a living to earn. By tradition they have handed down their boats and knowhow from father to son, from generation to generation. The situation this year is so serious that their livelihoods are endangered unless something can be done rapidly to restore security.
I recall the debates of 1983 which led to the House agreeing to the common fisheries policy. I remember the hopes that we all had for stability and prosperity in fishing as a result of that agreement. It was a good agreement. There were advantages to the United Kingdom and its fishermen, as there were to the fishermen of other member states. Alas and alack, things have not worked out as we hoped. What went wrong? I have argued ever since I became a Member of this place, often on the basis of arguments advanced by the fishermen in my constituency, that the scientists are wrong and that the fishermen know better. Scientists may be wrong occasionally, but not always. They could not have got it wrong every year since the agreement was made.
Quotas have been agreed upon and then ignored. Inspection systems have been inadequate to achieve their
Column 1210purpose. Looking back, I believe that the scientists were right on the whole and that the system has not been used properly. There has been a considerable breaking of quotas by many member states. None of us is perfect, but we have tried to adhere to the rules. Now that the quota system is being more efficiently policed and inspection has improved, we face the consequences of the earlier years of the agreement when it was so often and so heavily broken. Now there is a a lack of fish.
That brings me to the negotiations which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must enter next week. We have been fortunate ever since the agreement was reached in 1983 to have been represented by Ministers--my right hon. Friends the Members for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), and now by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)--who have respected the fishing industry and fought hard on its behalf. They have not always been as successful as we wished because others had to be considered in the negotiations, but we must have an agreement for the North sea. If not, the future will be disastrous for anyone who wishes to make a living from it. I know that my right hon. Friend will do his level best at the meeting next week and that he will seek some important answers from the Commission. The Commission has produced quota figures lower than those presented to us by our scientific advisers. We are faced also with a late agreement with Norway. It is unfortunate that no reasons have been given. As others have asked, do we need to ratify the Norwegian agreement straight away? That is a good question. Should we not insist that the Commission, which has made such a rotten job of it so far, returns to Norway to engage in some more arguing to some purpose? If it chooses not to do so, let us hear from it why it came to such a poor agreement with Norway.
What should my right hon. Friend be seeking? I agree that he should be looking for the maximum that can be justified by scientific advice. Without using that advice we have no foundation on which to base our arguments. There will have to be strong reasons--these have certainly not been advanced so far by the Commission--why we should not accept scientific advice. We should seek every possible way of tightening quality observance and the policing of catches. We must continue to improve our methods of conservation. The effect of the conservation measures of today does not become apparent until several years have passed. The measures are designed to benefit those who fish in the future. Therefore, we must press again for the various measures that have been urged by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, including those that determine mesh sizes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) said, various matters have been urged strongly by representatives of fishing.
If national quotas are set for any species, they should not be allocated merely to the various regions of the United Kingdom. I hope that the individual regions will fish with fixed quotas and enforceable penalties. The fishermen who are represented by the hon. Member for Berwick-up-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and I have suffered because of the failure to operate such a policy. That must not be allowed to happen again.
The fishermen in my constituency are greatly concerned about the future as a result of the proposals being made by the Commission. But I have confidence that my right hon.
Column 1211Friend will do his level best to try to wrest more sense out of the Commission. I wish him good luck in his endeavours in the week ahead.
"and calls upon the Government whilst paying proper regard to the need to conserve fishing stocks, to make every effort to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities for the British fishing industry in 1990, and to bring forward proposals both to supplement existing conservation measures and to facilitate the restructuring of the fishing fleet, and in particular, to help manage a reduction in capacity through the introduction of a decommissioning scheme." The wide geographical contributions to the debate from south-east Cornwall, the Western Isles and Scarborough make it clear that a crisis is facing the British fishing industry. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was right to remind us that that crisis affects different communities in different ways. There is clear unanimity that the Council of Ministers, which the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland will attend next week, is of crucial importance to the industry. Our amendment gives them every encouragement to try to achieve the best possible deal in terms of fishing opportunities for British fishermen, consistent with the necessary considerations of conservation.
Many of us thought the position bad enough last year, when the haddock total allowable catch was drastically reduced from 128,000 tonnes to 54,000 tonnes. Many of us warned of the dire consequences that could face the industry and the communities around our coast, which are so dependent on the fishing industry. We now face proposals to implement an even greater cut. Unless proper measures are introduced, many of our communities will be devastated.
The haddock total allowable catch is only one quarter of the 1988 TAC, with the cod TAC being just above half its 1988 level. Many of us believe that that is the result of the Commission's actions in recent weeks, not least in the negotiations with Norway. I share the view expressed by the Minister, the Opposition spokesman and other hon. Members that the proposals have been left until the last minute and that there has not been adequate time fully to consider them. There are a number of lessons to be learnt. The Norwegians have certain advantages in negotiations, but, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said, certain bargaining counters were also in the Commission's hands. None of us yet knows what in the world possessed Senor Marin to enter the negotiations with Norway at a very late stage and propose such ridiculously low TACs. It is difficult enough to try to persuade fishermen to accept TACs based on scientific advice ; it is almost impossible--and no one would wish to try--to get them to accept TACs that have been put forward for some obscure negotiation purpose.
The other matter which is causing great irritation, even fury, is the increase in TACs for the industrial fisheries by-catch. Most fishermen fish for fish which end up on a consumer's plate, not in an industrial fishery. That aspect has compounded an already bad situation. We were pleased to hear the Minister say that when he goes to
Column 1212Brussels he will seek to activate the Hague preference. We welcome that assurance and encourage him in his negotiations to achieve that.
My hon. Friends and I who represent fishing constituencies obviously want the Government to secure the best possible deal for the industry. As all hon. Members have said, the figures on the table are not acceptable. However, we accept the important requirements of conservation. I well remember that when my hon. Friends and I met the Parliamentary Secretary last month he said graphically that he did not wish to be the Minister with responsibility for fisheries when the last haddock was taken out of the North sea. We have no desire to be the Opposition party that encouraged him to be so. That would not be a responsible position to take.
The scientists who recommend TACs are an easy target for criticism and there is some justification in the allegation that in recent years they must have got something wrong. Only two years ago, when they were setting the TAC for haddock for 1988, they recommended an increase. In today's circumstances, that recommendation appears incredible. It is worth noting that at the time the Scottish Fishermen's Federation simply did not believe it. Nevertheless, on the table are TACs for haddock and for cod which still fall short of what the scientists recommended. There is scope for an increase and I am sure that the Minister will try to obtain that. I understand that the Germans, the Danes and the Irish are not at all happy with the proposals. I hope that the Minister can put together that majority and obtain a far better deal.
I must make something clear to the Minister, but I do not do so in any hostile or partisan way. It is more a kindly word of warning. If he returns to the House next week and announces that he has successfully achieved a higher level of TAC, even that will not be a reason for rolling out the red carpet.
Mr. Wallace : I am glad that the Minister acknowledges that. The secretary of the Shetland Fish Producers Organisation said that the proposal was a compromise between a disaster and a catastrophe. What we seek, as reflected in our amendment, is a package of measures, not simply a better set of TACs.
One matter to which the Minister did not refer but which forms part of the Commission's proposals relates to the management of the haddock TAC. There is a specific proposal about fishing vessels having to cease fishing for 10 consecutive days per month if their catch had gone above a certain level in the past 18 months. There is another proposal for ceasing to fish other stocks when the total haddock TAC has been reached. That has met with considerable opposition within the fishing industry. Having been given a TAC, we should be left to manage it.
Mr. Gummer : I very much share the industry's concern about that proposal, which clearly seeks to interfere with the management of the TACs- -or at least the quotas--within individual nations. We have enough trouble trying to manage our own quotas without other people telling us how to do it. I shall have to find better ways to manage the quotas for the reasons put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). There is a real problem of over-fishing by one part of the country causing losses in another part. That must be carefully
Column 1213considered, but the position is not helped by other people trying to tell us how to do it. It is not an area in which I intend to follow the Commission.
I shall not dwell on another part of the package because the Minister responded satisfactorily to my earlier intervention on precautionary TACs. He gave an encouraging response on the need for a better package of conservation measures to supplement rather than substitute for TACs and quotas. Reference has been made to the proposals put forward by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which have been largely adopted by the Scottish Office. A number of specific measures have been mentioned, including the square mesh nets. An important measure is to try to make enforcement of conservation measures easier, with liability arising if a vessel is carrying rather than using illegal equipment. It is also important to recognise the willingness to accept the one-net rule. The Minister rightly stressed that the measures were tough. I am sure that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the Northumbrian fishermen did not suggest them lightly or without a great deal of debate among their members. It is to the credit of the industry that it has proposed such measures.
The Minister said that he had pressed the Commission on a number of conservation proposals and that they would be the subject of further negotiation. I hope that the Secretary of State, in his reply, will say what will be the likely timescale for any possible developments. It is widely recognised that we are dealing with an urgent situation. For it to continue into the distant future is unacceptable and a number of conservation measures should now come into play. Hon. Members have expressed their concern about the number of discards. That is almost invariably mentioned at meetings with fishermen or those involved in the fishing industry. Despite the fact that the haddock TAC for this year has been fished out, many fishermen are still finding substantial volumes of haddock in their nets when fishing for other species.
We need measures other than the conservation measures already mentioned. The Minister singularly omitted to mention the need for decommissioning. If we have a problem, it is made even greater by having a large fleet, all the members of which are trying to get as much as they can within the legitimate bounds of the TACs. If these measures go through, in 1990 we shall catch one quarter of the haddock allowed in 1988. Yet there has been no commensurate reduction in the capacity of the fleet. Time and again hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, have called for a decommissioning scheme as an essential requirement.
The Minister should be grateful that the industry joins in such calls. Many Ministers would be only too pleased if they could stand at the Dispatch Box knowing that an industry for which capacity cuts had been announced was going along with those cuts and proposing ways in which they could be managed.
There will undoubtedly be some damaging effects, but we are trying to keep those to a minimum. I shall be interested to hear the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland on decommissioning when he replies. There has
Column 1214been some suggestion that he and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food do not always see eye to eye.
As the hon. Member for South Shields said, I understand why the Minister, given his previous dangling with a decommissioning scheme, has so many reservations about it. But he cannot hide behind the Public Accounts Committee's report in trying to put off any further decommissioning scheme. The Public Accounts Committee, in its twenty-fourth report of April 1988, made it clear that it was criticising the way in which that scheme operated. In the summary of its recommendations and conclusions it says :
"For the future, we expect MAFF to determine more specific objectives for any grant schemes of this kind ; and to consider fully the need for flexibility so as to ensure that they provide better value for money than was obtained from decommissioning grants." It is clear from that that the Public Accounts Committee foresaw that at some future stage there might well be other decommissioning schemes but recommended ways in which they could be better administered than the previous one. That report cannot be used as an excuse for shying away from introducing a decommissioning scheme. The Department has proposed such things as aggregate licensing. That has a role to play but it will only scratch the surface of what is needed. We would like to see the temporary lay-up scheme followed up. I accept that the benefits to be derived from that are small, but at a time like this anything is welcome.
What we cannot accept is that things are left hanging in the air and left to the free market. We are not dealing with a free market. When the Government and the EC can so dramatically and drastically determine the catching opportunity, the Government are clearly in the marketplace and there must be other ways in which they can help the industry to restructure its effort and keep a modern and efficient fleet which matches capacity more closely to fishing opportunities. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland can go to Brussels with every exhortation to get a good deal, but they must come back with a satisfactory outcome, not just on TACs, but on conservation and, in particular, a commitment to introduce measures to restructure the industry, particularly to manage a decline in the industry's capacity through decommissioning. It is on that that they will be judged.
Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye) : The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) does not appear to seek to divide the House, but rather to clarify matters and to bring extra views to the House, which all hon. Members will value. What is remarkable about fishing is that it is the one industry in Britain that unites hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The eastern part of the Channel, with its substantial fishing ports of Hastings and Rye which I represent, may not be as hard hit as our friends in the northern and eastern fleets, but it should be clearly understood in Brussels that not only does the Minister go with our good will but he is speaking on behalf of all the fishermen round the coast who are unified in their condemnation of the haphazard way in which Brussels conducts its negotiations year after year.
Column 1215It is clear that Norway and Sweden have outmanoeuvred Brussels. It is as simple as that. They know that Brussels has a propensity for photo-finishes at the end of the year. Why, over the years, has not Brussels co-ordinated negotiations in such a way as to find out what trade-offs countries outside the EEC want rather than trying to do a deal on fishing?
I hope that the Minister will convey strongly our views on the Commission's ineptitude in the negotiating meeting next week. It is strange that the Commission cannot negotiate but it can produce hundreds of pages without coming to any conclusions that the House could be expected to back.
I hope that during negotiations my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the effect not only on fishermen but on the food processing and fish industries which depend on the landings round our coasts. I am anxious that the Government should be seen to be more forthcoming in supporting the British industry at a time of crisis.
Decommissioning has been mentioned, but I am particularly worried about the Government's strange reluctance to invest in research at a time when the industry is facing recognised difficulties. Why have they not put more effort into developing the possibilities of inshore sea fish farming solutions which already work well for some species? My right hon. Friend will not mind if I draw his attention to the way in which the honourable fishermen of Hastings and Rye march in line with all the conservation measures that are proposed, only to hear the Government say that the offshore gravel beds, which are known to be the source of the young fish on which we rely for supplying you, Mr. Speaker, with your Dover sole and plaice, can be dug up.
Fishermen are respected by all in their communities, and there is no question but that, certainly along the Sussex coast, they back conservation. However, they expect more understanding and less nonsense from Brussels.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) : I shall not deal with the Norwegian agreement. I agree with everything that the Minister said on that. His criticisms of it were so strong that I do not know why he does not insist that it be renegotiated. It is a bad agreement and it needs renegotiation. If his criticism is as telling as that, why does he not ask for that to take place?
However, I cannot accept the Minister's call for a bipartisan approach to the issue. In the past 10 or 11 years we have had two staples of Government policy towards the fishing industry. There has effectively been a policy, first, to let market forces restructure the fishing industry and, secondly, to get a common fisheries policy and trust to that. It is those two staples of policy over the past 10 years that have produced the crisis that the industry is now facing in a state of shock, dismay and anger.
We are paying the price for years of inadequate policing of the common fisheries policy. Onshore authorities in competitor countries have turned a blind eye to malpractice, overfishing and failure to observe quotas in a way that has not happened in Britain, and now we are paying the price for the inadequacy of resources devoted to
Column 1216policing by this Government as much as any. We have seen also the consequences of years of high discards--of fish being caught and then chucked back dead. That in itself is a major threat to conservation. The result of all that is also seen in today's crisis. That situation cannot be made good by panic cuts in total allowable catches and in quotas of the type proposed.
What is required is a drastic new, conservation-based approach. I was dismayed to hear that officials in the Department do not think it appropriate to put conservation back into next week's negotiations, because conservation is the central issue. We must produce new measures for dealing with conservation, which would take the weight off quotas and TACs. The fishing industry shall not live by quotas and TACs alone, although unless there is some kind of supplement it may die by TACs and quotas alone.
The key supplement seems to me--and to many in the industry, judging by some of the speeches today--to be an increase in mesh sizes. I can speak on this subject with a perfectly clear conscience because Grimsby fishermen use a mesh size of 110 mm, compared with 90 mm in the Scottish fishing industry. The use of a larger mesh size is the proper way to help conservation, because it ensures that the young, immature fish escape.
Research indicates that a larger mesh size is the best way of aiding conservation. It accounts for the fact that discards in Grimsby are much lower, at about 4 per cent., than in the Scottish industry. I shall not venture to guess the percentage of its discards. It could be as much as 50 per cent. Certainly the figure is much higher than for Grimsby.
Why do the Government not demand universal adherence to a mesh size of 110mm? Unless that happens, Scottish fishing vessels deprived of opportunities will move to the grounds used by Grimsby fishermen, for example. In that situation, Grimsby's fishing industry, having adopted a mesh size of 110mm, will be decimated. It would also prove disastrous for conservation, and would give rise to a descending spiral of competitive catching. At this juncture, it is vital to move to bigger mesh sizes.
It is vital also to insist on shortening extension pieces. Again, Scotland uses 15m extension pieces whereas Grimsby fishermen use extension pieces of only 2m as we do south of the border. The shorter the extension piece, the better for conservation, and the more the number of small and immature fish that escape. It is also essential to deal with the problem of discards. Discards should be brought back and landed with the rest of the catch, and then recorded as part of the quota. That would be the most effective way of dealing with the problem. The Minister should insist on that practice in the EEC, rather than give us a mealy-mouthed talk deploring discards but suggesting nothing to deal with them effectively. He should insist on discards being landed and properly policed. The discards are dead and are a threat to conservation, and unless they are properly dealt with there cannot be proper policing.
It is also essential that the Government spend more money on policing. The North sea is inadequately policed due to Government spending cuts and the Department's failure to live up to its responsibilities. As almost every hon. Member who spoke has said, there must also be a proper decommissioning scheme. I know that the Government got their fingers burnt with the last scheme, but it is wrong to blame the industry for the fact that the
Column 1217Department made such a mess of it. The industry should not be asked to pay the price for the incompetent administration of the last decommissioning scheme.
I would like to see such a scheme geared to taking out the largest and most efficient vessels, because they are responsible for creating conservation problems. Grimsby vessels, of which I am very proud, are good vessels from a conservation point of view, but in the main they are old. I would prefer to see Government support to help keep those vessels fishing for reduced catches rather than see them taken out of service. On that I disagree with the National Federaton of Fishermen's Organisations, which is based in Grimsby. Nevertheless, a decommissioning scheme must be established if catching capacity is to be kept in balance with conservation.
As to quotas and TACs, it is all very well the Minister saying that he will resist any reduction of the size that Commissioner Marin seems to have picked out of the hat in respect of the Norwegian negotiations, but the Minister must draw a balance between the industry's catching capacity, the desire for an orderly run-down, and scientific advice. It is not enough to use the scientific advice as a shield in defence of all criticisms. A balance must be achieved between the industry's viability, its managed run- down, and scientific advice. If that is not done, we shall witness a descending spiral of intense competition.
For Grimsby, cod quotas are the central issue. I may say in passing that I am unhappy at the behaviour of the Scottish fishing industry, which forced the haddock ban on us. The Scottish industry's irresponsible behaviour was justified and even defended by DAFS, which seems to do a better job of making deals for the Scottish fishing industry than MAFF does for the English industry. In support of that contention, I quote from the Eurofish report of 23 November :
"The UK's largest body, the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation, and the North East Scottish FBO are considered to be chiefly to blame for forcing that closure"
of the haddock fisheries.
Mr. Gummer : Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman that north of the border Scottish fishermen take exactly the opposite view and feel that the deal done for English fishermen by myself and MAFF is better than that done by DAFS. That is part of those fishermen's view of other fishermen. As to the hon. Gentleman's comments about cuts in policing, I checked up on that aspect particularly because I should not want to mislead the House. There has been no cut in policing. In fact, we have forced an increase at a European level, and we have kept our own policing up. The hon. Gentleman must not talk about cuts when they have not taken place and will not take place.
Mr. Mitchell : The Minister exaggerates the case. Policing is inadequate. The demonstrable consequence of that is the situation in which we now find ourselves. The European effort, which the Minister praises himself for having secured, is totally inadequate. There must be a much more effective common policing system, rather than relying on shore authorities, which are often in collusion with their own country's fishing industry.
As to whether MAFF does a better job for the English industry than DAFS does for Scotland, my experience is that the Scots get a much better deal from DAFS. The industry's growth over the past few years certainly indicates that that is the case. If I were a fisherman, I
Column 1218would rather be defended by DAFS than by MAFF, which pays a great deal of attention to the demands of farmers but little to those of fishermen.
I return to the central issue of the cod quota. The Minister said that he would invoke the Hague preference. I hope that he will promise to resist any fall in the quota below the level at which the Hague preference must be invoked. I understand from a parliamentary answer of 13 November that the limit is 43,179 tonnes of cod. Why does not the Minister pledge himself to resist any reduction in the cod quota below that level so that the Hague preference will not have to be invoked, which would not benefit Grimsby, dependent though it is on fishing?
The scientific advice in respect of the saithe and coley quotas is somewhat doubtful. A cut is being recommended because there has been a certain use of paper fish in that particular fishery. All the evidence suggests that recruitment is increasing, and that we do not need a cut. A cut would affect the British industry
disproportionately because, unlike the Community, it catches its saithe quota.
I hope that the Minister will resist the proposal by his colleague in the Department of Transport to end the Decca navigation system, which has involved huge investment in charts and personal information banks and the scrapping of which would impose a considerable cost on an industry not at present equipped to bear such costs.
The real problem is the Government's attitude. The Minister keeps returning to his fishing responsibilities. He is, in a sense, a reconstituted fishing Minister--a kind of departmental crabstick. He tells us that market forces will decide the shape of the industry and that the common fisheries policy is working well, but both claims are manifestly wrong. We need firm action to resist the proposals, but we also need a Ministry willing to help the industry financially, as the hill farmers were helped in the disastrous rain-sodden summer of four or five years ago.
The fishing industry has been asked to take a huge cut in its catching capacity and its earning power, and it needs financial help, not just a decommissioning scheme that will work. The Government must live up to their responsibilities, as well as preaching the forces of dire necessity.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : I will not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), especially his unfair attack on my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that the overwhelming feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House is delight at his return, as he has brought back to the Ministry his tremendous knowledge of the fishing industry and his determination to fight for it.
Sadly, only a few weeks ago a Cornish fishing boat--the Flamingo--was lost off my constituency, with the death of two Cornish fishermen. That is a tragic reminder of the risk that our fishermen take every time they go to sea, for conditions were pretty good that day : there were no storms or rough seas. Today's debate is largely preoccupied with the economic state of the industry, but we should also remember the human aspect.
A natural feature of the economic approach, however, is our habit of concentrating on the respects in which things are going badly. Although I do not wish to minimise the problems, I feel that we should remind ourselves from time to time of some of the success stories. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall,
Column 1219South-East (Mr. Hicks) mention how Looe, a port in his constituency, has been developed : we all rejoice in its success, and in the news that a market has been built there. Newlyn, a port in my constituency, now has a £20 million-a-year trade in fish, and in Devon, the neighbouring county, Brixham's trade amounts to £15 million a year. That is big business, and we should also consider the employment that such developments create.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East mentioned the increase in boats in Looe. That increase, which applies to many coastal areas, has added to the pressure on stocks ; but the problem relates not only to the boats themselves but to their catching capacity. I may anticipate the remarks of the spokesman of a certain party north of the border when I express the hope that we all recognise that the tremendous increase in capacity is a major contributor to the present difficulties.
Coming as I do from the other end of the country, I appreciate the difficulties of Scottish and North sea fishermen--which they will continue to face, I suspect, in the years ahead. Perhaps the cuts with which we in the south-west are threatened are not so deep, but we must not be smug. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East about the need to maintain the Channel quota for cod, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will bear that in mind when he goes to Brussels next week.
An issue that has exercised the mind of every hon. Member--although no one except my right hon. Friend mentioned it this evening--is quota-hopping, the disgraceful practice whereby Spanish boats in particular have moved into our waters and literally stolen our quotas. I am sorry to note the absence of one or two of my colleagues who were present at 3 am a few weeks ago when we debated an amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act 1984. I have a nasty suspicion--which I shall banish immediately from my mind--that they were more interested in bashing a European institution, in this case the European Court of Justice, than in showing an interest in the fishing industry. My right hon. Friend was perhaps wise not to give way to me when he touched on the decision by the European Court. I warmly welcome that decision and know that it will also be welcomed in the south-west, which as the part of England nearest to Spain has borne the brunt of the pernicious practice of quota-hopping. I was going to ask my right hon. Friend-- although presumably my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will give the answer--what the ruling of the European Court will mean in practical terms. How many Spanish boats will be left on the register? At the time of the setback a few weeks ago it was said that, of a total of between 100 and 150 boats, perhaps a dozen might have to stay on the new register of fishing vessels. Whatever the figure, however, we welcome the court's decision : we seem to have won most of the case that we were making not only in the courts of this land, but in the European Court. If an end has been put to quota-hopping, it may be the best news that has come from today's debate.
Many other topics could be discussed, but I shal revert to the issue that has dominated the debate : the serious cuts in quotas for the North sea and Scotland. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was right.
Column 1220When we consider the fishing industry, we naturally tend to do so from the constituency point of view and from the point of view of our own fishermen and ports. The whole industry is, in fact, related and what affects the Scottish and North sea fishermen can have a repercussive effect on fishermen in the west of Cornwall. If fishermen elsewhere are in difficulties and suffer a cut in fishing opportunities, as happened in the mackerel fishery, they will come down to the south-west of England and catch what we sometimes think of as "our" fish. The crisis in the North sea and Scotland is casting a long shadow which stretches right down to the south-west of England.
Uncertainty hangs over the whole industry. I do not for a moment blame Opposition Members for returning to the problem of how on earth we are going to restructure the fishing fleet. We all agree that there is overcapacity in the fleet. The problem that my right hon. and hon. Friends must address is how to resolve that overcapacity. I do not know whether my right hon. Friends will go down the route of a decommissioning scheme, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will throw some light on Government thinking tonight. I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food nodding his head in agreement and I await the winding-up speech with some eagerness. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland can hold out some hope on that front, this debate will have been worth while. It will also have been worth while if we reinforce Ministers' determination, when they go to Brussels next week, to pursue the line that was set out at the beginning of the debate by my right hon. Friend. I am sure that that line is correct and that he will have the backing of the House in pursuing it next week in Brussels.