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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : The House will understand my anxiety and that of my hon. Friends to speak in this debate in defence of the fishing industry. It is a cause that we inherit because of the constituencies that we represent. The Minister asked today for a consensus. I can tell him that unless the winding-up speech is substantially stronger than the opening speech, he will not receive support from my party. In no circumstances could my party--or, I suspect, many other hon. Members-- subscribe to a policy which could bring about the ruination of our fishing industry.
Furthermore, we must consider the complacency, confusion and disarray of the Government's fishing policy in the past two years. First, there has been complacency. The Minister apologised for the circumstances of the debate and for the deluge of late information available to hon. Members. Perhaps he could do nothing about that--the circumstances may have been beyond his control--but it is most certainly in the Minister's control that, disgracefully, this is the only major parliamentary opportunity in the whole year for a wide-scale debate on the fortunes of this vital industry. It is remarkable that Members of the minority parties, including myself, my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), have managed to force three debates on the fishing industry in the past few months but there has been no general debate on the fishing industry in Government time in the past year. One annual
Column 1221debate on the fishing industry is an insult to the importance of that industry and to the Scottish and United Kingdom economies. Only last year, the Minister's predecessor made what was billed as a major speech in Europe on the common fisheries policy, which he said was bringing "stability and prosperity" to fishing communities. We see not stability and prosperity in our fishing communities but volatility and penury as the immediate prospect.
Secondly, there has been confusion in the Government's fisheries policy. That is best represented by the impasse on the
decommissioning scheme. In the past six months, it has been well reported and understood in Scotland that there is a conflict between the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Scottish Office favoured a decommissioning scheme while the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was ensuring that such a scheme would not be implemented. When I raised that suggestion in the press, the Minister of State, Scottish Office, the noble Lord Sanderson, loyally wrote to me on 11 October and said that I had no basis for making such an allegation.
Unfortunately for the noble Lord, on that very day, under the heading, "Gummer sinks fishers' hopes", the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was quoted in a Scottish newspaper as speaking at the Conservative conference in hostile terms about the
decommissioning scheme. So unpopular was the Minister's opposition to the decommissioning scheme and so unpopular was his tendency to blame the industry for the problems that it faces, rather than to accept any policy responsibility, that even a journal such as the Scottish edition of The Sunday Times, which is not noted for its trenchant criticisms of Government policy, was moved to say on 22 October in a column by Allan Massie :
"The attempt made by John Selwyn Gummer, minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, to throw responsibility for the crisis back on the Scottish fishermen was a characteristically silly and shabby effort to evade Whitehall's responsibility."
I hope that in the winding-up speech tonight the Scottish Office view and not the view of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will prevail on decommissioning.
Thirdly, there has been disarray in the Government's fisheries policy over the past two years. For the past two years, there has been no licensing scheme, there has been a stalemate on decommissioning and at the heart of today's debate has been the fact that the Government's conservation policy is contradictory. Once again, the Minister seeks to hide behind scientific advice from the Commission. That is dangerous because scientific advice is not all on one side. Senor Marin himself, arguing for his version of the cod and haddock quotas, will also be able to claim that he is acting on scientific advice on the bottom range of scientific advice as opposed to the top range.
We know that over the past seven years the procedure of following scientific advice with TACs and then quotas which have not been overfished still has failed to bring about any recovery in the main fisheries stocks and especially the haddock stock. There is a simple reason for that when the quotas are forced down to low levels. As that happens, the number and weight of discards automatically rises. It is a major problem and was even recognised in the voluminous documentation that we received today on the negotiations between the Commission and Norway.
Column 1222The way forward for the fisheries lies in technical changes such as restrictions on fisheries gear and movement to the one-net rule.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : I intervene only to ask the hon. Gentleman to clarify this point. I have sympathy with many of his points, but I am not clear about his party's policy on the TACs for the coming year. Does he argue that we should disregard the scientific advice and try to force a higher level of TACs than is advocated by our own scientists, or is he prepared to live with that and to pin his hopes on the structural changes to which he now refers? That is important.
Mr. Salmond : It is indeed important, and I am coming to that point now. Our argument is that in fisheries policy the emphasis should move towards allowing the immature fish to escape alive and not discarding them dead in the North sea. The Minister made two points that puzzled me. First, he seemed to suggest that it was a policy which might work, and there is substantial scientific advice, especially from the marine laboratory in Aberdeen, that the policy would indeed work. The Minister of State, Scottish Office was confident in the Adjournment debate on 21 November that there would be
"real benefits in a relatively short time"--[ Official Report, 21 November 1989 ; Vol. 162, c. 110.]
Secondly, the Minister seemed to doubt my credentials in arguing for such a policy. I do not know whether the Minister reads the report of Scottish Estimates debates in the Scottish Grand Committee. On 13 July 1989, I went into a new conservation policy in some detail.
If we are moving to a policy which stands a substantial chance of being successful, we must acknowledge the difficulties that it will create for the fishing industry and the sacrifices that it is accepting. It will be extremely difficult to attempt to impose such a policy--and it must be imposed--if we do so against the background of insupportably low quotas. That is why my party believes that the bottom line for quotas should be the Hague preference total of 60,000 tonnes for haddock and 43,000 tonnes for cod, which may be met within the negotiations. That should be the bottom line for quotas. Policy emphasis should move to new conservation measures.
Mr. Gummer : I ask the hon. Gentleman a direct question. Is he saying that before any of his conservation measures could take effect this year the British Government should seek quotas higher than those which scientists say are safe and thereby endanger the future of the fishing industry?
Mr. Salmond : I ask the Minister to take on board the fact that observance of TACs has not protected the status of the fishing industry. [Interruption.] I am coming to the Minister's question. Conservation measures should be discussed at the Fisheries Council meeting, and they should be implemented in the coming year. That matter should be debated in Brussels now, not the arid, sterile subject of TACs. As has been said, we do not even have the assurance that those will be the major issues to be discussed next week. We should discuss conservation measures next week and implement this year.
Mr. Gummer : If the hon. Gentleman does not answer the direct question, he will face the accusation of dishonesty. He must answer the question. Does he recommend that, when I go to Brussels with my right hon.
Column 1223and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, for the first time in British history I should argue that we should ignore scientific advice and opt for a figure which scientists tell us would endanger the future of the fishing industry? Does he say that or does he not?
Mr. Salmond : I have already pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that the bottom line should be the quotas of 60,000 tonnes and 43,000 tonnes in the Hague preference. Of course that is above the top range of scientific advice, but, as the right hon. Gentleman has admitted, there is substantial evidence that scientific advice in the past seven years has been deeply flawed. The scientific advice in 1976 suggested a sharp increase in the haddock quota and has caused many problems. Was that also correct? I want a pledge from the Government that the focus of debate will move to conservation policies which might work and move away from TACs, which have failed in the past few years.
I make four points to the Government. First, we want the Marin proposals, as amended by the Commission, wiped off the table. Nor do we want a patch- up between the Commission proposals and scientific advice. It will not be acceptable to massage the figures up by a few thousand tonnes and claim victory after the Council's meetings next week.
I want an answer from the Minister and from the Secretary of State for Scotland : will the Luxembourg veto be used to block the settlement if it is not considered acceptable? Are the Government going to the EEC negotiations armed with the Luxembourg veto? The Prime Minister argues that the Luxembourg veto still exists within the Community for matters of vital national interest. From a Scottish perspective, there is no doubt that this is a matter of vital national interest. Will the Government go to the negotiations able and prepared to use that veto if the deal on the table is unsatisfactory? I do not want to unscramble the common fisheries policy, but if it comes to the crunch, I would rather unscramble the common fisheries policy than see it scramble the Scottish fishing industry.
Secondly, I should like an assurance that the new conservation agenda, which seems to have a good deal of all-party support, will feature in the Council's deliberations next week. Will it be debated? Will the Government make sure that other EEC countries acknowledge its force? Will there be rapid implementation of the conservation proposals? I should also like an assurance about industrial fishing. We are talking tonight about a total allowable catch for haddock in the North sea of about 32,000 tonnes for human consumption. In contrast, 1 million tonnes of pout and sand-eels have been taken by industrial fishing in the North sea over the past year. Will the Government acknowledge and explain the discrepancy between the huge tonnage for industrial fishing and the limited tonnage for human consumption? Can the Government explain why there is a 50,000 tonnes increase in the whiting by-catch for industrial fishing? Is that acceptable? When will we consider industrial fishing as a major cause of the industry's problems?
Thirdly, I am happy to say that the bottom line for the United Kingdom fisheries negotiation should be the Hague preference figures as agreed by the Council in 1976. I should like to see a wider application of the Hague
Column 1224preference. The Hague preference acknowledged that some areas of the Community--Ireland, northern Britain and, at that time, Greenland--had a special right to preference in the application of the common fisheries policy. That can be acknowledged in respect of quotas, so why can it not be acknowledged for decommissioning schemes and lay-up schemes, and why can it not help the processing sector through the FEOGA grant system? Is the Secretary of State for Scotland prepared to argue for the Hague preference across the range of fisheries policy?
Fourthly and finally, hon. Members hope and expect to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland say how capacity is to be reduced both temporarily and permanently. Will the Government apply access to the lay-up schemes that currently exist in Community regulation 4028/86? Will that be part of the Government's policy next year?
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : The hon. Gentleman has given notice that this is his last point. He is perfectly properly pushing a constituency interest rather than the Scottish fishing industry as a whole. Does he have any sympathy with the points made on behalf of the west coast fishing industry, the interests of which have not historically been compatible with those of some of his own constituents? I should like clear guidance as to whether he supports my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) in saying that there should not be a knock-on effect from the troubles of fishermen in the North sea to those whose home waters are on the west coast, particularly in the Minch.
Mr. Salmond : Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have never sought to divide and rule the Scottish fishing industry. I have never launched attacks on west coast fishermen, as he has consistently done on fishermen from the north-east of Scotland. In contrast to hon. Members who represent English fishing constituencies, I have made no attack on fishermen in Hull, Grimsby or elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that, unless a satisfactory deal can be made for the North sea, there is bound to be a scramble for stocks not only on the west coast but around the United Kingdom generally. That is why, just for a change, my party would like the hon. Gentleman's support in defending the whole Scottish fishing industry and not just the interests that he wants to represent.
Mr. Wilson rose
Mr. Salmond : I will not take any more information from the hon. Gentleman. I have already allowed him to intervene. My party represents the whole Scottish fishing industry. We are not launching an attack on any part of it.
We need an assurance that the fishing industry will be given the priority that it deserves. The most tangible assurance would be for the Minister to make it clear that, if no satisfactory deal is on offer next week, the United Kingdom veto will be available to block any deal that will cause the ruination of our fishing industry and fishing communities.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : The sense of unreality about our debate this evening is highlighted by the fact that one of the documents that we are considering deals with the price of tuna. When I was in the Bay of Biscay three years ago, the tuna ships there were laid up because
Column 1225tuna had been fished to such an extent that no stocks were left. It is a sign of the responsibility that falls upon the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Minister if I say that over 60 per cent. of the total EEC fish stock in the EEC pond is found within the 200- mile limit around the United Kingdom.
I believe that I am correct in saying--perhaps my right hon. Friend will confirm this--that no other member of the EEC has such a sophisticated inspectorate. I first tabled a question on this subject in November 1987 and did so again in March 1988. My right hon. Friend met fishermen in Portsmouth in May 1988 to discuss conservation. I welcome him back, not only to the Front Bench, but to fielding on fish.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said that the North sea would predominate in this debate. He illustrated my point for me because I do not wish to talk about distant water quotas or about the North-West Atlantic Fisheries Association. Although most people's perception is that all fishing takes place north of Watford or west of Portland Bill, literally hundreds of inshore fishermen earn their living from the North Foreland to Land's End.
My right hon. Friend said that he takes note of the scientific advice that he receives. I draw his attention to the report by Messrs Pawson and Pickett on bass fishing stocks in the Channel. They state in paragraph 38 that the bass regularly move out of the six-mile zone. In paragraph 39 they draw attention to the fact that in unseasonably warm weather the bass move north earlier and there is an increase in the influx of international bass. Paragraph 51 states : "We now know that bass spend more time offshore as they grow older and become progressively less accessible to the British fishery". In fact, the French regularly fish the adult spawning stock, which starts off Land's End and moves mid-Channel between January and May. The French pair fish, taking up to 40 tonnes at a time. We are not living in the real world if we believe that mummy bass says to daddy bass, "I suppose we'll swim up the English side of the Channel today to avoid all those naughty French fishermen who tend to overfish the stocks on that side of the Channel." My real fear is that when--I emphasise "when"--quotas are eventually introduced for bass fishing, which I believe will happen, they will be based on historic catches. My right hon. Friend has introduced nursery stocks that will restrict the amount of bass that we can take from the Channel.
When my right hon. Friend goes back to the EEC about such matters, I hope that he will negotiate a complete EEC ban on the taking of bass from January to May. We want a minimum fine of £1,000 per fish for each undersized fish taken. For second offences, we want the automatic confiscation of the boat and all its gear. Magistrates must be encouraged to fine the maximum penalty. This evening the Southern Seas Fisheries Committee visited the House and informed us that it had recently found a Solent oyster boat illegally fishing a catch of oysters worth £800, yet the maximum fine for that is £400. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren) about the problems of aggregate dredging. If we are serious about conservation--I believe that we are--we must consider the effects of aggregate dredging on the fishing stock and the fish breeding grounds. I have written
Column 1226to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointing out that the total fees earned by the Crown Estates from aggregate dredging in the Solent waters last year was £100,000. I have been to see the Crown Estates Commissioners, who informed me that they wish to continue to license aggregate dredging in the Solent waters because they provide a sheltered water environment that allows aggregate dredging to continue in rough weather. In the words of local fishermen, that argument is all cockles and rock because one often sees aggregate dredgers in a flat calm in the Solent during August. For £100,000 in licences, we should ask our right hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to join us in requiring a ban on aggregate dredging in the Solent.
I join the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in asking my right hon. Friends to make representations about the phasing out of Decca--that is a most important point.
The Liberal Democrat amendment endeavours to show that this problem has been caused by the Government. Therein lies the dichotomy within that party --it can see no wrong with the European Community, whereas all hon. Members who represent Channel constituencies and who know of the difficulties that our inshore fishermen face know that the true problem is the French, who are not playing the game and who catch bass of a different size.
We wish my right hon. Friend well as he goes to negotiate on our behalf. I hope that we shall have either a proper system of enforcement, especially in relation to the bass fisheries, or a complete ban and controlled areas.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South) : I represent a constituency with a tremendous investment in the fishing industry. That investment includes not only catching, but processing and scientific work. Indeed, a great deal of the scientific evidence that has been discussed tonight is gathered in my constituency at the marine laboratory of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. On behalf of the scientists involved, I took exception to some of the comments that have been made, especially those from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who said that the Government seemed to be hiding behind the scientific advice and suggested that the advice was not altogether accurate or could certainly be devalued.
I have taken the trouble today to try to find out exactly what is involved in gathering that scientific advice and making it available to the European Commission. I discovered that 165,000 fish were measured at commercial landing points, but that the 20,000 fish that were to be discarded were measured on board ship. On top of that, there were over 450 trawls from the marine laboratory's own vessels and from other international vessels with an interest in the North sea.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the point. The problem with the scientific advice is that various factors affecting the industry mean that even if the stock assessment is correct, low quotas-- because of discards--cannot solve the problems of the industry. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, although TACs have followed scientific advice over the past seven years and there has been no overfishing, the stocks have
Column 1227continued to decline? He will have noted my glowing reference to the marine laboratory in connection with its research into the new conservation measures.
Mr. Doran : What I acknowledge is that the hon. Gentleman made a glowing reference to the marine laboratory, but then sought to devalue the evidence and refused properly to answer the question put to him. He tried to hide behind a smokescreen when pressed on whether his party would follow that scientific advice and ask the Government to follow it.
It is important to recognise that that work has been going on since 1960 and that it has produced detailed and precise figures--as precise as resources will allow.
My constituency also contains the Torry research laboratory. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) reported, there has been a considerable cut in that laboratory's facilities which has taken away its opportunity to give assistance and advice to the fish-catching industries.
Mr. David Porter (Waveney) rose --
In the north-east of Scotland 4,000 people are employed in the fish processing industry, many in my constituency. Again, I checked on the consequences of the reported catches. I was told that in Aberdeen there are 500 expert haddock filleters. Filleting is an art form in my constituency. That is the number of people employed to meet this year's quotas. Next year's quota will reduce the number of jobs to 120, and there will be a knock-on effect on every other aspect of processing. A quarter of the jobs will be left when the quota comes into effect.
There are serious anxieties in the processing industry. I join the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren) in pleading with Ministers--if, as they should, they consider a decommissioning scheme for the catching side-- to consider assistance for the processing side of the industry. Processing is in a state of flux, not only because of the reduction in catches that it has to process but because it is making itself ready for the implementation of EEC regulations on food handling, which will have a profound impact. The industry is vulnerable but crucial and it should not be ignored.
The position of the processing industry is not simply a local interest. Almost all the fish that ends up in British supermarkets, or at least a substantial proportion of it, is processed in my constituency. My plea is not simply a constituency matter but one in which everyone who eats fish has an interest.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan raised the veto of the Hague preference. It is difficult to understand the Hague preference because it is hard to find written evidence. I understand that it was agreed under the Hague preference that, for example, the United Kingdom quota would be 60,000 tonnes of haddock from the North sea. Last year, the former Secretary of State invoked the preference as part of the negotiations and achieved a compromise between what the EEC Commissioners wanted and what the Hague preference said. I do not know
Column 1228whether the same attitude will be taken this time, but the figure of 60,000 tonnes exceeds the scientific recommendations.
I should be interested to know what the Hague preference said. I want to know what it involves. I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider publishing the annexes to it, which none of us has seen. It is not good enough for information to filter out in bits and pieces during debates. We need to know precisely the basis on which the Government negotiate.
The Scottish press has responded to Scottish National party press releases about the veto or, more accurately, the Luxembourg compromise. Again, there is some uncertainty about the status of that compromise. I paid close attention to what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said. To quote him as closely as possible, he said that the SNP would not subscribe to a policy that would lead to the destruction of the fishing industry. He went on to call for the veto. I do not wish to put the Minister on the spot. The Government need to go into the negotiations with the strongest possible hand, so I do not expect them to declare their hand publicly in the House. I should like the Minister to confirm that there is a veto. If the veto is implemented or invoked, there will be several consequences. Will there be a free-for-all in the North sea?
An essential part of the negotiations will be an agreement with Norway. If the Council of Ministers cannot reach an agreement with Norway, will our fishermen be denied access to the Norwegian sector? Will they be allowed to catch as much as they like in our own sector, to which they have access? Will there be a complete freeze on catching in our sector? That seems a logical outcome. If the entire common fisheries policy operates on the basis of agreed annual quotas and an agreement is not reached, no catching will be allowed. From 1 January, will fishing vessels from my constituency and those of other hon. Members be prevented from operating? If the Luxembourg compromise is invoked, will the Commission be entitled to impose quotas that are far worse than the present ones? We need an interim settlement until agreement is reached. Perhaps the Minister could answer that point.
If any of the options mentioned were realised, the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan would be simply laughable. The SNP's call for a veto would cause serious harm to our fishermen.
An imposed quota would cause more harm to the Scottish fishing industry and could lead to its destruction, which the hon. Gentleman said the SNP would not be part of. That is an important point. It is important to recognise a further political point, and I make no apology for making it. Earlier this week, Scottish Members and other hon. Members interested in the steel industry tried to put together an all-party approach to persuade British Steel to take steps to help the Scottish steel industry, particularly in view of the problems at Ravenscraig and Clydesdale. The SNP decided to boycott that meeting. It decided that it wanted to go it alone. As always, it was looking for an easy headline, just as it did by calling for a veto.
Column 1229Last night, I attended a meeting called by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food presided over by him and attended by all Conservative Members with a constituency interest in fishing. The SNP, one of whose members has a vital constituency interest in fishing--a boat-building industry--attended that meeting. Its representatives did not walk out because Tory Members were involved. Their attitude is hypocritical and their approach is that of easy headlines. The SNP's remedy for the fishing industry would cause great damage to fishing and the House should reject it. 8.7 pm
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I am grateful to have the chance to make a few remarks towards the end of this short debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister has dealt effectively with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Gentleman can say that he wishes to increase quotas above the scientifically acceptable limits already laid down while at the same time calling for conservation. We have to stay within the scientific limits for at least the next year. Alongside quotas I sincerely hope that we can carry out at least some of the conservation measures suggested by various hon. Members today.
I represent the port of Fleetwood on the west coast of England, which has suffered greatly for many years as a result of the reduction in the British fishing industry. It has not enjoyed the recent prosperity north of the border. Nevertheless, the fishermen in my port recognise the need to rely on scientific evidence to decide the levels of fish catches. If a port which has suffered as much as mine has in the past can see that need, I hope that others, particularly those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, can also recognise it.
I fully support the remarks made by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) about the knock-on effect. It would be unfortunate if, as a result of what went on in the past, we saw the fish stocks off the west coast of Scotland and England being fished by people coming from the North sea.
It is important to look closely at how we shall achieve stability in our fishing industry. If possible, we must ensure that year on year we do not have continual reductions or increases in the amount of fish that our fishermen are allowed to catch. The long-term viability of our industry depends on stability. We need to do all that we can to refine and increase the accuracy of the scientific evidence on which our fish quotas are based. That is the main way forward.
In addition, we need conservation measures. In particular, will my right hon. Friend the Minister emphasise that we on the western side of England at least believe that industrial fishing should not have the priority that some member states want to give it? As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, it cuts across the right policy, which is to increase the amount of fish caught for human consumption.
I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister well when he goes to Brussels. I am certain that he will fight our case as strongly as possible, and I sincerely hope that he will return with a reasonable deal for all our fishermen throughout the British Isles.
Column 12308.11 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : We have had several knowledgeable speeches, and there can be no doubt about the anxiety expressed from all sides and every sector of the industry. It is common ground between us that the industry is not all of a piece and that many interests are involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) was right to mention the processing side. Inevitably, this evening the spotlight has been on the catching side of the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) made an important point about the pressure on the prawn fisheries in the Minch and the dangers of a knock-on effect. I have sympathy with the feeling that those particular grounds should be seen as a precious stock area and that consideration should be given to limiting the size and capacity of the fleet operating there.
We have concentrated, understandably, on the North sea. That is justified by the figures, the announcements from Brussels and the evidence of a cruel pressure which will inevitably grow within the industry over the next year or two. I share the doubts about the present operation of TACs. I accept entirely that there is justified criticism of the deal done with the Norwegians. I take the Minister's point that there is room to get something better, even within the present limits of scientific advice. Figures abound. It seems that scientific advice puts the figure for haddock at about 50,000 tonnes and the present TAC at about 43,000 tonnes. The gap for cod is between 113,000 tonnes and 97,000 tonnes for the EEC as a whole. I am running rather quickly through the matters on which I can agree with the Government. I was pleased to hear the assurance on article 10, which is that, once quotas are exhausted, automatically other species cannot be fished. I was also pleased with footnote 51, which will enforce tie-up provisions of so many days a month on the fleet. I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not noted for robust language, but his remark that this was not an area in which he could follow the Commission was a little perjinct. I should have liked something a little more encouraging from him in terms of going into battle.
I shall read carefully what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said. We cannot have a debate on it now, but I am not clear about the SNP position. I am not clear whether he is prepared to live with the logic of what he said--perhaps that is a fairer way of putting it. He seemed to advocate going well beyond what the scientific evidence suggests would be safe.
The hon. Gentleman seemed to say that TACs had not been as effective as he would have liked. He drew from that the message that TACs could safely be ignored, as could scientific evidence. A rather more prudent man would have said that there were great difficulties with the TACs, that we must see how we can make them effective and ensure that they have the desired effect, and then gone on legitimately to talk about restructuring the fleet.
Column 1231minutes, so he has had his quota. His TAC has been well and truly exceeded. [Interruption.] I can think of several scientific suggestions for the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not go into that. This is a serious debate and I take the hon. Gentleman's view seriously.
I do not intend in a speech that has only five minutes more to run to get into an academic and constitutional argument on the Luxembourg compromise. The hon. Gentleman is in the land of make-believe if he believes that the Luxembourg compromise could be effectively played on this occasion. He may have noted that there has been a slight local difficulty in European politics about monetary union, for example. Clearly, the Luxembourg compromise was not available. I accept that Ministers can be tough in the negotiations. Indeed, all Opposition Members expect that.
I have some sympathy with many of the other points made by the Minister and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. The Minister told us in trenchant terms that TACs and quotas were not enough. That is right. There is the problem of the discards, the whiting by-catch, industrial fishing and the increase in the tonnages there, to which several hon. Members referred. The Minister, having declared his own discontent with TACs and quotas as a solution in themselves, said that conservation was essential. He referred to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation's views, which I endorse, and to the suggestion that there might be a one-net size on a boat. He suggested that possession of gear rather than proof of use might be an offence in itself and that enforcement rules should be changed. I hope that all that will be looked at sympathetically, as well as some of the other suggestions.
The trouble is that even that, together with TACs and quotas, is not enough. The Minister's speech was strangely incomplete. He tiptoed away from the whole question of a decommissioning policy. Attempts have been made to do something about capacity. In November, the Scottish Office produced a scheme for the consolidation of licences. If boats were to be replaced by new tonnage, the licence would be for only 90 per cent. of the total of the older boats going out of commission. That is a small step towards alleviating the problem.
The multi-annual guidance programme presents substantial reductions by 1992. We know that the market has not been working in that area. Despite all the industry's worries, capacity has been increasing while all these storm clouds have been gathering.
We must consider the decommissioning scheme seriously. I understand that there is already one in operation in Brussels. I do not know to what extent other nations use it. I think that the Danes and the Dutch have used it to some extent. As one person said to me today on the phone from Brussels, we are not "plugged in". I do not care whether we are plugged in. I am not even prepared to judge whether it is the right scheme.
Some scheme seems to be essential. If we do not have one, we shall have an illogical and painful process of change, as distinct from the planned, sensible and to some extent cushioned one which the industry deserves and which would come if we were to combine the attack, including the decommissioning scheme, on a wider scale than the Minister apparently envisages.
Column 1232This is important. I do not make accusations of disunity in the Government, because I am not in a position to do so. However, I hope that there is at least a genuine debate taking place and I hope that the Secretary of State can say that the Government have not closed their mind to this possibility.
Debates in this Chamber are often heated. I accept that there are important interests--not merely constituency interests but much wider ones--at risk when we consider the future of the fishing industry. That is certainly true for Scotland. I do not want dramatics or bombast during this debate, but we are entitled to ask for determination when our negotitators go to Brussels on Monday. They should be determined to try to get the best possible deal to close the gap which certainly exists between the present TACs and the scientifically allowable levels. We also want a seriousness of intent and a willingness to move on conservation, and we want the Government to look actively and encouragingly at an adequate and flexible decommissioning scheme.
I entirely accept what was said at the start of the debate. The present crisis will generate pain for the industry, but it can be handled more sensibly than it has been in the past. The Government have a heavy responsibility to ensure that we make a much better fist of it over the next year or two.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : I am happy to reply to this debate. In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) I should point out that I reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, not for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland or the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I should emphasise that over the years both Departments have done extremely well in the interests of British fishermen and no doubt they will continue to do so. A great number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken in the debate. That illustrates the fact that so many parts of the country have an interest in fishing policy. However, even in the debate, the views of those from important parts of the United Kingdom such as East Anglia, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) was hoping to speak, have not been heard. It also illustrates, as the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) emphasised, the diversity of the fishing industry in Scotland, England and throughout the United Kingdom. It also emphasises that, at present, there is remarkable unanimity on the unacceptable nature of the European Commission's current proposals which have arisen particularly over the past week or so.
We thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) who has helped us in the tasks that we face in Brussels by emphasising that Her Majesty's Opposition share many of the beliefs of Her Majesty's Government. He has shown that we believe the proposals to be, in certain vital respects, unattractive and indefensible.
It was extraordinary that, without giving any good reason, the Commission has departed from the scientific advice that it received and put forward proposals--particularly relating to haddock and cod quotas in which
Column 1233there will inevitably be major reductions-- which were substantially less than the scientific evidence would have permitted.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister emphasised, it is difficult to see the justification in such difficult and unfortunate circumstances for the Commission putting forward proposals to Norway that would enhance its quota while the rest of the Community, for which the Commission is responsible, was expected to accept a severe reduction.
Quota management has also been mentioned. It is crucial to ensure that the Commission realises that its competence does not extend to the way in which national quotas are administered. That is, and must continue to be, a matter for national Governments.
In the short time available, I shall respond to some specific points made during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) asked for an assurance that the Government will always press for scientifically based total allowable catches, even when these are higher than those proposed by the Commission. I am happy to give such an assurance. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) said that the Commission must produce convincing reasons for not accepting scientific advice. As yet, no such reasons have been forthcoming and we are entitled to expect them at the earliest opportunity.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) referred to the European Court's judgment and asked about its implications with regard to quota hopping. We have not yet had an opportunity to examine the text of the judgment, which was made only this morning. It appears that the court has found in favour of our basic proposition that there must be a substantial connection with the United Kingdom before vessels are entitled to benefit from our quota arrangements.
I share the astonishment of many hon. Members at the attitude of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). If I understood him correctly, he proposed that the United Kingdom's quota for haddock must be not less than 60,000 tonnes. The TAC for the Community must be substantially in excess of that, perhaps more than 70,000 tonnes, on the basis of the formula which he appears to identify. When we know that the scientists--not merely the Commission's scientists but our own scientists in the DAFS and the MAFF and elsewhere--agree that 50,000 is the largest safe figure consistent with the maintenance of stocks for the industry's future in Scotland and elsewhere in the Community, it becomes clear that the hon. Gentleman is behaving in a grossly irresponsible fashion.
Mr. Salmond : Does not the Secretary of State understand that if a new conservation policy is introduced, it should put a bottom line on the total allowable catch and the quota to avoid the perverse effects of low quotas, with fishermen flinging dead fish back into the North sea? Does he not appreciate that reasonably simple point?
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that he is not speaking to a gullible audience in this House or when addressing the fishing industry. He knows perfectly well that conservation measures such as he suggests, even if they were desirable, could not be brought into effect in time to affect the quota for the next 12