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Column 1233describe to the House what they meant by serious. Indeed, the hon. Member for Wealden, the Chairman of the Committee, said : "I do not wish to go into the reasons why we came to our conclusions and what we did."
Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The eleventh point is that questions of publicity ranged far outside the scope of the Register of Members' Interests. The hon. Member for Workington was allowed by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, to introduce sub- judice law suits and have monetary amounts disclosed to the public--all contrary to the declaration of rules which specifically exclude monetary amounts. The latter point was used in the SAMA case greatly to my disadvantage as the accused by encouraging jealousy, and thus expressed outrage both in the media and by fellow Members who were later to sit in judgment.
The twelfth point was the charade of unamimity. While the Select Committee report was approved unanimously by its members, only one of them, the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, attended more than 84 per cent. of the sessions. Unlike the King's Cross Bill, of which I have an example here which I quote from and which every Member of this Committee was asked to sign--I was one of those Members--which states :
"I the undersigned, having been selected by the Committee of Selection to serve as a Member of the Committee on the King's Cross Bill, hereby declare that my constituents have no local interest and that I have no personal interest in the said Bill, and that I will never vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto."
I think that that is very correct, but no such demand was made on members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, who were voting on a vitally important judical matter affecting the whole future life of one of their colleagues, although they had not even been present for the evidence. Again, in a matter of this importance the mere assumption that Members had read the vast and unclear transcripts surely was not good enough. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Finally, there was no right of appeal. The most obvious denial of basic human rights to natural justice was the complete absence of appeal, and this was in direct violation of clause 5 of article 14 of the United Nations international convention on civil and political rights. Again, I ask, is that human rights to basic justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
I would now like to turn to the question of political bias on a Committee. It is obvious to anyone studying the reports of Select Committees that strong political bias normally exists. I submit that the Select Committee on Members' Interests was no exception. Again, the repeated protests in the debate of 7 March 1990 by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden, show how conscious the Committee must have been about this matter. In the debate the hon. Member for Wealden said, referring to the hon. Member for Workington :
"I can speak with my hand on my heart when I say that the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), were hon. members of that Committee, were totally bi-partisan. No sign of political passion crept into the Committee to prejudice the case against my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Winchester."--[ Official Report, 7 March 1990 ; Vol. 168, c. 900-37.]
Column 1234These statements were particularly interesting in the light of the vote of the House on 7 March 1990, which was very strictly along party lines. It was also most interesting with regard to the crucial defence evidence in this respect of Mr. Merrick Denton-Thompson, which was written on page 147 of the report. I quote from the letter written to me by Mr. Denton-Thompson on 8 June 1989, submitted in evidence to the Select Committee and in the report, page 147, but discarded by the Committee out of hand. The last paragraph states : "I am, however, extremely concerned that two Labour Members of the Committee made it quite clear to Mr. Valters that they believed that you would be found in breach of the code of practice and they were both actively seeking evidence against you in a way that could not be described as impartial, indeed they were said to be after your blood', We will do him'. I have been uncertain as to whether I should alert you to their biased and partial activities, because clearly you are in a very invidious position. Under normal circumstances I would take little notice of statements from the press. However I know this reporter well and indeed he is both totally trustworthy and reliable. As I have no involvement with politics he would have gained nothing by making his comments to me. Please do not hesitate to use this letter at your discretion." I submitted the letter to the Select Committee. This crucial evidence of alleged political bias was discarded out of hand by the Select Committee, who made no attempt to call Mr. Denton-Thompson to the Committee to be cross-examined. I was not allowed to call him to give evidence verbally to the Committee. Was that denial of the basic right to call a witness justice? The political motivation risked being bust wide open and the evidence was disregarded out of hand. Secondly, I should like to refer to the bias of friendship. Unlike any court, quasi-court, tribunal or even judical Select Committee, such as sat on the King's Cross Bill, the members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests who were effectively trying a colleague for his political and family life were not asked to make any declaration whatever on whether they had any personal friendship or business relationship with any of the witnesses appearing before them. Such a crucial relationship existed with perhaps the key member of the Select Committee, who intervened repeatedly in the House debate--the hon. Member for Workington. Early-day motion 1210 refers to that.
The findings of the Select Committee are contained in its report to the House of 19 February 1990. It is a vast document and was obviously read by very few hon. Members. However, the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, tried to persuade the House otherwise. He said :
"Many hon. Members have studied the matter closely and read the report, and it is they who will pronounce at the end of the day."--[ Official Report, 7 March 1990 ; Vol. 168, c. 900.]
There was no mention of the party Whips in that. The statement was followed by the submission of a socialist, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I have not warned him about this, but I will merely quote from what he said in Hansard. Is that in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Column 1235I was found guilty of the accidental, technical breach of two rules : one so vague that it had to be corrected 10 minutes after I was sentenced. In the SAMA case--
Mr. Fraser : The hon. Gentleman has dealt with some of the technicalities in his long speech. As I understand it from reading the report, the issue on SAMA is relatively simple. The hon. Gentleman's company, Falcon, received $88,000 from the Saudi Arabian Government. I will concede to the hon. Gentleman that the wording of the lists of interests is vague in some respects, but once it was drawn to his attention that there was some concern about the $88,000 that he received through his company from the Saudi Arabian Government, why did he not then declare it?
Mr. Browne : As I said to the Select Committee, the reason was because I thought that I was right. I had asked the then Registrar on this particular issue whether I had to declare the payment and his answer had been that if the payment was made to my company which was declared in the normal course of business, it was not a payment to me and need not be declared. He even cited the hypothetical case that if an hon. Member were a director of ICI and all the foreign payments to ICI were printed in the Register of Members' Interests, the computer book would be hugely thick every day just on payments to ICI. That was the justification. Yet, when the Select Committee looked at the matter some eight or nine years later, it read through that and said, "Ah, the hon. Gentleman should have declared that because he owned 50 per cent. of the stock of the company". As I understand it, and the Member for Wealden will verify this, the Committee took several hours to discuss what the foreign payments rule meant. Then, 10 minutes after I had been sentenced by the House, the rule was changed to say clearly that if a Member owns more than 33 per cent. of his company-- the Chairman will correct me if I am wrong--he must declare all foreign payments to it, although it itself is declared. That was not part of the rule in 1982 or before 7 March 1990.
In the SAMA case, I had asked the Registrar whether a foreign payment to my company should be declared. In 1983 he told me, as he told other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), that if the company to which the payment was made was itself declared, as mine was, there was no need to declare the payment if it was made in the course of business. Despite that, the Select Committee apparently made no attempt to call the registrar to give oral evidence. Nor did it call any of the other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, to whom the same advice had been given. I was specifically prevented from calling the registrar or any of the hon. Members to give verbal evidence. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The Committee said that the payment should have been declared because I owned 50 per cent. of the common stock of the company. That ownership rule was not part of the Members' interests rule and was added retrospectively by the House immediately after my sentence on 7 March 1990. It appears that the Select Committee was somewhat desperate to obtain a conviction on this issue. What is
Column 1236strange is that nothing has been done with regard to the other Conservative Members who were vulnerable on precisely the same point. Stranger still is that all similar potential cases have been dropped.
In the Chidiac case the sibling relationship between the two Chidiac brothers appears to have been crucial. Although Arab people are not always strict about such matters as the use of writing paper, the Committee made much of the fact that Mr. Charles Chidiac had used the stationery of the London office of his brother's company. That, combined with the sibling relationship, led the Committee to say that I should have been aware that that relationship made my relationship with each of them declarable. The rules made no mention of sibling relationships. Again, there appears to have been considerable bending of the letter of the rules to obtain a prosecution.
Furthermore, although the Select Committee admitted on page 32, paragraph 99 that they
"have not been able entirely to get to the bottom of this matter" and that "the information we have"--most of it stolen--"is incomplete", it discarded out of hand evidence from me and Mr. Chidiac without calling any of the other parties concerned to give evidence. It appears that, despite the onus of proof that was placed clearly on me as the accused, the Select Committee was thirsty for a conviction on this issue.
The big and burning question remains : why those two particular issues? In neither case had any person been harmed. There was no financial gain to me and no Government policy was either changed or influenced as a result of the relationship that the Committee feels that I should have declared.
Despite the above, the Committee found my technical breaches to have been serious and called for prompt action by the House. However, as I have said consistently, no Committee member attempted to explain why the breaches were deemed serious or what exactly was meant by the word "serious". I was present at the debate, but I was silenced : I was told that to be allowed to stay in the Chamber for the debate I had to give a verbal undertaking that I would not ask any questions, that I would not make any interventions and that I would not challenge anything that was said by another hon. Member after I had sat down, when I was allowed to make not a speech, but a statement which had to be uncontroversial and would be heard in silence. Furthermore, there was little or no precedent of a similar case, other than that of the infamous trial of the late Lord Boothby. The precedent of some 400 similar declarations made by other hon. Members in which overseas earnings could have been expected as normal, but in which none were declared, are shown clearly on page 67 in question 644 of the report. That was completely ignored by the Select Committee.
The Select Committee's findings should be contrasted with the findings of the same Select Committee in the subsequent cases of the hon. Members for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls), for East Hampshire (Mr.
Column 1237Mates), and for Workington. All were found to have transgressed, but no action was recommended by the House. In the latter case, the hon. Member for Workington was found repeatedly and deliberately to have disobeyed a specific rule on Members' interests. However, he was a member of the Select Committee to whom the Chairman had referred in the debate on 7 March as being
"so useful to us on the Committee"--[ Official Report, 7 March 1990 ; Vol. 168, c. 901.]
In Hansard at column 897, the Leader of the House urges the House constantly to heed precedent in dealing with such cases. The precedent in my case has never been followed, even in the case of deliberate transgression. Does that even sound like justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
I now turn to some coincidences--some very strange coincidences. The first was the strange matching findings of the Committee report with my libel case. As has been said, the journalist Mr. David Leigh had written some highly damaging articles about me during the general election of 1987. I and my solicitors felt that they were highly libellous. Writs were issued and Mr. Leigh has been successfully sued for libel by other Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), and by Sir Stephen Hastings, Military Cross. We felt that he had made another mistake--this time a big one--on which very substantial damages were due.
During the Committee hearings, it amazed me that the hon. Member for Workington was allowed by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, to ask questions about this sub judice libel case--report pages 42 and 43, questions 301 to 317. I understand that mention of a sub judice case is not normally allowed by Mr. Speaker. The intensity with which the hon. Member for Workington pressed his questions was also of considerable concern, as was his strong objection--report question 282--to my consulting with my lawyer. He asked me repeatedly not about the substance of the cases but, most strangely--as if it were of great importance--whether or not I intended to pursue these libel cases. This appeared to be of paramount interest, although it did not relate in any way to the rules on the declaration of Members' interests.
I must stress that these two cases--SAMA and Chidiac--on which the Select Committee found me to have committed serious errors were the very same two cases on which I had current, potentially massive libel suits against Mr. Leigh, the complainant. As a result of the Select Committee hearings, these two libel cases were rendered untenable. This very strange coincidence is even more alarming when one reads early-day motion 1210 and when one hears this boast from the hon. Member for Workington.
After the report was published, the hon. Member for Workington spoke to me in the House outside Committee Room 13. He was amazingly friendly considering the circumstances. He told me that my case had got out of hand, and that the Committee was really after some much bigger and more serious cases involving some very senior Conservatives. He said that the masses of paper produced by my ex-wife made mine a good case to start with as a trend -setter. He than urged me to apologise in the debate, saying that if I did, he and his friends would not vote against me. He added,
Column 1238"Where I come from, you don't kick a man when he's down." In the event, he did vote against me despite my apology. He then added a much more sinister comment which should gravely concern all hon. Members. In response to my observation that of all the complaints, I was amazed to be found in error on the SAMA and Chidiac questions, he replied :
"Look, you had libel suits out on those two complaints and I couldn't allow my friend to hang with a million pound suit. That's why I pressed you hard on that point when we took evidence. You should have dropped it."
In other words, had I yielded to his pressure in the Select Committee hearings--report questions 301 to 317 on pages 42 and 43--my case would not even have been pursued, let alone to a show trial in this Chamber. Does this disturb you, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Could it be that an hon. Member on the Select Committee had set out from the beginning to get his friend, the complainant Mr. David Leigh, off the hook of a massive libel settlement, and to do so had perpetrated a massive and deliberate injustice in the form of a frame-up against another hon. Member, albeit of a different political persuasion? When this evidence was put to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, it refused out of hand to hear the case, giving no reasons whatever. Here I want to quote the return letter I got, having sent the case to the Select Committee.
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that he had a writ out against David Leigh of The Observer. He has said many times that it was a massive writ and that he was going to make a lot of money. So it was like game, set and match. He goes before the Select Committee which is dominated by Tory Members, not by Labour Members, and with a Tory Chairman. Let us get things in perspective. The hon. Gentleman gives the impression that a Machiavellian Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), has somehow got all those Tory Members round his little finger. The hon. Gentleman claims that, as a result, he cannot pursue his writ. What happened to that massive writ? If the hon. Gentleman had such a first-class case, what happened to it? How much money did he get? If he did not pursue it, why did he not do so if he had all the cards stacked on his side?
Mr. Browne : Absolutely right--the hon. Gentleman is right. However I am sure that he has heard of the Whips Office. Indeed, his own Whip, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is sitting close to him. It is a point that I have already made in the debate. Regarding the writ, it would be impossible in my lawyers' view once the House had given its ruling. It was tough enough to get any court in the land to rule on an internal matter of the House of Commons concerning House of Commons rules. That was a dangerous thing. It was going to be tough. But when the House of Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests had made the ruling it did, the case was absolutely untenable.
The letter that I got back from the Committee, dated 27 March 1991, said :
Column 1239"Dear Mr. Browne. In accordance with the procedure laid down by the House on 22 May 1974, I referred your letter of 14 March 1991 containing a complaint against Mr. Campbell-Savours to the Committee.
The Committee have asked me to say that they did not wish to proceed with the matter, and returned your letter to me. Signed A. J. Hastings, Registrar and Clerk of the Committee."
Surely the Select Committee should normally have been expected to express keen interest in investigating a potential wrongdoing by one of its own members of such gravity and moment. Does this disturb you, Mr. Deputy Speaker? This strange matching of Select Committee findings with my libel case is the strangest coincidence of all in this saga of intrigue.
I now turn to the strange precision of the Committee's findings themselves. The precisely convenient drafting of the findings of the House of Commons Select Committee was quite extraordinary. The Select Committee's findings allowed the Conservative Whips to guarantee me one of two totally opposed options : either a take-note motion with no punishment whatever, or a motion to punish me in an extreme manner. Does it raise your eyebrows, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those findings of the Select Committee allowed both options to be put by the Government Whips?
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman is talking about having suffered an extreme penalty. The Committee, with its massive Tory majority, decided on a vote that the hon. Gentleman should be expelled for 20 days. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith touched the Mace one night and was kicked out for three months. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was thrown out because he had the guts to say that the Prime Minister of the day was lying. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who has just come into the Chamber, was thrown out because he held up proceedings on the Budget for about five minutes.
I ask hon. Members to reflect on the situation. This bloke pocketed £88,000, did not put it in the Register in the proper manner, and is now whingeing. He is still a Member of Parliament and has been picking up his money all the time, as well as massive sums from various companies. Yet he claims to have suffered an extreme penalty. He is in trouble because the Tory heirarchy have put the knife in his back.
Mr. Browne : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning at least one point. Perhaps the House does not view a 20-day suspension as an extreme punishment, but outside this House, the concept is viewed as a very extreme punishment, and it does enormous damage. The Select Committee's findings allowed the Conservative Whips to guarantee me either a take-note motion with no punishment whatever, or a motion to punish me in an extreme manner. I hope that you will forgive those, Mr. Speaker, who see the possibility--I put it no higher at this stage--of collusion. The House investigations may show more, new and additional proof than the recordings that I have on the subject.
Column 1240A reference in the book on Lord Boothby by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge makes an interesting comparison. Evidently Lord Boothby, when a Member of this House, was fixed by the very same mechanism, in which the Conservative Whips played a most active part in the running of the Select Committee. That active role of the Conservative Whips in important issues concerning Select Committee has recently been evidenced again by the sudden change of heart on the part of the Select Committee on Health in toning down its report of July 1991.
Even to this day the Whips Office appears to be playing a crucial role. When, on the written recommendation of the present Prime Minister, I went to the present Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), to ask for help over my appeal to the House, the door was slammed shut : "It is for the Leader of the House alone--you cannot expect any help from me," he said. Later in the conversation he said, "If you do not stand down at the next election, I will use all the resources at my command against you."
That appears already to have started, for there have been more unannounced ministerial visits to my constituency in the last six months than in the previous 12 years. Now, even the selected candidate--the candidate selected by my local association to run against me--threatens, if press reports are correct, that no fewer than six Ministers, and even the Prime Minister, will come to speak for him in the election campaign if I do not stand down. It sounds almost as though a by-election is to take place in Winchester. Only two days ago an article appeared in the Daily Express saying that the Whips Office had said that I should have declared an interest called the John Browne foundation. I hereby say that no such foundation existed or exists, now or at any time. So the letter is about a non-existent foundation that I am supposed to have registered. I called the Chief Whip about it, but instead of offering to investigate the matter urgently, he wanted to hear none of it, saying that it was a matter for the pairing Whip rather than for him. Washed hands.
The third extraordinary coincidence to which I must refer is that of timing of the House of Commons debate on 7 March and the timing of a meeting of my executive on the same day. My constituency association, under the chairmanship of Mrs. Felicity Hindson, who was once chairman of the women's advisory committee of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), arranged for a special meeting of the Winchester executive to take place in a village hall, rather than in Winchester, on the very evening of 7 March 1990. The cost of the hall was £29.50--not much to lose if the meeting was cancelled.
That meeting was heavily supervised by Conservative Central Office, in the person of the area agent, Mr. Donald Stringer--the same Mr. Stringer, who, I understand, managed the selection process in Cheltenham and was consulted about the famous letter of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), now Secretary of State for the Environment, when he wrote to his executive. By a quite extraordinary coincidence, the then Leader of the House, a friend of my chairman, arranged for the debate on my interests to be held at precisely the same time, on the afternoon and evening of 7 March 1990. He announced that fact publicly on Thursday 1 March at
Column 1241business question time. Mrs. Hindson who has subsequently been awarded the MBE--after only two years as constituency chairman--made no attempt to change the timing of the Winchester executive meeting to enable me to attend, or to allow those especially keen members of my executive to watch my trial on television, despite the fact that she had had secret advance warning of an ambush motion to be put by a Brigadier Lanyon at that special executive meeting to recommend the opening of reselection procedures. Mrs. Hindson finally admitted to that prior knowledge over a year later, under heavy questioning from the floor of the Winchester annual general meeting, on 25 April 1991. Furthermore, under the Winchester association rule 18(2) (c), she was obliged to keep me fully informed on matters of parliamentary candidature. In this case, I was kept totally in the dark. The result of those conflicting meetings--of my constituency executive and in the Chamber--was that I was unable to explain to my executive my objection in principle to the whole idea of reselection. I maintain that it is a socialist phenomenon tending to make Members of Parliament more like delegates of a few senior party officials rather than the representatives of their constituents. In my absence, the meeting in my constituency was persuaded that reselection would be greatly to my advantage, as it would wipe the slate clean of all the problems that I faced in the media.
Mr Browne : I was not even asked to fall for it because I had to be here to make my statement. My point is that I was not even there. So the real question is whether the members attending the meeting fell for it.
Owing to my firmly held beliefs, I did not submit my name for reselection, as a matter of principle. On the other hand, as I did not submit to the unconstitutional pressure brought on me, as mentioned in early-day motion 1211, I did not stand down. The result is now total chaos in my constituency. With a Conservative ex-Whip as the official candidate, there are serious splits and extremely low
Column 1242morale. My constituency has now been placed in jeopardy with the prospect of two Father Christmases at the next general election. I come to the subject of unconstitutional pressure.
Mr. Browne : The tariff that I have seen is that if one is chairman of a constituency association for three years and then president for three years, one has about a one in four chance of getting an MBE. The person in question had been chairman for about a year and a half, and suddenly out of the blue an MBE came winging its way. I tried to find who had recommended it, and on what grounds, but all information was tightly sealed.
I turn to the subject of unconstitutional pressure. According to the Chief Whip, the Select Committee report was leaked to him by a Committee member just over a week before it was published on 9 February 1990. I do not personally believe that it was leaked in that way, but none the less that is what I was told.
From that moment on, senior officers of state clearly sought to pervert the course of justice. Although numbed by the media onslaught, I was put under the greatest pressure to stand down at the next election, in return for a Government guarantee that I would not be punished in any way. I was told that I must stand down--not immediately, thus causing an embarrassing by- election, but at the next general election. The precision of the House Select Committee findings allowed all three of those options.
I was told that if I agreed to stand down I would not be punished in any way, and that sympathetic and even laudatory speeches would be made about me from the Government Front Bench and from some Back Bench supporters. The House would pass a take-note motion, with no punishment. I would then be assured of a very easy time regarding late night votes, and pairing until the next general election and would be positively considered
It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (by private notice) : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the fishery decommissioning scheme he announced on 27 February.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : I refer the hon. Member to my pursuant reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) yesterday evening. I explained that my fellow Fisheries Ministers and I are proposing a programme of closely linked measures to reduce the over-fishing which is posing serious problems for many stocks vital to the long-term future of our fishing industry. You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that I have pointed out on numerous occasions that there is no way in which we can safeguard the future of our present fishermen and of their sons and daughters without serious conservation moves.
The object of the proposed programme will be to reduce fishing effort over the period up to 1996. An essential feature of the programme will be the introduction of direct controls on fishing effort. Initially, we plan to freeze effort in 1993 at its 1991 level, with the permitted level of effort then decreasing in 1994 to 1996. How much we will have to reduce effort will depend, in part, on the outcome of forthcoming European Community discussions about the 1992-96 multi-annual guidance programme and, partly, on the impact of the other measures that we also propose to introduce.
The other proposed measures include a decommissioning scheme to operate over two years with provision for expenditure of up to £25 million. That scheme will be cash-limited and subject to tight controls and will be designed to take out the maximum amount of fishing effort. No decommissioning payments will be committed until measures to control and reduce fishing effort are in place, which we intend to seek to achieve in 1993.
In addition, we are proposing changes in our quota management and licence transfer rules, so as to encourage fish producers' organisations to play a more active part in rationalising the fleet and to increase the pressure to reduce the size of the fleet. Further, we intend to extend restrictive licensing to vessels of 10 m and below in length so as to prevent expansion in this sector of the fleet undermining the effectiveness of our other measures. Finally, we propose to make it possible for fishermen to trade their days at sea entitlements along with fishing licences.
We shall shortly be consulting the European Community Commission and the fishing industry about the details of this important conservation package. When parliamentary time permits, the Government will introduce the primary legislation that will be needed for some elements of the package, such as the arrangements of trading days at sea entitlements.
My right hon. Friends and I are putting this important programme forward now following a series of discussions with industry interests, in which we have made it clear that we would be prepared to introduce a further decommissioning scheme only as part of a package that would have real conservation benefits. The package is a careful combination of payments to industry, encouragement to voluntary action and some compulsory effort reduction.
Column 1244Reducing fishing effort is crucial to the long-term interests of our fishermen as well as the fish stocks. We look forward to constructive discussions with the industry about our proposals.
Mr. Salmond : That is a useful statement from the Minister, bacause it contrasts sharply with the bullish assessment given by the Scottish Office yesterday evening. Can the Minister tell the House whether the funding proposed for the decommissioning scheme is fully comparable with that which has been available to other European fleets in the past few years, and if not why not? Can he specify exactly what extensions to the tie-up regulations he is proposing? If he is going in for transferable, viable and sellable quotas, how will he avoid the concentration of ownership in a few hands in the fishing industry, to the detriment of the family-run industry in Scotland? Would the Minister be prepared to join me in appealing to the chairmen of all the major clearing banks to suspend repossessions of fishing boats until it can be worked out whether the scheme will help fishermen in that position to leave the industry with dignity? Finally, does the Minister have no sense of shame or regret about his obduracy and his role in stopping such a scheme during the past few years and causing so much grief and heartache in our fishing communities?
Mr. Gummer : You will have noticed, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the word "conservation" once during his questions. One of the serious sadnesses of the discussions is that the Scottish nationalists appear to think that the only thing that we need to do is to hand out money to people and not to protect the stocks. Again and again I have asked for the Scottish nationalists' support for conservation. On every occasion they have refused to do anything to seek it, except to demand that taxpayers' money should be paid, without question, for the decommissioning scheme.
First, I am not going to compare this scheme with any other. I would not have given the private notice question the title which the hon. Member suggested. The most important thing about the scheme is that it is intended further to conserve stocks of fish, to conserve the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fishing industries for today and tomorrow. I am sad that the Scottish nationalists have not joined me in that.
I have only one sense of shame--shame that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has not taken the opportunity to thank us for this package.
I am also sad that the industry has not introduced the package, but I respect the large number of fishermen who will fully support the package, which is the right balance between asking the industry to make a substantial contribution--which is what I have been asking for for 18 months--both in the new job of the fish producers' organisations, which will be able to play a part in decommissioning, and in the fact that there will be further tie-ups. I have tried to create a situation in which there are only so many days at sea. We shall freeze that effort, as I suggested in 1991, from the beginning of 1993 and we shall reduce the effort, as is necessary to conserve stocks.
I repeat that the intention of the scheme is to conserve stocks. The idea of trading days at sea entitlement is to give some flexibility between fishermen all over the United Kingdom. It is something that fishermen in Scotland will
Column 1245especially welcome, because it will mean that they will be able to adapt their fishing according to their needs in a way which would not otherwise have been available to them.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : These measures will be warmly welcomed by my fishermen in Fleetwood, especially as my right hon. Friend has taken on board the need for a decommissioning scheme to be part of an overall protection package. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to introduce that decommissioning scheme, provided that agreement is reached with the rest of the industry on other protection measures? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend say more clearly what he is proposing to do about licensing of boats of less than 10 m? Finally, will the scheme that he has proposed encourage a newer, smaller fleet and encourage some of the older vessels to leave the fleet?
Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The intention is to conserve stocks for the present and future. It is unlikely that the conservation measures that I have outlined will be agreed by the Commission and be in place in the fishing ports in advance of the dates that I have suggested. However, I shall certainly look at my hon. Friend's proposition. I cannot encourage him, simply because, having realised how complex a matter it is, I think that his aim is unlikely to be achieved.
In all the talks that I have had with representatives of the fishing industry, it has been clear that they have taken an increasingly serious view of the need to restrict efforts. I am pleased that the general tone of the fishing industry has been to welcome the sort of package that we have put together and presaged in a series of debates, both in the House and elsewhere. I shall certainly consider the other points raised by my hon. Friend to see whether there is any further action that we can take.
As for the licensing of smaller boats, the intention is to meet a demand of the fishing industry, members of which have become more and more concerned that the 10m boats and below are increasingly fishing stocks, so that they are unavailable to the more professional fishermen. Some such boats are very professional and keep just below the limit. I do not want that to continue. Such action is particularly prevalent in fishing ports such as my hon. Friend's, where times have been extremely difficult.
I very much respect those who have stuck to their guns and determined to keep fishing. They have felt that their stocks had been purloined by those fishermen not subject to the same restrictions. In future, those fishermen shall be so subject.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Does the Minister agree that such a matter would have been more appropriate for an oral statement than for a written answer and the chance of a private notice question?
Approximately what proportion of existing fishing vessels over a certain length are likely to be decommissioned as a result of the scheme? Will the Minister assure the House that he believes that there is an equivalence of surveillance of catchings, as distinct from landings, of fish throughout the EEC? Will he enlighten us as to why, twice yesterday at--column 1118 in answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), and at column 1123 in answer to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan
Column 1246(Mr. Salmond)--the Leader of the House said that there would not be a statement, despite the accusation that the matter was imminent? Does not the fact that the subject occurs in columns 612-13 of Hansard, published in the early hours of this morning, and was issued to the press at 5 pm yesterday, mean that the Government are at sixes and sevens with the House and the fishing public on this vital issue?
Mr. Gummer : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The likelihood is that the proposal might reach about 12 per cent. of the fleet. The decommissioning part of the plan is only one part of it, and the earlier part of my statement is perhaps the most important, as it commits the Government and the fishing industry to a significant restriction on effort in order to protect the future, by protecting the stocks. The hon. Gentleman will know that the United Kingdom has the largest proportion of fishing stocks in the European Community. It is perfectly true that, due to that fact, our surveillance is tougher, better and more extensive than any other Community country.
I want to improve the surveillance that other countries have over their boats. Therefore, it was my job when I was Minister of State successfully to press the Commission to set up an inspectorate of inspectors and extend that inspectorate on the second occasion. I hope that we shall improve that further, as there is no doubt that the Commission has complimented the United Kingdom on the quality, extent and integrity of its surveillance. We shall continue to uphold those standards in this country. We hope to spread them to the rest of the Community.
As to the comments of my right hon. Friend, he knew that I would produce a statement as quickly as possible. He did not know that I would be able to do so as quickly as I did. My speed surprised even myself.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : When my right hon. Friend the Minister came to Norfolk last year, he will have heard some of the problems of the Wash shell fishermen who are concerned about conservation, and conserving stocks of shrimps, cockles, whelks and mussels. The Minister will have heard about how the industry plays a crucial part in the local economy. He will also be aware of the concern about the EC shellfish directive and various closure orders in the Wash, and about the threat of larger boats coming into the Wash and fishing for the inshore stock.
To what extent will today's statement affect the inshore Wash shell fishery? Could we include in today's proposals measures to alleviate the problems caused by large boats coming in and taking the stock that local fishermen believe to be theirs?