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Column 1203out how that effort would be controlled, and how those fishing around our shores would interact with other Community members. Part of the proposals relate to the achievement of Community-wide effort reduction programmes within what is known as the multi-annual guidance programme.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my intervention relates directly to decommissioning. I give you my word on that. I have some experience of the industry.
As a fishing nation, we are badly adrift in terms of our multi-annual guidance programme. Given that the measure by which it is defined--a reduction in fleet tonnage and power--is so crude, what progress has been made in Brussels to arrive at a sensible and effective measure of fishing capacity ? Surely the Minister agrees that a reduction in tonnage and power does not necessarily lead to a reduction in fishing capacity.
Mr. Jack : The hon. Gentleman may have got his terminology slightly mixed up. We are talking about controlling fishing effort, which has a direct relationship with both the capacity of a vessel and its power. That is the formula to which the multi-annual guidance programme refers. We do not take a single approach to the controlling of effort : other measures are involved, which I shall outline shortly.
I highlighted earlier the difficulties involving cod stock and the rest of the whitefish stocks in the North sea and I made the point that it was a Community-wide problem. With that in mind, the Government sought in 1993 to introduce a series of measures to help to reduce the fishing effort of our fleet and to meet our share of the Community-wide reduction programme--the multi-annual guidance programme. A key part of the MAGP was the £25 million decommissioning scheme, with which hon. Members will be familiar from the debate on 7 July last year.
At that time, we made it clear that the scheme would be introduced over a three-year period so that we could closely monitor its results and, if necessary, adjust the qualifying criteria to ensure that the money available removed the maximum amount of effort possible, moved us towards meeting Community sectoral effort reduction targets and gave good value for money to the taxpayer. It is perhaps worth reflecting that in addition to the decommissioning scheme the Government spend on the industry some £16 million a year on fisheries research, about £12 million on vessel safety, grants for processing and port improvements, and a further £22 million on enforcement.
Mrs. Ewing : In the context of decommissioning, is it not true that only £11 million of the £500 million allocated for decommissioning schemes in the European Union between 1987 and 1992 has been taken up by the Government ? How will they square that circle ? If we are to have a decommissioning scheme, it must be effective to meet the requirements of the MAGP.
Mr. Jack : I hope that my remarks on this matter will illustrate clearly to the hon. Lady that we have an effective scheme, that we want to spend our total of £25 million, and that the scheme will--with other measures--make a significant contribution towards meeting our target.
Column 1204Even with that in mind, the last time that decommissioning was debated in the House, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) chastised me for the size of our decommissioning scheme and went on to try to outbid me. I noted at the time, however, that he broke the Labour party's first and only commandment--"Thou shalt not give any promise"--by making his outbidding a firm spending commitment. In so doing, he merely illustrated the Opposition view that every problem can be solved with money. That is classic short-termism and does not face the need to address, as the Government have addressed, the importance of having a package of measures designed to benefit stocks in the long term by further reducing fishing effort. Our effort reduction package deals with the current structural problems and helps to conserve fish stocks now and in the future. The package comprises technical conservation measures, licence penalties and decommissioning.
The industry has presented some useful suggestions on technical conservation. We have evaluated them and are now discussing them with the European Commission. It is our hope that those measures can contribute to achieving our MAGP target. In addition, we have a system of licence penalties whereby capacity must be given up whenever existing licences are transferred or aggregated--for example, by an owner who wishes to license a new, more powerful vessel. The industry has asked us to reconsider improving the scheme's operation and we have agreed to do so.
Decommissioning lies at the heart of our effort reduction policy. So far, the 1993-94 scheme has removed 135 vessels, about 4,800 tonnes of capacity, at a cost of £7.8 million. In a recent announcement, we made it clear that we now wished to deploy the remainder of our £25 million. The scheme represents the next step along that path for the year 1994-95. A total of £8.9 million will be available, a sum which incorporates the underspend on the 1993-94 scheme. The rules of that round will be familiar because the scheme is closely based on the successful 1993 scheme which, by using a tendering system, enabled us to remove the maximum amount of active capacity with the available funds.
In a nutshell, the scheme provides for owners of eligible vessels to submit tenders for the amount of decommissioning grant for which they would be prepared to scrap their vessel and surrender its licences. Details of the scheme were made public on 15 June and the closing date for applications is 15 August 1994. Applications will be ranked in terms of pounds-per-vessel- capacity unit. Successful applicants must submit proof of scrapping, deregistration and surrender of all licences in respect of a vessel before 1 March 1995.
The main criteria for determining eligibility have not changed. Vessels must be United Kingdom registered and licensed, more than 10 metres in overall length, more than 10 years old and seaworthy. We want to target active vessels, so we have also retained the requirement that vessels must have spent at least 100 days at sea on fishing trips in each of the past two years.
We considered carefully whether the scheme should be more precisely targeted--for example, by confining it to trawlers or beam trawlers--but we concluded that that would be too restrictive. There is a new requirement, however, that vessels applying should hold a full pressure-stock licence, thus focusing the scheme on vessels that fish the most vulnerable stocks. Moreover, the 100
Column 1205days at sea on fishing trips must have been spent in Community waters. The aim is to exclude vessels fishing primarily in distant waters where pressure on the stocks is less intense.
We are excluding vessels which were successful in the 1993 tender but were not scrapped. We included a warning to that effect in the 1993 explanatory leaflet to discourage withdrawals, and the current scheme implements that rule.
Application forms are available in local fishery offices and have already been sent to fishermen known to be interested in the scheme. We look forward to a keen response with realistic bids which will enable the 1994 scheme to be as successful and effective as the 1993 scheme in making a useful contribution to conserving stocks and achieving our MAGP targets.
Hon. Members will recall that the first round of decommissioning was linked to our proposals for days-at-sea restrictions, as the latter were intended to constrain the effort of the fleet which remained--a point which, I am glad to say, was acknowledged by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Mrs. Ewing : Is not the average decommissioning grant about £60,000, so that by the time vessel owners have paid scrapping charges and other charges, and settled taxation bills, many of them are left with nothing ? Is the Minister satisfied that the amount of money being provided for decommissioning is sufficient to meet the needs of our fleet ? Can he tell us what other aspects of effort limitation have been used by other European Union countries, as all of them seem to have used decommissioning to meet the MAGP target ?
Mr. Jack : On the figure that the hon. Lady quoted, it is misleading to look at average amounts per vessel because the size range is substantial. When we opened the doors last time, 433 vessels applied under the scheme, which showed that people thought it was effective. I believe that 134 vessels were ultimately decommissioned with the first tranche of money. We have since tried to refine the scheme and to focus it more carefully.
With regard to other European Union states, the Netherlands has relied on a days-at-sea scheme to assist in meeting its targets while others have put more weight on decommissioning to remove tonnage. The hon. Lady will note that I placed clear emphasis on the question of controlling effort, particularly that of the remainder of the fleet. Other Community countries have omitted to emphasise that aspect--perhaps to their cost. The effectiveness of the
decommissioning scheme is determined not just by the capacity that is taken out, but by what the remaining capacity will do.
Hon. Members will recall that we suspended the introduction of our effort reduction measure--the days-at-sea policy--because the judicial review case of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations was referred to the European Court of Justice. We always made it clear, however, that we wanted the decommissioning scheme to provide real long-term benefits to the fishing industry. The scheme will not achieve that if remaining vessels increase their fishing effort and thus undermine the impact of decommissioning. That would be unwelcome to
Column 1206the fishing industry and also to the taxpayers, who will want to know that expenditure is being used effectively and provides good value for money.
The industry claim that the current fleet is already fishing flat out. If that is the case, in spite of decommissioning, effort should not increase. As decommissioning progresses, we intend to monitor the fishing effort of the remaining fleet. We shall not want to be heavy handed about it, but if effort increases we shall have to take suitable effort-control measures to deal with the situation. I hope that the industry will collectively exercise restraint and so make the use of such controls unnecessary in the context of this scheme. My wish is to see a healthy, successful and responsible fishing industry. It cannot have a healthy and successful future without taking responsibility, and that includes ensuring that fishing effort does not increase.
I know from my discussions with industry representatives and with individual fishermen that they are willing to contribute to conservation and to achieving our Community targets. We are also working with the industry in other ways--for example, to improve the marketing of fish in order to improve returns. All of the measures that I have outlined are important factors in developing the long-term viability of the industry.
I look forward to continuing to work with the fishing industry, trying to chart our way through what can sometimes seem the difficult and detailed waters of complex Community schemes.
Dr. Godman : Does the Minister agree that if effort limitation is to be effective as a conservation tool there has to be a rough balance between the size of the fleet and stocks ? How far are we from achieving such an objective ?
Mr. Jack : We are some way from achieving it. I wish that we were further along that road, but it took us some time carefully to think through the question of controlling the effort of the remainder of the fleet. I have listened carefully to hon. Members with constituency fishing interests and to the industry. I had hoped that, in view of my emphasis on how we intended to deal with the remainder of the effort during this period of decommissioning, the hon. Gentleman would have understood that I have tried very hard to take to heart the messages that the industry has sent to me.
I also made it clear that we have a package of measures, such as licence aggregation. The industry has asked us about how that element of our effort reduction programme can be improved and I look forward to receiving its proposals on that subject. The hon. Gentleman will also know that we are actively evaluating technical conservation measures which the industry has sensibly put to us. They are in what could be called the appraisal stage. Once we ascertain how the decommissioning scheme, as it is now constituted, progresses, we can be clearer about the distance between that sum total of effort reduction and the target that we have to meet. The targets are now legally binding in the Community. We want to achieve those targets ; if there is a gap, we shall have to examine other ways of doing so. I hope that we are back on the right road, especially with the decommissioning scheme. We have made our intentions clear, and I commend the scheme to the House.
Column 12075.42 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : We welcome the fact that we at least have an announcement to the effect that the second phase of the decommissioning scheme is going ahead. We also welcome the fact that the underspend from the first year's round of decommissioning has been included in the global sum. The Minister will appreciate that we have pressed him on that issue several times. We are glad to learn that the money has not been lost, but has been kept within the funds available.
Our only regret is that the scheme is still the same inadequate scheme and part of an inadequate fisheries policy, as the Minister will know from his contact with the industry. The Minister told us that he reads Fishing News assiduously, so I am sure that he read the editorial entitled "Bankruptcy of Ideas", which states : "The resurrection of the decommissioning scheme is welcome but it falls woefully short of the positive policy for which the industry has been waiting.
Some will now be able to go ahead and leave the industry, but those who want to stay--the vast majority--still have not a clue as to where the industry is going."
That causes serious problems in terms of planning and investment and confidence in the industry--problems which one or two hon. Members have made clear to the Minister.
There is also a problem with meeting the targets set by the multi-annual guidance programme. I shall refer to that in due course, because that is the underlying issue in the matching of fishing effort to available fish stocks. We now know that the first round of decommissioning took out approximately 2.2 per cent. of fleet capacity. Even with the measures that the Minister has outlined, such as licence aggregation, we are looking at a reduction of only about 7 per cent. by 1996, when, under European Community law, the Government have to meet a target reduction in the region of 20 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) rightly said.
Our failure has already been criticised by the Commission in its report on the MAGP targets. It stated that
"figures show this country"
the United Kingdom
"significantly outside the intermediate objective for 1993." It is, therefore, clear that, even now, we are nowhere near meeting our targets.
Although we need effort limitation--the Labour party has always made it clear that it recognises that that must go hand in glove with decommissioning--we need a much more generous and effective decommissioning scheme if we are to make progress towards meeting our MAGP by 1996. Of the £7.5 million spent on decommissioning last year, approximately £5 million was clawed back by the Government under the Fontainebleau agreement and, of course, fishermen paid tax on the money that they received. It is, therefore, a very minor scheme. The overall sum that the Government make available to the industry and to the primary sector in general can hardly be regarded as generous. The failure to make progress in fleet reduction and give a clear policy lead has severe consequences for the whole United Kingdom industry in denying the UK structural aid to modernise its fishing fleet, which is aging rapidly. Again, the Minister is well aware of that issue. We are simply storing up problems for the future, as is mentioned in the Commission's proposals.
Column 1208The UK's fishing fleet is being put at a severe disadvantage in the European Union. As has been said, in the six years to 1992, the European Union made £250 million available for decommissioning, but it was paid to other member states. Of the total of around £500 million, including construction and modernisation grants, about £11 million has so far come to the United Kingdom.
The fact that we have done so badly in getting a share of the available pot of money is a national decision, not a European Union decision. The Minister knows that. When I met the previous Fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Marin, he told me that he had repeatedly pressed the Minister's predecessors to bid for decommissioning funds because he recognised that, by not introducing a decommissioning scheme some years ago, we were building up to the problems that we now face. The problem for the United Kingdom fleet is made worse by the Commission's proposals, although I admit that they are only proposals and we need to examine them in detail. However, if the Commission is taking on board the Government's ideas, which include a days-at-sea restriction, the logical conclusion--the introduction of standard vessel fishing days to replace the Irish box--has severe implications for the British fleet because if we have not made progress towards meeting our MAGP targets, our fleet will be far more restricted than that of other member states so that we can meet our targets. The same restrictions will not be applied to Spain and Portugal. They will be free to fish because they are nearer to meeting their targets.
Mr. Jack : A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman mentioned investment in new vessels and where the money came from. He will be aware that, under the terms of the Fontainebleau agreement, the cost to the UK is something like 71 per cent. of any modernisation schemes. Will he outline in detail his own proposals ? How much would he spend ; on what would he spend it ; and how would he judge the criteria for such schemes ?
Mr. Morley : I shall be happy to answer that question. Indeed, I intend to deal with it in my proposals.
There is also the hypothetical situation--where we shall be in some years' time. I shall tell the Minister how we would find the funding for the schemes now. There are a number of ways of doing that. The total decommissioning scheme is spread over three years ; we have already had one of those years. The Labour party sees no reason why the total amount of money cannot be put into one year's allocation to achieve a greater reduction in the fleet rather than spreading it over three years. What is the point of prolonging the agony ? It would make more sense to remove the overcapacity as quickly as possible rather than spreading the money over another two years.
Of course, the money has to be found within the global Government budget and I am happy to give the Minister a few pointers. For example, the Labour party could have found £350 million that has been wasted on management consultants--and their cars--in the national health service. We could have saved the £700 million that has been spent on British Rail privatisation and consultancies and the £500 million spent on the outside consultancies that saved only £10 million for the Government.
We could also have saved £3 million on the parents charter, which was sent to every house in the country whether or not any children lived there. We could have
Column 1209saved £500 million on the national curriculum scheme that was abandoned after being introduced. There is certainly a few bob there that a Labour Government could have saved, to put into a more effective decommissioning scheme. If the Minister would like a bit more advice on where to find the money, I should be only too pleased to give him some, although I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would call me to order if I did.
Mr. Jack : I have added up those sums and have reached £2 billion in firm commitments from the hon. Gentleman to spend on the fishing industry. I look forward to hearing what the Labour Treasury spokesman says about that.
Mr. Morley : Now we can see how Conservative central office reach all those ludicrous figures that Conservative Members sometimes throw at the Labour party.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Will not two thirds of the money that this country spends on decommissioning probably be recovered from the Commission, anyway ?
Mr. Morley : That is right. In all fairness and all seriousness, the £25 million being made available is a tiny sum. It certainly compares badly with the £3 billion a year spent on the agricultural sector. I appreciate that that is paid under European regulations, some of which are outside the Government's control. But when the question of the imbalance has been raised before, the Government's response is that farmers are used to such subsidies, so they are okay for the agricultural sector, but not for the fishing sector. Moreover, presumably the Government put into their budget a sum for enforcing the days-at-sea measures, which will not have been used because of the delay caused by the court case. I should have thought that there were a few million pounds there, too--a budget that has already been committed and could have gone into the overall pool for the decommissioning scheme. So a fair bit of money could be found within existing budgets this year to enlarge the scheme and make it more effective.
The EC proposals will indeed have a severe effect on what will happen in the areas outside the Irish box, such as the south-western approaches. As I said, there is a threat of a new Spanish armada and we need more details of how the proposals will work. Certainly, we will examine them closely and consider the implications for the industry. We need a strong policy framework within which the industry can work--one that will give it stability and enable it to plan ahead.
I hope that the Minister will take into account the developments that the Opposition would like to see. First, the whole programme should be rolled into one year to try to enlarge the scheme, increase decommissioning and reduce the effort faster than the proposals suggest. We also want a far more effective decommissioning scheme, with more resources going into it-- and I believe that those resources could be found.
The scheme should be more carefully targeted. The Minister touched on that subject, but it needs to be considered on a sectoral basis, where the pressure is. We also want more details about how the scheme is being monitored to evaluate its effectiveness.
There should be a stronger emphasis on the social
Column 1210dimension of restructuring. Of course the scheme is about decommissioning, but it does not benefit all the crews of the boats concerned. We want effective use of regional funding and the proposed PESCA programme, which the Minister has discussed with us. It is a modest programme, but it can be directed towards fishing communities and thus benefit a wider group of people.
We must consider again the disposal of decommissioned boats. As the Minister will know, I have written to him on behalf of a potential buyer from Sri Lanka, who has a firm and positive offer to buy decommissioned boats from the United Kingdom and take them to Sri Lanka. He is also prepared to obtain assurances from the Sri Lankan Government that those boats will not find their way back into the European Union fleet. I accept that we must take such possibilities into consideration, but there are ways of ensuring that the boats do not find their way back into the fleet--not least the fact that they need licences.
Approximately £8,000 of the money that owners get for decommissioning is spent on scrapping. If we could find a workable scheme, that would be to the advantage of all concerned. I hope that the Minister will consider the idea.
Mr. Jack : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. Of course I shall reply to his letter. However, I have raised the question of disposal of vessels through third world countries with the Overseas Development Administration, and there are genuine practical problems involved. So far, in spite of searching quite hard, I have not yet come up with a practical scheme that satisfies all the criteria--not least the logistics of getting vessels there. Many owners, in scrapping vessels, take certain equipment out to release additional sums. On the final point about the cost, that is of course tax allowable.
Mrs. Ewing : Only 25 per cent.
Mr. Morley : Yes ; 25 per cent. is tax allowable, I think. I take the Minister's point ; those are serious issues, but the people behind the scheme are convinced that they can satisfy the criteria. The fact that some of the more high-tech equipment in the boats will be stripped out is not necessarily a disadvantage in low-tech fishing industries in developing countries.
We also want a proper fund, through the European Union, for an early retirement scheme in the fishing industry. I know that the Commission has considered the idea and I believe that such an arrangement would be of benefit to the overall scheme.
As a matter of urgency, the Commission should be pressed to act on a proposal from the United Kingdom fishermen's associations--the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations--to react to their detailed and sensible proposals for technical conservation measures and their suggestions on how those can be built into effort limitation and taken into account. Many of us are surprised that it has taken so long to receive a response from the Commission.
There has been far too much delay and indecision on fishing in this country. We need a stronger policy. The present approach seems to encourage decommissioning by bankruptcy. That is the implication of leaving the issue for so long and not having an adequate scheme. We need stronger action to build a secure and sustainable fishing industry and a modern and prosperous fleet. The present Government approach will achieve neither of those ends.
Column 1211Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. I see that six hon. Members wish to catch my eye, and we have precisely 61 minutes left for the debate.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : For the reason that you have given, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be especially brief--and I shall surprise the Minister by starting with warm congratulations. I have not always congratulated either him or his predecessor on the conduct of fisheries policy, especially over the vexed question of days-at-sea, but now I say thank you most sincerely to my hon. Friend for adopting what I consider is now the correct approach to the Government's relationship with the industry.
The Minister said that his door was always open and, as proof of that, he has agreed to see some representatives of the industry from the south-west next Tuesday on the vexed question of the monkfish quota. I have no doubt that, at that meeting, we shall also want to probe the whole issue of the proposed days-at-sea restrictions scheme, which has come, albeit in outline and preliminary form, from Brussels. I shall return to that.
My hon. Friend's attitude was summed up in his speech. If I correctly interpreted it, the latter part especially marks something of a change of approach by the Government on the vexed question of trying to bring about a better balance between fishing capacity on one hand and availability of stocks on the other. That, of course, is the central issue that has bedevilled fisheries policy for many years.
I am not sure whether I am interpreting my hon. Friend's words correctly, but I wonder what his attitude is now to the previous national days-at-sea restrictions scheme. Is he putting it completely on one side and, if so, I wonder whether he would go one step further and give a pledge that that legislation may be repealed, so that the case before the European Court could be dropped. That would be a very positive step forward in the light of his remarks, especially towards the end of his speech.
My hon. Friend said that decommissioning was at the heart of the Government's policy. That brings me to the scheme and the motion before the House. As my hon. Friend knows, I share the view of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), that the decommissioning scheme is welcome, but that £25 million over three years is not sufficient. I was one of the Conservative Members who, for many years, pressed Her Majesty's Government to reintroduce a decommissioning scheme and I was delighted when that happened, albeit as part of a wider package. However, I still believe that £25 million is not sufficient, given the scale of the problem and the difficulty of meeting our multi-annual guidance programme.
My hon. Friend is right to chide the Opposition about where the money will come from and where the increase in the funding is to be found. I do not think that the Treasury will sanction an increase above £25 million. Unfortunately, that is the reality of the situation facing us, especially in the current public expenditure climate. However, I refuse to believe that, in the quite significant budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, there is not some scope--I shall develop the point--for increasing the £25 million allocation. I am sure that some more money could be found in the budget of the Department.
The Government must find that extra money because of
Column 1212the plight facing the industry. All of us who have fishing constituencies know the difficulties that fishermen face. I find that the most worrying aspect of the whole situation is when fishermen come to me and say, "David, we are being forced to cheat." They would not admit that before, but they are saying it now. To make a living, they are being forced to cheat through illegal landings and black fish. That is very worrying indeed and the fishermen do not like doing it.
I know of a number of people in my constituency who, because of the pressures that they are under and because of the particular pressure of having to cheat in order to survive, want to leave the industry. That is very sad. We must enable people who want to leave the industry to do so with honour and, indeed, with some financial recompense before the restrictions being imposed on them by Europe, and by our own Government for very good reasons, are implemented. Therefore, I earnestly urge my hon. Friend and other members of the Government to look again at the whole question of the adequacy--in my opinion, the inadequacy--of the allocation of £25 million and to bring about an increase.
I was very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend said about the topic of the day : the European Commission proposals--as he explained to the occupant of the Chair earlier, they are linked with the motion--which were publicised, probably in a truncated and, possibly, in an inaccurate form, last night and again this morning. Again, I welcome his words of caution that we should wait and see the details. I will certainly do that before passing final judgment, but I view what we already know of those proposals with hefty scepticism.
I opposed our unilateral days-at-sea restrictions and I shall also need much convincing over the European measures, for the central issue is the difficulty of enforcing such a system. We all know of the fears of the fishermen and their right to hold those fears. To put it succinctly, they fear that if such restrictions are ever introduced, they will be enforced on our fishermen, whereas the Spanish fishermen in particular, who are the biggest threat that we face in the south-west, will escape, because we all know that the enforcement of measures on fishermen in Spain is just a joke. We have seen it in all sorts of forms of so-called conservation measures. They are just not applied to the Spaniards, and they are not applied in any great degree, if I may say in passing, to many of the French fishermen either. That is, of course, the weakness of the common fisheries policy and I am afraid that it may be the weakness of the proposals from Europe.
However, I take comfort from my hon. Friend's comments on that matter and I know him well enough to know that he will be scrutinising the proposals with great care and that he will not go along with anything which is to the detriment of our own fishing fleet or which would treat our fleet unfairly.
I shall conclude my remarks, because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. I welcome what, as I said, I sense is a completely new approach by the Government and by my hon. Friend in particular. I urge him to listen with the greatest care, as he has done already, to the sensible measures being put forward by the industry. In proposing its alternative conservation measures--the technical measures to which my hon. Friend referred--the industry has made considerable advances. It has not gone for soft options, but has put forward measures which would
Column 1213hurt the industry because it knows that a certain amount of pain is necessary to bring about that absolutely essential balance. One thing is certain : if any conservation scheme is to succeed, it must have the acquiescence of the industry. The scheme must not have the total opposition of the industry. A scheme has a far better chance of succeeding if it has been put forward in outline form, at least, by the industry than if it is imposed on the industry. I welcome the whole tone of my hon. Friend's remarks and I hope that, indeed, the industry can look forward to a better and a more secure future in co-operation with Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : I hope that I will not embarrass my near neighbour in Cornwall, the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), by agreeing with so much of what he has said. I shall not reiterate the points, because we are obviously tied for time, but I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the hon. Gentleman's point about the repeal of the Sea Fish Conservation Act 1967. There would be a real sea- change in the atmosphere in the industry if the Government showed that that Act is behind them and that they would be prepared to look again at the technical conservation measures. The Minister rightly outlined the context of the scheme. He outlined the conservation shortfall in meeting multi- annual guidance programme targets, especially in the United Kingdom, though not exclusively so, the economic state of our industry compared with the fishing fleets in competitor countries in the European Union, the extent of support from other member states for the industry, which is extremely relevant in the context of not only decommissioning but the whole package of support, and the new developments overnight in Brussels, which we have heard about briefly and which are extremely relevant.
Finally, he rightly paid a great deal of attention, as did the hon. Member for St. Ives, to discrepancies in implementation, monitoring and control. We all know that the United Kingdom has one of the worst shortfalls in meeting targets, though other member states are in a similar position.
I was struck by the engaging honesty of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in his place, in the Scottish Grand Committee earlier this week. He said :
"we reckon that the decommissioning scheme will take 2.2 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. over the three years, so it is not a very significant amount. If things go well, and depending on how the scheme works out in detail, it may be 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. That is of course a long way from our 19 per cent. target."
I suspect that that engaging honesty may be something to do with a Minister who is becoming somewhat demob happy. Later in the discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee, he said :
"Let me answer first the questions about fishing. I accept that it is not easy to determine at this stage how we can meet our multi-annual guidance programme targets . . . As I said, we might take out 2.5 per cent. or 3 per cent. a year and set the figure at 8 per cent. over three years. With the penalties on licensed transfers and aggregations, we hope to get to about 5 per cent. over the same period."
That is extraordinarily vague. It is honestly vague, but it does not alter the fact that we are a long way off the targets that the Government say that they are aiming for.
Column 1214In the Committee, much play was made of the scale of investment in decommissioning, and how much was coming from the British taxpayer. As hon. Members have said, the decommissioning scheme amounts to £25 million gross over three years. It is calculated that 17.5 per cent. will be drawn down from Brussels under the arrangements to which the Minister has referred. So to some extent, that £25 million is bogus. It is further reduced by the tax take.
In the Standing Committee that considered the Finance Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) sought to exempt the payments from all tax penalties, but the penalties remain and the clawback in tax is considerable. The net figure for this scheme is probably only about £2 million a year. It is minuscule, I agree with what the hon. Member for St. Ives said about that. In the Scottish Grand Committee on Tuesday the Minister admitted :
"the money has been wrung from the Treasury after a great deal of pressure and I have been blunt with the fishing industry that there will be no likelihood of an extension of that £25 million in the current three- year period.--[ Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee , 12 July 1994 ; c. 10-37.]
That does not explain why the money cannot be found from within MAFF's budget, notably from the budget for the days-at-sea provisions, which would have been considerable.
What is so significant about the Minister's confession is that it was the Treasury which designed the policy so that there was no assessment of the industry's actual needs. There was no equation in terms of conservation targets. There was no attempt to match up to the MAGP requirements. Most important, there was no overall value-for-money strategy. It is the mad axeman of the Treasury all over again.
The opposition to days-at-sea made it clear that, from Newlyn to Lerwick, fishermen have been, and continue to be, on the brink of economic collapse. Decommissioning in those circumstances can only be part of a larger package. Even if it were more generous, it would not be enough on its own. Decommissioning men, for example, involves huge social and economic costs in fragile economies all round our coastline, in Cornwall as in the north of Scotland. As the take-up shows, it is not sufficient in itself to achieve a dramatic reduction in the take.
Decommissioning by decrepitude in vessels is probably what the Government have in mind. It is more likely to happen than decommissioning by generous support. As I said earlier, the Minister was right to see the decommissioning package within the overall package that other member states make available to their fishing fleets. I take the example of Spain, for the obvious reason that in the south-west our fishermen find themselves in direct competition with Spanish fishermen.
For permanent decommissioning of vessels from 1987 to 1992, Spanish fishermen received 80.46 million ecu. That is discounting any cash that they received from their national Government. For temporary lay-up, they received 36.12 million ecu. In addition to that, for new vessel construction during that period, Spanish fishermen received 66.38 million ecu and for vessel modernisation they received 38.64 million ecu. That is a total of 220 million ecu from the European Union, or European Community as it then was ; from the European taxpayers ; from us. During that period, under only the vessel construction and modernisation programmes--because we did not have decommissioning--all that our industry
Column 1215obtained in draw-down from the European Community was a paltry 15 million ecu. That is a critical part of the equation that the Minister must face. One cannot divorce the decommissioning sum from the rest of the programme.
Is it any wonder that our fishermen throughout the United Kingdom believe that their competitors benefit from huge subsidy, paid for as much by United Kingdom taxpayers as anyone else, to outfish us in our traditional waters with our money ? It is worth noting that, during the same period, 72 new boats were given subsidy for construction in Spain, while only two achieved that in the United Kingdom. I do not wish to refer at length to the proposals that we heard about overnight, but it is important to identify that the western approaches and Irish box proposals seem at least to put a question mark against some of the pledges that the Minister made early in the year.
The House will recall that the Minister gave us four pledges. The first was that the North sea would be excluded. As we understand it--so far, so good- -it is. Secondly, relative stability would be a principle right across the policy. Much will depend on enforcement, but we hope that that is in place. Thirdly, no extra effort would be involved in the proposals. We have to hope that that will be so. Critically, the proposals that we have heard about overnight fly in the face of the fourth pledge that we were given about the integrity of the Irish box. As we understand it, it is to be substantially modified and reduced to reflect only area 7b. If that happens, it will be damaging to the interests of west country fishermen.
Mr. Jack : The hon. Gentleman is in danger of building an edifice with no foundation. We have been cautioned that these are a first set of proposals. The regulation on which the measures draw defines clearly the Irish box as an area of particular sensitivity. One of the matters that we shall want to look at is just that proposal. The proposals are a first shot. If the hon. Gentleman knows anything about negotiating within the Community, he will realise that there is still a great deal of discussion to go. The reservations and fears of all fishermen whose waters are affected by the proposals, some of which he expresses clearly, will be fully taken into account.
Mr. Tyler : It is precisely because I understand the process of negotiation that I am strengthening the Minister's arm for the coming fight. I hope that he will go to the discussions with a reminder to his colleagues that hon. Members throughout the House intend to hold him to his pledges. We wish to see an Irish box that has the integrity that the Minister has given an undertaking to fight for. That brings me to the other point that I want to draw to the Minister's attention.
We understand that the new concept of standard vessels days, which looks very much like days-at-sea in a different guise, will be administered and monitored on a multi-national basis. For the reasons that the hon. Member for St. Ives gave, we do not believe that the proposal that has apparently come from the Commission that the scheme should be administered by the Government of member states would be anything like sufficient to ensure the right level of enforcement. Subsidiarity on this matter would cause acute anxiety among many other member states.
The crux of this debate and of the scheme is that for many of us, however welcome the decommissioning scheme is, it is but one block in the foundations of a