Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Rendel: Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the revaluation is based on the value of a property as at 1 April 1993, so what is currently happening has no effect?

Mr. Streeter: I am delighted to report to the hon. Gentleman that companies in Plymouth have been experiencing success since the beginning of 1993. Those companies have enjoyed sustained growth for two years. That is jolly good news for them. It is a pity that Opposition Members continue to rejoice in bad news; they just do not like good news.

I am delighted that the revaluation date will reflect the growth that has been experienced by companies in Plymouth during the past two years. It is encouraging to note that, as a result of that growth, jobs have been created and unemployment in my constituency is falling month after month. I welcome the fact that the revaluation exercise will reflect those improved circumstances.

The transitional arrangements, which are a triumph for common sense and wisdom, are also welcome. I congratulate the Minister on introducing them. It was extremely interesting to note, once again, that when Opposition Members pretended to be representing the party that wants to govern Britain, they could not explain how they would fund their spending pledges. They want to do away with phasing as it applies to those businesses

Column 980

where the rate is set to go down. That would undoubtedly create a shortfall which the Government would have to pick up. Can they explain where that money would come from? They cannot. Once again, we were offered pie-in-the-sky politics. The Opposition offer us spending pledges, but they have no understanding of how those pledges would be funded. That is typical of the politics that we have now come to expect from the Opposition.

Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with not addressing where the money would come from is that one is led into the trap into which the Labour party was led the last time it was in Government? That Government constantly buried their head in the sand and borrowed more money because they were not prepared to take the tough decisions needed in the interests of the country.

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: all Labour Governments have borrowed themselves out of existence. Let us hope that the days of the late 1970s, when a Chancellor had to go cap in hand to the IMF for yet another loan, are for ever behind us. My hon. Friend is right to say that the answer lies in taking tough decisions.

I welcome the transitional arrangements, which are fair. It is important for all businesses to be able to plan and to know what the maximum increase in their rates bill will be in the next few years. Most financial directors will welcome that useful aid to planning. I also welcome the fact that, under the orders, greater fairness is being shown to the south-west. We have often heard about firms in other parts of the country which have struggled greatly, but we in the south-west have taken our fair share of hits. We have borne our brunt of difficult times. I am pleased that relief will be offered to businesses in the south-west. That Government help will be welcomed by those businesses.

The revaluation orders are a triumph for fairness and common sense. I welcome the fact that they will place the burden of the business rate on those who can best afford it. That will be offer a boost to the south-west, because it will give us the opportunity to make good some of the unfairnesses that have resulted from the implementation of policies pursued by the Liberals at county hall and by the Labour party at the city council in Plymouth. For those reasons, I welcome the orders.

6.44 pm

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash): I want to make two points about the orders and how they affect my constituency, but first I should like to refer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts).

As the House knows, the hon. Gentleman was leader of Sheffield city council. I, too, was a member of that council and for many years I worked in industry and business in the area. Today, he simply rewrote history. He said--I made a note of it--that business rates were merely perceived to be a problem in the city. They were a real problem for those who worked in companies--a real problem with which they to deal daily and weekly in their overheads. Because of the city council's involvement in setting the business rate for the community, businesses moved out of the city and went elsewhere, taking employment with them. People who lived in the city moved out to Derbyshire if they could. It was only the

Column 981

introduction of capping that resolved the domestic problem and the introduction of the uniform business rate that resolved the industrial one.

When parts of the city were being decimated, an enterprise zone was offered to Sheffield, but the hon. Member for Attercliffe and his colleagues on the council would not accept it. The very thing that would have helped industry in the city was rejected. It was only when the urban development corporation took an interest in the city--the hon. Gentleman opposed that too--that confidence in the business community began to be restored. That development, and the knowledge that the business rate was outside local political control, meant businesses started to come back to the city. A similar success story could be told elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Attercliffe advanced another argument that staggered me --I do not know how he had the nerve to make it. He blamed central Government grant reductions for the city's financial problems. Those problems were caused by the hon. Gentleman and his party, who bid for the world student games. They budgeted to spend £30 million on capital facilities and planned to make a profit from the games. They actually spent £150 million and lost money on the games. That has left the city strapped with a debt, which is being paid by every resident and paid, indirectly, by every business. That is the truth. That is why I say that the hon. Gentleman told a tale to the House--I know, because I was there.

I should like to see indirect local government involvement in industry in the community. I should like local government to make an area attractive by offering good road networks, reclaiming derelict industrial land, processing planning applications quickly and being known as a responsible spender that offers services at a reasonable price. That is the most attractive thing that local government can offer to industries and, therefore, to the local economy. Those who heard on the radio the explanation of the policy followed by Conservative-controlled Clitheroe council will know that the policy has resulted in that area having the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Further changes to the uniform business rate are now proposed. The midlands, which I represent, benefited from the 1990 revaluation. I accept the points made so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) that one of the difficulties for many areas was caused by the considerable period of time between that 1990 revaluation and the previous one. Other areas, such as my own, however, benefited from the revaluation and that had a beneficial effect on companies, businesses and manufacturing and engineering industries--the very industries on which the midlands depends. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, my constituency has also enjoyed a continuous reduction in the unemployment rate, month after month--in the past 12 months the unemployment figure has dropped by 1,400. One of those companies' concerns is that the next revaluation will not benefit them. Clearly, just as companies in the area benefited from the last revaluation,

Column 982

so they could easily find that, under the revaluation for next year, they will start to see increases. That is why I welcome the transitional arrangements.

Inevitably, all transitional arrangements are complicated, but they exist precisely to buffer the differences and problems that can result when rates are increased by a huge amount. I am surprised at the concerns that have been expressed about such arrangements because they will benefit companies in areas such as mine. Not one company has complained about transitional arrangements. They are what people need, not what they do not like.

The order before us is complicated. Often, the results of such arrangements do not come home to the business community until the day when their bills land on the desk. I hope that, rather than just leave it as it stands today with a general announcement, we can talk to those involved with the business community in chambers of commerce and trade throughout the country so that they realise in advance what their rates bill will be and companies do not discover what they will be 24 hours after the bill has been sent out.

Two specific business rate problems in my constituency concern the local authority. Action taken by the local authority has badly affected small businesses and traders and resulted in a large consequential loss of business. The first concerns the building of a relief road which isolated a popular pub and cut off a popular trading street called Market street. The public house was isolated not just for a day or a week but for three months, during which time people could hardly cross the road to reach it, let alone park in its car park or anywhere near it. To help matters, somebody dug a hole and cut off its gas and electricity and broke the drains. One can imagine the pub's consequential loss of trade, which ran to several thousand pounds and was more than the landlord could manage to cover.

Although the pub received a temporary business rate reduction as a consequence of those works, it nowhere near covered the loss of business. The chip shop, sewing shop, small bicycle shop and other small shops in Market street had the same problem. The cafe was particularly affected. They all applied for and received a business rate reduction because the street had been cut off from general traffic, but it simply did not cover the amount that they had lost through lack of trade. The small shops lost trade not just during those three months but for good because the entrance to the street was closed off. I hope that we can better recognise within our business rate system the consequential loss of business to companies because of local authority activity that is out of their control. The second problem is similar and may be partially shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton. Again, it arose in Ilkeston, where the first problem arose. This time, the local authority decided to pedestrianise the main shopping street, which is one of the steepest shopping streets in the country, so people must walk up it. The local authority has pedestrianised about half the street and work is still in progress. It is taking a long time and is extremely disruptive. In addition to the disruption, people are finding it difficult to reach the street. Having blocked off the bottom half, cars can get nowhere near it.

The local authority then decided to charge for car parking, which has resulted in a dramatic loss of business to many shops in the street. Even the bank told me that its custom was down by 20 per cent., and the last place

Column 983

to which one stops going is the money shop, because that is where one gets money out, not where one pays it in. Such disruption can have a dramatic effect on the turnover and business viability of many small businesses. Again, although those companies and small traders received a business rate reduction, it was massively insufficient to cover the loss in trade.

Three solutions are possible. The first is intervention by the Department of Transport in some of those local road projects. Secondly, a mandatory right of compensation could be built into the contract for such works. I know that those two matters are outside the remit of my hon. Friend the Minister, but the third solution would be to look at business rate reductions to help companies that find themselves in the position that I have described.

6.55 pm

Mr. Robert B. Jones: With the leave of the House, may I say that this has been an interesting debate? Although I thought that such a complex issue would not provoke such detailed and thoughtful speeches, hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we have heard some very interesting contributions, often from hon. Members with a great knowledge of local authorities or industry and commerce in their area.

First, I redeem the promise that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith). Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), I believe that where there are questions, there should be answers, even if they are imperfect. My hon. Friend asked how many businesses currently in transition will benefit from relief next year. Currently, 362,000 rate payers benefit, 294,000 of whom are small businesses and 68,000 large ones. I am afraid that statistics are not held centrally which would enable us to say how many of those will benefit next year, but as those rate payers are some way from their full 1990 bills it is likely that the majority of them will benefit next year.

Many detailed points have been made, but I shall address some of the points of principle first. The fundamental point is whether we should have business rates at all. Although the Labour party seems to be broadly in accord with the Government on that matter, a difference of opinion was expressed by a Liberal Democrat Member. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) argued for site value taxation. I hope that I was able to clear up that point by reminding him, as he evidently had not had an opportunity to study his party policy, that that policy was defeated at the Liberal Democrat party conference, no doubt for the reasons that were ably put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) as well as by the professional bodies that he quoted.

The second issue of principle is whether, if we are to have business rates, there should be revaluations. Although revaluations are periodic and therefore, in a sense, a snapshot, they are also a kaleidoscopic picture. Even within sectors such as shops, or geographical areas like London or the south-west, circumstances change. The desirability of a corner shop may decrease and the desirability of an out-of-town shopping centre may increase, or at some stage the opposite may occur. It is therefore necessary to re-examine from time to time the rents in those areas and therefore the rates, which

Column 984

automatically follow as night follows day. So no one can reasonably argue that revaluations should not take place from time to time. Labour Members then argued about whether those taxes should be collected entirely and spent by local authorities. The answer is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We all know from the past that many Labour authorities simply held business rate payers to ransom using the old system. It is therefore important, if we believe in a one-nation approach, as I certainly do, to ensure that businesses are not held to ransom by their Labour-controlled local authorities. The hon. Member for Attercliffe accepted the case for a redistribution mechanism, even without a localised business rate. The third question is, should we have a transitional system? I think that everyone has agreed with that, and I do not propose to discuss it further.

That leaves the terms. I want to discuss, in my final remarks, the proposals of the hon. Member for Attercliffe that the cost should fall on all business ratepayers, not on the beneficiaries. The consequence would be that some of those who stand to gain would be made losers and some of those who are losers would be made even greater losers. There is no sense in that. It appears to me, therefore, that the Government have got it right in expecting the biggest gainers to pay part of the cost, with the Exchequer paying more than £500 million as well.

It is because I think that we have got it right that I have pleasure in commending the orders to the House.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Order [9 December].

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Non-Domestic Rating (Chargeable Amounts) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.--[ Mr. Robert B. Jones .]


That the draft Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]


That the draft Railways (Rateable Values) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]


That the draft British Waterways Board and Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]


That the draft Electricity Supply Industry (Rateable Values) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]


That the draft Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]


That the draft British Gas plc (Rateable Values) Order 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]

Column 985


[ Relevant documents: European Community Documents Nos. 10648/94 relating to guide prices for fishery products 1995, 7831/94 relating to passive gear, 8612/94 relating to the crisis in the fishing industry, 8187/94 relating to European aquaculture research, 9837/94 relating to the common organisation of the market in fishery products and aquaculture, 10082/94 and an unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum, dated 17th November 1994 relating to two amendments to the 1994 Total Allowable Catches and quotas, 9215/94 relating to the financing of health inspections, 9466/94 and 9467/94 relating to European Community and Greenland fisheries, 10991/94 relating to an amendment to the Technical Conservation Regulation, and the second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum 9285/93 relating to fishing licences. ]

7 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8th December 1994, relating to the renewal of fishing arrangements for vessels from European Community countries other than Spain and Portugal in Spanish and Portuguese waters, and for Portuguese vessels in the waters of those other countries and relating to European Community quotas for 1995 in the waters of Guyana; on 12th December 1994 relating to proposals for reciprocal access and 1995 quotas in the Baltic (with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Russia) and with the Faroe Islands; proposals allocating European Community quotas for 1995 in the waters of Iceland and Greenland, and a proposal fixing catch possibilities in 1995 for North West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation waters; and on 13th December 1994 relating to total allowable catches for 1995 and proposals fixing 1995 opportunities and reciprocal arrangements relating to Norway; and supports the Government's intention to negotiate the best possible fishing opportunities, and to protect the interests of British fishermen in these negotiations and in those providing for the integration of Spain and Portugal in the Common Fisheries Policy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I make a plea from the Chair that there are exactly three hours and there is specific interest in the debate that follows, so I hope that we shall have short speeches from the Back Benches and not too long a speech from the Front Benches.

Mr. Jack: This is indeed an important debate on matters connected with fisheries and the common fisheries policy. However, before turning to the substance of the debate, I am sure that the House will share with me our sorrow at the tragic loss of Skipper McLeman's life at sea. Sadly, his was the most recent of those events which bring home all too clearly to us an indication of the hazards that face our fishermen as they go about their lawful vocation.

I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment on a happier note if I take the opportunity of sending my best wishes and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) on the announcement of his engagement. That was a joyous piece of news. He is destined, after the cold comfort of the debate, for warmer climes and I think that the whole House will wish him well.

Column 986

This is a singularly important time for the British fishing industry. We shall be debating, among other things, the quantities of fish that we shall be able to catch next year, and the new arrangements for the full integration of Spain and Portugal into the common fisheries policy.

Among the many comments that I hear, it is sometimes said that the Government are in some way not fully committed to the future of the fishing industry. I shall rebut that line unequivocally.

There should be no doubt of the extent of the Government's commitment to the industry. We have had the challenge of bringing a better balance between, on the one hand, catching capacity of the fleet and, on the other, the quantity of fish available. To that end, we have a successful decommissioning scheme in its second of three years. We have already spent about £17 million and a further £8.3 million is available for 1995-96. In addition, we are investing nearly £3 million in grants for harbour developments to the benefit of the industry this year, and another £2 million is being spent on vessel safety grants.

It is often said that the question of enforcement and ensuring that people play by the rules is central to any policy such as the common fisheries policy. To that end, we are spending £17 million a year on air and sea surveillance to watch the activities of boats from all the members of the Community which fish in our waters. Our aim is to protect the long-term interests of the fish and our fishermen, and to ensure that the rules are observed and enforced.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): While the Minister is on the subject of enforcement, I wonder whether he may be in a position to give us a progress report on the negotiations with the Spanish Government about compensation due to Cornish boats for the acts of piracy that took place during the so-called tuna war in the summer?

Mr. Jack: May I say, in responding to the hon. Gentleman, that I shall be happy to give way, but I hope that the House will understand that that necessarily will mean that the time for other hon. Members will be affected.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's question directly, I have personally spoken to the Spanish Minister Atienza about that, making a plea to him to discuss that matter with his industry, because obviously there may be a joint endeavour to settle matters. That point was reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Minister when he recently visited Spain, and I have subsequently had a personal discussion with the Spanish ambassador on that subject. Matters remain under consideration by the Spanish industry. They are aware of the strength of feeling on that specific matter, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will continue to pursue that as diplomatically as I can.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Will not many of the aspects of policing and monitoring be deferred back to member states, and will we not be seeking Europe-wide monitoring and policing? The documentation that I have received says that member states will have responsibility,

Column 987

and Spain certainly has not been one of the countries in the European Union that has received praise for its monitoring of the position.

Mr. Jack: I am sure that later I shall mention Spain and Portugal, which are central to our considerations this evening, in relation to the question of enforcement. However, the hon. Lady will be aware that technical developments are currently being appraised. Satellite monitoring of vessels may, in the longer term, have great relevance to Europe-wide enforcement. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that the role of the coastal state is crucial in enforcement matters, and those are matters to which we attach much importance in terms of the money that we are spending.

Also in the long-term interests of the industry, we are spending £20 million a year on scientific research and assessment of our stocks, so that we can pursue policies designed to sustain the future of our industry. At the European level, we also benefit from a range of schemes, and soon many fishing communities will gain from the PESCA initiative. With a fund of about £28 million for the United Kingdom as a whole, that is designed to strengthen the onshore economy in respect of changes in the numbers of people employed in sea fishing.

In all that, the industry has also had its part to play. I place on record my appreciation of the industry's constructive contribution to the negotiations about Spain and Portugal. Its input has genuinely been much appreciated. That is a subject to which I shall return later.

I welcome the establishment of an industry task force on the difficult problem of fish marketing, which is to be led by the Sea Fish Industry Authority. That important initiative points the way forward to a means of helping the industry to increase its income. I look forward to the task force's report in the new year.

It is customary to hold fisheries debates at this time of the year, slightly before the December Council meeting of European Union Fishing Ministers. At that meeting, important decisions are generally taken on the total allowable catches, or TACs. Those deal with the situation for the forthcoming year and on the national quotas that are derived from them.

However, tonight's debate is on a wide motion, which will enable us to discuss all the common fisheries policy issues relevant to next week's Council. I recognise that many hon. Members will want to question me, and I shall be happy to give way in the terms that I have indicated.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he seemed about to leave the TACs to move on to other issues. Will he consider the position in the North sea coast of the Farne deeps and Fladdens nephrops fishery? If that is not separated off, many Northumbrian fishermen will not have the degree of access that they should have to a traditional fishery.

Mr. Jack: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and I understand its importance. He will be aware that, as a result of a representation that we received from north-east fishermen, we were able to intercede with the Commission to keep that nephrops fishery open--to argue effectively the case that the precautionary TAC had perhaps been set slightly too tightly--so that fishermen were able to complete their fishing. I shall certainly bear that point in mind. However, there are problems with the North sea stocks which I shall address in just a moment.

Column 988

It is always the case that, unfortunately, the annual cycle of scientific assessment of stocks and the Commission's analysis of what is proposed by way of TACs and quotas gives us little time for scrutiny before the December Council.

This year, however, we face an unprecedented situation. All the TAC and quota documentation in preparation for the December Council was understandably prepared by the Commission on the assumption that Norway would be joining the European Community. Following the referendum on 27 and 28 November, all the documents had to be adjusted and that delayed the provision of definitive texts. I regret the inconvenience which that must inevitably have caused the House. Agreement has now been reached with the Norwegians for those stocks in the North sea which are jointly managed with them. For the first three months of 1995 we shall work on the basis of the 1994 quotas. Decisions on those stocks for the whole of 1995 will be negotiated with Norway by the end of March 1995. The available quotas for the rest of the year will then be determined taking account of the TACs decided and the provisional allocations made for the first quarter. A regulation providing a legal base for all that is one of the documents that will be before the Council.

The December Council will also be asked to settle in the usual way those TACs and quotas which are not jointly managed. I draw the House's attention to the overall trend of scientists' advice on the stocks and to the Commission's proposals for western waters. Generally speaking, with a few exceptions, the scientists feel that stocks continue to be under considerable pressure. As a result, many of the TACs that the Commission is proposing for western waters are substantially lower than this year's levels. That affects a number of stocks of importance to our industry, including most of the important Irish sea stocks and the western hake.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford): Last year, the scientists said that there would be hardly any cod left in the Irish sea, yet this year there were extremely good catches. How could the scientists have been so out of touch with reality in the waters?

Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a perennial problem in dealing with fish and science. When two or three fishermen are gathered together, the chances are that they will always say that the scientists are wrong because they are comparing their individual catches with the position last year. The scientists carry out an exacting European-wide monitoring operation to assess the take of fish on particular points on the map and compare it with the data that they received last year.

Fishing science is well informed, but no fishery scientist would argue that it is a precise activity. That is why, when we go to the Council, we listen carefully to all views, including those from the industry. Those matters are and will be fully discussed with the fishermen and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will take their views into account. If he has a specific view from Northern Ireland, I shall be happy to include that in our assessment vis-a -vis our negotiations.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I have a specific view from the west of Scotland. The Clyde Fishermen's Association is particularly

Column 989

worried about the TACs for cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, hake, monkfish and megrim. The total allowable catch for some of those species is only 50 per cent. of what it was five years ago. That is decimating the fleet on the west coast. Many fishermen are decommissioning their boats. Girvan, a traditional fishing port, is now under a great deal of pressure. Will the Minister take account of all that and argue the case powerfully for an increase in the total allowable catch? I agree with the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor)--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House is most interested in who the hon. Gentleman agrees with, but he has already asked a question.

Mr. Jack: The hon. Gentleman tempts me to suggest that the solution to all fishing problems for this Minister would be to be able to re-enact the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Unfortunately, I am not endowed with those powers.

We examine all the arguments carefully. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point that when scientists suggest large cuts in particular quotas, in business terms that can be difficult for hard-pressed fishermen. I hope that he will understand that it would be folly not to take into account what the scientists say in reaching a view. It is all very well the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, but if we do not, as I shall point out in a moment, there can be disastrous results if a whole fishery collapses.

It would be folly and unwise if we did not heed what the scientists say. On the other hand, if there is good hard evidence so to do, we challenge the figures that are put forward and I shall obviously take his remarks into account at the Council next week.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): Pursuant to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and the reply he received, cod catches in Northern Ireland ports have been the best throughout the season of 1994, despite the 1991 prediction by scientists that they would be almost non-existent. Will the Minister take it on board that the quantity, size and all the attributes of the cod show that the scientists were wrong? When will he take cognisance of the practical experience of the fishermen against the theoretical evidence from the scientists?

Mr. Jack: Fishermen are involved in the discussion assessing the scientists' evidence. It is not done between scientists and fishery Ministers. Real fishermen are involved in assessing the calculations and I have certainly arranged for fishermen to go to our fisheries laboratory at Lowestoft to see exactly how the work is done and how the calculations are made. If the hon. Gentleman would like to go there I should be happy to arrange a day trip for him.

Mrs. Ewing: Is the evidence of the fishermen given equal weight with that of the scientists?

Mr. Jack: All measures are taken fully into account, but we are aware of the real impact that the announcement of any change in TACs and quotas have on fishermen and their livelihoods. I assure the hon. Lady that we consider those matters very carefully when we argue our case.

Column 990

As I said a moment ago, it would be folly to ignore completely the advice of the scientists. A fishery off the east coast of Canada delivered something like 300,000 tonnes of cod catch a year and, because people ignored good advice on conservation of the stock, it collapsed with the loss of 20,000 jobs. It would be folly not to listen to scientists when taking these matters into account. We shall be negotiating within the hard reality of the state of the stocks to ensure the best available fishing opportunities for fishermen around our shores.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke): What disturbs the industry so much are the sudden changes imposed on it. The fact that the proposed TAC for western hake is to be cut by 45 per cent. means that it is difficult for fishermen to plan. If we are constantly getting scientific advice, why do we have these sudden changes rather than perhaps a gradual change? Can the scientists not warn that there is likely to be a problem in the future so that small reductions in TACs could be implemented rather than the large cuts now being proposed?

Mr. Jack: It is fair to say that when we ask scientists--that is why it is right that politicians and others can challenge their findings--they are sometimes hard-pressed to provide a full explanation because what occurs can defy logic. They can only report their findings. They are measuring the position this year compared with what they found last year. Their work is based partly on their own observations at sea and partly on their analysis of the landings of fishermen. They also take into account the requirements and, using all that information, they calculate the right level of fishing effort to maintain a proper spawning stock biomass.

For all those reasons, including an assessment of the recruitment into a particular fishery, there can be some large fluctuations. These are the recommendations of scientists and, as I said to the hon. Lady a moment ago, we take into account other views. For example, I have received individual representations from fishermen about the hake stock. We will take them into account, and no doubt there will be quite a debate on that subject in the Fisheries Council. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Pembroke. The other major item on the agenda for the Fisheries Council next week is the integration of Spain and Portugal into the common fisheries policy. I hope that the House will bear with me if I explain how that matter has developed.

Spain joined the Community in 1986 with a big fleet of fishing vessels, but with strict limits imposed on where they could go and how many boats could be on the fisheries at any one time. Those rules put limits on Spain and Portugal which do not apply to other member states. They also provided that the Irish box arrangement would end on 1 January 1996 and that there would be a review of all the arrangements before that. As a result of the review in April this year, the Council agreed the sensible guidelines to be applied when Spain and Portugal are integrated into the common fisheries policy. The timetable for concluding agreement on the arrangements was established in the enlargement negotiations and was reconfirmed by the European Council in Essen last

Column 991

weekend. That means that future arrangements for Spanish and Portuguese integration into the common fisheries policy need to be settled by the end of this year.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford): Is there any truth in what is being said: that Spain wants access to western waters before it will agree to an enlargement of the European Union? If there is any truth in that, has a counter-arrangement been made so that Spain will be allowed into the western waters only when it has a better attitude towards its border with Gibraltar?

Mr. Jack: The timetabling arrangements for Spain were initially secured in the context of the EFTAn enlargement negotiations. During those negotiations, Spain secured language in the final text which indicated that the Fisheries Council should come to a conclusion on matters connected with the successor arrangement by the end of this year. I think that the remarks on the subject of Gibraltar are more appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I shall certainly undertake to draw his attention to my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Ewing: Will the Minister give way?

Next Section

  Home Page