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Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth): There is no doubt that the prospect of the Fisheries Council next week, and in particular the argument over Spain and Portugal, is dominating the debate, Anybody who is involved in the fishing industry cannot but deplore the way in which the common fisheries policy has been implemented. For those of us who are Euro- sceptics, the CFP illustrates the bureaucracy, inefficiency and impracticality of so much that is wrong in Brussels. The whole House must be behind the Minister in the difficult task which he faces next week in Brussels. I know that he carries with him the support of the industry, which has been encouraged by the way in which he has championed its cause this year.
I should like to refer to one or two detailed matters, including medicine chests. I was amazed to hear the suggestion that expensive medicine chests should be carried on all fishing vessels. It makes sense that there should be some provision for first aid, but expensive chests with equipment which requires a highly skilled person to operate it are wholly inappropriate, especially on smaller vessels. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to have a word with his colleagues at the Department of Transport.
I wish to refer in particular to three matters relating to the north-east coast; the first being the cost of salmon licences. I and others have warned that, as the number of
Column 1016licences falls, there will be a danger that the National Rivers Authority will seek to recover its costs by increasing the cost of the remaining licences. That is what is happening now, and there is a danger that, as the number of licences falls further, we shall see an even greater increase in costs. I urge my hon. Friend to look into the matter, because it is simply not on that the whole of the costs should fall on an ever-decreasing numbers of licence holders. The second matter relating to the north-east is the prawn fishing industry. The Minister will remember that, earlier this year, large catches in the Fladden field off Scotland led to the quota being practically exhausted before the north-east coast fisheries started--as they traditionally do--in the autumn. As a result, we faced draconian cuts in the quota and the likelihood that the industry would be banned completely in a short period of time. That would have been disastrous for local fishermen, whose livelihoods depend very much on the prawn fishing at the end of the year.
With the North Shields fishermen, I went to see my hon. Friend the Minister and urged him to take the case to Brussels. We are grateful to him for the way in which he acted so speedily and effectively. He won the argument in Brussels, and there was a significant increase in the quota. My hon. Friend arranged, at my request, for the local fishermen to visit the research establishment at Lowestoft, and he referred to the establishment there in his opening remarks. That was, I believe, the first meeting of its kind, and it was described to me as being constructive and helpful. There may be a lesson there for the future.
It is clearly wrong that there should be the present system of one quota for prawns. We do not want to see the same thing occurring next year. The total quota could again be used up by earlier fishing in the Fladden field and fishermen from North Shields and other north-east ports will find that the quota has been exhausted before their season starts. I urge my hon. Friend to look at that issue in the new year to prevent the same crisis from arising in 1995. Prawns, by their very nature, do not migrate far, so there can be no real suggestion that catching them in the Fladden field affects the prawn stocks elsewhere. It was just as our fishermen prepared for their catching season that the quota ran out this year. I urge the Minister to take up that issue in the new year. I pay tribute to the leaders of the fishing industry of the north-east coast, who have put their case sensibly. Throughout the year, they practised restraint in the interests of the long-term preservation of that vital prawn stock.
My third concern about North Shields is the future of the quay and the auction market which, under European regulations, were threatened with closure if the facilities were not revitalised. I might add that I am one of those who is sceptical about how far those regulations are enforced in some southern European countries.
North Shields was facing a serious problem, because the fish harbour and the quay which were run by the port of Tyne were losing a great deal of money. The urban development corporation has put some money on the table, however, and as a result of initiatives by the local fishing industry, a development company was formed with Jeremy Pritchard as its chief executive to plan and implement the necessary works. I pay tribute to him and
Column 1017to his team for the success that they have had in facing up to the challenges. Money for improvements has also been provided by the port authority.
I am grateful to the Minister for his encouragement and support of the improvements in North Shields. That came to a head with the recent issue of a grant approval. We are grateful for that because it will mean an assured future for the industry, which would otherwise have faced absolute disaster.
On behalf of North Shields, I thank the Minister for what he has done to help us and I wish him well in the difficult task that he faces next week.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): I hope that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) will forgive me if I do not discuss the details of the north-east fishery. I should like to pick up on perhaps the one bright thing that the Minister of State said, by congratulating the Under- Secretary of State for Scotland on his engagement. I wish him and his future wife every happiness. The debate is inevitably dominated by the question of the consequences of Spanish and Portuguese accession. It has been said that it is perhaps the most important negotiation that has taken place since the common fisheries policy was originally negotiated. Given that I shall make a short speech, I will not mention days at sea and decommissioning, but my views on that, and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, are well known to the House.
As has already been aired in the debate, part of the reason why the Minister and the Government find themselves in such a complex negotiating position is that, arguably, the pass was sold earlier on when accelerated full access for Spain and Portugal in 1996 rather than 2002 was conceded. It is clear that the arrangements relating to the Irish box were subject to review and were in place initially only until 31 December 1995.
I took careful note when the Minister suggested--I hope he will forgive me if I do not use his precise words--that the Legal Committee's advice was that the European Union could look to full Spanish and Portuguese accession after 1996. It could equally have been said, however, that that need not happen until 2002. I do not believe that there was any compulsion in the terms of the treaty for that to happen. I understand that it was felt that different arrangements should not be offered to member states who joined before 1996, then to Norway, Sweden and Finland and, yet again, to Spain and Portugal. It would appear that the fundamental decision was taken in that committee, but as we approach next week's negotiations, all that is water under the bridge. We should not, however, lose sight of the background to those negotiations.
It would be idle to pretend that the Minister and his colleagues will have an easy time next week. It would also be unfair if the Opposition parties did not acknowledge the efforts that the Minister has made to date. He has already succeeded in rebuffing the first set of overly bureaucratic proposals. He has worked closely with the industry on that issue. I am also aware that he is engaged in a number of bilateral discussions with other member states to try to bring them around to appreciating the British point of view. He deserves our support for that.
Column 1018There is no need to rehearse all the details of the case that has been put by the British fishing industry, many of which have been aired tonight. I shall pick out some of the key points. All hon. Members are concerned about the future of the Irish box, which, according to the framework regulations, was accepted as a biologically sensitive zone. That being the case, it begs the fundamental question of why in the world we want to allow extra pressure on stocks in that box.
The Minister said that he would try to ensure that any Spanish access did not impinge on those who have traditionally fished those waters. Many would agree with that sentiment, including not just those who fish area VII a but those who fish areas g and f. I think that I have got those right. If Spain is allowed greater access to the box, it will be difficult to turn that sentiment into a reality. I accept that it would be daft if the Minister revealed his negotiating hand to the House, just before those negotiations, but I would be interested to know whether he thinks that it would be possible to allow Spanish access while safeguarding the interests of those who have traditionally fished in the box. If Spanish vessels are to enter and there is to be no overall increase in effort, the equation appears impossible to resolve. Will the Government assure us that they have some proposals that could help to resolve it? I am informed that a proposal may be put forward for discussion about a specific number of Spanish vessels in 1996-97, without mentioning the years thereafter. Does that imply a further review of the Irish box after 1997?
My concerns about not merely area VII a but areas VII f and g, and area VI a off the west coast of Scotland, are underlined when we consider the more traditional subject matter of these Christmas debates--the forthcoming total allowable catch regulations--and the fact that some critical decisions remain to be made about next year's TACs in those areas. Those concerns include the dramatic reduction proposed for hake in the channel and western approaches, and a 41 per cent. reduction in the cod quota in the Irish sea. Successive reductions in TACs of cod, haddock, whiting and saithe off the west coast of Scotland amount to some 50 per cent. over five years. The current proposals will result in swingeing reductions in TACs of saithe.
One has only to listen to what cuts are proposed to realise how vulnerable the stocks in those areas already are. That fact forms part of the background to the subject that we are discussing--access for Spanish vessels. Even if Spanish access were not an issue, we would still ask the Government to acknowledge the serious problem of the proposed TACs in all those areas and others, and I should be interested to learn how the Government intend to deal with the specific problem of TACs.
We support the aim--which the industry has made clear and which the Government have acknowledged--that existing fishing opportunities for British vessels should be safeguarded. It would be the ultimate tragedy and, if it were not so sad, almost a farce, if any proposal so constrained British effort that we could not fish our existing quotas. I am sure that Ministers will do their upmost to avoid such an outcome.
We also believe that the negotiations should not be used as a back-door means of agreeing a European days-at-sea restriction, or the like. Above all, we emphasise the industry's deep-seated and genuine anxiety that Spanish
Column 1019access to our waters be contained. We may all be asking for the circle to be squared, and various proposals will doubtless be made on how that might happen.
Reference lists of vessels might be the way forward, but that solution would produce its own problems. If we allow member states to compile reference lists, can we be sure what the Spaniards would put on those lists? Equally, we might feel that it is in our interests to compile our own national reference list. I do not pretend that such a solution would be easy. Our distrust of how the Spaniards might go about drawing up such a list is an important consideration to take into account in all those negotiations. Not just historical record but, as the Labour party's amendment says, entitlement--all British vessels are entitled to fish in those waters--may be a means of legitimately limiting Spanish vessels while not straying down the path of national discrimination.
Another point which Ministers will want to recognise is that next week is not necessarily the end of the road. Some people are concerned that an overall framework is all that will be agreed next week and that the detail will be left for the Commission's management committee to fill in. That sets many alarm bells ringing. The House wants to be satisfied that the Minister will do everything possible to tie down as much as possible of the detail next week, and that he will not allow some loose ends to remain, under which many unacceptable things could crawl in or crawl out--I am not sure which--and eventually appear in a final package.
I have mentioned suspicion and mistrust; those feelings pervade the entire issue. Mistrust was generated by the statement of Prime Minister Gonzalez that he got everything that he wanted. I accept the Minister's word that, as far as he and the British Government are concerned, no deal was done at Essen to which the British Government were party. I am afraid that suspicions have been roused as a result of what Prime Minister Gonzalez said, and I sincerely hope that the British Government will not be taken off balance next week if, out of a hat, some deal is produced which was cobbled together by the presidency and the Spaniards behind our back. Perhaps, instead of urging other Prime Ministers to take guide dogs to their respective Parliaments, our Prime Minister should take sniffer dogs to European Council meetings, to ensure that nothing is being hatched behind his back.
A mistrust of Spanish fishermen is also at the heart of the issue. In one sense, that need not cause any problem, because I doubt that there would be much to worry about, with relative stability agreed as a fundamental principle, if there was effective monitoring and a policing regime that worked. However, we know that that is simply not the case, and that judgment is based on both history and experience. In The Herald of Monday 12 December 1994, Mr. Murray Ritchie says:
"A long catalogue of misdemeanours by the Spanish skippers has been built up by the Irish over the years. Some of the more obvious Spanish practices were the obvious one of catching too many fish, often the wrong ones, using illegally sized mesh and too large nets, hiding catches in ships with secret freezer compartments, overstaying time limits in the fishing grounds, and sometimes fishing the wrong grounds."
Indeed, a fisherman suggested to me earlier today that the Spaniards could make a TAC last for 100 years.
That is the depth of the mistrust that exists, and that is why we believe, and I think that the whole House believes, that policing measures are essential. We have
Column 1020not heard enough in the debate about the specific monitoring and policing measures that are proposed, but they must be of the highest standard and done multi-laterally if any deal, whether or not it is initially thought to be good, is to command confidence and support throughout the industry.
That is why, of all the objectives sought by the fishing industry, limitations on Spanish effort is possibly the most important goal. The Spaniards cannot argue that they have not done well out of the CFP. It has already been said by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that they are building an £80 million investment in new boats, some of which includes European Union money. A third of the CFP budget spent on international fishing agreements is spent on that, so Spain takes the lion's share of that budget.
Our anxiety today is not so much about long-distance fleets or big business boats, but is focused on our local fisheries--on boats that represent a family's investment, on fishermen for whom the waters around their shores have been their source of a living for generations, and on communities whose vitality depends on a healthy fishing industry. Those are important considerations for the CFP to take into account. Conservation of stocks in areas such as the Irish box, the western approaches and west of Scotland is vital, because they represent the source of economic health for those communities for years to come.
To date, the Minister has shown that he understands how crucial those decisions will be for the industry. When my right hon. and hon. Friends cast their votes tonight, we shall want to send a message, not so much to the Minister but to his colleagues in the Council, so that they know that they will be dealing with a Minister who has come from, and will ultimately have to answer again to, a Parliament that is not prepared to accept that our country's fishing industry can be tossed aside like the loose change from some big deal.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): Not for the first time, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). He is a fair and just man and puts his case with absolute sincerity. Like everybody else who has spoken tonight, he rightly paid tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. May I add my word of praise, particularly in light of what I might say later?
I have always found my hon. Friend to have a completely open door. Only last week, I took Mr. Michael Townsend, the chief executive of the Cornish fish producers organisation, to meet him for a full discussion about these matters and many others. It was the latest in a long line of meetings and I am sure that that is the experience of many hon. Members in the Chamber tonight.
I also praise him for the way in which he has genuinely listened to the views of the industry and tried to meet them. I echo the hope, expressed by many hon. Members, that he will implement some of the proposals from the industry. Like others, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), I hope that he will abandon the wretched days at sea regime and not go to the lengths of a European Court case. He has transformed the relationship between the Government and the fishing industry in these difficult times, but the crunch is about to come, and I suspect that it will be next week.
Column 1021My hon. Friends the Members for Cornwall, South-East and for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) and I have tabled an amendment. First, let me make it quite clear that there is a misprint in it. When it refers to "areas VII a, b and g" it should refer to "areas VII a, f and g". I suspect that the misprint is due to my own rotten writing in submitting this amendment.
My task in speaking to the amendment is made much easier by the splendid speech of my senior colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East who has spoken for the three Conservative Members and, I suspect, for all Members representing Cornwall, as we have an united aim in this matter. I am glad to see the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) nodding in agreement.
Our aim is same as that of hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom. We are doing our utmost to keep the Spanish out of the waters which our fishermen fish on a traditional basis and on which the Spanish have no great historic track record. We owe it to our fishermen to take that stand. More particularly, my hon. Friend the Minister owes it to our fishermen also to take that stand. We are in a difficulty here tonight which, if we were honest, we would all acknowledge. We cannot determine what will happen in that vital Fisheries Council on Monday and Tuesday.
As we speak, we do not know what will be the exact terms of the German presidency compromise that will be laid on the table when the meeting starts on Monday. We all know bits of various drafts of compromises that have been floating around, but we do not know the final document that will spark off the debate in the Council. We certainly do not know how the debate and the negotiations will develop. No one here tonight can say what my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be faced with at the end of those days of negotiations. My hon. Friends and I understand why our amendment has not been selected. We would have loved to have had it selected so that we could vote on it--if necessary against the Government--to show where we stand. In our amendment we have tried to draw a bottom line and to say how we will judge the outcome of the negotiations. We have served clear and specific notice on my hon. Friend. No doubt he thinks that I pressed him rather hard this evening when the debate started, to try to pin him down in responding to the basic demands that we have encapsulated in the amendment.
I must tell my hon. Friend that I shall have no hesitation in speaking out if he votes for an agreement that does not deliver those demands. I have said to him--he will not mind me saying this--and to my right hon. Friend the Minister on a number of occasions, "Look, if the ultimate deal that comes out of those negotiations seriously damages the British fishing industry, particularly the fishing industry of the south-west, your clear duty is to vote against it." I am sure that that is the message that the House would want to leave with my hon. Friend as he sets out to Brussels.
I know, of course, that because the issue will be decided on the basis of qualified majority voting my hon. Friend will almost certainly be voted down, but I know that I speak for the many fishermen who contacted me, and no
Column 1022doubt my hon. Friends on both sides of the Chamber. They would rather see my hon. Friend voted down honourably, saying that we cannot go along with a deal that does real damage to our fishing industry. I beg of him and warn him not to go along with a compromise that seriously damages our fishing industry. I and my hon. Friends have set him very clear and specific targets, which we want to see him deliver. If he cannot deliver, he should vote against any deal that is done.
I shall now deal with the Opposition amendment. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) said with a straight face, "Well, of course, there are no party politics in this. We have at heart the genuine interests of the fishing industry." Well, looking around the Chamber, one can judge the support or otherwise that the hon. Gentleman has for that proposition. I am not judging this on his attitude, because he has a genuine interest in fishing, and the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has a deep interest. I pay tribute to both of them.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), in his remarks on the radio, made no bones about the matter, and said quite clearly that what this is about is voting the Government down, to inflict another defeat on the Government.
Mr. Harris: To ensnare the Government, as my hon. Friend says. It was a silly thing for the hon. Member for Ashfield to say, because it made it difficult and virtually impossible for my hon. Friends--who do not quarrel with many of the sentiments contained in it--to vote for the Opposition's amendment. Therefore, the difficult decision that I and my hon. Friends--particularly those who represent constituencies in Cornwall-- have is over what to do. Do we abstain on this important matter or do we back my hon. Friend the Minister as he goes into the negotiations? No doubt I could court popularity in my constituency, as could my hon. Friends in their constituencies, by saying, "Yes, we will be big boat boys and will not support the Government tonight." Indeed, we have voted against the Government on many occasions on fishing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne has said before.
I made up my mind during the course of the debate only after hearing my hon. Friend the Minister. I am going to back him, but I do so on the basis of the warning that I have clearly given him verbally tonight, and more importantly the warning that is set out, without fudge, in the amendment that stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne and for Cornwall, South-East. That is the basis on which I shall judge his action. I will back him and I hope that others will, too, because despite what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said in his concluding remarks, it is important that the House, which has paid proper tribute to my hon. Friend, backs him as he goes into the negotiations. That will be my position on the main issue. I want to mention my concerns about the other major issues that have been virtually obscured tonight because of our quite proper concentration on the important matter of Spanish accession, and that is the total allowable catches and the quotas that will be before the Council. I echo all that has been said on that tonight. I am horrified at the proposal to reduce the plaice quota in the North sea by 47 per cent. I am grateful for the support of the hon.
Column 1023Member for North Cornwall on that issue. That reduction would have a potential knock-on effect in the waters of the south-west in that it could inhibit the ability to do the swaps on which we depend to gain access to other species.
I am even more disturbed by the proposed 45 per cent. reduction in western hake. Hake features largely in these debates. Such a reduction, on top of everything else, would be devastating for the industry in the south-west, as would be the proposed reduction of 14 per cent. in the monkfish allocation. I believe that the way forward on hake would be to increase the mesh size. I believe that there is agreement about that on both sides of the House. If we did that, the biomass would increase and improve and the proposed draconian reductions would become unnecessary.
I reiterate the warning that I have given to my hon. Friend the Minister. However, I salute him for all that he has done. We are putting him on trust and he must deliver.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the few minutes that will enable me to convey to the House the grave concerns of the Northern Ireland fishing industry. It is ironic that at a time when we want to wish people prosperity in the new year, this debate is bringing despair to the fishing industry. Time will not allow me to develop many of the real points that I want to make, but I want to add my voice to that of those who have already eloquently addressed the problems of the Spanish and Portuguese accession.
It is ironic that we can stand on the beaches of Northern Ireland and watch the fishing boats being burned when we know that in 1996 and 1997 those boats will be replaced not by boats from Northern Ireland but by new boats from Spain and Portugal. That is difficult to take.
We have heard during the debate that there is no easy answer. My Northern Ireland colleagues and I want to assure the Minister that we would strongly support him in not agreeing to the accession terms that are already on the table, particularly in terms of the numbers--23 additional vessels in 1996 and 37 additional vessels in 1997.
The Minister should go back to the opening statement made by the German presidency in respect of the fishing industry. It said quite categorically that there should be
"no increase in fishing effort."
There is a contradiction here. One cannot introduce additional fishing vessels without, at the same time, increasing the fishing endeavour. Either they take more and we get less or they do not come at all. The latter must be enforced.
I do not believe that the self-monitoring system mentioned by the Minister can be imposed on the European states. That is not acceptable. The Minister referred twice in his opening remarks to the light touch that would be involved in the control of the enforcements. I do not understand that. We have all said that that is one of the most fundamental issues facing the fishing industry, not least the fishing industry in both the north and south of Ireland. I am sure that the Minister will find a ready ally in the Republic of Ireland in this matter, at least in the Council of Ministers. It is essential to note that fishing is the sole support of these communities in Northern Ireland. No alternative employment or industrial sector exists.
Column 1024If the fishing sector collapses, the community collapses--it is as serious as that. It is a matter of life and death. There is nothing else there for us. If the Minister loses in Brussels, those communities are condemned. It is as simple as that. That is the stark choice that the Minister must make. I know that the Minister has made valiant efforts in the past, as has Baroness Denton of Wakefield, who represents the Government in the other place on Northern Ireland matters. I should like to pay tribute both to him and to the noble Lady for their efforts.
On herring fishing, will the Minister renegotiate the closing date--I think that it is 21 September--for a resolution of that famous problem involving the Douglas bank? People in the fishing sector tell us clearly that the patterns of spawning and migration have changed dramatically since 1985. Will he endeavour to do something about that?
Because of the lack of time, I can refer only to cod quotas in area VII a, and only briefly. The fishing sector has demonstrated in 1994 that there is a reasonable supply of good-quality fish. The spawning is right. The number of smaller fish is right. All the 1991 predictions of the scientific voices are out of order and incorrect. The theory has been proved wrong by practice.
Will the Minister listen a wee bit more to the fishermen, who know what is happening in their sector, who see the physical evidence of their own efforts, which are better than the paper efforts of the scientists? Those fishermen take more account than scientists of reality in respect of not only cod but the other catches to which reference has been made.
Time prevents me from making further comments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) referred to the Hague preference. You can take that as read, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister will have the total support of fishing organisations and fishermen in Northern Ireland if he goes in strong with all guns blazing in Brussels--figuratively speaking, of course, because we are now a peaceful society in Northern ireland--and if he does not yield in any single way to terms that will destroy our communities. 9.32 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney): If it were not so serious, we could regard the annual fisheries debate in December as the start of the pantomime season. It has all the good old ingredients of a familiar plot, in this case, written about a sector that is choking under more regulation than the nuclear industry. It has some old favourites such as the tie worn by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and old certainties such as the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) is always called before me. Some things do change, however. The big names on the Front Benches change from time to time, but hon. Members in the chorus on the Back Benches have the same script.
My hon. Friend the Minister has done a good job since he took up the poisoned chalice. I agree that it is almost impossible to keep such a diverse sector totally happy, to keep Conservative Back Benchers happy, to keep moving with everything that was piled on Minister's plate when he took over and to keep negotiating in what is allegedly a European Union with so- called partners who tolerate our voices around the table so that they can get their hands into our wallets.
Column 1025I should like to have been able to support the amendment calling for the United Kingdom's removal from the common fisheries policy to regain the sovereignty of our sea. That amendment is tabled in the names of my hon. Friends, who are described by the Government as the "unwhipped Conservative group." My hon. Friend the Minister dismissed the amendment as irrelevant because the common fisheries policy is a sacred cow. None of us would start with that policy, however. We have a messy structure of restrictions, with more tinkerings, changes, bodges and bizarre attachment than anything Heath Robinson could have dreamed of. Instead of saying, "It has failed, let us scrap it," we just add more to it ever more desperately. The pile of papers in many languages from the Vote Office which accompanies the debate demonstrates the absurdity of it. It becomes more like Kafka every day.
Bearing in mind the scale and size of the industry, the diversity of the seas around this country and the historical, cultural and psychological importance of fishing in this still maritime-minded nation, if we could start again we surely would not start with a concept that treats the seas as a common resource open to all, regardless of how much seaboard each member state has.
My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench receive advice from officials that the policy cannot be scrapped. They would advise that, would they not? A Member of the European Parliament once told me that if we did not have the common fisheries policy, we would have to invent it. That person is no longer an MEP.
When we talk of the CFP, we should be sure of what we are talking about. The CFP is not the 1983 agreement, which was an agreement of derogation involving mile limits, historic rights, percentages of total allowable catches and relative stability. The CFP is the basic agreement of 1972, which expires at the end of 2002. On 1 January 2003 everything reverts to the 1972 agreement, in which all Community vessels shall have free access to waters falling under the sovereignty of or within the jurisdiction of member states. Of course, some amendments have been made. The Maastricht treaty has altered the definition of sovereignty and other countries have lined up to join the Community.
There has been much debate about the Spanish and the Portuguese. We know that the Spanish fleet is more than half the size of the European Union's fleet. The former East German fleet has apparently been absorbed. How large is the Polish fleet? That is a consideration if Poland comes into the EU. How big does everything get? There has been any amount of wringing of hands in the quarters of some Brussels apologists because the Norwegians have "failed" to vote to enter the Union. They have more sense than to do so. The Norwegian fishermen, especially, have more sense.
As there is to be delay in the introduction of the 1995 TACs, we have a golden chance to push for a new start. The proposals to reduce the plaice TAC by 47 per cent. and the sole TAC by 29 per cent. are alarming. We know
Column 1026that the scientists were in error over the quantity of stocks. No one doubts that scientific advice must inform quotas, but how are errors put right? Reference has rightly been made to the Ministry's laboratory at Lowestoft and the excellence of its scientific advice, but how are mistakes put right?
No one doubts the acceptance of a downturn in the plaice quota, but a reduction of the proposed magnitude defies belief. Lowestoft is the largest plaice port in England, but the quota is not always taken up. Restrictions mean that there are not enough boats to catch it. That is when swaps come in, mainly with Holland. There needs to be more flexibility within the system, more recognition of the effect of small boats and large boats and more recognition of the distorting effect of sector and non-sector differentials. There must be more recognition of the range of fishing activity from the north to the south of the North sea.
Similarly, there needs to be more recognition of the possibilities of swapping within United Kingdom areas before going outside them. Let us have more recognition of the point at which restrictions make earning a living impossible. There must be recognition of the unfairness of a policy that prohibits beam trawling in the plaice box off the Dutch coast, and of the difficulties of enforcement. One approach is to close the seas completely for certain periods for every boat, but let us compensate fishermen with a net aside to pay for it.
I am sorry that the reprieve that the court action on days-at-sea restrictions has given us has not been used to test the industry's solutions to the problem. We could have seen over the past 12 months if its ideas reduced effort, contributed to conservation and were workable, enforceable and fair. There seems sometimes to be a terrible desire on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to produce bureaucratic decisions from desks rather than finding practical answers from the deck of a boat or on the market floor.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): The debate is perhaps one of the most important that we have had on fishing since the common fisheries policy was agreed in 1983. The Minister has told us that he does not want to put his cards on the table before negotiations take place. That is fair and understandable because he has to obtain the best deal possible, but it is fair and understandable also that the Minister should make it clear publicly what the bottom line is when it comes to a deal. It should be that we must recognise historical track records. We must recognise also that the Minister was wrong when he said that we cannot link days at sea with the issue that is before us. The Minister well knows that that is one of the issues that has been debated in terms of effort control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) talked about the importance of fishing to his community and to many others. We heard the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. O'Grady) speak of the importance of the issue that we are debating to his community in Northern Ireland. Many fishing communities have no alternative employment. We have heard about the importance of quotas to Northern Ireland fishing communities, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).
Column 1027Let me say a little about total allowable catches. The debate has rightly been dominated by the accession issue, but there are other important issues that have an impact on the fishing industry, such as the severe cuts in North sea plaice and sole. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to those. Hake cuts have also been mentioned. The Spanish fish for hake in the bay of Biscay with mesh sizes of 55 mm, while in our waters we use mesh sizes of between 80 mm and 90 mm and square mesh panels of 80 mm. Many of us are disappointed that square mesh panels have not been introduced in the other European Community fishing nations.
As has been pointed out, if the Spanish and Portuguese gain access to the waters under the agreement, they can switch to non-quota stock species. The south-west has been affected by the current pressure exerted on stocks of sea bass by the French, which is causing great concern. Cornish Members will have seen an excellent letter from the Cornish branch of the National Federation of Sea Anglers, which demonstrated that the issue not only affects commercial fishermen but goes a good deal further.
There is also the issue of area VI, the west coast of Scotland, where advisory TACs have been applied. There is concern about the scale of the cuts in area VI, which other hon. Members have mentioned, and the fact that the TACs have been applied despite the comparative shortage of accurate scientific data. I hope that the Minister will consider the impact that that is having.
There have been some welcome increases in TACs, particularly the North sea nephrops quota, which has increased by 35 per cent. I raised the issue with the Minister in a written question on 24 October; it had been raised with me by Mr. Harold Musgrave of Maryport, a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Mr. Musgrave, who operates from South Shields, will be particularly pleased that the quota for next year has been increased. I hope that the same will apply to other quotas. Mr. Musgrave and many other people have mentioned the need to consider a separate quota for Fladden bank. That would help quota management. They have also referred to an issue that I have raised with the Minister before- -the need to ban twin prawn trawls. There is a voluntary ban on such trawls for boats operating out of South Shields, which has been very successful. I feel that it should be extended around the coast; it is supported by many fishermen. There is also the question of conservation practice and conservation gear, which is strongly supported by the industry and has worked effectively in fisheries management, as the Norwegians have shown. When we talk of the replacement of the Irish box and reduction of effort, conservation gear should be given a bit more consideration than the Commission, certainly, has given it. I believe that, through its representatives and associations, the industry has come up with serious, workable and practicable suggestions.
Mr. Ainger: Whatever conservation measures are suggested--and, perhaps, accepted and implemented--they will be worthless unless they are properly enforced, particularly in the light of the possibility of access for Spanish vessels to the Irish box. The conservation track record of the Spanish is appalling, as my hon. Friend knows. If certain trade-offs have to be made about access
Column 1028to the Irish box, should not the Minister take the opportunity next week to argue for a fully effective enforcement system?
Mr. Morley: That is an excellent point. The issue is, of course, crucial to fishermen in Pembroke, whom my hon. Friend defends both doughtily and regularly. I know that the Minister will want to examine the issue of enforcement, because we know of many examples of how the Spanish, in particular, have ignored proper fishing controls. That is one reason why there is so much concern about the current access negotiations.
I now return to the principles of relative stability and historical track records, which are two key elements that should defend the interests of British fishermen in the negotiations. The Minister has conceded that relative stability will be an important part of the negotiations, but we must recognise that if we increase the number of fishing boats in the Irish sea, there will be a knock-on effect on relative stability. The idea of historical track records has been recognised within the industry and has been used, for example, in agreeing extra fishing opportunities in north Norway. I do not see the problem that the Minister suggests arising from that. The issue to which we must return, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) touched, is that of decommissioning. After two years, barely 5 per cent. of the capacity of our current United Kingdom fleet has been cut. The failure to meet multi-annual guidance programme targets will cost the industry money in grants towards marketing and also through the £28 million PESCA scheme, which the Minister has already mentioned. A little more than £6 million committed by the Government generates a scheme worth about £25 million over three years. We should contrast that with the position in Denmark, which has committed £125 million over three years. Removing boats is the only sure way to reduce effort--not letting more boats in, which is what we are discussing.
The House of Lords Select Committee recommended a scheme for this country worth about £100 million to make a meaningful impact on decommissioning, and that would need a Government contribution of about £30 million to attract the EC grant. We accept that £30 million is a large sum of money to find, and that it has to be budgeted for--but, coincidentally, £30 million was the sum given as a handout to the private hospital in Clydebank run by Health Care International. That was £30 million down the drain that could have made a significant contribution to an effective decommissioning scheme.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) rose --
The Minister will concede that the products of industrial fishing are used for substances such as fertiliser; they are even used in a power station in Denmark. The effect of such fishing on marine ecology is drastic, and the by-catches of the small-mesh nets used cannot be underestimated. The situation is not improved when the Government give grants to places such as a fish-meal
Column 1029factory in Grangemouth run by a Danish company, and when they grant increases in the quotas for fishing capelin.
Clearly, the big issue tonight concerns the Spanish and Portuguese accession agreements. They have worried many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Opposition amendment recognises the need to protect our industry in every part of the United Kingdom, and the importance of the agreements to our fishing communities, especially those in the south and the south-west.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) had something to say about the vote on days at sea, but if he really wants to protect his local fishermen, he should support the Falmouth and Camborne Labour party, which has vociferously campaigned for his local fishing community. He should also support our amendment. There is little difference between our amendment and that tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), whose integrity I fully recognise. The hon. Gentleman identified in particular areas VII a, f and g which are important to his local community, and our amendment would protect those communities, because we have specifically recognised the need to protect historical and local fishing patterns.