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Column 796No one in the fishing community seriously believes that, now that they have that access, it will be easy to prise the Spanish out of the vital waters west of Scotland.
What has happened to the CFP over the past two years has changed a position of relative stability--the cornerstone of the policy--to one of total instability. No fisherman looking at what has happened during that period can have any confidence in prospects for the future. I find it remarkable that our former circumstances--with the Spanish in a weak position at least in regard to efforts to achieve significant change before the year 2002-- have changed to such an extent: the Spanish are now in a commanding position in the negotiations.
The Minister of State returns from negotiation after negotiation, Council meeting after Council meeting, saying what an enormous victory he has achieved. He describes the way in which he has managed extraordinarily radical proposals from the Commission, and says that the fishing communities should celebrate his negotiations over the past two years. I do not understand how, after so many victories at so many Council meetings, we can possibly have arrived at our present position.
I feel that it is very much up to those who have brought the negotiations to so disastrous a pass to explain to the fishermen of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland how they can possibly be protected in the current circumstances. I, for one, am certain that they will not be protected by this Government or this Parliament. I am increasingly of the belief, given the incompetence of the UK negotiations, that those fishermen can no longer be protected within the current framework of the common fisheries policy.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): If time permitted, I would preface my remarks by offering some sympathy to the Minister who has, of course, inherited what is in effect an intractable problem. It is not a problem of his creation, nor was it created by his immediate predecessors. It has not even been created by this Government or this Parliament. The problem results from a mistake made by Parliament in 1972 which, in its anxiety to join the European Economic Community, as it was then called, agreed, among other things, to pool British waters with other countries of the EEC so as to create a common resource of all EEC waters and to accept the policy of equal access. Subsequently, successive Fisheries Ministers have sought to create a smokescreen to disguise those facts, to bamboozle the House and the nation so as to hide the enormity of what Parliament did in 1972. Unfortunately, the Minister just happens to be in post at this time as the fog begins to clear. It is no longer possible for him to bamboozle the House with talk of multi-annual guidance quotas, total allowable catches, relative stability and the rest of it, because the day of realisation has dawned. The consequences of what was done in 1972 are unfolding, and the Spanish fishing armada is less than 12 months away.
The Government will undoubtedly try to find shelter in conservation measures, decommissioning schemes and perhaps in other measures as yet unknown. The truth is that, in 2002, quotas and TACs and all the other paraphernalia of the past 30 years will be swept away, to be replaced by those principles and policies that
Column 797Parliament agreed to in 1972--the establishment of a common resource with equal access for all members of the European Community to enjoy.
What that Parliament in 1972 and subsequent Parliaments could never do was create more fish; on the contrary, successive Parliaments have invited more countries to catch them. If more and more countries join the European Community, two consequences will follow. First, more and more vessels will claim a right to fish in the waters that were once British and, as many hon. Members have said, that can be done only by displacing British fishing vessels. That will happen because of the finite resources of the waters around these islands.
Secondly, the effect on our fish stocks will be disastrous because, instead of the good sense of British fishermen, greed, cheating and fraud will rapidly and savagely take hold and the seas around these islands will be hoovered clean. The House need not take just my word for it, because in a recent press report, that eminent gentleman, Sir Crispin Tickell, and his panel of environmental experts predicted that fish stocks in the North sea and the Irish sea might be on the verge of a collapse similar to that which put 18,000 fishermen in Newfoundland out of work two years ago.
What Parliament did in 1972 was wrong and this Parliament must correct that wrong. I regret, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have not been able to see your way clear to call the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and his 24 hon. Friends. Hon. Members must not vote an important British industry into oblivion, nor must we vote an important and renewable British resource into extinction. The House must consider the consequences of trying to defend the indefensible and of trying to fool all the people all the time, and the downright hypocrisy of saying one thing and meaning or doing something entirely different. For all those reasons, I shall vote against the motion and against the amendment in the full knowledge that one day I shall have to answer to the British electorate.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): The betrayal which the agreement to admit the Spanish to our fishing waters represents is merely the outcome of a long story of neglect and indifference by Ministers towards the fishing industry. They have been happy to see that industry restructured by bankruptcy. They have never defended it from Europe and have never been prepared to take a stand in Europe, because some other issue has always been more important. They have never listened to the industry but have always listened to the Commission and to the arguments of other people in Europe. The industry has not even been served by continuity of Ministers. Ministers with responsibility for fishing are here today and gone tomorrow. There is a constant turnover and there is nobody to whom the industry can relate. The turnover in officials is at about the same rate and the industry has lost faith in the Government and in their administration of fishing.
At the end of all that, fishing has been betrayed by allowing rapacious, cheating Spanish fleets into our waters six years ahead of time. The central question, which the Minister has not answered, is, why did the Government agree in principle to make Spain a full
Column 798partner in the CFP six years ahead of time? Why was that done? It is an insane negotiating tactic to agree such a matter in principle without knowing the administrative details, because once the principle is accepted, the details can be forced, and the Spanish have been clever at doing that.
On top of that, the Minister returned to the country and the House in December and claimed a triumph. The Government claimed a wonderful achievement and successful negotiations. In a press release of 21 December, the Government said, "We shall increase the earnings of British fishermen." That is an insult to the intelligence of the industry and the House, and it has culminated now in another offer to try to buy off discontent with a kind of burial grant to get the industry to shut up by taking the money and getting out and dying. The Government are trying to buy off the dissatisfaction that they have produced by increasing the decommissioning grant. I was delighted to see that that did not buy the votes of the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who is an honourable Member, or for Torbay (Mr. Allason). I hope that it will not buy the votes of the other Members in the south-west. I heard a rumour that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) would be bought off by being made a parliamentary private secretary. In fishing terms, that would be a kind of technical conservation measure. It certainly will not buy off the industry because, desperate as it is for better decommissioning grants--it wanted £75 million in the first place--it does not want the money to be paid, not as Danegeld but as a kind of Spaingeld to buy off its dissatisfaction.
People in the industry are not prepared to be bought out, decommissioned, just to make room for Spanish vessels, which is the Government's intention. The Government are giving £28 million, which they have got to give anyway for other purposes to reduce the British effort under the multi- annual guidance programme. It will not buy off discontent. The industry does not want money on that basis; it wants a proper plan for putting money into supporting and restructuring the fishing industry.
The decommissioning money is only the beginning of the rundown that is to come. The industry has to meet the multi-annual guidance programmes by 1996. The threat is that, if it does not and if, as will be the case, the agreement increases pressure on the fish stocks in the area where the Spanish will fish, the industry will face a limitation on days at sea imposed not by our Government, who have been defeated on that point, but by the Commission.
It is a bad agreement. I do not want to go into the detail, but I do want to know how it will be policed. Without a massive increase in resources for fishery protection, there is no way in which Spanish vessels can be inspected or we can prevent the practice of secret fish holds or illegal nets. We certainly cannot control landings at Spanish ports, which will not be interested in whether there has been overfishing, whether the wrong species has been caught or whether the fish are too small. The agreement cannot be effectively policed. The Minister claimed that this is a non- bureaucratic system. However, a Grimsby fishing vessel, such as the Sparkling Line, will have to report in and out eight times just to get to fish in the Irish box. What will be the effect of the swaps given to the Spanish to fish in those waters and does that not disturb relative stability? It establishes a track record for the Spanish in those areas. If it can be
Column 799done here, in crucial waters, why cannot it be done in the North sea? If a Spanish vessel is arrested in the North sea, it will have the right of appeal to the European Court, because our courts will not deal with such an arrest. What is to keep the Spanish out of the North sea?
I want to concentrate on the main argument, which is that the fishing industry has been betrayed. It will always be betrayed--that is implicit in the common fisheries policy. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) threw away our fishing claims in his desperate desire to get into the European Community in 1972. We have always negotiated at a disadvantage--whoever else wins, we lose. That is the principle of the CFP. They have got us by the floats--or whatever those little balls are called that keep the nets afloat in the sea. We can always be overruled by majority voting. Every claim can be satisfied in our waters, from our fish. Other countries are not interested in defending those waters or those fish and they cannot be effectively policed.
Policing at the port of landing is inadequate and the shore authorities will always be on the side of their fishing fleets, not on our side. There is no adequate way to police the agreement. Fishing is never perceived to be important enough for the British Government to take an effective stance. Only the nation state can conserve and manage its own fish stocks for the inheritance of future generations of fishermen. That is the basic principle of conservation.
The Minister makes a number of tricky debating points, most of which are wrong. I wish that he would negotiate in Brussels with the vigour that he has shown in the House tonight. Instead, he is supine in the negotiations but vigorous when defending them in the House. Tricky debating points cut no ice with our fishermen. They want out of the whole business. They are fed up with being confused by counter-claims, lies and distortions about the CFP. If the Government say constantly, as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and other Ministers do, that we cannot do this or that because of Europe, the only outcome will be violence. That is the inevitable result when people cannot get satisfaction from their own politicians and Government. There has been violence over the export of live animals and there will be violence in the fishing ports and grounds because the democratic process is being frustrated.
It is a pity that the learning process about the consequences of European control is concentrated in a Minister who thinks he knows it all. It is a consequence of impotence in the negotiations. What do we get out of the CFP? It is a diet of lies and excuses. There is no effective conservation because other countries are not policed. There is increasing pressure on shrinking stocks. All of that is building up towards the year 2002, when all the derogations and regulations will be swept away and we will be left with the naked reality of a common fisheries policy of equal access to a common stock and a regime dictated by the Commission.
We should begin to take back power and build up our strength, our position and our industry to face that eventuality. We must begin to flex our muscles. Unless Ministers are prepared to accept guidance and work with the industry rather than with the Commission, unless they begin to stand up for fishing rather than hitting it with the double whammy of no support while leaving it exposed to the depredations of the CFP, this betrayal will culminate in disaster in 2002.
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Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): I shall begin by quoting from the January 1995 newsletter of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, of which I am proud to be an honorary vice-president. The newsletter states: "Many of our Members are still under the impression that, by hard negotiation, the British Government could have ensured the status quo so far as the fleets of Spain and Portugal were concerned . . . Unfortunately this was not the case."
The association--as ever--is being pragmatic. I wish that Opposition Members demonstrated similar meritorious trends. Sadly, there has never been any evidence of that since I came to this place, and I see no evidence of it tonight when I read the motion.
The motion tabled in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends is as meaningful as reports of the lost cars of certain Opposition Members, and it does no credit to those who carry the label of Her Majesty's Opposition. If passed, the motion will do nothing for fishermen, other than make a futile gesture towards Europe. The motion as presented represents views that have already been argued by United Kingdom Ministers and their European counterparts, not just this evening, but at the time of the fisheries statement.
Having examined the amendments that have been tabled, I have no doubt that I shall give full support to that tabled by my right hon. Friends. Their amendment does not congratulate the Government on a magnificent deal, as has been stated by some Opposition Members. It congratulates the Government on sustaining in the negotiations exclusion zones that had previously been seen as indefensible. I contend that my hon. Friends went to Brussels in December with a handful of twos and threes. While they did not turn up trumps, their determination and doggedness achieved more than many had expected before their departure. Once again, they found themselves in a minority of one in a majority voting situation. Once again, the majority could point to the cries of Opposition Members in the United Kingdom, who charge our negotiators with being anti-European for daring to stand against the collective will. Much has been said about the abstention, but unfortunately, without the veto, my hon. Friends' vote would have counted for naught. One does not always vote against items when the points have been won, and I accept the explanations given tonight about that abstention.
My overall view is thank heavens--for the fishermen's sake--that my hon. Friends were carrying the torch, and not people such as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), whose double standards were exposed in the House yesterday. I draw the attention of the House to an article in Aberdeen's Evening Express on Monday last, in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East called on my hon. Friends the Members for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) to support the Opposition's inane motion. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East failed to recognise that the agreement keeps the Spanish and Portuguese fishermen out of the North sea, and that is a significant point for my hon. Friends from north-east constituencies. Perhaps, of course, the hon. Gentleman simply wanted to give an inaccurate impression for the media to propagate--a not unfamiliar tactic from Opposition Members.
Column 801I note the amendment tabled by 25 of my hon. Friends who are noted, let us say, for their strong anti-European feelings. I respect them, even if I do not always agree with them.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Does my hon. Friend accept that at no time have any of the 25 Members to whom he refers been anti-European? We are totally opposed to the European Community, which we believe is basically obliging a Conservative Government to impose socialism and abolish democracy.
Mr. Gallie: I accept my hon. Friend's explanation. I perhaps should have said anti-European Community, rather than anti-European. I recognise that the fishing industry is divided on the suggestion that we withdraw from the CFP. I believe that even if it were practical to follow that course, it would do more harm than good and that our market potential would be damaged. We have heard tonight about the £450 million trade with Spain in particular. The Spanish market is important to my constituents, both fishermen and processors, and it is fundamental to the future prosperity of the fishing industry in the west of Scotland.
I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and I welcome the announcement of further
decommissioning funds. I am sure that that announcement will be welcome in my part of the world and across the whole range of fishing interests in the United Kingdom.
The preservation of the Irish box is a success of which I fully approve. I find it hard to understand how any hon. Member can object to it. The exclusion zones for areas VIIa and VIIf are most welcome. The limitation of vessels is much better than anyone could have expected and, as was illustrated by my right hon. Friend the Minister, that was reflected in the Spanish press around Christmas. It is understandable that our fishermen could hardly celebrate the results of negotiations that brought about further intrusion into our traditional fishing areas. However, if the federalists on the Opposition Benches had been conducting the negotiations, things would have been much worse.
I am concerned that the limitations in the western waters should be maintained. I should like to believe that in areas VIb, VIIc and VIIk the numbers of vessels currently restricted will be maintained far into the future. I am concerned also that the French and the Belgians have already arranged to swap quotas with the Spanish. That gives them access to cod, haddock, whiting and saithe, which will create control problems.
The key to the success of the negotiations is the manner in which they are policed. The problems felt by fishermen are based on a belief that the Spanish will cheat on quotas
Column 802and landings. There must be strict control over the measurements of the quotas and the landings, and there must be scrutiny of the landings.
I should like to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister about how the detail involved in all this can be achieved. I believe that there is more detail to be put into the negotiations. There will be on-going contact. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department are the best that Britain has to conduct these negotiations and I look to their success in the future.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow): The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) described himself as an honorary vice-president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association. I am an honorary president of that association, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). I can only assume that the Clyde fishermen have demoted the hon. Member for Ayr.
Recently I spoke to Cecil Flynn of the Clyde Fishermen's Association and the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, as well as some of my constituents who are members of the association. They expressed serious concern about the disastrous deal.
I thought that the Minister offered an offensive observation when he said that Labour Members have a Johnny-come-lately attitude to the well-being of the fishing industry and the fishing community. That is not the case. In what was no doubt a less than brilliant article that I wrote in Tribune 25 years ago--
Dr. Godman: In that article, I argued that there were too many fishermen chasing too few fish around seas that are the richest in the world for the harvesting of commercially valuable species. I went on to say that the common fisheries policy would need to be altered drastically before I would vote for membership of the European Community. I voted against it because the CFP did not protect our fishermen.
Twenty years ago I wrote a paper for the Scottish government year book, arguing for a common fisheries policy based inter alia on the need to protect our local fishing communities against the international nomadic fishermen who had no history of fishing in our waters, especially the fragile waters such as those around the Western Isles. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) has argued the case more recently than I have--he is a little younger.
During a debate on the European Union (Accessions) Act 1994, and in response, I think, to an intervention by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), I made the fairly safe prediction that the Norwegian people would vote against membership of the European Union. I said that on the basis of my knowledge of the fishing communities of northern Norway.
I am the son of a fisherman and a fishergirl. I know that all my life, our Administrations have failed our fishing communities and let them down badly because they--the fishing communities and the fishing industry--did not have the clout that, for example, the National Farmers Union had with the Conservatives or that some trade unions had with Labour Governments. That is perhaps
Column 803especially true of my trade union--the Transport and General Workers Union--although I hasten to add that I am not sponsored by it. Successive Governments have betrayed the interests of those communities.
My brother is right now fishing off the northern Norwegian coast. He and his family depend on this lousy, rotten common fisheries policy, which needs to be radically revised before 2002. It has to be reformed so that it protects the historic fishing communities from Cornwall to Shetland, including the Western Isles and the entire east coast of Britain, as it has not done hitherto.
Scotland has witnessed the disappearance of its steel industry and the virtual disappearance of its shipbuilding industry. We cannot allow an indigenous industry, which is part of our culture--more so, I would argue, than steel, or shipbuilding for that matter--to slip away. In the long run, we must argue for a dramatic revision of the CFP which, despite the Minister's sneering remarks about so-called regionalisation, must stress the importance of traditional fishing communities. It is possible, within a national framework, to negotiate agreements between traditional communities, such as those in the Western Isles, and the fishermen who come there from elsewhere in Scotland.
Time is short--no doubt Conservative Members are saying, "Fortunately so." In the short term, I have grave concerns about Spanish intervention and the so-called 40 vessels. The Spanish will not stick to their quotas. Has any hon. Member spoken to British crew members on Spanish trawlers? They will list the fiddles that take place when such vessels fish in our waters. My cousin, Len Whur, was the mate on a Spanish trawler and told me about the fiddles undertaken by Spanish fishing operators operating in Vigo and elsewhere. The Spanish will abuse the scheme.
I shall end by asking the Minister a question. I am sure that he agrees that the toughest policing of fishing activity in the north Atlantic is to be found in Norwegian waters. My brother told me recently that the Norwegians boarded his vessel and were on board for several hours. His employer has told him that if he is caught out due to any irregularity, he will be sacked because of the harsh sanctions that the Norwegians impose against violations of their rules. Any Scottish fisherman or any fisherman from the Humber fishing those waters will say that he has to be spot on. Our fisheries protection fleet does a great job, but I do not think that it is a match for the Spanish.
When a Spanish vessel is apprehended and the skipper is convicted in a British court, does the Minister have the power to remove the licence from such a vessel and prevent another Spanish vessel from replacing it? Were we to have that sort of power, we might go some way to diminishing the appalling consequences of the lousy deal negotiated by the Minister who is, admittedly, new to the job of fishing. I am not an expert and I have been around the industry all my life. The Government should have the power to say to any transgressor convicted in a court that he would lose his licence and no replacement vessel would be allowed into those fishing waters. Such policing is now becoming the norm in Canadian, American and Norwegian waters, and we need it here to protect what is left of the once valuable and prolific stocks.
On my first trip to sea I came back after 20 days with 30,000 stone of fish --not due to me. Now those once-rich seas are nearly bare. The industry is almost destroyed and we must introduce, in the short run, policing methods to
Column 804frighten the Spanish and others into obeying the laws. Without that, the stocks will decline further. Despite what was said in the Spanish newspapers, the Spanish will laugh all the way to the bank at the expense of our fishermen. In the long term we need a radical revision of the CFP. In the short term we need policing as tough as that in place in Norwegian waters.
This debate, to give it the most charitable gloss, is synthetic. It is fraudulent and mischievous because it is all about gestures. I shall immediately pick up on the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason)--I take gesture politics more seriously than he does. It is serious becasue gesture politics is callous. Hon. Members in both the major Opposition parties and some of my hon. Friends seek to reinforce the illusion prevalent in fishing communities that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister of State did anything but go two thirds of the way towards a negotiated package in Brussels before Christmas --which, although not ideal, they could have improved on in some way.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) has moved a motion that plays second fiddle to scare stories about through ticketing from a party whose leadership has consistently ascribed little or no status to fishing as an industry that affects the long-term livelihood of those communities who depend on that way of life. I absolve the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) of guilt in the matter.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will need no reminding this evening--it is possible that some of his colleagues will--of what happened between 1974 and 1979 when he was responsible for such matters. In contrast to the cheap currency and soundbites of Opposition rhetoric today, the Labour Government of that period achieved no change to any of the mechanisms in place then, not even at the margins. They did not even have the excuse of qualified majority voting to fall back on. It is intellectually fraudulent to suggest that Labour would or could have fared any better around that pre-Christmas table than my right hon. Friend the Minister. In the cold light of day, we know that it was not a path on which either of the Opposition parties would have set foot. In 1985, the Labour party--again, I absolve the hon. Member for Great Grimsby--supported the accession of Spain and Portugal to the European Community. Knowing the full implications of that decision, it hid from the reality and palmed off the fishing communities. The Labour party failed to frame one policy or even mention fishing in its election manifesto of 1992. The issue was scrubbed from its European manifesto this year and it merits only a few lines in the Labour party's latest countryside policy paper entitled "In Trust for Tomorrow". Care, commitment and concern--tell me.
The Liberal party shared in the sclerosis of ideas between 1974 and 1979 by way of the shabby Lib-Lab pact. Its leader, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), is committed to getting rid of our national veto and stripping all protection from those communities for which the Liberals shed their crocodile tears.
Column 805That is what lies behind the Opposition's motion tonight--not policies intellectually argued and rigorously applied but cheap gestures which demean this Chamber and insult the intelligence of fishing communities the length and breadth of the Union.
I am even less prepared to take lectures from the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) in this Chamber or to listen to the waterfall of rubbish that she speaks on the subject elsewhere. I suggest that her time would be spent more fruitfully thumbing nervously through local authority planning guidelines.
The Minister should be in no doubt about the concern and understandable frustration which we feel at the hand of cards--our wretched history and the collective memory, often conveniently dimmed in this place--that the Minister took to Brussels. Although I recognise his notable achievements and the compromises reached during the negotiations, I regret that--even in the full knowledge of defeat--he did not vote against access by Spanish vessels to Cornish waters.
I am relieved and very pleased about the extra money allocated for decommissioning which my right hon. Friend has announced tonight. It more than meets the expectations of fishing organisations and it is a sensible response to many of the underlying issues that have been well discussed in this place on other occasions.
The truth is that this debate is about visiting the historic sins of the parents on the children. Those parents signed away many of our traditional fishing rights, either in ignorance or by collusion. It is those parents-- many of whom are on the Opposition Benches tonight--who have much to answer for. I cannot support their motion. 9.27 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles): I wish to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a few questions on behalf of fishermen in my constituency. Many details of the deal are still unclear, and we do not know how badly it will impact on many sectors of the fishing industry on the west coast of Scotland. However, the fishermen have good reason to fear that its effects will be very grim indeed.
In his opening remarks, the Minister made great play of the fact that the Spanish fleet has a very small proportion of the fishing quotas available on the west coast-- he mentioned the figure of 2 per cent. However, that does not take into account the latest manoeuvres within the French and Belgian industries which have made significant quota swaps with the Spanish. The importance of that is not just that the total owned by the Spanish has been increased but that many of the boats which otherwise would have no quotas whatsoever and no right to fish will now have some nominal quota and, therefore, can engage in the duplicitous practices for which the Spanish are notorious.
Will the Minister also spend a little time on the steep increase in catches recorded by Spanish flag of convenience vessels fishing against the British quota? In species such as nephrops, monkfish and plaice and all total allowable catch species, foreign landings have increased by between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. It is clear, therefore, that flag of convenience vessels are biting deeper into British quotas. That causes great concern,
Column 806particularly given the context of Spanish access, and it is important that the Minister says something about those increases. Finally, I congratulate my hon. Friends on having called the debate. It is notable that it was not the Government who found time for such an important debate; my hon. Friends pushed forward the interests of British fishermen and are defending them vigorously. 9.30 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): We have had an important debate tonight which has demonstrated many of the problems that the fishing industry faces at the present time. Many of those problems go back to the early negotiation of the Common Market and demonstrate that, although the Government may point to failures in the past, they have had 16 years to do something about them. We have had 16 years of policy failure in fishing--in particular, the failure of the original CFP agreement in 1983. That agreement sold out our fishing industry and left open the door of opportunity exploited by the Spanish and Portuguese in the recent accession agreements.
The great tragedy is that the CFP has been severely discredited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out. There is a growing movement demanding the radical and unrealistic unilateral termination of the CFP, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) mentioned. It has to be recognised, however, that, given the discontent within the industry, calls to withdraw from the CFP are hardly surprising. It is clear that there is a need for urgent action to be taken to rectify the current position. That is the main thrust of our motion tonight and it is deadly serious. It is an insult to the fishing industry for the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) to describe the debate as bogus. The fishing industry wanted the issue debated. The Government could have made a statement and provided an opportunity for a debate, but the Opposition have taken the matter so seriously that we have devoted one of our Supply days to it.
Those of us who represent the fishing industry and ports know the strength of feeling on this issue and the risk that is posed to sustainable management by discrediting our position, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) pointed out. Not only is the CFP discredited, but all that is positive about the European ideal is also discredited when people have no confidence in agreements from Brussels.
Whatever gloss the Minister may put on it, Spanish boats are fishing in United Kingdom waters and establishing track records where they had no previous entitlement. At the same time, the British fleet faces a reduction through decommissioning.
In a letter recently, the Minister of State reassured fishermen that there would be no new measures to control efforts as long as effort on fish stocks did not increase in the area and in the former Spanish box. Is that really likely, with the admission of an extra 40 Spanish vessels in the Irish box?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) pointed out, the Spanish have a poor record in abiding by rules. There is also need for effective enforcement, which does not appear in the new deal, but to suggest that there will be no increase in effort
Column 807by allowing the Spanish in is about as likely as the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) eloping with Jacques Delors and opening a bijou French restaurant in the Dordogne. According to the Minister, the deal was apparently approved by Lord Tebbit. It seems that the Government must meet a new standard--the Tebbit test--before a deal may be regarded as acceptable. It makes one wonder who makes foreign policy in the Conservative party.
We are serious when we ask for a review of the CFP. There will be an opportunity in 2002, or even sooner--as the right hon. Gentleman interestingly said. Perhaps the Minister of State will expand on that comment. Will there be an early opportunity to review the policy? There is no reason why Britain cannot renegotiate a better deal for its fishing industry. The Norwegians, led by their fisheries Minister, Mr. Olsen, secured a much better deal as part of accession negotiations. Following its referendum, Norway is not to pursue membership of the EU, but it secured a better deal than the British industry when this country joined the CFP in 1983--of course, Mr. Olsen was a Labour fisheries Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman stated that much of the deal is still to come and to be agreed. We would like more details. Will the Minister confirm that the concept of the standard vessel measurement is incorporated in the deal? How does it compare with our current measurement of vessel capacity units in calculating effort? More importantly, will the Minister comment on whether the deal leaves the door open for standard vessel days to be introduced as a control measure? We would welcome his comments also on remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman about introducing market-driven controls. Are the Government considering introducing individual transferable quotas on the New Zealand model?
We welcome the extra £28 million to boost the decommissioning scheme which was announced tonight. It is regrettable that such announcements are forced from the Government by an Opposition motion and threats from Conservative Back Benchers. I calculate that 27 Government Members signed amendments to our motion, which means more than £1 million per wavering voter--that puts £1,000 a question in the shade. Perhaps that should be declared to the Nolan committee. A few words have also been said to our Ulster friends as part of the Government's package of measures.
Decommissioning is a serious issue. It is an important part of effort control and deals with overcapacity. Far from there being no policy statement in our manifesto, in 1992 we devoted a specific policy statement to the matter, "Marine Harvest: Labour's Policy for a sustainable Fishing Industry."
Mr. Morley: I do not deny it. It was produced on a rather cheap word processor, but in 1992 the Labour party did not have the benefit of donations from dodgy foreign millionaires. I admit that our materials were not quite up to the standard of the Conservative party. Nevertheless, some of the policies presented in that document have been adopted by the Government.
We are moving towards a more realistic and effective
decommissioning scheme, but it has been a slow process. It would have been better for the industry if the money
Column 808had been front loaded and made available three years ago rather than now. Will the Minister confirm that £8 million of the £28 million announced tonight is from the initial scheme?
Mr. Jack indicated dissent .
Mr. Morley: The Minister says not, which I accept. However, it is worth comparing the scheme with others on which the Government have spent money, such as rail privatisation. Having lavished £600 million on consultancy fees, the Government could have paid fishermen to stay at home and order their fish from Harrods, in addition to financing a more effective decommissioning scheme.
The hon. Members for St. Ives and for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) have accepted our motion, and we agree with the main points of their amendment; we think them sensible. We are only sorry that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne did not add his name to their amendment, but he can still join those of his hon. Friends--and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason)-- who have said that they intend to vote with us tonight.
The common fisheries policy is facing a crisis. We need to demonstrate to the industry that we share its concerns and recognise its problems, which fishermen feel are beyond their control. We must also show that this country will stand up for its industry in the same way as the Spanish-- whatever one might say about them--have done in skilfully negotiating on behalf of their country. We should be able to get deals for our fishermen in the same way as the Norwegians have been capable of getting deals for theirs. We need a Government who are prepared to stand up for the industry in the same way as other Governments do for theirs.
Some Conservative Members have shown principle and have shown concern for the fishing communities that they represent. A common thread running through this debate has been the degree of concern felt for our fishing industry. That is why we should all take it seriously.
All Conservative Members who are worried about the impact of the CFP, and about how this deal will affect our industry, all Conservative Members who want to stand up for the British fishing industry and to give it a sustainable future, should vote with us in the Lobby tonight.