Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Sykes: My hon. Friends need no lectures whatsoever from Labour, as their leader says that he will

5 Jun 1996 : Column 651

never be isolated in Europe. If he had his way, we would be sold lock, stock and barrel to the European Commission, with all that that entails.

Mr. Morley: I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. We are having a serious debate on serious matters, not the rubbish put out by Tory central office. I have been concentrating on the central issues; however, I should stress that the Labour party argued for decommissioning and other measures, for years before the Government implemented them. We have also argued for technical conservation measures and working with the European Union to address some of the problems.

One of the main reasons why we have an aging fleet and why we are have these problems is that we were the last country in Europe to introduce the decommissioning scheme, and that should be taken into account.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is not the truth of the matter that, for the past 17 years, the Tory Government have been responsible for running down the fishing fleet around the coast of Britain? As there will be a general election in the next 12 months, they are now singing a different tune. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather odd that the Government, who are vetoing everything blanket fashion in the Common Market, are not voting against tonight's proposal?

Mr. Morley: The tone of the Minister's speech has subtly changed in recent debates. He seems to have moved towards a more Eurosceptic point of view. That demonstrates the weakness of the Government and the fact that the tail is wagging the dog.

I return to the serious problems and issues that must be addressed. There has been a history of mismanagement of the fisheries industry in Britain, and it does not all involve the European Union. There has been a great deal of mismanagement of Government policy, and the delay in decommissioning is only one aspect of it.

Will the Minister consider how we should deal with the flag ships? Does he have any firm proposals? Both the Minister and the Prime Minister have said that they intend to deal with flag vessels. That is fine, and we agree, but what are the Government's proposals? How do they intend to address the issue?

Some minor issues that Opposition Members have repeatedly raised have been ignored. They include the national insurance contributions from the crews of flag vessels, the requirement for British officers to captain those ships, and the proportionate use of United Kingdom port facilities. I do not dispute that there are difficulties, but the Government ought to consider them and draw up proposals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson): We are.

Mr. Morley: The Minister says, "We are." I hope that he will spell out some of those proposals tonight. He might like to consider raising with the Commission an extension of the decommissioning scheme in order to buy out some of the flag vessels that are currently on our register. I agree that the way in which foreign vessels have flagged out on our register to fish on our fish stocks is certainly an abuse of national quotas and fish stocks.

Mr. Gill: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm to the House that he agrees with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), who said on 19 December:

5 Jun 1996 : Column 652

    "It is unacceptable that we should be decommissioning vessels to facilitate additional fishing opportunities in waters around the UK for the fishing industry of one of our European partners--in this case Spain."?--[Official Report, 19 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 1358.]

Does he agree with that?

Mr. Morley: It is totally unacceptable that we should be asking UK fishermen to decommission to make way for vessels from other member states. That is not acceptable to the Labour party. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East was quite right about that.

To return to the reduction of effort and the abuse of the flag vessels, there is a lesson of regulation for the Government to learn. We need to make progress in dealing with that and addressing our own reduction figure.

When we were termed the bad boys of Europe by Mrs. Bonino, she was referring not to the fishing industry but to the Government. We have made very little progress towards our target set by the MAGP. The Minister said that he intends to announce how near we are to that target, but hon. Members may have noticed that there was no such announcement tonight. It would be helpful if the Minister would tell the House what progress has been made and how near we are to meeting those targets.

I know that the Minister is having discussions, but some of those discussions on how the targets are met and the way in which the figures are calculated depend on the good will of the European Commission and whether it will accept the Government's interpretation of them. We are all aware that the present atmosphere is somewhat strained.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should make rather faster progress towards those targets? Would that not mean further cuts in the amount of fish that British fishermen can fish?

Mr. Morley: I shall come to that point in a moment, but, as the Minister said, the industry recognises there has to be some reduction, in order to match our fishing capacity to available fish stocks. There is no argument about that, but we can certainly argue about the level of the reduction, the basis of the calculation and the science being used. There is a great deal of debate on those issues.

As for meeting the reduction, Labour has long argued that, if there has to be some reduction within the present targets--not the 40 per cent. that I consider is not sustainable and will not be imposed in the United Kingdom, but the scheme that has been agreed as part of the four-year programme--it should have been front-loaded in the first place. If we agree that there should be a reduction in the fleet, surely it would be better that it should happen as quickly as possible to help those who want to get out of the industry to do so, and to make more fish available for those who want to remain in the industry. In that respect, the Minister still has an option of bringing forward the £13 million that is earmarked for next year.

Dr. Godman: Both the Minister and my hon. Friend have referred to our aging fleets. In essence, we are talking about the reduction of an aging national fleet. At the same time, we must talk about the renewal of the remaining smaller fleet. Particularly on the west coast of Scotland, we need new vessels to replace our drastically aging fleet.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about a real problem within the industry. If we made some

5 Jun 1996 : Column 653

progress with decommissioning, the Government would be eligible for the rebuilding grants that have benefited other countries for some years, and have enabled them to modernise their fleets. Even under the present system, a scrap and build policy that takes into account the aggregation would attract some grants. The Government might like to discuss that with the Commission.

It is clear that the common fisheries policy has failed in respect of sustainable fisheries management. It does not have the confidence of the industry, and in that respect needs a radical reform. The Opposition certainly emphasise that. The Minister said that the Government will raise the issues of reform of the CFP and of flag ships at the IGC, and we very much welcome that. I hope that they make some progress, and that they get some co-operation. But the present policy has been too little, too late, to deal with the problems of the fishing industry, and it does not provide the industry with an option. It is vital that the Government make firm proposals to ensure that we have a sustainable future for our fleet, so that many of our boats do not end up in maritime museums.

6.29 pm

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): In my opinion, it would be nonsense if the House voted against the motion tonight. The industry is in favour of the scheme, and, in a brief circulated to most hon. Members with fishing interests, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations described the terms of the statutory instrument as "uncontroversial fine-tuning". I am sure that that is right.

I speak as a member of the all-party Back-Bench alliance that fought hard and long to have a second decommissioning scheme introduced. If we stop the decommissioning scheme as it is constituted at present, there would rightly be howls of anguish from the industry. However, I have some reservations about the impact of the decommissioning scheme.

During the last round, for example, there was a concentration of activity regarding the number of boats in certain ports to be decommissioned. In Newlyn, the decommissioning scheme reduced almost at a stroke the catching capacity of the boats there, although other boats were introduced to the area.

The background to the debate tonight is perhaps not so much the details of the scheme included in the statutory instrument, as the remarks by Commissioner Bonino, who called for a 40 per cent. reduction in certain sections of the fleet--albeit across the European Community as a whole for certain sections. Her comments provoked yet more howls of anguish from our fishermen, who were right to protest about the proposal.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe(Mr. Morley) referred to the Lassen report, upon which Commissioner Bonino apparently based her remarks. That report is quite clearly flawed, and all the informed comment, particularly from the NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, shows its defects. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely correct to focus on the fact that we have an aging fleet, whereas some of the boats in the Spanish fleet in particular are modern vessels.

The report therefore did not compare like with like. We must dismiss some aspects of the report, and the rather crude and unrealistic call by Commissioner Bonino. If her

5 Jun 1996 : Column 654

proposal was ever implemented--I do not think it ever will be--it would spell devastation for many of our fishing communities, and for the industry as a whole.

My complaint about Mrs. Bonino's rather superficial remarks is that, in putting forward this "solution", she ignores the basic defects of the CFP. There is a consensus in this House--irrespective of one's attitude towards Europe--that the CFP is, not working, and is in fact anti-conservationist. It is not good enough for the Commission to say that we should somehow cut our fleet, as if that were the answer to the problem. It is not, although it may be a part of the answer.

Like the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, I accept that there will have to be some scaling down of the fleet, and the industry agrees. I regret that, but I do not believe in kidding people. However, if we do not radically reform the CFP, we shall gain nothing by reducing the size of the fleet. We must carry out a root-and-branch reform of the CFP--that is the imperative.

We must also deal with the vexed question of quota hoppers. I have been fighting this wretched business of quota hoppers--or flag of convenience vessels as we called them in the old days--for more than 15 years. I have been spelling out the dangers and what they would lead to long before Spain came into the Community, and that is when action should have been taken. I deplore the fact that the effective action proposed in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and overruled by the High Court was not taken before Spain came into the Community. If action had been taken, we would not have the problems we face today.

I am indebted to the NFFO for spelling out the present position in stark statistical terms. Do people not realise that, at the moment, much of our quota is not in British hands and does not belong to British fishermen or our industry? Some 46 per cent. of our hake quota and 44 per cent. of our plaice quota is owned by foreign interests, mainly Spanish. For megrim, the figure is 35 per cent., for monkfish it is 29 per cent., and for sole it is 18 per cent. It is well documented that 20 per cent. of the tonnage of our fleet is owned by foreign interests, mainly Spanish and Dutch. That is intolerable and totally unacceptable. No wonder our fishermen are seething with anger, and we were daft to allow this situation to develop. We must put a stop to it.

Having said that, I very much welcome the robust remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister in his immediate response to Commissioner Bonino's irresponsible statement a week ago. I also welcome the pledge by the Prime Minister that, if necessary, we will look for treaty changes to deal with the central issue of quota hopping.

I must say that I am sceptical about the outcome. I was in Spain two weeks ago with other members of a Committee, and we met the Spanish Foreign Minister. The reaction of the Spanish Government to our promise to pursue the matter if necessary at the IGC was to beg Britain not to do so, and they made it clear that they would use the veto if we did. What incensed me was that the Spanish said that there is no problem, despite the figures that I have quoted to the House. It is a huge problem.

We have just as much of a fight on our hands on quota hopping as we have with beef, and it will be a test of the determination of the Government and the Prime Minister to force a solution to the problem. I hope that we will succeed--and we must succeed, in the interests of our

5 Jun 1996 : Column 655

fishing industry and our fishermen. They must be our prime concern in this House, irrespective of party position. There is a huge consensus in the House, especially among those of us who have the honour to represent fishing constituencies. We need results. This is not just a game--I say that with the greatest respect to some of my hon. Friends who comment on these issues.

An industry is at stake here. We must ensure that we defend its rights and those of the United Kingdom. We must pass the statutory instrument, but we must not lose sight of the tremendous battle ahead of us on quota hopping and reform of the common fisheries policy, because the industry's future depends on it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page