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Mr. Morley: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The visiting qualifications are the present qualifications for licences. Our proposals cover 50 per cent. of the catch, 50 per cent. of the crew or 50 per cent. of the trips starting from a UK port.

Mr. Steen: That is quite helpful, but let us analyse those three points. The first is that 50 per cent. of fishing trips emanate from British ports. That simply involves a vessel from a Spanish port steaming up the channel,

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arriving at Brixham, and starting its log from there. It then leaves Brixham, returns and goes back to Spain. That may not be practical, but it is possible.

The next option relates to 50 per cent. of the catch being landed at a UK port. This is the option that concerns the fishermen of Brixham. If 50 per cent. of the catch has to be landed at Brixham, the fish will be loaded onto a 44-tonne refrigerated lorry on the docks without even reaching the local auction house. The lorry will then head for Spain, and the catch will in no way have benefited the people of Devon. Only the oil companies will gain. Shell and BP shareholders might be fortunate and benefit from those lorries being filled with fuel, but the public will not benefit. There will also be problems with the ozone layer because of the wretched lorries pouring out diesel fumes on their way to Spain. In other words, no one in the UK port will benefit. There will be more bureaucracy but no extra fish.

Although I want to keep my remarks short, I should like to explore one other issue: flags of convenience that are owned by the Spanish. Does the Minister thinks that the 50 per cent. rule will bring any benefit to people in British ports? I cannot understand how it will create any extra employment. There will not be any extra money. All that will happen is that the fish will not swim, but will be driven, to Spain. I cannot readily understand how our fishermen will benefit from that. Ministers talk about energy conservation, yet they sign up to an agreement that will increase the number of diesel-guzzling lorries loaded with fish--pounding through the English countryside, over the channel and down to Spain.

Fishermen also feel let down about decommissioning. I gather that the Government allocated £53 million, over five years, to ease the problems of fleet reduction. Of that, £36.4 million has been spent and a further £14.3 million has been allocated--leaving a £2.3 million shortfall. Has that money gone to Guernsey or been lost somewhere? Perhaps the Minister can explain what has happened to it.

The Minister will have to spell out--I know that he has to do an awful lot of spelling out in his reply, because every hon. Member has asked him to say something--the benefits of his negotiations at Amsterdam to the ports and people of the south-west. I am not being difficult with him or making a political point, but I cannot discern a benefit.

Perhaps there has been a secret negotiation in which the Minister has done a deal with the other European countries. We do not know about the deal, which is why we are puzzled about it and why the benefit to fishermen and to our ports is not readily seen. Perhaps that is also why there have been so many speeches in the debate about quota hopping. Given his interest in the subject, perhaps he will explain the situation to the House. I will read his explanation in tomorrow's Hansard, because he will excuse me if I go off to the prenuptials. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to hear the explanation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I will soon have to call for the Front-Bench replies to the debate, and can therefore call only four more Back Benchers to speak. I can do that only if hon. Members take no more than eight minutes apiece to speak. I cannot rule on the matter and am in the hands of the House, but I give that advice.

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7.1 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I will try to stick to your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Since May, I have noticed that one of the features of debates in the House is how often it has become absolutely clear that the new Government have received a terrible inheritance from the previous Government. There are few worse examples of that inheritance than the common fisheries policy, which was established many years ago with the aim of conserving fishing. This debate and debates on the policy in previous years have shown that that principal aim has not been achieved. Moreover, not only fishermen but the public feel that there is something wrong with a policy that requires dead fish to be thrown back into the sea.

The Conservative Government signed up to the common fisheries policy, and they were in power during its 10-year review. They also held the European Union presidency at the end of 1992, and failed to address the quota-hopping issue, although everyone had known since 1991 that it was a problem.

The Government have also inherited the legacy of the huge and unrealistic expectations raised among fishermen because of the anti-European froth spouted by the Conservatives in the months leading up to the general election. I believe that fishermen were used and exploited by the anti-European brigade--especially by the Maastricht rebels--for their own ends. The people of Lowestoft will remember the sight of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) clambering over trawlers in the port. They had not previously realised that she had such an interest in fishing--although I noticed that she sat through part of today's debate.

Everyone is now clear that those expectations would always be impossible to fulfil, unless we withdrew completely from the European Union. Even in this debate, however, I have heard hon. Members talking about "going to the line" and "pushing it to the limit". We saw what happened on beef. A policy of non-co-operation in Europe achieved only the creation of the acronym PONCE--which is also what the Europeans called Ministers who went to Europe on behalf of the previous Government, espousing their policy.

This Government have achieved more in a few months than the Tories achieved in years. The economic link established by the Government to deal with quota hopping is beginning to work. I mentioned earlier that there has already been an instance in Lowestoft in which a quota hopper has had to take on two British fishermen to fulfil requirements. It is true that those fishermen were recruited from a Lowestoft trawler company, but there are plenty of unemployed fishermen in Lowestoft to take their place. Surely that is the point of the economic link--to create jobs, livelihoods and prosperity for British fishermen.

Happily, since those PONCE days, things are settling down, and sensible discussions and meetings are taking place. In July, I attended a meeting in Lowestoft between East Anglian fishermen and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Fishermen said that they were impressed by him, because he was willing to listen and he showed commitment and understanding and had great knowledge of and expertise in the fishing industry. Their conclusion--which was published in the press--was that he was a man they could do business with.

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Since the general election, the story for fishing in Lowestoft has been quite a good one, in relative terms. The fishermen of Lowestoft felt that there were more plaice out in the North sea than the scientists had calculated. Again in his listening mode, the Minister authorised the scientists to recheck the situation. Consequently, the plaice quota was increased from 80,000 tonnes to 91,000 tonnes. Although that figure has had to be reduced in the recent negotiations, the new plaice quota for next year is 87,000 tonnes, which is still well above the 80,000 figure that the scientists had originally proposed.

The huge variation in scientific observations is creating a problem. It is all very well to say at the beginning of the year that the quota should be set at a certain amount, and then to raise it part of the way through the year, but jobs will have been lost and livelihoods will have been wrecked in the meanwhile. I can therefore understand why fishermen call for greater consistency from scientists, and why they question some of their findings.

One matter on which I agree with the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) is that we have to get scientists and fishermen together on agreeing what stocks are out there. An agreement will not be easy, but we will have to make a serious attempt at reaching one. If we do so, politicians will no longer be in the middle. As a local politician, the Minister is in the middle. One hears both from one's scientists and from one's fishermen. One cannot say that either group is not telling the truth, but which group does one believe? It is a very difficult situation.

Lowestoft is concerned primarily with plaice, so the news for next year is good. However, one realises--with today's announcement on MAGP IV--that there are difficult times beyond that. Although our small boat fleet will not be affected under MAGP IV, there will have to be a significant reduction in the beam trawler effort. That reduction, although not the nightmare previously feared, will be very difficult.

There are only 11 beam trawlers left in Lowestoft, and everyone feels that we need those 11 trawlers to sustain the Lowestoft fish market. Without the fish market, we cannot really have a fishing industry in Lowestoft. Pardon the pun, but the guts of the industry are in that market. I therefore request that Lowestoft may have serious talks with the Minister to decide what can be done to ensure that, in implementing MAGP IV, the Lowestoft fish market will be sustained.

We are stuck with MAGP IV, which is a consequence of the common fisheries policy. It behoves us all, however, to look ahead in deciding how we can reform the policy. I support what hon. Members have said this evening about the need for more localised regional management. That must be the way forward. Another way is for the Government to sit down and talk to the industry sensibly, with no froth and fire, and to give fishermen a stake in their industry. We have used the term stakeholding in many other contexts; fishermen have an interest in conservation and it is important to give them that opportunity.

The new Government have begun to establish a better relationship with the fishing industry. It is important that we work together in a responsive and responsible way to tackle the problems that lie ahead if we are radically to reform the common fisheries policy.

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