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Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not list the share fishermen's scheme, although I am not ducking the issue. It is important. I shall look into the matter after the debate and write to him.

One of the saddest parts of this annual debate is that it is traditional to reflect the dangers faced by fishermen at sea. Sadly, so far this year seven fishermen have lost their lives--two were lost when the Donna M sank, one each from the Coleen and Gradely, and three fishermen have been lost overboard. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing sympathy to the relatives and friends of all those who were lost. In 1998, 26 fishermen were lost. I hope that the significant reduction in the number of fatalities this year will be continued in future.

Safety grants are of interest to hon. Members--many of them have spoken on that subject. Safety at sea is most important. Obviously, it is a key responsibility of fishermen themselves. I am always concerned when I read of incidents where it appears that there has been a lack of precautions. We are all aware that many incidents are caused by the crew's lack of experience--sometimes, there is a failure to observe safety needs. This year, in two cases of fatal loss, the boats involved did not carry a life raft, which would have increased the crew's chances of survival.

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Other factors closely related to accidents are the way in which the vessel is operated and changes in fishing methods and in the areas fished. The industry is well aware of those matters. We want to deal with training and the full use of appropriate safety equipment with the industry.

There has been pressure to reinstate the safety grant scheme. Hon. Members will be aware that, when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister visited the south-west, he said that the safety grant scheme would be reinstated. We have been considering how that can be done. New structural funds will be introduced next year. There will be an opportunity to consider safety grants, bearing in mind that, under the old scheme, boats under 12 m were excluded and only certain items of equipment were covered. There are arguments over whether that was the most appropriate scheme. We also need to deal with the safety culture of the industry.

Safety is being taken seriously and we are looking into how we might reinstate a grant scheme. I emphasise that it will not be the old scheme, which was imperfect in many ways. We must consider a new safety scheme--that is what we are doing at present.

Other issues that are--

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Before my hon. Friend leaves the safety issue, I wonder whether he will take the opportunity to commend the work that has been done by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution during the 175 years of its existence. In my constituency, many fishermen serve on the local boats and instil the safety culture to which my hon. Friend referred. I am sure that all hon. Members would join me in commending the excellent work that the RNLI has done over 175 years.

Mr. Morley: I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in supporting the work that the RNLI has done. It is true that many of its crews are from the local fishing community, and that they serve us very well.

Discussions have taken place on structural regulations. I shall not go into those in depth because they have been reported and I want to bring my remarks to a conclusion, but I shall emphasise one aspect. There is sometimes a misunderstanding, especially in some newspapers, to the effect that the evil bureaucrats in Brussels are denying fishermen fish, and that we go to Brussels to argue with them to get that fish back. It is not like that at all. The discussions are about the science, taking into account the sustainability of stock and the socio-economic effects on the industry. We shall have further discussions on the subject, but I emphasise that it is not an issue of horse trading, although I know that horse trading between Fisheries Ministers has gone on in the past.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Seahorse trading.

Mr. Morley: It is not exactly seahorse trading, but it has not been applied in a rational or scientific manner. The decisions that we take must be based on sound science and take into account fishermen's views. This is about management. It is also about technical conservation, as is shown by the idea of introducing no-take zones and closed areas for spawning stocks.

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There is much in the Liberal Democrat amendment that is thoughtful and constructive. The Liberal Democrats are seriously addressing many of the issues, most of which we are considering. Much that is in the amendment features in the programme that we are trying to develop, and we would welcome their comments and involvement in shaping it.

I cannot say the same about the Conservative amendment; indeed, I am not even sure what it means. It is in Euro-sceptic jargon. I assume that it involves the more extreme and unachievable position of pulling out of the CFP.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): No, it does not.

Mr. Morley: Well, okay, but that is what has been said in the past, and that of course is a fantasy fisheries policy.

Mr. Paice: Read it.

Mr. Morley: I am being asked to read the amendment. I merely want to acknowledge that its wording differs subtly from what has been said in the past. For a long time, the Labour party has been advocating a policy of regional and local control. If the Conservative party has now shifted from its position that the United Kingdom should withdraw unilaterally from the CFP, it would be helpful to know that because that would be a major and very welcome shift away from a fantasy fisheries policy.

Unilateral withdrawal from the CFP is not achievable. One cannot ignore the rights of other countries that have fished our waters for generations, and in whose waters we have fished for generations. It is impossible to ignore the need for a European fisheries policy. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that the logic of taking an extreme position--such as advocating unilateral withdrawal from the CFP--is a complete withdrawal from the European Union. If that is the Conservative party's position, it is entitled to take it, but it should make that clear.

In conclusion, this will be a difficult year for negotiations on quotas. With my colleagues from the devolved Administrations, I shall go to Brussels to argue for the best deal that we can get for our fishing industry. We shall continue to address some of the industry's structural problems, for example, by considering the CFP report. We shall continue to develop the links that we have forged with the fishing industry and to involve the industry in developing sensible ideas, especially building on the ideas from the Agriculture Committee programmes on aspects of an achievable and sustainable fisheries policy. I believe that we all have a common interest in that. As parliamentarians, we have a common interest--with the industry, environmental groups and others--in ensuring that our fish stocks are managed.

I understand the implications of the proposed cuts in quotas, and I can assure the House that we shall certainly take into account the socio-economic impact on the industry when we decide how to negotiate the final quotas, bearing in mind the fact that the bottom line must be to achieve a sustainable fisheries management regime.

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5.35 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): I beg to move, To leave out from "future" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I join the Minister in offering the condolences of Conservative Members to the families of those who lost their lives in the fishing industry in the past year.

I am amazed that the Minister should attack our amendment.

Mr. Morley: Very mildly.

Mr. Moss: The Minister says, "Very mildly" but he still attacked it, and he thought that the Liberal Democrat amendment was marvellous. However, the Opposition are embracing a policy that the Minister espoused only three years ago. He said:

Mr. Morley: Within the CFP.

Mr. Moss: The Minister did not say that. He added:

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Welcome aboard.

Mr. Moss: My hon. Friend makes a very pertinent point.

The proposals for total allowable catches for the next fishing year make disturbing reading. If implemented as in the first draft, the effect--to use the words of a leading figure in the industry--would be catastrophic. The spectre of crisis has, indeed, been raised before, but never before has a cut of this magnitude been proposed across so many different species' stocks and, in particular, across all commercial white fish fisheries in all sea areas. The reason for that is not so much a sudden downturn in the health of those fish stocks, but the way in which scientific advice has been presented this year. Safe biological limits have been supplemented by precautionary limits within a precautionary approach.

No one in favour of conservation and the future sustainability of fish stocks would argue against that in principle, but there is a substantial gulf between theory and practice. Insufficient thought seems to have been given to how precautionary limits might be introduced without a major disruptive impact on the fishing industry.

The proposals for total allowable catches this year suggest a revenue loss for the United Kingdom fishing fleet of about £85 million to £90 million, and that is out of a total revenue of £660 million. Frankly, that loss is a disaster in the making, and is unsustainable in the industry. Is the Minister aware of the implications? What estimates has the Ministry made of their impact--

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both social and economic--on fishing communities? The Minister alluded to the fact that he would consider that, but he gave the House no figures this evening. Do the figures for the loss come as a surprise to him, or is he well prepared with counter-arguments and proposals?

I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my question on the Hague preference; it will be gratefully received by the industry, which has been pressing for it. Members of the industry will have been in communication with him about that and other issues.

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