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Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the major reduction in the proposed income of the United Kingdom fishing industry, but is he aware that the position in Northern Ireland will be worse? There is a proposal to reduce the income of the industry there by 30 per cent.--a dramatic cut in the income of fishermen--for next year.

Mr. Moss: I am sure that the Minister has taken note of those serious figures.

Is there no comfort that the Minister can give the fishing industry today about the stance that he will take at the Fisheries Council? Surely, a more phased approach could be proposed--more on the lines of a multi-annual approach--so that over, say, a three to five-year period the industry could move to the precautionary limits without the devastating socio-economic problems that the present proposals imply.

Nothing underlines more starkly the fact that the CFP is not working than the recently announced TACs for next year. Unlike three years ago, however, the Minister has not said a word today about real reform of the CFP, although I remember reading that it was, indeed, one of Labour's manifesto commitments.

The Minister argued today that the arrangements that have been agreed--in an exchange of letters with Jacques Santer--since the Amsterdam summit to establish a so-called economic link between the quota hoppers and the UK economy are having results. However, he did not in any way quantify those results. As we know, some observers have challenged the legality of those arrangements, and we have already seen how foreign trawler owners circumvent the regulations by landing catches in, for example, Scotland straight on to refrigerated trucks to be driven over land back to the home port. The Minister did not say whether that practice has now been stopped.

On quota hoppers, the key issue is not the number of UK nationals or boats employed but the size of the boats and their catch potential. During the time of the Amsterdam treaty, quota hoppers had only 2 per cent. of the total fleet, but they took 44 per cent. of the plaice catch and 46 per cent. of the hake catch. Estimates today point to a share of 25 per cent. of total national tonnage.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman will remember that during the passage of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, the Conservative Government were well warned about the likely consequences of the direction of their legislation. Given that, and the fact that local councillors have been warned that they can be surcharged if they make poor decisions, does the hon. Gentleman see any case for a surcharge on Conservative Prime Ministers and fishing

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Ministers to make up for the tens of millions of pounds that is about to be paid to quota hoppers which could have been invested in our fishing industry?

Mr. Moss: As the hon. Gentleman knows, proper legal advice was sought at the time and taken.

Mr. Gummer: While my hon. Friend is considering surcharging, may I ask whether he would like to surcharge the Scottish National party for being against every single conservation measure that would bear on every voter whose support it hoped to get?

Mr. Moss: A good political point was made for all to hear.

Mr. Ainger rose--

Mr. Moss: I shall press on now and take no more interventions. The Minister spoke for 55 minutes, and I should prefer to leave some time for other hon. Members to contribute to the debate.

The Labour Government's priorities for the fishing industry are more effective and consistent enforcement; more effective conservation of fish stocks; the achievement of a sustainable future for the fishing industry through structural and conservation measures; increased participation by fishermen in the development of policy; and an improvement in the regional dimension of the CFP. A staggering feature of that list is the omission of any mention of CFP reform.

In measuring the Government's performance against their priorities, I shall concentrate first on enforcement and satellite monitoring. The Government have declined to part-fund satellite monitoring for vessels over 24 m long, blocking any chance of access to EU grants. As we know, boats from other EU countries receive a 100 per cent. grant for that measure.

On conservation, the Government have failed to get agreement on technical proposals such as the mesh size for white fish. As the Minister agreed, they have also failed to prevent the introduction of lower minimum landing sizes for three species, which will be implemented next month.

The third priority was to achieve a sustainable future through structural changes. The key issue here is modernisation. The UK fleet is aged and becoming older by the year. For vessels between 12 and 24 m long, the average age is 25 years. As we know, European funding has been available to assist with the construction and modernisation of fishing vessels, and all our European partners, especially Spain and France, have taken full advantage of that facility to rebuild their fleets by replacing obsolete vessels with modern capacity.

All that has been denied the UK industry since 1989, initially because of the UK's failure to meet the European Community's fleet reduction targets and, more recently, because of the Treasury's unwillingness to permit participation. The Government's position is that, having paid substantial sums to take capacity out of the UK fleet through decommissioning schemes, it makes little sense to pay the industry to build new vessels. That would have an undeniable logic, were it not for the fact that the recently agreed EC structures regulation ensures that EC funding will continue to be made available to other member state fleets.

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The prospect of the UK fleet continuing to become increasingly decrepit while our continental competitors modernise is, therefore, very real. Continental fleets largely fish the same grounds and sell to the same markets; clearly, they will have an economic advantage using modern vessels, as the cost per tonne of producing fish will be lower using new capacity. We should bear in mind also the fact that, with revenue generated in such a way, the door remains open for any other member state to buy UK licences and quotas. A new wave of quota-hopping, surfing on EU structural aid, is a clear possibility.

The Government's position ignores the critical factor, which is equity. For other member states to modernise while the UK fleet is denied the same access to funding can only be a recipe for winding down the UK fleet.

Also on the issue of a sustainable future for the industry, there are the unrelenting and upward costs of regulations, which are often imposed unilaterally by the UK Government. Examples include light dues, hygiene inspection, tonnage measurements, survey fees, escalating fuel prices, installation of the global marine distress system and the requirement of the new control regulation--and the list goes on. What of safety grants? I thought that the Minister was going to make a commitment to them, but he simply said that the Government would look at them afresh, as and when new structural funds appear.

The final plank of the Government's priorities relates to a regional dimension for the CFP, but nobody seems to know what that really means. Even the Minister is not clear. In his evidence to the Agriculture Committee in June, he said in answer to a question on the subject:


However, he said reassuringly:


    "we are giving thought to that at the present time."

Given the continuing decline of the UK industry, does not the Minister recognise the need for a great deal more urgency on that issue?

On the face of it, the policy of regional and zonal management is an attempt to restore some competency to member states--probably not individually, and more probably as groups of states--although it is still within the EU structure of the CFP. The policy is flawed on two counts. First, there is the legal position, especially of new entrants to the EU. Where will equal access to a common resource be if everything is stitched up before they join? Secondly, is such management really in British fishermen's interests?

As with any other significant change to the CFP, unanimity would be required, and that is most unlikely. Which member states would be involved in regional or zonal management? Would the Spanish, for example, be involved in the management scheme for the Irish box? On the regional management scheme, how are matters to be resolved--by some form of qualified majority voting or by unanimity? There are so many questions, but it is blindingly obvious to the UK fishing industry that the cards look stacked against it.

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The cry goes up continuously from the fishing industry for a level playing field. It believes that it is seriously disadvantaged, and there is, indeed, plenty of evidence of that. How do we begin to address the inequalities of the EU system? Why is not that a Government priority?

It has long been a criticism that employment of UK subjects in the directorates-general in Brussels is well below a fair representation in relation to population. In DG XIV--the fisheries DG--only four grade A officials are UK subjects. That is a miserly 1.4 per cent. of the total. Let us compare that with 17 per cent. in DG I and 16.1 per cent. in DG VII. Does the Minister consider that there is fair and adequate representation at the heart of decision making on the CFP?

Another grievance is the lop-sided grant structure. There is no mention of the Government's intention to renegotiate a more favourable outcome for the UK in the successor to FIFG--the financial instrument of fisheries grant. In the mid-1990s, the UK was the fifth largest recipient of such aid--173 million ecu, compared to France, with 267 million ecu and Italy, with 408 million ecu. Way out in front was Spain, which received 1,163 million ecu, a staggering sum.

It has been calculated that the UK's share of supporting the upgrade of the Spanish fleet during the same period was £100 million, on top of the UK's share of the £90 million cost for the purchase of CFP rights to fish in third-party waters.

We heard not a word about such inequities from the Minister today. Does he think that it is fair? Does he believe that UK taxpayers and UK fishermen are getting value for money? Does he agree that arrangements such as the second-generation agreements, which benefit Spain particularly, constitute a fair and proper national fleet reduction, which may extend further favours to the Spanish in the future, possibly when negotiations start in earnest after 2003?

That brings me to the key date of December 2002. The Minister continues to peddle his complacent and over-confident line, first in the Select Committee debate a few weeks ago and again today. No one disputes the fact that, by midnight on 31 December 2002, under Council regulation 3760/92, member states, under qualified majority voting, must decide on any changes to the existing arrangements. If none occur, the arrangements are rolled over, with one exception--foreign vessel access to national six and 12-mile limits. A further derogation will be required to maintain those restrictions beyond December 2002. The previous one was for 20 years, and the assumption is that the proposal will be for a similar period from January 2003.

That all sounds very well, but even though a majority vote may be obtained under QMV, some states, which stand to lose out, may challenge the outcome in the European Court. The Council is, therefore, likely to seek unanimity to avoid such challenges, but that is far from guaranteed.

One of the countries likely to lose out is Spain, which posted its intentions back in 1994, when it withheld its consent to admit new members to the EU until it was given access to more fishing--in that case, 40 boats into the Irish box, which was previously restricted.


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