Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Minister has rightly said that the quotas situation is very severe. The cod recovery plan, although certainly necessary, will severely restrict opportunities for fishing. We know that the finances of many of the white fish processors are very
Mr. Morley: There are consequences to the recovery programmes. I understand that and I concede it to the industry. As the hon. Gentleman correctly said, I have told the industry that I do not rule anything in or out at this stage. I shall say more about that during my speech.
Mr. Morley: Although we have a full day's debate, which I am sure hon. Members appreciate, there is a time limit on speeches. I have a great deal to get through, because it is a very difficult year and there are complex arrangements. I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I hope that hon. Members will understand that I want to make progress.
Mr. Howard: As long ago as last October, and before, the Minister told me that he was giving serious consideration to taking action in respect of light-dues and satellite monitoring costs. The position of fishermen in my constituency is absolutely desperate. Does the Minister accept that urgent action is needed, and will he now announce action on at least those matters?
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Minister is introducing the debate with characteristic moderation and understanding of the issues. Does he accept that the mood in the industry is sombre? Indeed, there are those who say that morale in the fishing industry has never been as poor as it is now. The Minister mentioned effort; effort and resources are clearly out of balance. What consideration is he willing to give to a decommissioning scheme, taking account of the value of the boat, its track record and the value of its licences?
Mr. Morley: I am willing to consider decommissioning schemes, but they have consequences; while they have positive points, they also have negative ones. I am also well aware of the impact of decommissioning, particularly in the regional context. However, at this stage we rule nothing in and nothing out. Decommissioning schemes are very costly and we do not have the money within the MAFF budget to cover them at this time. I want to make that very clear to the House. I shall touch on how I propose to address these issues in the context of my remarks.
In the Council of Ministers we brought about the changes that I have described, which the industry welcomed. We also clawed back quotas for haddock, whiting and nephrops, and for flatfish stocks in the North sea. The cut in the hake TAC was reduced from 74 per cent. to 41 per cent. Again, that cut was not based on the ICES advice; we went far beyond that. Our quotas were
As result of those changes, the total UK quotas agreed were some 40,000 tonnes higher in cod equivalent terms than in the Commission's proposals, not the 4,000 tonnes mistakenly reported in a written answer on 19 December on the outcome of the Fisheries Council.
It was clear that the Commission would not support the invoking of the Hague preference on North sea cod this year, for a number of reasons. First, it was possible that, like last year, the industry would not be able to catch the full quota that we would have gained. Last year I was severely criticised by the industry, but it did not manage to catch the quota agreed at that time.
Secondly, the Commission was resisting all The Hague preference invocations on stocks subject to new recovery programmes. That meant that the Irish were not able to invoke The Hague preference--to our detriment, incidentally--in the case of western hake.
Hon. Members should be aware that The Hague preference is available only by virtue of political agreements, even though it is well constructed and an integral part of relative stability. When The Hague preference is applied, it clearly has impacts on the overall outcome of negotiations.
This year's settlement on North sea whiting has been unpopular with the industry. I entirely understand that, and I shall try to deal with some misunderstandings about it. The Commission originally proposed withholding from the allocated TAC 9,270 tonnes to cover whiting catch in the industrial fishery, principally the pout fishery. It argued that the level of by-catch regularly exceeded the 1,500 tonnes allocation decided in the three previous years. That meant that the TAC was constantly being breached.
I argued that that proposed allowance was excessive, and I was supported by our only ally on the matter-- the Danes. They provided data showing that the Commission's proposal for a by-catch of almost 10,000 tonnes was not justified by the catch and bycatch figures.
In the closing minutes of the Council, I succeeded in getting 4,125 tonnes deducted from the by-catch allowance and awarded in full to the UK human consumption quota, using The Hague preference. That leaves a by-catch allowance of 5,145 tonnes, which is unallocated. There were claims that it had been given to the Danes, but that is not how the system works. The bycatch is unallocated by the Commission and it is in line with the ICES advice.
The Commission thus had some scientific justification for increasing the whitefish by-catch on the industrial pout fishery. I differ from the Commission, however, in my view, which I made clear, that human consumption fisheries must take precedence over industrial fisheries. If a problem arises, the industrial fisheries should be scaled down, not the human consumption catch. That is an issue to which we shall have to return in the Commission, and I intend to do that. Hon. Members may be pleased to hear that despite the pressure, the industrial pout fishery will be excluded from all the closed areas in the cod recovery plan.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend knows more than anyone in the House the impact of the industrial fishery on the North sea. He will also know that I have consistently argued for tighter controls on the industrial fishery. I shall comment on that in more detail in a moment.
The North sea cod recovery plan has rightly attracted a great deal of interest. We know that North sea cod stocks are in poor shape and that something dramatic had to be done to protect them. The industry recognises that, as hon. Members know. It is no longer enough simply to cut TACs, although that must be part of the measures to reduce effort. Hon. Members have raised the matter over the years, so I am glad that the Council agreed on the need for a North sea cod recovery plan.
I was a little surprised at the industry's initial reaction to the minutes of a working group in December, which I had not seen. The minutes came from the Commission and reached the fishing industry before I saw them. They were based on discussions between officials and the Commission, and were not a firm proposal for some recovery plan that had been drawn up before the industry had had a chance to comment. Although I welcome the press release today from the World Wide Fund for Nature, which has supported the recovery plan--it is a good outcome for the fishing industry--I should have hoped that WWF would ask me what the situation was, before it leapt to conclusions. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) raised the matter with me directly: I took immediate steps to ensure that that was not the case and to reassure the fishing industry, which I did within two days.
Mr. Salmond: If the Minister remembers, I raised the matter when I sent him the minute, but I accept that he took immediate action once it was drawn to his attention. Will he, in turn, accept that the Scottish industry was right to be upset, angry and disconcerted by the contents of the original minute, whether official or unofficial, as the proposals would have been devastating for the whole Scottish fishing industry?
Mr. Morley: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, had that been the recovery plan, it would have been devastating. At that stage, however, ideas were being thrown out and options were being considered before they were put to the test with industry involvement. That is what happened, and that is exactly how it should have been. The initial proposals were not fair.
The first stage of the cod recovery plan has now been agreed and will be put in place. It has been agreed in principle with remarkable speed with Norway, which is an important partner. It will be in place from 14 February until the end of April and will cover more than 40,000 square miles of the North sea. Those areas will be closed to all whitefish fishing to protect cod at spawning time, and the closures will be located in the north, east and south of the North sea.
In the process, we have learned a great deal from the way in which we implemented and developed the Irish sea cod recovery plan. The UK was instrumental in ensuring that fishermen were directly involved in advising on appropriate technical conservation measures and the selection of closed areas to protect spawning fish. The setting up of the Irish sea and North sea recovery plans is an important and exciting development in terms of adapting the common fisheries policy in future. It includes regional elements and involves the industry by allowing it to use its expertise in applying measures for its benefit. Those plans are now seen as a model for the development of other recovery plans: work on northern hake stocks is going on and work on west of Scotland cod will start shortly. The industry's involvement is crucial.
I was in regular contact with the industry and my own officials throughout the negotiations. Of course, there were concerns, such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) on how the closures would impact on the beamer fleet in his constituency, and those concerns were taken into account. I know some of my hon. Friend's local fishermen are not happy with the outcome because beamers have been excluded from the closed areas. However, in the Irish sea cod recovery plan, we excluded Belgian beamers from the closed areas. It is difficult not to be consistent in our approach. However, I am glad to say that blocks are available for beamers from my hon. Friend's constituency to give them fishing opportunities while the closures are in place.
I am sure that hon. Members accept that the emergency closures are only the first part of the cod recovery programme, and that we must look at other issues. Thus the closures can be seen as only the beginning of the process, not the end.