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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I welcome the Minister's recognition of the vital role that fishermen's organisations played in getting the answer right this time. They benefited from the fact that emergency procedures were applied, which allowed them to deal directly with officials. Does the Minister accept that, in future, we shall be back to politics and nations again? Is he optimistic that we can achieve real zonal management and real reform of the CFP?
Mr. Morley: Yes, I am. In the United Kingdom, we have spent a lot of time talking to other member states and believe that there is a lot of common ground on that kind of approach. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to the Swedish Minister--Sweden, of course, takes over the presidency of the Council for the next six months. A Green Paper on CFP reform will be issued under the Swedish presidency in 2002. The Swedes are very supportive of the kind of approach that I have outlined--
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Before the Parliamentary Secretary moves away from the Irish sea cod recovery programme, will he confirm that the inshore fleet at Fleetwood was not initially consulted? For many weeks, its boats were the only ones that were tied up. Beamers were fishing offshore for their quotas, including plaice and flatfish, but were taking a huge by-catch of cod at the same time. They were bought off by being given an extra channel quota, for which our fisherman had to make room. Is it not time to award compensation to the Fleetwood inshore boats, as it is they that suffered? I saw the other day a quotation from Mr. David Armstrong, who said that he was never in favour of an Irish sea cod closure in the first place.
Mr. Morley: Ah; here is another Tory spending promise. Clearly, the Opposition will find extra money after making their £16 billion cuts in the Government budget. They appear to have a creative way of using accounts.
Mr. Morley: I shall be glad to do so. During the first year of the closure, we put observers on to the beam trawlers to examine the impact of beamers in the Irish sea. We discovered that those in the Fleetwood area were not taking a significant by-catch. Indeed, the main concentration of spawning cod in the Irish sea was on its western side, where this year's closures have been made. We obtained the Commission's agreement for exploratory voyages to be made by the Fleetwood inshore vessels during the closed period, to assess the impact of the inshore fleet, its by-catch and its effect on cod stocks. We found from those surveys that its impact was minimal, so it was exempted for year two of the closure programme--an exemption that would have applied even if we had made closures on the east side of the Irish sea.
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): Will my hon. Friend confirm that he listened to the Fleetwood fleet and to the local fishermen who came to MAFF to meet him and his officials? Was it not in response to their requests that he put the scientists on the vessels to provide a much clearer idea of the by-catch and of the impact of the closure both on the inshore fleet and on the beamers?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. Not only did I receive that delegation, which she organised and led, but I recently visited her fishing port, where I spoke face to face with fishermen. They welcomed the fact that we had amended the recovery plan in the light of their views. Indeed, we have recently gone somewhat further by suggesting to the inshore industry the use of existing sea fisheries committee powers to introduce a horse-power limitation within the six and 12-mile limit, to provide more protection for the inshore fleet. We are dealing with the problems, and I think that the Fleetwood fishing industry accepts that.
Mr. Morley: The outcome of the recovery plan for our nephrops fisheries was good, as the main prawn fishing areas have not been closed. The fisheries, will, therefore, be open. I appreciate that there is always the risk of displacement. We will consider that carefully, but let us examine the results before we do so.
Hon. Members have mentioned aid. We cannot directly subsidise the fishing industry and I do not believe that the fishermen themselves want to end up with a subsidised industry. Financial issues must, however, be taken into account. They include the impact of high fuel charges, although such charges have fallen in recent weeks in terms of world price changes. As I told the industry, we needed to secure agreement on recovery plans and gain an indication of the consequences, issues and problems that we might have to face, one or two of which have been mentioned by hon. Members.
After completing that process, we will meet to discuss the priorities and assessments that must be made. That meeting has been arranged for 30 January. It will provide an opportunity for the industry to put its point of view and to inform me of the priorities that it wants me to consider. Such proposals will include decommissioning schemes, which we will discuss.
We must also evaluate the impact, because there are many imponderables. For example, a rise in fish prices as a consequence of reduced catches would limit the impact on the industry. We cannot predict that; it may happen in different ways in different areas. However, there is no point in trying to make a case to the Treasury with figures that are plucked out of the air. We must consider the purpose of the money, what it will achieve, the outcome and the way we will spend the money. The only justification for such an approach is tackling some of the long-term structural problems in the fishing industry. It is appropriate to consider those problems and to spend public money on them. We must discuss the matter, consider it thoroughly and make the case, which must be detailed and properly presented.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The Minister has committed money for a compensation scheme for the oft-maligned north-east salmon drift net fishery. Will he assure us that, if the scheme gets under way, with private finance matching the large sum of money that he has promised, it will be genuinely voluntary and that no licence holder will be required to participate in it if he does not choose to do that?
Mr. Morley: I give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that the scheme will be voluntary. The Ministry's agreement is based on a voluntary scheme. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations supported the scheme on the basis that it was a voluntary buy-out. It is also conditional on match funding from the private sector and riparian interests.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for the fishermen whom he represents. I accept that some charges in the United Kingdom are different from those in other European countries. However, some costs are considerably lower in the UK than in other European countries. When we discussed fuel and the French package, the French Minister complained of unfair competition from the UK because of our low social taxes and the lowest corporation taxes in Europe. There are two sides to the argument. I know that my hon. Friend appreciates that.
Mr. Salmond: For probably the first time, I agree with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). Although it is true that French support is only marginally higher than support in this country, Irish support boat for boat, or compared with gross national product, is 10 times our support for fishing. The Minister must give some commitment to a step change in the Government's attitude to support for a natural resource industry. It has a fundamental claim to support in times of crisis.
Mr. Morley: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman compared the United Kingdom to a similar-sized country, such as France, and pointed out that the total support that both countries provide is similar. Of course, I shall consider the issues that he mentioned. I accept that there are matters to be considered in relation to our support.
However, I emphasise that we provide financial support. We have announced a package under the financial instrument for fisheries guidance funds. They are structural funds, which are administered by the Scottish Executive in Scotland and by MAFF in England. The schemes cover a range of support for the industry. However, I accept that they are not adequate for dealing with some of the issues that the industry wants to tackle. That is why we must consider our case, which must be carefully argued and properly costed. We must also have a clear idea of what it will achieve.