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Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman made a very interesting point about duplicity and misinformation, of which he said Conservative Ministers had been guilty in the past. I often suspected as much, but I had never heard it admitted so openly. Would the hon. Gentleman care to name the Conservative Ministers guilty of that duplicity?
Mr. Moss: The hon. Gentleman knows exactly what I meant. The negotiations in Brussels are normally based on the amount of fish quota that Ministers can obtain or extract for their fishermen. The Ministers then return waving a piece of paper and claiming victory. The basis is wrong, and Ministers from all countries play the same game.
The problem lies in the legal framework of the treaties. Since we joined the EEC in 1972, successive versions of the acquis communautaire have enshrined the words "equal access". When Spain. Portugal, Sweden and Finland joined--in 1986, and later--they signed up to that wording, and that is what they are expecting. To that end, the House should note the vote on the matter two days ago in the European Parliament. I shall return to that later.
Contrary to the view in some quarters, the CFP did not start in 1983, although to be sure, what started then was a form of the CFP. Everyone agrees that the six and 12-mile inshore limits are derogations that can be extended after December 2002 by qualified majority voting in the Council. But the concept of "relative stability" as currently applied must be a derogation also: it must be a temporary deviation from the principle of "equal access".
The Minister--no doubt advised and prompted by MAFF--gives the impression that all will be well. He says, "Stick with the present line, trust the Council and the Commission and the UK industry will be safe and its future secure." He gave that assurance to me in the debate in European Standing Committee A just before Christmas.
On top of the huge reductions in quota for many species announced for this year, we now have the decision in the cod recovery programme to shut down vast areas of the cod-spawning fisheries in the North sea. That will affect the catching of all species, not just of cod, during the closure period.
The measures will have a devastating impact on the UK fishing industry, and especially on the North sea ports. Unless the proposal is managed correctly, it will simply force fishermen in the North sea ports to target other species. They have to live and to pay the mortgages on their boats and houses. Their turning to other species will, in turn, prove devastating to the stocks of those other species.
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): The hon. Gentleman has spoken for 10 minutes. He has described the problems facing the UK industry and set out the problems of cost, but he has not said what the Tories would do to rectify them. He has described the problem of quota reductions, but has not said what the Tories would do with regard to the quota settlement at the end of the year. He has also described problems with the CFP, which all hon. Members agree exist. When will he come out and make a statement of Conservative policy on those matters? What do the Conservatives believe should be done?
There is wide agreement in the industry that drastic action is needed to rebuild stocks, especially of North sea cod, to a sustainable level. The need for that recovery programme is not disputed, but its implementation might be open to question. How does the industry survive while the programme is in place?
The Sea Fish Industry Authority estimates that the total value of white fish landings last year was about £275 million. Any major reduction--say, of 40 per cent.--would drastically reduce the income of the British fleets. The NFFO and the SFF have suggested to me that a support package of £100 million each year over the next three years would
It would be harsh and unfair to expect British fishermen to bear the brunt of the draconian conservation measures without some short-term support. The measures will go beyond the closed areas: no doubt there will be closed seasons, increased mesh sizes and more selective fishing gear. All of it will be designed to bring about a reduction in the fishing effort.
Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman's remarks about being willing to support the industry have a rather hollow ring. During 18 years of Conservative Governments, the fishing industry and its organisations and representatives constantly pleaded for Government support and financial aid for restructuring and decommissioning. In the 1980s, the only money ever provided was for a decommissioning scheme, but it went to the owners, not to the industry or the workers. The only alternative offered to providing money was limiting days at sea, because that was cheaper.
Mr. Moss: I understand that there were two decommissioning schemes, and substantial money was given in grants to the fishing industry over the years. One of those grants was the safety grant, which this Government removed when they came to power. So the hon. Gentleman's argument, taken in the round, is groundless.
Support is needed at the local level, as well as on the larger scale. The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) intervened earlier on the subject of the fleet in his constituency. I was in Hastings recently, and I know that fishermen there face a total ban on cod fishing later in the year, as the new targets and quotas for area 7 will have been fished out by the time the traditional period for cod fishing comes around in November. There will be no compensation available for that fleet.
I met hake fishermen in Newlyn only the other day. They are facing bankruptcy by the end of the year because of the 41 per cent. reduction in the hake quota. They cannot catch anything else, but there will be no compensation for them either, even though they have contacted the Minister to discuss the matter.
The Minister mentioned Fleetwood, and made great play of the success of the Irish sea cod recovery programme. That was a disaster for Fleetwood fishermen, who were tied up for 11 weeks with no money and no social security, only to be told now that that was not really necessary in the sector to which they had access. These are inshore boats; they cannot sail very far offshore. The Minister knew that. To the fishermen's chagrin, outside Fleetwood were two beam trawlers fishing for so-called plaice and flatfish quota but catching huge quantities of cod. If they were not, why were they moved down to the south coast and given a Dover sole quota, one of the most precious quotas that can be obtained?
I was in the Tamar estuary where dredging is taking place under the raft Ministry of Defence proposal, and the material is being dumped on fishing grounds off Ramer Head. Those are spawning grounds, and the fishermen are rightly asking where the compensation is for taking away a much-needed fish resource. It seems that joined-up government is not taking place, and that the MOD and MAFF are not talking about this.