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Mr. Morley: It was not MAFF.

Mr. Doran: It certainly was not MAFF, but the letter was from a publicly funded institution. That is a sign of the pressure that it is under, too. While a longer-term strategy is being considered, it would be interesting to see how the Government could use their imagination to put our fishermen on a par with those in some other countries.

As we have a short time in which to speak and I have only a few minutes left, I shall refer to the key elements of any long-term strategy. First, it must be genuine and must involve the whole industry. No strategy worthy of its name would be effective if it dealt with only one part of the industry. That is a special plea by me for the interests of the fish processing industry.

It is also important that the strategy be a UK plan. I am a Scot and I represent a Scottish constituency, but I think that it would be extremely damaging to the industry as a whole if either the Scottish Executive or the UK Government produced plans that dealt with only one part of the Kingdom. It is important that there be a level playing field, that we talk about a UK strategy involving the whole of the UK industry and that it be long term. It must also be the start of a rolling process, rather than being just one fix which is forgotten about until we are in our next crisis.

A key element of any long-term strategy must also be Government support; there must be an element of financial support. When I hold discussions with the industry it draws a comparison between one part of the food industry, fishing, and another, agriculture.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire mentioned some of the figures that the SFF has come forward with. He spoke of £100 million. The first figure that the SFF mentioned to me was £75 million, but then the processors spoke of £100 million and so the SFF said £100 million. It is clear that the figures are not properly worked out yet, as the federation accepts. It may be less and it may be more than the figures that we are talking about.

The figures will be worked out properly only when, if there is to be a decommissioning scheme, the Government have made it clear what sort of decommissioning it will be. Will it be a decommissioning of boats? Will it be a decommissioning of licences or quotas? Those are the sort of questions that need to be sorted out round the table in discussions between the industry and the Government. However, financial support of some sort is necessary.

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There are other examples which MAFF can examine to see how the Government can engage with the industry. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby about the Minister's involvement and engagement with the industry. Nobody could have done more. However, things can move along much quicker when structures are put in place to formalise a relationship. They can energise an industry.

My other major local industry in Aberdeen is the oil industry. Two years ago, the Department of Trade and Industry established the oil industry taskforce. Those in the industry entered it with a certain amount of scepticism, but they now talk about their relationship with the Government. Every oil company involved in the North sea makes a tremendous investment in the process, which is now called "Pilot". We see it as the future of the oil industry in the UK, because that is exactly what is being debated: encouraging companies to become more competitive, sharing expertise and experience, and making sure that everyone sings from the same hymn sheet. That is the sort of strategy that the fishing industry needs.

3.33 pm

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): Following the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), I agree that this is a very welcome opportunity to debate longer-term issues facing the fishing industry. Those hon. Members who look forward to the occasions when we can debate fishing matters in the House may feel that we could replicate this pattern in future years--prior to the quota negotiations, debating them in a European Standing Committee, and then having an opportunity afterwards to look in more general terms at important issues facing the industry. I congratulate the Minister on persisting--with other hon. Members, including Back Benchers--so as to secure this time, which enables us to debate what is happening and the many challenges facing the industry.

There is some optimism that negotiations in Europe will allow fishing nations to look at a multi-annual approach to quota setting, which other Liberal Democrat Members and I have been pushing for for some time. Given the crisis facing the industry and its stocks, there is acceptance now that we need to stick robustly to the real science in terms of stock assessment. Many of the criticisms of the outcome of the negotiations are that the science was not stuck to, and that we needed a more sophisticated settlement to take into account the patterns of fish and fish stock decline in waters around this country and elsewhere.

The Minister gave us some reason to hope that there is wider political agreement that we can negotiate with some optimism the establishment of a regional approach to the management and empowerment of regional committees on the common fisheries policy. Despite scorn from the Conservative Benches, that has widespread support in the industry and among most sensible and right-thinking people who are genuinely concerned about the industry. That, too, gives reason for optimism.

I welcomed the very illuminating contribution of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), particularly his prediction that the

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Conservatives will never come to power again, particularly if they support certain policies. Whether their spokesman, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), was trying to dance around the subject or not, the right hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head: those policies are what the Conservatives really believe in, and they will never be given any semblance of power until they can be taken seriously on an important issue such as fishing and come up with practical proposals.

I would have welcomed a contribution from the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire that elucidated to the House and the country what the Conservatives really believe. We heard their description of the problems in the industry, its costs and the problems with the quota settlement, and their criticisms of the long-held Liberal Democrat policy of establishing regional management committees. They are entitled to make those criticisms, but we heard no proper elucidation of Tory policies.

The Minister has been managing his ship with great care. My criticism of him in this Parliament is that in the main he has been acting in a piecemeal fashion, dealing reactively with problems as they come along. The fact that he has now accepted the Select Committee's approach and that we can anticipate learning shortly the strategy for the longer-term future of the UK fishing industry is welcome.

Problems have arisen on the Minister's watch, however. Some have been solved, or partly solved, but overall on the question of fish resource, which is fundamental to the industry, there has not been good news. I am not saying that the Minister is responsible for removing those fish, but the fact is that at the end of the day fish stocks have declined, in some cases to a perilous state, so that radical action is now required--action that those concerned about the industry will very much welcome.

Very serious problems face the industry, both the catching industry and the processing sector, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central referred. Stocks are in decline. I think we all agree that quotas are too blunt an instrument to use simply to manage the future of the fishing industry. The Minister described in helpful detail the stock recovery programmes, which are among the challenges that we face. I hope that shortly after the Green Paper from the European Commission is published, the House will have a chance to debate the reform of the common fisheries policy. That will be an opportunity to discuss what can be achieved politically in Europe. Given the views expressed by the industry and most hon. Members, we should push for a decentralised and empowered regional approach. I hope that we will be able to develop that.

There is a growing interest in the use of technical measures, such as closed areas, closed seasons and mesh sizes, which would enable the industry to target its fish more selectively, by size. The Minister referred, for example, to the problems facing hake fishermen, who face this year a devastating 41 per cent. cut in quota in the area 7 western approaches.

As the Minister knows, a larger mesh is used by British--mainly Cornish--fishermen fishing in area 7 and catching prime hake, whereas Spanish fishermen fishing largely in the Bay of Biscay and operating under the same quota need to catch 200 times as many fish to achieve the

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same market value, because they use a smaller mesh. We need a more sophisticated approach to allow us to target fish more effectively across European waters.

When the Minister sums up, perhaps he will deal with the difficulties that are likely to arise from the Scottish Executive's decision to impose square mesh panels in its fisheries, although that requirement has not been imposed around the rest of the UK coast. The industry in Scotland welcomes the decision, but there should be an opportunity to examine whether the use of more selective gear could be taken up throughout the UK.

On the problems facing fishermen in my area, Cornwall, the Minister has looked into the issue of fishermen who have gone off-quota to non-quota species--for example, the tuna drift net fishery. The Minister and Europe rightly took a strong line on the problems of cetacean by-catch in that industry.

The hon. Gentleman may know more from conversations with his scientists, but I understand from the industry that research in this country and abroad has demonstrated that the use of pingers can be effective. If cetacean by-catch can be reduced to almost nothing through that approach, I hope that the Minister will be prepared to reopen negotiations on the closure of that fishery. That would help fishermen in the south-west, who are under great pressure as a result of the reduction in stocks.

Much has been said, mainly by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, about Liberal Democrat policy. I welcome the fact that he has taken the time to study some aspects of it. The policy was published some six years ago at a party conference, and had been worked up over the previous 15 years. When it was launched, the policy, which the hon. Gentleman rightly described as a devolved approach to the CFP, was met with derision from other political parties, of course, and from the industry.

We have continued, in a measured way, to push the merits of the policy, refining it as we went along. It is interesting that, as other hon. Members have described, the industry has come up with its own policy proposals, which almost exactly mirror the original Liberal Democrat policy. The industry describes its policy as zonal management, and we describe ours as regional management.

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