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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I think that this is the first opportunity that we have had to discuss the European Union's Green Paper on reform of the common fisheries policy. If I can catch the Minister's ear for a moment--someone is blathering away to him--I shall tell him that I think that this is also the first opportunity that he has had to comment on the Fisheries Council meeting of 25 April.
The subject is heavy and controversial, but I make my usual promise to be brief--unlike some hon. Members. I am grateful for the excellent briefing documents and advice that I have received from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the World Wide Fund for Nature. I also thank personally Mark Dixon of the graduate school of environmental studies at the university of Strathclyde for his advice and assistance about the reform of the common fisheries policy.
My family's experience relates to distant water grounds, and I am hugely inexperienced in coastal fisheries. However, the Minister may be interested to know that my brother Keith, an ex-trawler deckhand, has received what, for an ex-trawler deckhand, is a substantial sum of money from the compensation scheme. However, I shall now take the smile off the Minister's face by telling him that my brother Leslie, who is the skipper of a freezer trawler, and is sailing at this moment off the north Norwegian coast, has not received a penny. I told him to appeal, because some of the decisions are fanciful, and I hope that all fishermen who are entitled to compensation receive their just rights. I thank the Minister for his support on the matter.
Every fisherman, and every hon. Member, knows that the common fisheries policy is the means by which the European Union manages and regulates the fisheries' fishing effort and the fish markets of the member states. As a system of fisheries management, it is over-centralised, over-bureaucratic and inflexible. The WWF stated in its brief:
Thirdly--I speak as a Scots MP--the CFP fails to take account of the fact that, although numerous Scottish fishing communities are located close by what were once rich fishing grounds, they are on the periphery of the EU itself. Mark Dixon pointed out to me that while such communities receive sympathetic treatment from the social and cohesion polices, they are severely disadvantaged by the CFP. I have no doubt that my English colleagues would agree with that observation.
The political management of the CFP is characterised by the annual round of bargaining or horse trading by national Ministers who attempt, at all costs, to maintain their national quotas in real terms. Such horse trading is always accompanied by jingoistic media coverage in all the maritime states of the EU, demanding the retention of the domestic fleet.
This is entirely down to the wishes of politicians who seek to come home and show their constituents how hard they are at negotiating with Brussels bureaucrats. This is however not true. The negotiations take place between national politicians and the Commission only relays scientific recommendations. Therefore, no real debate takes place with regard to the European fishing industry as a whole and it becomes pork-barrel politics of the worst kind."
Dr. Godman : I expected this kind of heckling from my old and hon. Friend.The European Union has produced a review of the CFP, and a Green Paper has recently been published on the future of the policy. That Green Paper is far more extensive than the requirements of the review, which I fear will not encourage a move towards the radical and comprehensive reform of the CFP that is necessary if we are to protect the interests of our fishing communities and the maritime environment. The Green Paper contains an admission of the pressing need for such reform. On page 4, it states:
"Today's situation calls for a thorough and urgent reform of the CFP independent from the legal requirements linked to the 2002 deadline." Again, every fisherman and every hon. Member here today knows that. That deadline signals either the abolition or the renewal of the rules of access to the six to 12-mile limit, the Shetland box and the North sea.
Dr. Godman : My hon. Friend refers gently to my experience of North sea fishing, which is confined to two or three days when I went out on Arbroath boats. I have also been out on a couple of Aberdeen boats. As I said, I am an observer of, not an expert on, this industry. However, we must recognise the need to protect the wider maritime environment, not only the fishing grounds. The Minister recognises that, as does the Green Paper, which is radical for the European Union, even if not radical enough for us.
One of the most important reforms should be the creation of regional systems of fisheries management. That should be at the heart of the reformed CFP. I would like the Minister's comments on that, but the Government should support the extension of exclusive national control of territorial waters to at least 12 nautical miles, as the Green Paper proposes. I support the resolution passed by the European Parliament that calls for national control to be extended to 24 nautical miles--that represents a rare occasion when that Parliament got something right. The resolution has the support of the Irish Republic and Portugal. What does the Minister think about a 24 nautical mile exclusive fisheries zone?
A larger territorial sea would make it much easier for a coastal state to control access to an area of considerable significance vis-a-vis spawning and nursery grounds. I fully support the joint advocacy of the RSPB and the Scottish Fisherman's Federation, which call for a permanent restriction of access to inshore waters. They argue for member states to control their inshore waters and the vessels that fish those waters. I fully support that; it is of profound importance to the Scottish fleet, more than three quarters of which--some 2,000 vessels--fish inshore waters. As the SFF and the RSPB say:
Many other elements of the reformed CFP, too numerous to mention in a brief contribution, should be given serious consideration--inter alia, the question of multi-annual total allowable catches. The CFP places an impossible burden on the catching and processing sectors, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for the Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) would agree. How can the catching and processing sectors make sensible and realistic plans on the basis of this annual horse trading? What is the Government's view of multi-annual TACs?
I cannot allow a speech to pass without mentioning the disgraceful problem of discards, which makes a mockery of the present system of TACs. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that this is already being done, but why not examine the Norwegian method of dealing with discards? Am I right in thinking that the Norwegians compel fishermen to land all by-catch fish, for which a small price is paid? It appears that the discards problem is much less severe in the Norwegian catching sector than in the EU fishing fleet.
As for technical measures, Scottish fishermen have shown the way on increased mesh size. I come from a fishing family, but at the risk of angering fisherman throughout the United Kingdom, I say that we should examine closely developments in the United States of America and in Canada. The plan to increase our mesh size of 100 mm to 135 mm makes many fishermen deeply unhappy. However, in America the net size for certain species is to be increased to about 166 mm, on the basis that too many juvenile fish are being netted with 145 mm nets.
As for industrial fishing, it should be banned. I congratulate the Minister on his efforts to reduce such a dreadful wasteful form of fishing, but we must secure its total abolition. In a recent letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the Minister rightly said that we should not make the mistake of claiming that the decline of North sea cod stocks is due entirely to sand-eel fishing. Industrial fishing vessels should go the same way as the sailing smacks and the sidewinders. It is time that their day was brought to an end.
I thank the Minister for his letter about the recovery of cod. However, we must go further than that. We should be arguing for longer closures of the areas threatened by total collapse. I think that I am right in saying that, in the United States of America, 6,000 square miles of George's bank have been closed since 1994. There is now evidence of some recovery of fish stocks that were almost extinct.
The CFP must be altered radically. I have only touched on some of the management controls that need to be introduced. At the heart of any reform must be the implementation of zonal or regional management, and the active involvement of fishing communities in systems of management. Maritime states of the European Union must be given the right to develop and manage their coastal fisheries. At the least, such a management system would allow for a more adaptable response to economic and environmental needs at both local and national levels.
Such developments will be affected by the enlargement of the European Union. We must get the CFP right, in a way that will not be achieved with the common agricultural policy, before enlargement takes place.
When European Union fishing vessels fish in the waters of developing countries, a Europe-wide code of conduct that ensures that those countries are not exploited by large fishing vessels from member states should be in place. Codes of conduct govern other
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. This is an important debate, and winding-up speeches must commence promptly at 12 o'clock. If hon. Members share an element of self-discipline, I am sure that those who seek to catch my eye will be able to speak.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I congratulate my friend the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman)--I was about to call him "my old Friend", but he applied that term to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), and I am not sure that it was a compliment.
Mr. Salmond : I hope that that was not the valedictory performance in the House by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. Whether it was or not, it showed a wisdom that has characterised his speeches in Parliament on this and other subjects over the years. Of course, the hon. Gentleman comes from a fishing family, as he keeps telling us--although they were wise enough to push him into politics and keep him out of the family business, apart from that one trip on the North sea that he told us about. However, his experience in fishing is well known and well understood.
I shall focus first on the Green Paper that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Undoubtedly, no European Commission document on fisheries has been so well received as the Green Paper that has been published in the past few weeks. Considering what the previous documents were like, that is probably not saying much. None the less, the paper contains a number of substantial and positive indications. I look for the Minister's confirmation that, given the terms in which the Green Paper is written, we can be reasonably certain that relative stability will be secure.
There is a steer in the direction of multi-annual quotas, which the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde mentioned. There is also a hint that zonal management is moving up the agenda, and many of us who have campaigned for that over many years will welcome that, although we would like to see something more decisive. I am particularly interested in the passage that speculates that in the fishing environment into which we are moving, recovery plans and substantially enhanced funding for structural measures--including tie-ups--will be required. I certainly hope that the Under-Secretary welcomed the terms of the Green Paper, and will give us an indication of the Government's change of heart on that particular aspect, because it is very much part of an overall package. If we are going to engage in recovery plans, including
Secondly, I shall refer to an interesting letter, not from the Under-Secretary but from his boss, which was published on 27 March in the Glasgow Herald--or rather The Herald; as I write a racing column for that newspaper, I should know its name. It is worth looking at exactly what the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had to say in that letter, addressed to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which was that he had been "holding the line" against decommissioning grants. I had understood for many years that the Under-Secretary was an enthusiast for decommissioning grants in certain circumstances, and I remember many good speeches of his that I supported, and that hon. Members would also support. Now, however, we discover that the Minister's boss has been holding the line against decommissioning grants.
"We now face a development in Scotland, where the executive has responded to mass demonstrations by fishermen by offering a decommissioning scheme worth up to £25m for next year. The English industry is arguing strongly that this puts them at an obvious disadvantage and that I should offer a similar package.
This is a most unfortunate situation. The four fisheries departments of the UK have traditionally sought to move together on policy, but with devolution of fisheries policy we no longer have control over territorial handling."
The letter goes on to tell us what we already knew in Scotland--that the impact of the massive fisheries demonstration was to force a substantial concession from the Scottish Executive. It then argues--reasonably, in my view--that the English industry should receive a similar concession. That shows how having a Scots Parliament and Executive allowed a different policy, and subsequently led reluctant English Ministers to go to the Treasury to seek equivalent funding.
It is difficult to sustain the proposition advanced by some hon. Members that the only place to which the fishing industry should look for structural support is this place. On the evidence of the letter, they should look for it north of the border, and argue the case for an English catch-up policy.
Mr. Mitchell : --and to the Scottish fishermen, and the incentive to demonstrate, but let me ask the hon. Gentleman a question. English vessels fishing from English east coast ports are registered in Scotland as Scottish vessels. Will we be able to share in the greater largesse that should go to vessels registered in Scottish ports?
Mr. Salmond : The scheme has not yet been published in detail, but is likely to be based on port of registration, so the hon. Gentleman effectively answers his own question. No doubt the Scottish Government will soon publish the details; perhaps the Minister is privy to them. We have been promised them for weeks, and keep being told that they are imminent.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me; no doubt his Scottish colleagues are even more enthusiastic in their agreement. Worryingly, he and I have been in agreement about fisheries policy in recent debates. I do not know whether that does more damage to the hon. Gentleman or to me, but we--as well as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde--have a long-standing concern for the fishing industry and want the best for it. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby should learn from this letter that the impact on the political process of the mobilisation of an industry can be considerable.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The Scottish Executive's offer of £23 million was on the table before the Scottish National party issued a press release inviting people to a demonstration. The demonstrations took place after, not before, the Scottish Executive made its announcement. I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman welcoming the news, because at the time the SNP was looking for something quite different.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Lady is factually wrong. [Interruption.] I shall explain it to her. The fishing demonstration sailed up the river Forth on Monday night and Tuesday morning, and the package was announced to the Scottish Parliament on the following Thursday. The hon. Lady can check the facts, but that was the sequence of events. We also have it on no less an authority than the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who wrote:
A final point, which is absolutely vital if we are to make sense of fisheries policy, is encapsulated in a good quote from the briefing by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde outlined. The briefing states:
"should be truly comprehensive and include ... potentially beneficial measures interacting in a coherent way. It is also necessary that the plan should have, at least, the tacit approval of fishermen and this will require action to minimise the level of economic disruption." Those are extremely wise words. Attempts at a cod recovery plan were implemented quickly, resulting in substantial confusion and disruption of other fisheries.
A recent deputation to the Scottish Parliament included John Goodlad, a well respected leader of the Shetland fishermen. He told MSPs in Edinburgh that in 1965 the Shetland economy was on its knees. That was before oil; agriculture and crofting were doing extremely badly. Then that year class of haddock turned up, and the number of fish-processing factories in Shetland increased from four to 13, purely on the back of that year class of haddock in the mid-1960s. That is the extent of the resource opportunity of such a massive stock of haddock in the North sea, and that is why fishermen were so angry at that stock being jeopardised, and almost sacrificed, in pursuit of protecting another species.
Cod is an extremely important stock. Everyone hopes that a cod recovery plan can be successful, although international examples of attempts are not encouraging. There is a class of haddock in the North sea that is already two years old. Surely fisheries policy should be designed to protect that stock and that species, not to put them in great danger.
Although the three-week voluntary tie-up of fishermen was attacked and criticised, I estimate that over that three-week period, 10 million young haddock were saved that would otherwise have been discarded, dead, into the sea. Whatever people said about it, that voluntary tie-up of fishermen, which I enthusiastically supported, not only concentrated the minds of the Scottish Executive but was probably the single most important conservation initiative, saving a minimum of 10 million juvenile haddock in the North sea.
As it was with haddock, it is now with whiting. As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said, mesh size and technical measures are important, but for most boats it will be extremely difficult to pursue a whiting fishery in the North sea if boats fish with 110 mm nets: whiting will not be caught. We are pursuing a mixed fishery in the North sea, and it is not a case of one size fits all.
Those who are familiar with fisheries know that seine-net boats are probably the most selective in the North sea, and have the highest quality catches. Their pulling speed is 1 knot, and the fish in seine nets are not dead, as they would be in those of other trawlers, which pull at a higher speed. If seine-net boats must have the same mesh sizes and arrangements as boats with vastly greater pulling power and speeds, those highly selective boats will be unable to pursue their fishery. As other countries have sought derogations, will the Minister say whether it would be possible, for example, for boats to fish with one mesh size if they agree to take cod only as a by-catch, and with another size if they take cod as a major species?
The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde talked about the substantial mesh sizes used in the American fishery, but the size depends on the fish that people are trying to catch. If we move to 135 mm, for which the Norwegians have argued, a directed cod fishery will emerge in the North sea, because at that mesh size, it is the only species that will be caught. In trying to recover a stock, we would in fact be encouraging boats to concentrate on that stock, because it would be the only fish that they could catch. That is why we are in a complex situation, in which reason and judgment are required.
I would like the Minister to give an undertaking that--unlike his boss, who does not even like decommissioning schemes--he is aware that if we engage in temporary closures of fishing areas, we must have temporary structural support through a tie-up to make that viable. I also want him to say that he is aware that in a mixed fishery, different boats catch different fish in different areas. He will have to produce regulations that make sense to all sectors of the fleet.
As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said, we must have a fishing industry in which industrial fishing does not take priority over fish for human consumption. No one in this place, and no one who fishes, can understand how the industrial fishery has
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) on securing this timely debate. I hope that it is not his valedictory speech, but the newspapers tell us that it might be. I do not disagree with much of what he said, so I shall not go through all the points that he covered.
The Green Paper certainly represents progress, but those of us with an interest in the industry feel that it is not radical enough. The starting point seems to be current practice and how we can develop from that, whereas I believe that we need a fairly strong cultural change in the way in which the industry operates in the North sea and is regulated, which is my main interest. Technical measures and gear changes are certainly necessary, but are not the whole solution to the problem. There is the prospect of some cultural change if we can have a proper scheme of regional and zonal management that allows partnership and the development of stakeholding in the industry. We want a lot of support for that, but the culture is wrong and we need to address that.
We must also consider the serious problems of a cyclical industry, which is sometimes cyclical in very short time frames. Currently, we are all trying to come to terms with the problems that have been created by a shortage of fish stocks. The processing sector has been especially seriously hit. Friends in the industry, however, tell me that we will see a glut of fish in July or August. The market will be awash with haddock and cod, and we are likely to see much-reduced prices.
Apparently, the catching side of the industry is doing well at present because, although fish are in short supply, quayside prices are good. However, in July and August, prices will plummet. With the shortage of fish stocks, the industry has been forced to adapt. In Aberdeen, a few years ago we could have said that the fish came from the North sea. We fished in distant waters--from Iceland, the Baltic and Norwegian waters. I am told that now in Aberdeen we can buy fish from virtually anywhere in the world. Fish from China, the far east, Australia, Canada and America are all available in the market. Of course, that affects the viability of the fish catching industry. Yesterday, one merchant told me that about 60 per cent. of the fish processed in his factory is now outsourced--coming from other than the marketplace in Aberdeen. It is a serious problem that must be considered.
Part of the cultural change in the industry is that until relatively recently we could never have said that we had a united industry--there was a great divide between the processing side and the catching side. Sometimes it was
For example, through the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, the Scottish fishing industry encourages the Government to accept the introduction of the square mesh panel--a major advance in the industry's approach to the environment and its own sustainability. The Association of Fish Merchants and Curers in Aberdeen develops its own environmental policy and lobbies the Government on it--that is a fairly radical change. It is essential to have a united industry that can speak to the Government and persuade them of its case, so that Government and industry can go forward to argue their case in Brussels.
Unfortunately, there has been a fracturing in the industry of late. I had to chuckle quietly to myself when the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) accused the Government of destabilising the industry. Nothing has been more destabilising to the fishing industry than the recent action on the east coast of Scotland under the auspices of the Fishermen's Action Committee. That has rent the industry asunder. The fish catching side of the industry has been split, with the west coast fishermen based in the Clyde area and in Mallaig falling out with and threatening to withdraw from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, and with a major split between the fish processing and fish catching side of the industry.
I attended a meeting of Scottish fish processors at Newburgh about a month ago, when they decided to withdraw their support from the action by the Fishermen's Action Committee--an organisation based in Peterhead. Like everyone else who has read the newspapers and seen the scene, of course I have sympathy with the catching side of the industry, which is going through difficult times. However, by the time of that meeting in Newburgh it was clear that the whole event was being stage-managed and heavily politicised. It was being organised by the Scottish National party as an assault on the integrity of the Scottish Executive.
I do not need to look hard for proof. One of my hon. Friends made a comment from a sedentary position about the burning in effigy of a Scottish Minister at a protest in Peterhead. I wonder what sort of image of the fishing industry that gives the general public. That event was called by a press release issued on 12 March by the Fishermen's Action Committee. It was issued on Scottish National party headed notepaper--I have a copy of it here. If that is not a political event, nothing is. I feel strongly about such politicisation of any industry.
The hon. Gentleman's claim that the Scottish Executive announced the investment because of the fishermen's protests is nonsense. The Scottish Executive and the Fisheries Minister had been holding discussions with representatives of the fishing industry for about two months before the protests began.
It is a tragedy that the announcement of the largest single investment in the restructuring of the Scottish industry was treated as a cause for protest. Fishermen should have been celebrating. However, the welcome that the announcement received from the Clyde and Mallaig fishermen was perhaps more typical of the reaction of most people in the industry. They wanted a decommissioning scheme to be introduced, and they wanted to sit down with the Government to ensure that the investment scheme was properly implemented.
Mr. Doran : I have made my point. A split industry would be ineffective. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that the fishing industries in England and Scotland had different profiles and priorities. I agree with him about that. The industry should have a higher profile in England. We recognise that it is an important industry in Scotland, but it is difficult to see how, in its present state, it can make progress by coherently communicating its case to the Government.
The discussions that I have held over the past few days with both sides of the industry have shown me that they are beginning once again to come together and to consult about matters. It is widely recognised in the industry that it is foolish to become involved in campaigns that are politically stage-managed. I hope that that will not happen again.
I want the Minister to encourage the industry to come together: his predecessors pursued that end by holding fisheries summits. I congratulate my local authority, Aberdeen city council, for holding a regular fishing summit that is attended by all sides of the industry, and which encourages people to pull together and to make common cause. The Minister should sit down and discuss matters with all sides of the industry from Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland to ensure that the best possible deal is secured as a result of the Green Paper.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): My intervention will be brief, although I would like to launch into a lengthy analysis of the common fisheries policy and its iniquities. We should never have accepted the CFP. It was cobbled together and forced on us when negotiations were beginning over our entry into Europe. It was a deliberate attempt to gain access to the richest fishing grounds in Europe, and it could have been resisted, as Sir Con O'Neil's memoir highlights: he was prevented from resisting it, at a time when it was malleable, because there was a desperate desire to enter Europe.
By accepting the policy, the Government of the day accepted the principle of equal access to a common resource. However, the proper approach to fisheries conservation can be taken only by the nation state, as it alone has an interest in maintaining stocks to be inherited by future generations of fishermen, and it alone can control all those who have an interest in exploiting stocks. That has been the experience in, for example, Iceland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
I would like us to withdraw from the CFP. The Scottish National party once shared that desire. It has now stood on its head with regard to that policy, as it has with regard to many others, but I will continue to carry the flame in favour of withdrawal--[Interruption.] I do not want to discuss that matter any longer, as I did not decide the Scottish National party's policy on it; I want to express my own point of view clearly. My basic point is that the common fisheries policy is not a policy of conservation but a political policy. The process often consists of doling out paper fish to satisfy the conflicting demands of nation states, and proper conservation is not possible on that basis.
The CFP is also a policy that is remote from the fishing grounds and the fishermen. Some of the decisions on timing in relation to the opening up of areas under the cod preservation plan could have been made more sensibly if the Commission and its officials knew something about the spawning processes of fish, and what happens in fishing grounds, which clearly they did not. The policy has not worked effectively.
It is difficult for us to prevail, because we are just one voice. Our problem is unique because each country has a specialised interest--usually in a specific species--whereas we are a country of mixed fishing. Therefore, we have interests in a wider spread of species, which involve many different approaches and types of net. We are therefore negotiating at a disadvantage. My hon. Friend the Minister has done a good job, but when other national interests intervene, fishing has only a small voice, and is likely to be overruled by higher national priorities. That was certainly the case under Conservative Governments.
The overlap between national Government policy and the common fisheries policy causes another set of problems, as fishing tends to fall in between. The Treasury seems to have no idea about the needs and problems of fishing--it views fishing as a greedy supplicant, to be slapped back every time; it never sees it as a possible investment, or a framework for development. However, all the studies--the WWF study is fascinating in this regard--show that a proper policy of managed conservation and managed
As the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations argued last night, there is a desire to progress from the present situation, in which fleets are too large and stocks too small, to the situation that we want to inherit--one of sustainable, growing stocks, on which to base a sustainable industry. The financial problem is that the Treasury is not willing to finance that process, which involves restructuring, support and subsidy for the fleet. It involves the modernisation of onshore facilities and investment to get from A to B and to reap the rewards of proper conservation and a proper common fisheries policy.
The British side has always been weakened by the Government's failure to provide the necessary finance, and their reluctance to accept finance from Europe. Finance has poured from Europe into the fishing fleets of every other country, which have been modernised, rebuilt and re-energised, whereas the British fleet has not had access to the European money that is available. Other countries' industries receive finance from Europe to install satellite surveillance, but ours does not. That is a ludicrous example of the way in which the British industry loses out every time because of the failure of national financing and our lack of access to European financing, to which other countries have access.
The consequence of that, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) pointed out, is that our industry is run down. It is interesting to remember that we opposed the Government's plans to control fishing by limiting days at sea. We demanded a decommissioning programme, which the Treasury was too mean to finance. As a result, there were bankruptcies, closures and sell-offs of licences, which were bought up by quota hoppers who became yet another problem for our industry. That was the Treasury's fault. We are now back in the same situation. If finance is not available, the industry's restructure will be weakened. Licences will be sold on. Who will buy them? It will be the fishing industries that have been subsidised by their Governments and by Europe. That will be the inevitable consequence, unless financial action is taken.
I am about to sit down and shut up, because other hon. Members wish to speak--but first I must point out that there is a failure of co-ordination between a common fisheries policy that would be adequate to our needs, and a central Government approach to fishing that is narrow-minded and reminiscent of Gradgrind. That is damaging an industry that may have been pushed into the shadows by the foot and mouth epidemic, but which has an equal demand for fair and proper financing to keep it going from now into the future that we want it to inherit.
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that you have been in some sale rooms in the fishing industry, understood the figures and accepted the bid that was being offered.
I have been a Member of Parliament for only four years, but I wish to take the opportunity to say how much I have enjoyed listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) in fisheries debates. If, indeed, his speech was his valedictory performance, he will be of great service to the fishing community whatever he does in the future. What he has done in the past has been deeply appreciated by the communities in Scarborough and Whitby. It is important to put that on the record.
I never thought that I would be in a position to say that I was in some sympathy with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), especially in respect of his argument for devolution. As he and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) know, I am a passionate advocate of English devolution. Eventually, there will be a Yorkshire and Humberside regional assembly. If any issue concerning the economy of our region demands such an approach, it is fishing. It is absolutely desperate that the need for a regionalised agenda is recognised in respect of our fishing industry north of the Humber up to the Tweed.
I hope that the Minister will continue to use whatever powers he has to influence the regional development agencies in the north-east and in Yorkshire to approach such an important part of our economy with greater seriousness than they have done so far. I thank the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan for encouraging fishing communities north of the Humber whose boats are registered in Scottish ports to take their fair share of the £23 million that has been negotiated.
Mr. Salmond : May I briefly acknowledge the support of several boats from the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the fishing demonstrations? That belied the argument that the fishing demonstrations were centred in Peterhead.
Mr. Quinn : I was about to come to that point. The hon. Gentleman indeed recognises the contribution of the boats from Whitby. Such matters concerned with the common fisheries policy show that not only do we need to take a United Kingdom approach but we must recognise the international aspects of the industry that are vital to this country.
In recent years, the shellfish industry in Whitby has been thriving. The Minister visited Whitby and Scarborough recently and the fact that refrigerated lorries leave the port of Whitby for places such as Barcelona and Paris with catches that are almost pre-booked shows that we are in a global marketplace. It supports the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran).
I have three specific questions for the Minister. First, let me say for the record that I would like a response to the letter that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and I sent him recently regarding the Government's position on net sizes. He knows about the
Thirdly, as well as supporting the industry in discussions with the Treasury, will he argue the case in Europe on behalf of the Government? We must ensure that there is a contribution from the European purse in future proposals for environmental recovery plans, to fund the measures necessary for the industry to make sustainable progress and ensure the prosperity that many hon. Members wish to see in our communities all round the British Isles.
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): Like other hon. Members, I strongly congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) on securing this debate, and making a significant contribution to fisheries debates in the past. Today, he set out a sensible case for the reform of the CFP, welcomed the Green Paper and reminded us of his highly respected knowledge as well as his close family connections with the industry. As well as taking a robust attitude to me when I first spoke in fisheries debates, he has an honourable record of standing up strongly for the importance of safety in the fishing industry--a passion that we share. He has consistently maintained a line that is now gaining currency within the industry, which was considered less important some years ago. He has also made telling criticisms of the CFP in the past, all of which I agree with.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) emphasised the importance of maintaining relative stability, but from my own perspective, and that of Cornwall, it does not give fishermen in the western approaches--in area VII--the same fair share of fishing resource that Scottish fishermen managed to achieve. Therefore, fishermen in my area have mixed views about greater stability. Nevertheless, if that is making the best of a bad job, it is worth maintaining.
The hon. Gentleman quoted from an interesting letter from The Herald, and the Minister will no doubt deal with the issues concerned if not with the letter itself. He also made a good case for investment in the industry according to WWF models. If we are to establish seasonally closed areas to protect the collapse of target species, we should find the necessary finance over four or five years for all those circumstances in which tie-ups are required. I was encouraged by a recent statement by Commissioner Fischler supporting that line. The Minister should speak to his colleagues in Europe and encourage Commissioner Fischler to direct structural funds to support tie-ups.
Mr. Salmond : If the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Scottish Minister for Rural Development, took the same view on tie-ups as he does, we could achieve the same progress on tie-ups as we made on decommissioning.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) was right to suggest that the future of the fishing industry could be examined with cautious optimism. Many challenges lie ahead but, if we know what they are and are prepared to meet such management and financial challenges, there are good reasons to push the matter forward, given the opportunity afforded by a reform of the common fisheries policy.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby characteristically lambasted the CFP, as he always does. He is absolutely right. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] His fundamental criticisms are correct that the CFP is a political compromise and too remote in terms of where management decisions are made. However, his conclusion that we should pull out of the CFP, as if we could pull out willy nilly, is clearly unrealistic, although I agree with his criticisms. He is correct that the UK fleet was treated unfairly during the 1990s in relation to other European fleets.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) emphasised his passion for devolution, which I share--[Interruption.] I like passion, provided that we have passionate devolution to regions that people feel passionate about, rather than to sanitised, synthetic places that do not exist. Provided that it is on that basis, I am sure that we can passionately step forward.
I have a number of questions for the Minister, some of which relate to points that have already been made. What progress is being made on the hake recovery programme? There was supposed to have been an announcement, and there may have been, although it has not yet reached my desk. The Commission's emergency powers are to be clarified, and it is disappointing that there is still an across-the-board cut in the hake quota for the western approaches that affects the whole fleet, although as far as Cornish fishermen are concerned, hake stocks are in a healthy state. Our fishermen are catching larger fish than their Spanish counterparts.
What progress has been made on the scientific assessment of the use of pingers in the tuna driftnet fishery? I understand from the industry that the use of pingers is making such a method as eco-friendly as line-caught tuna. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that.
An interesting and telling article appeared on 20 April in Fishing News, which is an excellent publication, as the Minister knows. It appeared on the back page and mentioned a trawler owning family from Hull, the Boyds, who pointed out the problem of catching small fish, particularly cod, haddock and plaice. They made it clear from their long professional and family experience in the industry that there is a commercial advantage in purchasing small plate-sized fish. There appears to be an
The common fisheries policy presents major opportunities. I welcome the regional dimension in the six and 12-mile retention zone, although certain hon. Members, who seem strangely to be absent today, tell us that not all those reforms are possible in one round. I have been promoting multi-annual quota setting for years; I welcome that and the consideration of improvements in technical measures to enhance stock management.
Fundamentally, however, the regional dimension of the CFP is the most important focus. The Green Paper considers it from a purely advisory and consultative viewpoint. I urge the Minister to give those regional committees real teeth. If we want adequate pan-European enforcement and monitoring of the CFP, it must be seen to be even across the board. I encourage the Minister to establish bilateral agreements, whereby United Kingdom fishing inspectors might spot-check Spanish fishing ports or any other ports, rather than going down the route taken by the Green Paper, which would establish a joint inspection structure. In that way we might maintain national fisheries enforcement instead of setting up a new European structure.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), not only on securing the debate but on his customarily authoritative contribution. He said that the CFP was over-centralised, over-bureaucratic and undemocratic, and I could not agree more with that assessment. The longer I listened to him, the more I thought that he was persuaded by Conservative party policy on fishing, as I agreed with about 90 per cent. of what he said. When he talked about taking back national control, I thought that he was with us, but he then qualified what he had said by suggesting that national control should stop after 24 miles. Why stop after 24 miles?
I agree with most of the comments that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde made about multi-annual total allowable catches and multi-species quotas, and with his important point about industrial fishing. It makes no sense to anyone in the industry that, when there is a huge ban on fishing in a large area of the North sea for the sake of cod recovery, in other parts of the North sea we are allowing industrial fishing that is reducing the base of the pyramid of the food chain. I know that the Minister supports curtailment of that industrial fishing, but it should come as no surprise if the stocks are under pressure.
The industry's view of that cod recovery programme and the closure of the area is that it is ill thought out. It is a panic measure introduced far too late in the proceedings, which, as the hon. Member for Banff and
Given the perilous state of the fish stocks, if the stock recovery programmes are to be repeated in the future, some thought must be given to how best to sustain the fishing industry when it is not allowed to catch its normal quotas. Several speakers alluded to that, in particular the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who asked the Minister a direct question that I repeat: what aid will be forthcoming from the Government to sustain the fishing industry during the tie-up periods? This year will not be a one-off. It is obvious that there will be a repeat, so the Government must tell us what aid they will give the fishing industry during such periods. Otherwise, the fishing fleet will ultimately be much diminished.
The core and heart of the CFP is, as we all know, regulation 101/76, the equal access principle--the acquis communautaire to which every country that has joined the EU has signed up. What is the CFP? We assume that it is a current entity that will continue after December 2002, but the CFP as we know it, and the two principles of the six and 12-mile national limits, and the relative stability are, as the policy is currently formed, derogations, as the European Court confirmed. A Commission paper states:
"there are respects in which there is not complete common access to resources."
"must be regarded not simply as a continuation of the period from 1983 to 1992 but rather as a preparation for the years to follow, when access to the Community's fishing areas will in principle be free. It is for this reason that operators in the fisheries sector must be told as soon as possible how the rules are likely to change." That was written in 1991. What have we done in the decade since then? We have not prepared our fishing industry for the likely outcome of the meaning of the CFP momentum.
"would be maintained after 2002 subject to possible adjustments to the allocation key adopted in 1983 and"-- the crucial point--
"the specific limitations resulting from the Act of Accession of Spain and Portugal to be decided on the basis of this report and submitted before ... January 2002."
As the treaties and the Commission's 1991 report state, any relative stability that continues in future--I do not oppose a form of relative stability in principle--must involve a share-out on a sensible basis for all sea resource areas. However, that relative stability will not be based on the same apportionment and allocation that we currently see. The real message for the British fishing industry is that if it has to make way at some point for Spain, Portugal and the other countries that acceded later than the early 1980s, that will be at the cost of its quotas. The papers that the Spanish are submitting want the mechanism for that equal access to be tradeable quotas.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made the important point that over the next few years, as our unaided industry runs down, the only fishing industries that will be economically robust enough to make the necessary bids for the quotas will be in the EU countries--I mentioned Spain in passing--that have received considerable quantities of state aid. They will be able to buy into the quotas, and our industry will atrophy on the vine as the fishing fleets of other EU countries buy up our quotas. It would be criminal to sit back and allow that to happen. The Minister must tell us how he sees the future, and how he will protect the interests of the British fishing industry.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley ): I add my words of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) on securing the debate. I, too, hope that that was not his valedictory speech. For the record, I should say how much I have appreciated his encouragement over the years. His family experience, which is probably unrivalled in the House, has provided much valuable advice. I was also pleased to hear that at least one member of his family has benefited from the pay-out from the loss of the Icelandic waters. Like him, I am glad that the Government have honoured a long-standing commitment and put right a wrong for the distant water fleets.
A range of issues has been raised, and I will try to get through the points raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for Great Grimsby and for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), and the hon. Members for St. Ives (Mr. George) and for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss).
First, I shall deal with discards. It is not altogether fair to blame the common fisheries policy for discards. Most discards are undersized and unmarketable fish. There were discards before the CFP, and there are discards in countries where there is no CFP. That is not to say that the CFP does not have its flaws, however, and we must address the issue. As has been outlined in the debate, it is a policy well overdue for reform and revision.
The Green Paper has been broadly welcomed because it has clearly been influenced by the debate in this country, and particularly within our fishing industry. The papers produced by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations have fed into it. I welcome that. In relation to the trade-off in the annual quota negotiations, it is fair to say that there has been a lot of horse trading over the years. Ministers have been anxious to come back with increased quotas to show to their domestic industries--but that is changing. There is more realism in the Council of Ministers, and I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde that in the last Council I did not argue against the scientific advice on any quota. I accepted that advice.
In 1999 the Council of Ministers accepted the precautionary principle as a basis for setting quotas. I argued against some of the figures when the Commission recommendations went against the scientific advice. Indeed, it is important to listen to the comments of the industry. I have always tried to take its views into account in the discussions and negotiations. There is less horse trading now. It is more about examining the science and talking about what is sustainable. That applies to all countries.
We had a preliminary debate on the Commission's Green Paper at the previous Council. Spain was the only country to speak against it; even Portugal, which is keen on coastal limits, did not do so. Every country except Spain broadly welcomed it as a basis for discussion. It is clear that there is a consensus on taking the Green Paper forward.
In my contribution at the Council of Ministers, I stressed how essential coastal limits are for supporting sustainable low-impact fishing. They are an important conservation management tool. Some EU countries have argued for an extension of the limit from 12 to 24 miles; I am confident that we will be able to maintain our coastal limits, and I have no objection in principle to extension. My attitude would depend on what it means in practice. It would be a pointless and empty gesture to argue for an extension to 24 miles while accepting the historical rights of vessels currently fishing within the 12 to 24-mile zone. It is difficult to deal with the question of people's historical rights.
The issue of national management is related to coastal management, which we can secure. I also strongly support the case for multi-annual quotas and welcome the fact that the Commission is making proposals about them. The principle of relative stability is also extremely important. It would not be in any country's interests to open up the principle of relative stability--a principle that is not under threat. My legal advice is that it will continue unchanged unless there is a qualified majority against it within the Council of Ministers. I do not believe that there is such a qualified majority.
Norway's policy of landing discards is an interesting one, which I have discussed with the Norwegian Minister--and the Icelandic Minister, when Iceland had the same policy. The problem, which those countries admit, is the difficulty of enforcement. Norway, Iceland and the Faroe islands have fewer discards because they use bigger mesh sizes. They do not have the mixed fishery that we have in the North sea; theirs is more of a single species fishery. Nevertheless, we need to learn lessons in that regard.
I agree with hon. Members' comments about industrial fishing. My own views have been well documented over the years. As a Minister, I take pride in the fact that we have introduced closed areas for industrial fishing, as part of a proper scientific analysis. We have also reached agreement with the Danes, to whose co-operation I pay tribute, on the science of industrial fishery, the impact on fish stocks and the ecological chain, and the levels of by-catch of whitefish. We need sound scientific information if we are to argue for change. I have consistently made it clear that fisheries for human consumption must take priority in the CFP and the Council of Ministers.
There are arguments about how the industry should be financially supported. I have always accepted our industry's case for support for structural change, and have kept my promise to argue for that; indeed, I have delivered a package of measures. There will always be argument about whether the money goes far enough, but that package consists of £11 million for the financial instrument for fisheries guidance package, £6 million for a one-year decommissioning package and £5.5 million for support for ports. There are additional funds for the regional development agencies in England, and money is even available through the rural development programme. Considerable funds can therefore be directed towards the industry.
Time does not permit me to go on. Suffice it to say that there are changes to the industry. We need effective recovery plans and the support of the industry to achieve them. The industry has a good future and untapped potential, which warrant the support that the Government are giving for structural changes. I do not believe that demonstrating is the right way to achieve that.