|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with the mackerel hand line industry, which is a very select and sustainable fishery. That is reflected in the generous guaranteed underpinning of the industry's catch. It is true that some of the mackerel was included in international swaps, which we have to do to ensure that we have sustainable fisheries all around the country. However, as the uptake has been higher than
Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that welcome reassurance. I hope that in meetings to discuss the future of the mackerel box, he does not allow anyone to persuade him to consider relaxing the rules on that. There is no point in opening up trawler activity in the mackerel box. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
As the Minister knows, there has been a great deal of talk in this debate and others about the fact that the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the industry, in the shape of the NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, are keen to safeguard, through an investment programme, the long-term viability both of the industry and of fish stocks. I know that the Minister is sceptical about the figures provided by the WWF and the industry, which show about £500 million of investment generating over £7 billion of return in 10 years. I hope that he will carefully consider that programme and other forms of transitional aid to support the industry in tackling a difficult issue.
The hon. Member for Congleton went into some detail about the difficulties of quota companies. In an intervention, I spoke of the importance of ensuring that the European investigation into this matter is concluded as quickly as possible. She named a Labour MEP as the source of the subject's referral to the European Commission. I hope that the Conservatives have checked whether their representatives, whether in Europe or in local councils, raised the possibility of referral.
The Conservatives have made great play of criticising others but they have not been prepared to defend their record or explain their policy. I gave the hon. Lady an opportunity to do that. I know that many hon. Members are still unclear about what the Conservatives stand for. Do they want to pull out of the common fisheries policy and repatriate fishing with a return to national control? That is unclear, and all their statements simply add to that lack of clarity. However, we know what their record is, and if they could not achieve their aims during 18 years in government, we should take their claims in opposition with a significant pinch of salt.
I encourage the Minister to argue strongly with his counterparts in Europe for a satisfactory outcome according to the agenda that he has presented to the House today. In the coming months, he should also consider long-term measures to secure the future of the British fishing industry.
Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth): I shall keep my contribution fairly short, as I know that other hon. Members on both sides want to get into the debate. I shall focus on the main issue that concerns fishermen in my constituency.
I welcome the announcement by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary this afternoon of payment for safety training courses. The matter was raised in the debate last year and I am pleased that it has been dealt with. I am interested in his comments about the knock-on effects of cuts in quota in some species and some areas, and the disregard for the scientific advice which suggested otherwise.
The immediate concern of fishermen in North Shields is the proposed cuts in nephrops and the proposals that might follow cuts in North sea cod. Last year's debate was dominated by the imminent closure of the cod areas. There was a clear warning from both sides of the House that that would inevitably lead to pressure on other fisheries. In particular, prawns along the North sea coast were mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) had already been informed of the intention of some of his fishermen to make that transition. I do not say that to provoke civil war between Yorkshire fishermen and Northumberland fishermen; we are all in the same boatif the House will excuse the pun. Dennis Clark, one of my fishermen, said at the time that in his view, we were trying to solve one problem but were in danger of creating another. That has been borne out by events.
North Shields, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, is one of the top prawn ports, if not the top prawn port. There has been a great deal of activity this year. It has been quite a good year for fishermen in North Shields in that respect. Many Scottish boats are currently in port, but there is a question about whether the activity is sustainable. Prawn stocks appear to be relatively good. I was given anecdotal evidence to that effect by fishermen, but it seems to be the position taken by UK scientists as well. There was even speculation that there was room for an increase in quotas.
Hon. Members will understand the surprise and dismay among North Shields fishermen when there was talk of a cut in the nephrops quota in some areas, especially when that seemed to be against official advice. Such cuts are unexpected and unacceptable. I am heartened by the statement from my hon. Friend this afternoon about the strong line that he intends to take in the negotiations. I strongly support him in that.
It was inevitable that diversification from cod fisheries would put pressure on other fisheries. There is concern about how far that will go. Since the last debate, the worst scenario has been painted by the WWF report entitled "Now or Never", which suggests the possibility of not just a temporary problem for cod stocks in the North sea, but a permanent problem. I am not as blasé as the Conservative spokesman about the Canadian example. The wipe-out of cod stock should not be seen as an opportunity. If the situation in the North sea mirrored what happened in Canadaheaven forbidwhy should we live through it, when we can read the book?
I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about the cost of action and of inaction. Whether or not we act, there will be a bill left at the end. We must address the issue of over-capacity not just in the UK fleet, but across Europe. It is a depressing prospect if only the UK and Denmark accept the need for a reduction in fleet size and in capacity. In the long term, we run the risk of running up financial and environmental costs.
These debates must be more than an annual plea for more money for the fishing industry, although we inevitably get round to the question of money. I welcome the £6 million for decommissioning this year and the £5.5 million for the fisheries regeneration initiative, but if
Successive Governments have ducked the question of investment for the longer term and of how much is enough for decommissioning. Although that is only one tool, it is a necessary and important tool, but money also needs to go into fishing areas for alternative employment. The danger for the Treasury is that if we do not face up to the cost now, that will add to the cost in the future. Governments have not been good at recognising that.
Decommissioning has a knock-on effect on the facilities and infrastructure of our fishing ports. I welcome the fisheries regeneration initiative, but it is not enough, particularly if the money came, as we understand it did, from the regional development agencies' existing budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby spoke about the NFFO and WWF study on the costs and benefits of fishing, but we need a proper assessment of the economic costs and benefits of fishing and of fishing communities in a regional context in the economic strategy of the RDAs, which have a key role to play. In saying that, I may be straying beyond the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and into that of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and also, perhaps, into the realm of longer-term issues.
The immediate concern of North sea fishermen is what will happen to the quota and the pressure that they feel is being brought to bear. My hon. Friend the Minister has a difficult task and we wish him well.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I have spoken in most fisheries debates in the past 18 years. Such debates are a little like saying bon voyage to the Ministerwaving him goodbye on the steps of the docks as he sails out to Brussels and wishing him well in his travels. The Minister is part of the fabric of the fishing industryin fact, I think that he is the fishing industry. He has been the best fishing Minister, if not the only fishing Minister, that the Labour Government have found. Perhaps they cannot find another one.
It does not matter how long the debate runs, although I am grateful to all hon. Members for pushing for a full day's debate. Fishing policy has virtually nothing to do with the House of Commons. The whole thing is a charade. Everybody knows that fishing is to do with the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, and is subject to qualified majority voting. The Minister will no doubt remember that a few years ago, we had the debate in January, after he had come back from Brussels. That did not seem to make much difference.
The Commons has become a sort of focus group for the Minister before he goes off to the Fisheries Council, from where he returns every year with similar resultscuts in quotas and other bad news for the fishermen, but he is lifted shoulder high by fishermen who, I think,
We enjoy the annual pantomime just before Christmas. I am not sure how the Minister is cast; I do not know whether he is the sugar plum fairy or plays another role. However, that rerun has been going on for 10 years or longer; it was going on when we were in office, and has continued now that we have swapped sides. It is like going to the cinema and watching the same film over and over again. The Minister makes his points and hon. Members on both sides of the House make theirs. As a result, we all say the same as we said the previous year and many years before.
The Minister knows my views on the fishing quota and the impact that cuts to it have on fishing communities such as Brixham in my constituency, where we have a fleet of about 100 ships. In spite of all the cuts, disasters and catastrophies, we still have a substantial and successful fleet. We have more than 100 boats, 1,000 fishermen and 3,000 to 4,000 industry-related jobs; it is a going concern and a great industry with a big turnover. Whatever we and the Minister do here does not seem to matter much because the fishermen go on fishing.
What is the problem with the common fisheries policy? We know that it has not worked. The deal struck in 1982 locked Britain into the highly dubious process of total allowable catches, which has run for 20 years. There was a mid-term review in 1992 but, by and large, the policy of total allowable catches has been rigidly adhered to. The Commission is now compelled to come up with proposals for the Council of Ministers on the reform of the common fisheries policy in 2003; 2002 will therefore be a significant year, as there is a genuine chance to reform the CFP.
We all know that the aim of the CFP was to ensure a fair standard of living for those in the industry, to stabilise markets, to ensure the availability of supplies and to ensure that those supplies reach consumers at a reasonable price. The policy stipulates that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into Community policies, with a view to promoting sustainable development. The CFP has fundamentally failed in nearly every one of its aims. On the conservation of fish stocks, for instance, the number of fish in the seas around our shores has decreased year by year, even though they have put up a spirited fight. Scientists have warned that, with new equipment such as sonar and new, more powerful boats, many species of fish are under threat of extinction. I remember going to meetings in the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at which experienced, erudite scientists explained why fish would not survive if we did not continue to make cuts. The fish have managed to survive. Ever more draconian cuts have not decimated the fishing stock or the fishing industry.
The whole thing is therefore a case of posturingthe fish posture; the fishermen posture; and we posture. I am not sure what the result is, but it is clear that there is an obscene situation in which, I am told, more fish are caught and thrown overboard than are landed. We do not know the exact number, because no one has weighed the whole catch. However, when there is a shortage of fish and a shortage of food in many parts of the world, it is appalling that we have a system in which more fish are thrown back
I have discussed the matter with the Minister before, and we would go back to the tie-up proposals and consider the number of days at sea. There would be fewer boats, but fishermen would be allowed to keep all the fish that they caught; they would not have to throw them overboard before landing. Obviously, there are problems because there are 17,000 to 18,000 fishing vessels in Spain. There will be difficulties with European countries with a large number of boats that are subject to the same process. We have to move to a new process which, I believe, should be based on days at sea, vessel tie-up and being able to land all the fish that are caught.
The Commission's Green Paper is pretty good; it shows that the CFP is unworkable and many aspects of it are welcome. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and visited Spain before it assumed the presidency of the EC a few weeks ago. I was impressed by the Spanish Minister with responsibility for fisheries, who is a professional and says all the right things. He is well briefed and said all the things that we wanted to hear; he agreed that the current policy, which allows hundreds of thousands of tons of dead fish to be thrown back into the sea rather than allowing them to be landed on shore and sold is economically unjustified and immoral. He also agreed that the reform of the CFP is necessary if we are to protect fish stocks and, at the same time, ensure that maritime industries and all the onshore industries associated with fishing remain viable. He supported the proposal that the CFP should move towards regional management. The key question is whether the Minister, his Spanish counterpart and others have got the will to replace the CFP with something better. That will be the test.
I wish to touch on some areas of concern. Monitoring and control are essential and I hope that the Minister realises that they are important. We have talked about cross-border enforcement and other things, but we do not want more bureaucracy from the Commission. As I said, the Spanish fleet has about 17,000 to 18,000 ships; I am told that Spain has about 90,000 fishermen and 500,000 people in the Spanish fishing industry, which is a big part of the country's infrastructure. The standard joke is that there are 60 fishing inspectors, all based in Madrid, but I was assured by the Minister that they are not; they move around the ports. Our dealings with Spain will therefore be critical.
Regional management is a good idea provided that the regions are given real power. In the interests of that much forgotten concept, subsidiarity, which I greatly support, it is important that regional committees have power delegated down and can do what they want for their region. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) recognised that limiting effort was the way forward. I may be wrong, but I believe that the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill became law in 1992, but was not enforced. It is therefore on the statute book waiting to be used. The Minister should not feel that he has to spend time in the House introducing a new Bill; the Conservatives have done it for him already. I am quite sure thatwith the consent of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmanthe Opposition would be very happy for the Minister to use that legislation in the manner
I have simply gone round the course on the issues. I have travelled back from New York to make this powerful speechI was at the Inter-Parliamentary Union and thought that they could probably do without me for a day. I did not want to miss this debate because it is always important. I also wanted to hear the Minister rehearse the same words and mouth the same platitudes that he has been saying for so many years, and he has not disappointed me at all. Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, ahead of all the other Conservative Members. I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.