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21 Nov 2002 : Column 805—continued

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): When the Minister speaks of fish mortality, he must surely recognise that fish caught for human consumption are but a tiny portion of fish mortality. Compared with the effects of Danish industrial fishing, what power stations do to fisheries stocks, what seals take and what seabirds take, the amount fished for human consumption is very small. The Minister must ensure that we concentrate our efforts on producing a satisfactory basis for that.

Mr. Morley: Yes, but we must see the problem in perspective. There is natural mortality within the fish stock, and the biggest predator on fish is other fish. There are other impacts, which I do not discount, but we cannot get away from the fact that there is a natural cycle of mortality and that fishing at an unsustainable level is not natural and will lead to a terminal downward spiral of the stocks. We cannot allow that to happen.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I know that my hon. Friend appreciates that one of the problems of the CFP is that when stocks become unsustainable the suggestion is that one of the fisheries should be closed—in this case, the cod fishery. The processors in my constituency are afraid that if the cod fishing grounds are closed they will not have access to the haddock and whiting. They are terrified—that is genuine, and it happens every three years—that their whole business will be wiped out, because the skills will be lost if those fisheries are closed even for a year. People will go off to other jobs. It happened with the herring a couple of decades ago, and people are anxious that it should not happen this time. For them, the closing of the cod fishery would be the worst decision.

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's point. She and colleagues from Aberdeen have arranged meetings with me about their processors. I understand their concerns and their vulnerability. That is an example of the balance that we must achieve in our approach to the problem. I recognise that onshore jobs will be affected by what happens to jobs at sea. I assure my hon. Friend that that is always at the back of my mind.

On the package of measures relating to the CFP, we strongly support many of the suggestions. There are measures covering the scrapping of vessels, and deals for the granting of subsidies. The Commission's CFP reform package also includes an action plan, which we endorse, to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, a communication on integration of environmental protection requirements into the CFP, which we support, and action plans on aquaculture and on the management

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of fisheries in the Mediterranean, which are based on very sensible ideas. The UK welcomes the fact that care for the environment and the adoption of the precautionary approach to stock management are watchwords of the Commission's whole CFP package.

On the basic package before us, one of the key elements that we strongly support is the abolition across the EU of subsidies for the construction and modernisation of fishing vessels. Given the problems that we face with regard to fish stocks, it makes no sense to subsidise the building of more efficient fishing vessels. We will strongly support the Commission on that. We also support a commitment to put in place recovery plans for fish stocks shown by science to be outside safe biological limits, as well as multi-annual management plans for other stocks. We think that that is the right way forward.

We support a commitment to establishing effort controls among the management options available in both recovery plans and multi-annual management plans. It is now difficult to believe that the sort of adjustments needed in fishing efforts can be achieved without some element of direct control. We will have to explore that issue.

We support the retention of relative stability. Indeed, that is one of our key negotiating positions. The retention of relative stability is absolutely essential as part of the reform of the common fisheries policy. It provides the basis for dividing fishing opportunities among member states, which is important if we are to avoid the development of extra pressure on already depleted stocks such as those in the North sea. Related to that issue is the question of Hague preference, which the Commission says will be taken into account in the future allocation of quotas. Again, we strongly welcome that. For us, it must simply mean that Hague preference is retained so that UK fishermen continue to benefit at times when quotas are low, with a recognition of the special circumstances of our fishing communities and the history of fishing in the UK and of our relationship with the European Union.

We also support retention of the current restrictions on access to member states' 12-mile limits, which the Commission proposed should be given a permanent basis. We will certainly support that proposal. We support renewal of the Shetland box, which we believe is justified on socio-economic and conservation grounds, and a stronger role for the Commission in monitoring member states' enforcement of the rules and promoting co-operation among member states on enforcement—another matter that has been raised in interventions.

One of our key objectives is putting in place regional advisory councils, drawing together for the first time all stakeholders in fisheries that are of interest to more than one member state. Our idea is that the councils would develop management measures and recommend them to the Commission and Council of Ministers for adoption. We believe that that innovation is vital if we are to improve the effectiveness of management measures. Fishermen in particular need to know that their views count—we need to assure them of that—and to have confidence in the measures that are adopted and some input into decisions about them.

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We need in many cases to seek to shape those key features of the Commission's proposals to take account of the United Kingdom's various concerns and interests.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): I accept what the Minister says about improving the industry's confidence in the procedures. Does he accept that he and his colleagues throughout the EU would go a long way towards increasing confidence in the industry if they allowed fishermen access to the negotiations?

Mr. Morley: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I should be accompanied in the Council of Ministers by all the fishermen of the United Kingdom and that all the fishermen of every other member state should also be present. Frankly, there would not be a room in Europe big enough to fit them all in. We must certainly involve the fishing industry as far as possible. That is why I have a meeting with all UK industry representatives before each Council meeting. I usually give them an update of what is going on in the middle of the proceedings and I meet them all again at the end to tell them the outcome. I assure him that we take very seriously the involvement of the industry and that I ensure that it has its say and is kept informed.

Sir Robert Smith: One of the frustrations at the Norway negotiations is that Norwegian fishing industry representatives are present with their Government's representatives, but no fishing representatives are allowed in from the EU side to help back up the negotiations from that perspective.

Mr. Morley: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that our fishing industry representatives are present at the EU-Norway talks. There may be a slightly different system in relation to Norway, but I am not aware that any special treatment is given to Norwegian fishermen's organisations in comparison with ours. None the less, I shall look into the matter for him.

I was very anxious to be brief, but I am willing to take interventions. I only hope that hon. Members do not hold that against me and that it will count as injury time to be added to my speech.

On the discussions that are currently under way, hon. Members will be aware that a block of member states has styled itself Xfriends of fisheries", although some say that with friends like that, fisheries are in more trouble than we thought. Those in the group have rather contrasting views. What unites them is their opposition to the abolition of construction grants, but there is a great deal on which they are divided. We are not alone in the Council of Ministers in arguing the UK view.


We have allies and we respect individual member states' positions. Although we may not agree on every aspect of the CFP with every member state, we have a qualified majority on a range of objectives that are vital to our country. On other matters, including building grants, we do not have a qualified majority. We have a blocking minority, but although I have blocking minorities on a variety of subjects, that applies to other countries and other issues.

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It is in no country's interest to be deadlocked at the end of the year, and I am trying to secure an agreement on the reformed CFP by then. That will require negotiation with the presidency, the Council and other member states.

Mr. Drew: We could push international inspection. The biggest problem in the industry is lack of trust. Is it not sensible to take the friends of fisheries aside and try to negotiate with them about the benefit of having up-front independent inspectors, so that we know what is being caught?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. We are already co-operating with other member states. Spain is a good example because Spanish inspectors have visited our ports and our inspectors have been to Spanish ports. We have a good personal relationship with countries such as Spain. That country has made it clear that it does not object to the idea of a stronger role for the Commission in spot-checking and international enforcement that is applied equally to all member states. We would like that to happen, and I believe that we can develop the proposal.

As I said earlier, it is likely that we will decide on the total allowable catches and quotas for 2003 in terms of the cod and hake recovery plan at the December Council. We do not know what the Commission will propose, but the EU must respond to the severe scientific advice on cod and other stocks.

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