Previous SectionIndexHome Page

21 Nov 2002 : Column 812—continued

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Should we not now be getting scientists on to commercial fishing boats rather than using gear that is 20 years out of date and has no credibility in the industry?

Mr. Morley: That is a common misapprehension. Research vessels use the same gear, because they are carrying out constant effort sampling. They need to use the same gear because they are measuring the same effort over a long period. I agree, however, that it is important to establish a close relationship between scientists and the industry. That is why we have invited industry leaders on to our research vessels, and why we charter commercial fishing vessels as part of our studies, with our scientists on board. In fact, I believe that some vessels from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) were chartered recently for use in the Irish sea.

It is important not to obscure a critical fisheries management issue with Euroscepticism. I was appalled to read some comments by Conservative MEPs who said that the proposed closure of the North sea was part of a great, secret Euro-plot to divide the EU into monopolies so that France would dominate farming, Germany would dominate heavy industry and manufacturing, Belgium would become the centre for Xcentralised bureaucracy"—that does not sound a very good deal to me—and Spain would dominate fishing. Apparently, the whole idea of closing down the North sea is to allow in the Spanish. Those are just silly childish conspiracy theories. The fishing industry deserves better.

The fixation of the Scottish National party on who goes to the Council and who speaks there is not helpful either; I say that in the most gentle way. Colleagues from the devolved Administrations probably have more access to and involvement in fisheries policy in DEFRA than Scottish Office Ministers ever did. I speak as one who was a MAFF Minister before devolution and has been a DEFRA Minister since. I will ensure that the devolved Administrations are involved in every aspect of decision making, and that their voice, as well as that of the Scottish Office—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is here to show her support and commitment—is heard clearly and strongly, expressing their interests as part of a United Kingdom approach.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley: I cannot do otherwise.

Mr. Salmond: How does the Minister explain a letter I have received from the general secretariat of the

21 Nov 2002 : Column 813

European Fisheries Council? It states that the name of the Scottish Fisheries Minister, Ross Finnie, appeared on one list of participants, but did not appear on the list for a range of other Council meetings. Although the Minister had attended those meetings, his name did not appear. What is the status of the Scottish Fisheries Minister at such meetings? There seems to be some confusion.

Mr. Morley: There is no confusion. It is the Council's practice simply to record the name of the lead Minister of the delegation.

Under the terms of the devolution settlement, this is indisputably a reserved matter for the Westminster Parliament. I am the lead Minister from the lead Department, but the Ministers from the devolved Administrations are part of the process at every stage and at every level. They are consulted closely. They attend our ministerial meetings in the Department, they attend all our pre-Council briefings, they attend the Council with me, and they speak at the Council supporting the UK line—while, of course, defending their own regional priorities. That is the strength of our approach; it is not a weakness.

Mr. Foulkes: I urge my hon. Friend to ignore the nitpicking of the SNP—and, I must confess, of the Liberal Democrats. It is a question not of who leads the delegation, but of the fact that this would forward powerfully and effectively the voice of the United Kingdom Government and of the devolved Administration. Knowing the people involved, I can say that there is no one better or more capable of putting forward that view effectively than my hon. Friend.

Mr. Morley: I was actually trying to make a point to unite the House—[Laughter.] I may have gone a bit astray.

My point was that all Members participating in this debate have legitimate constituency concerns, and I take such contributions seriously—from whichever side of the House they come. I am simply saying that there has been some nonsense surrounding this issue. It is a serious one, so let us concentrate on the threats that the industry faces and address them in a responsible way.

We will carefully examine the science. I have spoken to the Executive and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I will give a commitment that we will not blindly sign up to any proposal until we have properly evaluated it, looked at its implications, and considered whether or not it is justified. I also give an undertaking that we will recognise the impact on the fishing fleet—we do not ignore that—in all parts of the country. Northern Ireland's priority in respect of nephrops is very important, and I think that we can address that, along with matters relating to the North sea and the west coast.

We will of course strongly challenge practices such as industrial fishing. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan says that I am denying the science, but I am not. I have looked very carefully at it, and we are participating in scientific studies on industrial fishing. However, there is also a precautionary principle. When it comes to a choice between industrial fishing and

21 Nov 2002 : Column 814

fishing for human consumption, the latter must take priority on all occasions. An element of doubt guides many of the commission's proposals in terms of a precautionary approach, and the industrial fleets must be part of that approach. They cannot be exempted from it, and we will be making that point.

We will also look carefully at the proposals for the west coast and the Irish sea. At the moment, I am not happy about the idea that the Commission is simply taking some of the scientific analysis on the North sea and applying the methodology to the Irish sea. That position is not necessarily justified, and I can assure hon. Members that we will consider our approach to the issue closely. The fact is that, whatever we do, I cannot guarantee that there will be no impact on fishing ports and fishing fleets. If there is such an impact, we will of course examine what help we can give through the available structures and structural funds.

David Burnside: I find it hard to talk about Xdecommissioning" without thinking about the other form of it. One of the greatest threats is the permanency of the decommissioning of fishing vegetables—[Laughter.] I meant to say fishing vessels. Is there a form of subsidy similar to the set-aside subsidy that applies to agricultural land? There are strong feelings about that subsidy, but it does keep land in operation, and in the ownership of farms. The issue is keeping vessels in existence, and in the ownership of local fishermen and fishing families who have been involved in the industry for a long time, without permanently ending the use of such vessels.

Mr. Morley: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which he has made very articulately before. I realise that decommissioning is double-edged, in that it permanently takes away capacity. The advantage is that other fishing vessels become more viable, and I do not rule out a possible role for decommissioning as part of an overall package. I shall of course think about the issue, and discuss whether decommissioning is appropriate.

Provision is made under EU rules for time-limited—in other words, not very long—tie-up support. Unfortunately, the problems that we face are not short-term. I do not want to mislead the House, or to duck the issue: turning some of these stocks round will take a number of years. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but decommissioning is one of a number of options, although I stress that it is not the only one. I understand the long-term impact that it has on fishing ports, and that will influence the decisions that I take.

In conclusion, I can promise that we will examine the science carefully. We have done that already in connection with the North sea nephrops fishery, on which I see no justification for restrictions. The Government are clear that that fishery is very important to both Scotland and England.

We will expect any recovery measure to apply to all nations with access to a particular fishery. We will not accept severe restrictions if other nations do not take their share of the responsibility. We will continue to engage with the industry and with colleagues in the devolved Administrations to find the best way forward. We will vigorously defend our national interest with all

21 Nov 2002 : Column 815

the facilities at our disposal, and we will adopt a partnership approach with colleagues in the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Office, Northern Ireland and Wales.

We are committed to the sustainable management of our seas. We will act responsibly in respect of the science, but we will also defend our industry's interests robustly. It has a proud record, plays an important role and serves vital regional interests.

2.6 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): At the outset, let me assure the House that I have no doubt about the Minister's integrity or knowledge of the subject. He has done this job for a long time, and taken part in many debates in the House. His breadth of knowledge and understanding are remarkable. However, the British fishing industry feels betrayed—by the EU, the common fisheries policy and, most dishonourably of all, by those in this Parliament who have persistently advocated and pursued a policy that has resulted in the dramatic decline of our once-proud fishing fleet and in the consequent damage to communities where fishing is central to the culture and the economy.

I refer to those communities' culture because fishing is not just a job. It is a way of life, and is usually rooted in families that have been involved in the industry for generations. It is not something that people can lightly give up to pursue another career.

Many families and communities now face the betrayal that may be the final chapter in this tragic tale. The industry has declined dramatically. For example, the east coast of England once boasted many important fishing ports, but now it is almost bare of this great industry. Yesterday, I met fishermen from the east coast who struggle to continue with their way of life. Their confidence has been eroded and their hopes dashed. We should not be surprised at their solemnity, given the tiny numbers of boats that now set to sea from those once-proud ports. My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds), such a champion of the Boston fishermen, tells me that about 20 boats now work out of that port. About 10 boats work from Grimsby, and the same number from Whitby. Scarborough has about four working boats, and Bridlington and Hartlepool a couple each. The Minister must concede that those numbers are as shameful as they are pitiful. However, those ports are in a better state than Lowestoft. Who could have believed a decade—let alone 20 years—ago that Lowestoft would have no fishing industry?

Next Section

IndexHome Page