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21 Nov 2002 : Column 861continued
I shall start by picking up the point about consensus made by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). The genuine concern on both sides of the House has been reflected in many contributions from hon. Members of all political persuasions during this important and well argued debate, which has taken place in an appropriate, serious spirit that has reflected the genuine concerns in the affected communities. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that we must co-operate in defence of those communities to every possible degree.
I wish to emphasise the point that was made by the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and various othersthat those communities are rooted in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) gave the figures for the employment dependence throughout Scotland. I, too mentioned those figures in my earlier contribution, and they are shocking. One begins to realise that those communities will be truly devastated if the scale of reductions envisaged in the proposals is put in place. I hope that every Member is moved by that realisation, and it should inspire them to the sort of action called for by a variety of people
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) and the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan and for Great Grimsby, made points about the science. They questioned not the scientists' intent, but whether the whole scientific picture had been laid before us.
We should consider the latest information that has become available as a result of the changes that have taken place. We should consider not simply the technological changes referred to by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, but the changes in the size of the fleet. People cannot project with any accuracy and assess the proposal's likely impact unless that projection is measured against the current state of the industrya criticism that has been made time and again. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made the point that we do not distrust scientists per se, but we want the science to be holistic, comprehensive and balanced.
The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) said that even with 80 per cent. left, the industry would not be viable. He is right to emphasise that, because a partial restriction will not lower the mortgages or the cost of living of those fishing families, nor it will lower the fishing industry's fixed costs. The insurance costs and other permanent costs are not affected by the fact that the fishermen will not go to sea for two or three days a week, or whatever the compromise happens to be. The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the real impact of these changes, even if the Commission has suggested some sort of compromise.
Unless the matter is dealt with at the very highest level of Government, and the Prime Minister takes a personal and genuine interest and gives fishing the priorityseveral hon. Members used that wordthat many of us believe it deserves, it will be traded away as if it were nothing. I am not prepared to let that happen without a fight, and without speaking very loudly about it in this Chamber and elsewhere. That is the challenge to the Minister. He knows that I believe that the only way forward is to leave the common fisheries policy. I will say that time and again. Given that that will not happen while the current crisis is being resolved, we legitimately demandnot on our behalf but on behalf of those hard-pressed fishermen, their families and their communitiesthat he fight for them with every sinew in his body, and that his boss, the Prime Minister, show legitimate concern and real passion in fighting for them, too.
We have heard speeches from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), and the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith). That demonstrates the concern of many Members about the Commission's proposals on fishing. These debates are serious, because Members participate on the basis of their knowledge, and of representing their constituencies and the fishing industry. I very much respect that.
Looking for some of the solutions will be difficult. We should be clear that the Commission is deadly serious. There were one or two comments about scares; the idea is that a big scare leads to a compromise, which can be brought back and demonstrated as a success. We have been moving away from that for some years in the Fisheries Council. I, for one, have not been arguing against the science when it is justified, and the Commission has been very serious about its proposals and increasingly reluctant to move from them. What I have not heard tonightI put this mildlyis solutions
On some of the points that were raised, however, I should make it clear that I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney that the science is paramount. I am genuinely sorry about what happened to the Colne fleet. As he knows, I have met those people many times. He still has an important fish market in that area, however, and an important inshore fleet with long-liners, and I recognise and take note of the fact that that is a very selective fishery.
I must correct what the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said about the Irish sea recovery plan. There have been some encouraging signs, although we must be cautious about the science. I shall talk about that in a moment. I should make it clear that the closed area was closed to all vessels, including beamers, from whatever country. It is not the case that we were closing it to our vessels while other vessels could go inand that is not what I would want to see. The hon. Gentleman played the blame game a bit. He implied that other countries were responsible, and that we were not, but we must face up to our responsibility.
As for the impact on other countries, Germany and Sweden have already announced that they support the moratorium and will tie up their fleets. For other fleets, the Commission is calling for a 40 per cent. cut in effort for beam trawling. That will have an enormous impact on Holland and Belgium, and on France, which also has an important cod fishery. The implications are therefore not just for the UK. Other countries are facing difficult issues, too.
It is certainly true that the North sea mixed fishery is of dominant importance to the UK. The proposals for cod stockswhich, along with those for the mixed fishery of haddock and whiting, are in the greatest difficultywill impact on us, and I do not dispute that they will impact on us in a big way. That is why Members have been right to raise their concerns.
However, I have some reassurance about effort. We are now making our calculations about what might be the effort reduction on the baseline figures to which the Commission is working. We have probably reduced effort by 12 per cent., so one can deduct that figure from whatever the Commission proposes. It may well be possible to increase it.
However, I want to be honest with the House about our thinking. I am not prepared to argue for reductions that I cannot justify on the science. I will argue for reductions, but only if there is a strong case. The Commission has heard it all before. Many countries will demand reductions of what it proposes. They will demand more quota, and the Commission has become cynical about that. However, the UK has been successful because we have been able to justify our position on strong scientific grounds. That is why the position on nephrops has changed. Because of our research, and the evidence, the Commission now recognises that there is no case for closing the nephrops fishery. The by-catch is tiny. That important change demonstrates that we can make progress.
I will write to the regional development agencies in England to alert them about the potential impacts on local areas. I agree with the hon. Member for Congleton that the way in which the issue of kilowatt days has been presented in the Commission as a blunt tool that will be used to force people into decommissioning by bankruptcy is not acceptable. We will not go along with that proposal. There may be merits in considering a kilowatt days effort regime, but that involves talking with the industry and making the proposals work.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth that this is a time for cool heads; it is not a time for panicking. The industry should distinguish between what might look good and produce lots of excitement, and what will produce results. I am concerned with getting good results based on good science and sustainability. However, I will work closely with my colleagues in the Scottish Executive and the devolved Administrations. I recognise the points that hon. Members have made. I shall certainly stand up for the fishing industry of this country, but I shall do so on the basis of good science and sustainable management, while recognising the justification of the case that steps must be taken to deal with the severe decline in fish stocks.