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4 Dec 2002 : Column 265WHcontinued
There is absolutely no doubt that our fish and fish processing industries are facing a crisis. If the European Union's current recommendations were put into effect, there would be devastating job losses, not only in fishing communities but in the fish processing industry, and those industries are often scattered throughout the country.
Angus Robertson (Moray): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Is he as surprised as I am by the article written by the Prime Minister in this morning's Daily Record, in which he estimates that more than 14,000 jobs are connected to the industry? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there are far more than 14,000 jobs at stake in the current crisis?
Mr. Reid : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Yes, certainly the figures that I have seen show that there would be far more than 14,000 jobs at stake. The Prime Minister, in those comments this morning, underestimates the scale of the crisis that the Scottish economy faces.
Although fish processing factories throughout the country would suffer losses, the weight of the losses would mainly fall on fishing communities where the bulk of fishing is for white fish. Such communities are, by their very nature, isolated, and there is therefore little prospect of replacing the jobs lost in fishing with jobs in other sectors. Make no mistake: the loss of the way of life in those fishing communities and the destruction of jobs would be for ever. The 80 per cent. cut that the European Commission is proposing in the white fish fleet would bankrupt the industry. The loss of the infrastructure would mean that even if quotas were restored in several years, there would be no vessels left, no processing industry, and no skills left to restart the industries.
The Commission's reason for the shutdown is supposedly to save cod, but its proposals are based on dubious science. For a start, the scientific data on which the proposals are based are a year out of date. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea report does not take into account many things that have happened in the past 12 months, such as the 2002 decommissioning schemes, under which 100 vessels in Scotland, and 70 each in Denmark and England, were decommissioned. As well as that decommissioning, licences have been sold to the pelagic fleet, and boats have often been sold to other countries. That would take the real reduction in fishing effort in Scotland to well over the 100 vessels decommissioned.
The effect of decommissioning was a reduction in effort of 8.6 million kW days in Scotland alone. We have to add to that the extra losses because of vessels sold elsewhere. Also, the ICES report does not take into account the technical measures introduced at the beginning of the year, such as the increase in mesh size in the EU sector of the North sea north of Newcastle.
Scientific research commissioned by the Scottish Executive shows that those technical measures are working. They are allowing the small fish to escape. However, the best evidence that the cod recovery plan is working comes from the ICES report and I quote its figures. In the North sea in 2001, the spawning stock biomass for cod was 30,200 tonnes. In 2002, that went up to 37,600 tonnes. That increase is not far short of the 30 per cent. target set for the current cod recovery plan. There are even larger increases in the Irish sea and off the west coast of Scotland. That is hardly evidence of a species in decline and it is absolutely no justification for the draconian action that Franz Fischler is proposing.
I shall summarise the scientific position. During the past year, Scottish fishermen have implemented decommissioning and technical measures. Cod stocks have risen during the same period. That is surely evidence that the present cod recovery plan is working and it does not support bringing the plan to an end and wiping out the industry.
The ICES report that recommended the draconian action was published only at the end of October. However, the European Union Fisheries Council will meet in a couple of weeks, in the middle of December, to discuss shutting down the industry. The six-week period between publication of the report and the meeting is not nearly sufficient time to discuss the evidence and to reach a proper and considered conclusion.
Ann Winterton (Congleton): I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has thought that the conservation issue is being used as an excuse for integration within Europe? That is the reason why so many Scottish fishermen, in particular, have to goto accommodate others who are coming in.
The cod recovery plan is working, but discussions will be held soon to shut down the whole industry without proper consideration. The sensible course of action would be to continue discussing the measures while allowing a proper assessment of the situation and a discussion of proper alternatives. It is important that the fishing industry is properly involved in the discussions because the livelihood of people in that industry is at stake.
Most of the fishing off my west-coast constituency is for nephropsor prawns, as they are more generally known. The way in which the nephrops quota for next year has been handled is another example of just how confused the EU Commission is. I suspect that there is more confusion than conspiracy.
Everyone agrees that nephrop stocks are strong, but European Commissioner Franz Fischler threatened nephrop fishermen with extinction, all in the name of saving the cod, because he believed from the report that there was significant cod by-catch due to nephrop fishing. When the ICES report was published, Franz Fischler said in a press release:
Two weeks later, he did not propose what he said that he intended. Instead of proposing substantial cuts for nephrops, he proposed a 5 per cent. cut. We can assume only that his scientific advisers advised him that the ICES report was wrong about nephrops.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley) : From the UK position, we can claim some credit for that. We sent detailed scientific advice to demonstrate to the Commission that cod by-catch in the nephrop sector was minimal. That shows the advantage of making a case based on a good, logical and scientific background. It also demonstrates that change can occur if a good case is made.
Mr. Reid : I am grateful to the Minister. I was planning to deal with that later. I agree that UK scientists did a good job on nephrops and that the Minister did a good job when he argued the case at the Council.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Given that encouragement, would it not be a good idea for the Commission to have scientific assessments of the changes with regard to 110 mm nets, square mesh panels and the impact of 20 per cent. of decommissioning during the past year? If it had received that timeously, it would not have had only the past few days, as it said this week, to look at the substantial body of evidence that was ignored in the ICES assessment.
Mr. Reid : Yes, it is important that everything is taken into account. I believe that that scientific analysis had not been prepared at the time of the ICES report. Now that that information has been published, it is important that it is fully taken into account by the Fisheries Council before it makes a decision.
That the Commission got it badly wrong over nephrops and United Kingdom scientists got it exactly rightsomething that the Commission has now acceptedshows the fallibility of the ICES report. If it was fallible with regard to nephrops, there is a good chance that it was fallible about cod. I am grateful to the Minister for sending me the graph that shows that reducing catches of nephrops may be bad, not good, news, for cod. The figures show that there is a negative correlation between landings of nephrops and landings of cod, whereas the Commission was arguing the opposite. They show just how little scientists understand how different species of fish inter-react with one another.
Published scientific data give us a reasonably good estimate of the size of stocks at a particular time, but not what is happening regarding the interrelation between the different stocks and why such changes are occurring. However, we can speculate about that and one reason for the reduction in cod stocks in the southern part of the North sea could be global warming. Scientific data show that cod are far healthier in the northern part of the North sea than in the southern part.
Prawns eat cod spawn. It is possible therefore that cutting prawn catches could be bad for codthe opposite of the Commission's original proposals. We all agree that the cod by-catch from prawn fishing is
Although the nephrops fishery is not threatened with anywhere near the same disaster as the white fish industry, prawn fishermen on the west coast of Scotland are worried that if Franz Fischler's draconian measures are put through, their livelihoods could be threatened due to displaced effort of the white fish fleet fishing instead for cod. I hope that the Government will put in place measures to stop that displaced effort and that small, local prawn fisheries will be protected from the threats posed by larger boats.
The Clyde Fishermen's Association already operates conservation measures. For example, a box is closed between February and April to protect the cod and there is a 70-ft limit on white fish vessels in the Clyde. The association has proposed further conservation measures. It suggests, for example, that the 70-ft limit should apply to all fishing vessels and that an engine size limit would be a better guide than the 70-ft limit.
Local fishermen's observations are also important and should be taken into account. They have told me that the area of seabed in the Clyde that is covered with mud has increased over the years and that the area covered with sand and gravel has decreased. Given that prawns favour a mud bottom and that cod favour sand and gravel, that could be another explanation for the fall in cod stocks.The Clyde Fishermen's Association has commissioned research into that phenomenon. There should be conservation measures, and scientific research with fishermen, scientists and Governments working together is how the whole fishing industry should be managedby regional management committees, not by panic-stricken draconian edicts from the Commission with which we have been threatened recently.
Andrew George (St. Ives): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a sound case. He responsibly emphasised the importance of sticking to sound science and the responsible approach taken unilaterally by fishermen in Scotland to attempt to manage their fish stocks themselves. Does he agree that the United Kingdom must make a strong case to the European Commission not to have regional advisory committees, but to have strong, regional management committees with real teeth so that fish stocks can be managed more effectively within fishing regions?
Mr. Reid : My hon. Friend is right. That is how the common fisheries policy should progress. The regional advisory committees that are proposed by the Commission certainly provide a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough. They should be given real teeth and real management powers.
Another area of concern to fishermen on the west coast is the proposal to change the scallop-testing regime. It is important that the Food Standards Agency works with the fishing industry to devise a scheme that is viable for the fishing industry and ensures safety for consumers.
The Minister has a good case to put to the European Fisheries Council against the Commission's proposal for an 80 per cent. cut. We all know, however, that when it comes to meetings of the Council of Ministers science often goes out of the window and horse trading is the name of the game. Britain lost out during the horse trading earlier this year on the allocation of deep sea quotas off the west coast of Scotland. The original scientific proposal had recommended effort control and specifically rejected TACs. At the Council of Ministers meeting, however, that recommendation was overturned. We do not know exactly what happened at that meeting, since one of the many ways in which the Council is wrong is that it meets in secret. It certainly appeared that a political fix was proposed by the Spanish presidency and that the Dutch and the Irish, who originally opposed the Spanish proposal, were bought off by the promise of increased quotas. At the last minute the Spanish proposal was accepted. That meant that the Fisheries Council adopted a proposal that flew in the face of scientific advice and which also gave a miserably low quota to Scottish fisherman, who are based the closest to the fishing grounds. That example shows what is wrong with the way in which the CFP operates at present. It appears that the United Kingdom was outmanoeuvred in the negotiations. I hope that that will not happen at the December Council meeting, because the stakes will be much higher.
It is vital that the United Kingdom succeeds this time. The Government must make it clear to other countries that we are serious and that we are determined to win the argument and save the fishing industry. It is not good enough to huff and puff, bang the table, make a lot of noise about sticking up for the industry and then lose the argument. It is vital that we negotiate seriously and win. It is important that the Government send a high-powered delegation. Other countries will send Cabinet Ministersthe Scottish Executive will send one. I have every regard for the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), but, unfortunately, he is not in the Cabinet. In order to send the right signal a Cabinet Minister should attend. A solution would be for the Prime Minister to promote the Under-Secretary of State to the Cabinet[Hon. Members: "Hear, Hear!"] I see that that has widespread support. I hope that the Prime Minister is listening. It is important that we send the right signals and a high-level delegation.
The Government must do all that they can to resist Franz Fischler's draconian cuts. The scientific evidence that I outlined earlier indicated that the present cod recovery plan is working and that should be allowed to continue. The Government must enter the negotiations determined to succeed and they must succeed, otherwise our fishing communities will be devastated for no reason.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on securing the debate. It will give us all a chance to contribute to the debate on what is happening in the Scottish fishing industry. This time of year is always a worrying time, although this year seems to be even more worrying than past years. I get a sense of having been here before. This is like "Groundhog Day". Each year, the same crisis and the same problems seem to arise. Here we are again.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is present when the Government send their delegation to the European Commission to argue on behalf of the Scottish fishermen and United Kingdom fishing industry. I do not want to be too sooky to him, but he knows more than any other Minister in Westminster or the Scottish Parliamentor the rest of Europeabout the needs of the UK fishing industry and the importance of the Scottish fishing industry to the Scottish economy. He is extremely well versed in all of the arguments about that. I do not want to put pressure on him, but I will do so; it is now up to him to speak up on behalf of the Scottish fishermen and to ensure that there is a resolution to this crisis.
The fishing industry is very important in my constituency; there are still some fishermen who live in it. Although the port is just outside it in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), most of the fish houses are in my constituency. In Aberdeen alone, at least 2,000 people work in the fish processing industry and half of them are my constituents. I say that despite the fact that I am sitting with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge). Because of the geography of my constituency, a lot of the workers in the food processing industry are my constituents and more than half of the workers in that industry work in my constituencythey travel to it every day. Therefore, it is an important industry.
I appreciate the fact that Scottish fishermen have strong feelings about the fact that their livelihood could be decimated if the proposals from the EU Commission are implemented. However, there are onshore repercussions too and I hope that hon. Members will not mind if I concentrate on them, as I am sure that many contributors will talk about the offshore side of the industry.
As they stand, the Commission's proposals are unacceptableI think that everyone agrees that that is the case. Any attempt to ensure that the cod stocks recoveror to prevent any cut in the cod stockswill result in the closure of the white fish fisheries. All hon. Members who are present knowbecause they constitute a more knowledgeable audience than most in this Housethat if fishermen are not allowed to fish for cod they will not be able to fish for haddock or whiting either because we are discussing mixed fisheries.
In effect, what is being proposed is closure; that is unacceptable. Even if it were possible to fish for some cod, the amount of haddock and whiting that could be caught would not sustain the industry. Any major cut in the amount of white fish that can be fished would have a devastating effect on all of the communities on the north-east coast of Scotland.
Sometimes it is said that that would be all right for the fish processors because they could import white fishfrozen or notfrom around the world. That might be true for some of the bigger fish processors, but I recently heard an estimate that if no white fish was fished in the North sea we would be lucky if two or three of the very large processors in Aberdeen survived. Moreover, most of the fish houses are fairly small businesses and it would be devastating to them if no local fish could be landed and processed.
Therefore, the key issue is not just the amount of fish that is available for processing; it must be local fresh fish, as any dependence on imports would be devastating to the community. In most fish houses in Aberdeen, less than 40 per cent. of the fish that is processed is imported. No company could survive the loss of 60 per cent. of its production. Many fish processors operate on narrow margins as things are. As I said, we have been here beforewe have had crises upon crises and therefore several of the processors are already highly indebted to the banks. Obviously, they are concerned that any reduction in their throughput could be the final straw that will lead to their closure.
I would be concerned even if there were to be a short-term closure. The proposal states that if cod stocks recover, we can return to fishing for cod, haddock and whiting. That was tried with herring in the 1970s, and the skills that were needed to process herring were lost. Such jobs are highly skilled. I know that people do not think of fish processors as particularly highly skilled, but they are. It takes several years to become a skilled gutter. It is not the most glamorous of jobs, or popular, but it is a job in which many take great pride. If we find that there is not enough haddock and cod to be processed and if the fish houses close, even temporarily, people will find other jobs. One young girl told me recently that she was going to become a care worker, for a lot less money than she would receive working as a fish processor. She did not want to smell of fish any more. For some people that is quite a nice thing, but she thought that she was not going to get a boyfriend while she smelled of fish, and becoming a care worker was attractive to her.
Fortunately, most people who work in the fish processing industry do not think like that, but if opportunities come up, and they find themselves out of work, they will find other jobs. They will not sit and twiddle their thumbs waiting for the fish industry to recover.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does the hon. Lady share my concern that not only is there a possibility that people will leave the industry, but there is a specific risk that they will leave rural Scotland? That is one of the most substantial risks in the whole process.
Miss Begg : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Being an Aberdeen Member of Parliament, I suppose that I tend to look at things from an urban perspective. I would hope that because people like living in Aberdeen, they will continue to live and work there. He is absolutely right. If one considers the smaller communities throughout the north-east of Scotland, whether it is Johnshaven, Gourdon or those further north, there are no other jobs for people to take. I appreciate that in Aberdeen, where there are other jobs
That is not to say that that feeling is not present in Aberdeen, as is the fear that an industry could be lost as the result of even a temporary closure. My appeal to the Minister is to ensure that that does not happen. We must retain the skills, and the people working in the industry, to ensure that they are not lost. During a temporary closure, the infrastructure is lost, and markets can be lost, which happened to herring in the 1970s. The public taste for herring disappeared and that market has never properly recovered. It is not as simple as saying, "If we do not fish for cod, the cod stocks will recover." What is the point of their recovering if the taste for cod has gone and the processing skills and fishermen have gone as well?
There has been much argument about the reliability of the science. I am not going to get into an argument today about how reliable the science is. If the Commission is proposing any action, it has to be convinced that that action will work. If the proposal is to ensure that the cod stocks recover, the Commission has to be sure that that will happen. I have it on good authority that when there was a moratorium on cod fishing off the coast of Canada, the cod stocks did not recover because cod is one of the fish that is preyed upon. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute mentioned that prawn feed on cod spawn. The very action that the Commission is proposing may decimate the cod stocks further, rather than leading to their recovery. Hopefully, one of the arguments that the Minister will take to the Commission is that its proposal will not have the end result for which it is hoping. Apart from the devastating effect on the communities, it will not help the cod to recover.
When we discuss what we do not want the Commission to do, we also need to come up with solutions. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute that the cod recovery plan has been working because cod stocks have, to some extent, recovered. Measures that Scottish fishermen have already taken, such as decommissioningthere has been a great deal of decommissioningincreased mesh sizes and the introduction of square mesh panels, are beginning to show results. I appreciate that the results are fairly new, but I hope that the Minister will take them to the Commission to ensure that the measures that Scottish fishermen have introduced are taken into account. Progress may have been slow, but it has been made. The proposed draconian measures would set that progress back and would not achieve the Commission's objective.
Ultimately, we have to look at the reform of the common fisheries policy. It seems like "Groundhog Day" as we lurch from crisis to crisis, which is not the way to maintain a sustainable, long-term industry. We cannot have a yearly round in which the Commission makes a proposal to which everybody in the Scottish fishing industry reacts adversely. Since I was elected, I seem to have delivered almost the same speech every year about the need for sustainable fisheries. The
I thank the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute for giving me the chance to speak this morning. I hope that the Minister is taking seriously the plight of not only Scottish fishermen but the onshore industry. I hope that he delivers a tough talk to the Commission to ensure that it changes its plans.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on securing the debate, which is important. It is particularly timely because tomorrow there will be a mass lobby of the Scottish Parliament in which a petition against the European Union proposals will be presented to the Public Petitions Committee. Make no mistake, the issue is causing great alarm and fear in north and east Scotland.
Unfortunately, there is little fishing left in my constituency, although there was once a busy fishing port in Arbroath. There is, however, a large fish processing industry, which the proposals from Europe would destroy along with many jobs. In the town of Arbroath, we have collected some 4,000 signatures to the petition to the Scottish Parliament in just a few days, which amply demonstrates the concerns felt for the future of the fishing industry in one small town.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute also highlighted the problems facing the prawn fishery in his area. Boats from Arbroath, which is in my constituency, mainly fish for prawns. They used to fish for haddock, but earlier cuts have all but destroyed that fishery. They changed to prawns to survive and if the EU proposal goes ahead we have to ask whether many more boats will try to move into the prawn fishery, which would cause problems for it. In the future, we may be back here discussing European Union proposals for drastic reductions in the prawn fishery.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the recommendations have come about because of the alleged state of the cod stocks. The vast majority of Scottish boats target other stocks, with which it is generally agreed that there is not such a problem. However, the Scottish fleet will be destroyed by the proposal. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea recommends the closure of all fisheries where cod may be caught, even as a by-catch, which would obviously result in the complete closure of the haddock and whiting fisheries. Such a move would immediately result in a drastic reduction in Scottish fisheries. Even the alternative proposals from the Commission for an 80 per cent. reduction in the total allowable catch for white fish would be little better than total closure because the industry could not survive such a reduction.
Why do some people believe all ill of our fishermen and their efforts to conserve stocks in the North sea, yet remain unwilling to tackle some of the real problems with the North sea fisheryespecially the impact of industrial fishing on fish stocks?
Some of the Minister's colleagues have been attacking fishermen, but he seems to have united themif only, for the momentagainst himself. I stress to him that Scottish fishermen have accepted many measures to deal voluntarily with stocks in the North sea. They have accepted larger net sizes and used them properly. They have accepted voluntary tie-ups. Boats have been decommissioned. Yet they are not given credit for that; they are attacked in the manner that I described. As the Minister well knows, the original proposal made to the Commission did not take into account those measures taken by Scottish fishermen, and the Commission had not even received the research commissioned by the Scottish Executive. Can he assure us that all that information has been put forcibly to the Commission and that it will be taken into account in the discussions at the Council? When Scottish fishermen visited Brussels, they were given the impression that the Commission was not in the least bit interested in the measures that they had taken.
Despite what has been said about them and what happened at the Commission, Scottish fishermen by and large accept that to do nothing is not an option. However, they believe, as I do, that any action plan should look to maintain the integrity of the industry, with the long-term objective of developing and maintaining a sustainable and viable industry for catching and for processing. The Scottish Fish Merchants Federation has put forward proposals including zonal management, central to which would be the establishment of exclusive zones favouring cod. In other areas, fishing would be permitted, including, for example, a haddock quotaalthough we would have to accept that that might be reduced in the circumstancesand a cod by-catch.
The federation's information is based on research by Professor McIntyre of Aberdeen university. It believes that it may be possible to achieve a two-thirds reduction in cod catch, combined with only a one-third reduction in haddock and whiting catch. Other sensible measures such as real-time closures have been proposed as practical ways for the industry and the Commission to work together. The fishermen are willing to work on this, but are the Government and the Commission willing to show the same commitment to the North sea?
Why are we rushing into this disaster? Given the seriousness of the situation for the Scottish fishing and fish processing industries, it is not unreasonable to ask that we stop and draw breaththat we have a short moratorium on a decision before condemning whole industries and communities around the north and east of Scotland.
The EU Commissioner has stated that the industry will not be expected to bear the burden alone. Fishermen and companies directly disadvantaged by the primary cuts in the cod quota should expect appropriate compensation. Indeed, to be fair, the Minister has hinted that in the event of a closure or a very substantial reduction there may be decommissioning schemes. That is all very well, and it would help to some extent those engaged in fishing and fish processingalthough in Scotland the bulk of the cost would probably be borne by the Executive, not the UK Governmentbut it will not protect jobs for the future in the rural communities of north and east Scotland. Boats that are decommissioned or a plant that is shut cannot employ people in the future. Inevitably that will lead to further, perhaps drastic, economic decline in many fishing communities in Scotland.
Today, we heard about the article in the Daily Record by the Prime Minister, which said that some 14,000 jobs are dependent on fishing. That is a gross underestimate of the total. The Scottish Executive figures refer to 44,000 jobs being directly or indirectly dependent. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) noted that in the town of Fraserburgh in his constituency some 55 per cent. of those in work depend on the fishing industry. It is a huge industry in Scotland and it is despicable that the Prime Minister does not seem to understand the scale of the problem that is facing north and east Scotland.
Mr. Morley : No one underestimates the scale of the problem for the Scottish industry, but it is important not to talk it up to sections of the industry, such as those dealing with nephrops or the pelagic fishing and other sectors that are not facing as severe a situation as the white fish fleet. The figures are taken on the basis of those people who are directly involved. No one is being complacent about the situation or underestimating its impact, but we must try to be as accurate as possible about everything.
Mr. Weir : The 44,000 figure comes from the Scottish Executive and a large percentage of those people are directly involved in the white fish industry. We are not being alarmist: there is a serious problem. Scottish fishing has for many decades been sold out in European negotiations. We seem to have reached an impasse. If that happens again, it may mean the death of the white fish industry.
meaning the fishing industry in Scotland. The article is absolutely clear. If the Prime Minister, six weeks into this crisis, realised the scale of the industry44,000 jobs throughout Scotlandperhaps he would be three times as concerned as he seems to be.
Ann Winterton : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for supporting the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in his attack on the Prime Minister. The fact is that the Prime Minister has only influence, not power. The Scottish National party however stands for an independent Scotland and it believes that if Scotland had true independence it would have the power to control Scottish fishing policy. It is sadly mistaken. The leader of the SNP has said that such policy would be part of the EUthe acquis communautaire would be signed and Scotland would be in exactly the same position that it is in today.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) mentioned the herring industry. That is a measure of what could happen. Although herring stocks are now increasing according to the ICES report, little expertise exists for dealing with herring, nor is there much of a market for it, because of the previous closure of the fishery. If the white fishery were closed, is it not the case that the same would happen to the Scottish fleet and the processing industry? Even if stocks were to recover, Scotland would not receive the benefit and our fleet and industry would have long gone.
As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said, the fish processing industry is irrevocably linked to the fate of the fishing industry. If the white fish fishery is closed or severely restricted, it will devastate the fish processing industry. The large processorsthe Young's of this worldmay well survive, because they will have the economic power to import fish from overseas. Indeed, I suspect that some of them already do so. The small producers do not have that option; they rely exclusively on fish landed at Scottish ports. Small fish processors in Arbroath in my constituency buy their fish from the fish markets in Aberdeen and Peterhead. They do not have
Arbroath has a specific problem because it requires haddock. There are many small family processors in the town and they produce the world-famous Arbroath smokie, which relies on a steady and reliable supply of haddock. You cannot make smokies from other types of fish. The supply is now in doubt and the future of the smokie hangs in the balance. Make no mistake, if the haddock goes, the smokie goes with it and the smokie is part not only of Arbroath's heritage but of its potential future. Only a few months ago, there was an Adjournment debate on attempts to have the smokie protected under European regulations. Now it appears that we have to try to protect it from the European Commission. There were high hopes that the smokie could find new markets and help the economic recovery in Arbroath, but all that could now go.
Processors and fishermen cannot understand why only last year there was an increase in the haddock quota and smokie production was able to increase. For a short time, the Minister was even a hero among those in the fishing industry. Yet this year we are talking about complete closure and the devastation of an industry as a result of what appear to be panic measures to protect cod. Fish processors cannot make plans because they do not know from one year to the next what fish they can have. One processor told me that he did not know whether to buy a new van to go to the fish market in Aberdeen because he did not know whether there would be a fish market to go to by January.
I do not question the science, but I question the way in which the European Commission has interpreted it. If the science was wrong last year in relation to the quotas, can we be sure that it is correct this year, without taking into account all the matters that have been referred to? Are we on the point of destroying a major industry and bringing untold misery to the north and east of Scotland for nothing? The Minister should be in no doubt that the issue is vital in Scotland. A poll by System Three showed that 73 per cent. of Scots consider the future of the fishing industry to be very important and a further 21 per cent. consider it to be quite important. I hope that Ministers will give the matter the same priority when they go to Brussels.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), not only on securing this debate but on giving a balanced speech. This has generally been a well-balanced discussion.
At the last Scottish Office questions, I raised two important points. It is important that the science is accurate. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and I think that it has also been raised by the industry. Questions about the science relate to the fact that the mathematical model is new and it is untested at present. We need to be certain that our decisions are made on a sound and accurate basis.
On the whole, the debate has shown that there is good all-party co-operation on the issue. I was a little sorry that, in an otherwise good speech by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), we entered into a rather sterile debate about whether the words in a newspaper article referred to the most directly affected
Mr. Weir : Does not the hon. Gentleman think it important that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom knows the full extent of the damage to Scotland? There is a huge difference between 14,000 and 44,000.
Mr. Savidge : The difference lies in whether one is talking about people involved in part of the fishing industry or in the fishing industry as a whole. We know that tabloid articles simplify things, so it is silly for us to get involved in sterile party political point scoring when the parties share similar feelings about the matter and the industry wants us to work together on its behalf.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Let us leave the job figures aside for a moment. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister gives another so-called fact in the same article. He says:
I want to move on from party political point scoring to the importance of the industry. Global warming has been a contributory factor in the reduction of cod stocks for two main reasons: it is believed to have an effect on breeding patterns, and cold water fish tend to swim further north. I have been told that the fish used to be full of roe, but now they appear to lack it. We must also recognise that over-fishing has contributed to the problem. In part, we can blame foreign and factory fishing, and it is reasonable for us to say that factory fishing should be curtailed. Fishing for sand eels also affects the food chain for cod.
There is also the problem of the by-catch of small fish. It would be reasonable for us to ask for far stricter inspection of factory ships and for them to be banned from sensitive areas. There is also a strong argument for the total decommissioning of fishing for Norwegian pout, which is largely a mixed catch of fish containing a large amount of small fish. Scotland has had to accept a great deal of decommissioning, so we may reasonably ask DenmarkNorwegian pout is caught mostly by Danish fishingto decommission its vessels.
Mr. Savidge : I have disagreed with the hon. Gentleman's party in the past, but I am glad to agree with him now. His point was exactly the one that I was making. If sand eel fishing is to continue, we should be able to say that certain sensitive areas should not be fished, because fishing removes a basic food resource from the food chain, as the hon. Gentleman says.
In Scotland, we have already taken action on decommissioning, as I said. It should also be recognised that we have taken action on mesh size and square panels. If we are facing a crisis, we should insist on the early introduction of the appropriate mesh size and square panels for fishing in sensitive areas.
As we said, cod stocks are down. Most of the fish that tend to be part of the same mixed fishery are haddock, whiting and saithe, stocks of which are currently up, as far as we can tell. Incidentally, because of their life-cycle, cod tend to predate on nephrops and herring, which are both up at present. The cycle is counter-balancing because, at different stages, they, in turn, predate on cod. An excessive reduction in the domestic fishing catch would certainly have a devastating effect not only on the catching but on the processing industry.
To back up my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, representatives of the processing industry recently told us that many firms in Aberdeenit is even worse in other north-eastern areasare between 40 and 90 per cent. dependent on domestic fish. It is untrue to claim that they can rely solely on imports: some can, but others would go to the wall. Knock-on effects would also harm employment outwith the fishing industry.
We should continue to examine decommissioning throughout Europe. I prefer long-term to short-term solutions such as tie-up, though there might be a case for considering days at sea again. On decommissioning, we should consider not only owners but trawlermen and workers within the industry. The Government's recent action on compensation in respect of the Icelandic cod wars provides a good example of assessing impacts on everyone in the industrynot just those at the top. It is vital to recognise common interests and the industry needs to co-operate. We must encourage co-operation between organisations representing the catching side of the industry, those on the processing side and the trade unions. We need more dialogue and co-operation across the industry during this crisis.
Finally, we must cut out cheating. Arguments about others cheatingwhether in other parts of Europe or other parts of the industrycan always be heard. At a time of crisis, the temptation to cheat is always greater, but it is vital to eliminate it. It is in the interests of all to have improved surveillance and enforcement. Satellite surveillance is already present, but it is in the industry's own interest to increase it. We need greater stringency of inspection and the registration of buyers and sellers.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I, too, join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on securing this debate. It has often struck me as a parliamentary curiosity that we congratulate each other on winning a raffle, but on this occasion I congratulate my hon. Friend not just on securing the debate but on delivering a well balanced and thoughtful speech, which was commendable for its detail and handling of the issues. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) knows that I was born and brought up in his constituency and it is satisfying to see that my own family's concerns remain in good hands.
The other great cliché of Westminster Hall debates is that the debate is timely. It is difficult to imagine a more timely debate in view of the present position of the Fisheries Council. However, I did not realise just how timely it was until I picked up my copy of the Daily Record this morning over what became a rather spoiled breakfast in the Tea Room. I do not know whether that is your paper of choice, Mr. Benton, but if it is not, I commend it to you. I certainly commend its, "Save our Supper" campaign. That is an excellent example of how a responsible tabloid can campaign for an industry that is crucial to parts of Scotland beyond those that are represented here today.
Unfortunately, like other hon. Members, I have been less than impressed by the Prime Minister's article in that paper. Reference has been made to the 14,000 jobs and I find that situation difficult to explain. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North was asked to explain the Prime Minister's assertion that haddock stocks were down, given that the spawning stock biomass, which is the important indicator for fish stocks, is manifestly up.
Mr. Morley : I gave those hon. Members who met with me the clear figures relating to the North sea. We have had one of the best spawning years for haddock for a long time, which means that there is a lot of haddock in the sea, but recruitment in the past few years has been poor, so there will be a decline in the overall haddock stocks. That cannot be ignored.
Mr. Carmichael : I certainly do not ignore that issue, any more than the Minister or the Prime Minister should ignore the fact that the SSB is at an all-time high. Having read the Prime Minister's article, I am afraid that I am left with the image of a world war one general sending his infantry men over the top, while carefully crafting a plan to blast them with their own heavy artillery, machine guns and tanks from behind.
The Minister may be able to assist us on one point. Incidentally, I presume that the Prime Minister wrote the article because it says that he did. I am sure that he would not have let anyone else write it for him. I did wonder whether someone from a school on work experience at No. 10 Downing street had written it for him, but no. The Prime Minister says:
As I have found and others have said, the response from Brussels has been rather less than encouraging. The Prime Minister need not take my word for that; others have corresponded with me on the issue. The local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses in Shetland recently wrote to me to express its concern. It identifies the fishing industry as one of the main drivers of the Shetland economy. Picking up earlier points from the debate, it said that implementing the closure plan would have the serious effect of speeding up the train towards population decline, thus killing off our communities.
If the Prime Minister is looking for useful information for future articles, I will be more than happy to send him a copy of the document from the Shetland Oceans AllianceSHOALwhich is a partnership between Shetland Islands council and the Shetland fishing industry. The document's title refers to the future of Shetland's white fish fleet. I do not know whether the Minister has seen a copy of it; I have only one. It has what we used to call marginal annotations when I was a solicitor, and is an excellent piece of work.
I place on the record the document's estimate, based on a fair amount of local research and calculation, that the loss to the local economy in Shetland in the event of the closure of the white fish sector will be some £43 million. That is considerably larger than the figure of £28 million, which was simply taken from multipliers. I am talking about some 25 per cent. of Shetland's productive economy and a loss of 531 jobs, representing 17 per cent. of full-time employment in the productive economy and 7 per cent. of the total full-time employment in the wider economy. Over four years, it is expected that the loss of the demersal fleet would remove approximately £170 million from the Shetland economy.
In the past, others have suggested that I tend to be emotional in dealing with this issue. I make no apology for being emotional when I see the potential effect on the communities that I represent. Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), there is nothing else to keep people in Shetland. If the white fish fleet goes, the people will follow. Once the critical mass of the population in a community such as Shetland goes, it is gone for ever. There will be no return.
There are various other management measures for the North sea fisheries promoted in the SHOAL document. In the short time that remains to me, because I am keen to allow the Minister as long as possible to respond, I will ask for some consideration to be given to those measures.
The question of tie-up would have to come with funding, but would have to be part of measures related to the reduction of fishing effort. The Shetland industry believes that it is preferable to have a limit on the number of days at sea and an extended tie-up.
The industry in Shetland, and throughout the rest of Scotland, is concerned that the innovative measures that it has takennot particularly welcome in Brussels, for some reasonincluding the use of larger mesh cod-ends and square mesh panels, should now be implemented in other areas. Although the white fish industry is located predominantly in Scotland, those measures should also be implemented south of the border. Will the Minister comment on that?
In connection with the implementation of new technical conservation measures to reduce the capture of cod and juvenile fish in mixed fisheries, a great deal can be done with measures such as separator trawlers. I hope that something along those lines is being devised in the Minister's Department in conjunction with the Scottish Executive.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): With my slightly croaky voice, I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on his good fortune in securing the debate at such a critical moment for Scotland's rural communities.
During the debate on 21 November, I said that it was unfortunate that Members such as the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and I, who had a critical interest in the future of Scottish fishing, were restricted to brief remarks at the end of the debate, because of its nature. The debate today has provided a useful additional means of raising the pressure.
This debate cannot be understated. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House pointed out that it requires passion. Without exaggeration, the debate is about the future of substantial areas of rural Scotland. It is not about a small factory closure in one area, but about significant rural employment. It is several Ravenscraigs. Even on the figures given by the Prime Minister, who has substantially torn the rug from underneath much of the case that has been made on both sides of the House in the past couple of weeks, this is two Ravenscraigs. We all know that the real figures from the Scottish Executive demonstrate that 44,000 jobs are at risk in Scotland.
It is worth examining some of the other factors that have not been considered. This is not purely a fishing issue. Only 8 per cent. of fish mortality is due to fishing for human consumption. The effects of the discharge from the Ruhr valley in Germany and of global
On factory fishing, the Danish fleet is hoovering up much of the fish in the North sea in a very inefficient process, which, as the Minister knows, requires 8 lb of raw soup from the ocean floor to provide 1 lb of farmed salmon. In many respects, that process is insane, yet it accounts for much of what we are discussing. The issue has not been explored as widely as it could have been.
The scale of the problem cannot be underestimated. We are talking about the future of 800 vessels, out of a Scottish fleet of 2,500. Those vessels represent the most substantial part, or the core, of the fleet. For every offshore job that is threatened, four or five onshore jobs are put at risk. In that respect, I would slightly chastise the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), who concentrated on north-east Scotland. The problem affects the whole of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) mentioned in the debate on the Floor of the House on 21 November, Annan is one of the communities that is critically affected. Who would have thought that a rural community in Dumfriesshire would be one of those most at risk? The present proposal could sound the death knell of communities the length and breadth of Scotlandin the south-west as much as in the north-east.
Mr. Salmond : It emerged from that debate that Scottish Executive research showed that 35 per cent. of employment in Annan was fishery related because of the two major fish-processing factories there. That demonstrates that the problem's impact is being felt from the Shetlands, through the north-east and right down the west coast to south-west Scotland.
Mr. Duncan : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's clarification. What is more, the processing industry in Scotland is geared to a great extent towards a domestic catch. On average, 80 per cent. of the fish is Scottish caught, but the figure in England is regularly as low as 40 per cent. That implies that the industry will be incapable of adjusting in the short time that remains. I repeat that that is madness. We are contemplating the end of an industry between 26 October and the end of the year. That is no way to go about things. We all know that it is crazy, but we are going ahead with things yet again. I take the Government's point that this has happened under successive Governments, but the common fisheries policy has presided over the industry's decline and it will continue to do so. It is failing our fishermen.
Although the science is regularly quoted, the fact is that this is about politics. We need only look at the settlement in the west coast deep-sea sector. Scotland has an historic claim to that area, but it now faces an allowable catch of only 2 per cent. Eighty per cent. will go to the French, while the rest will be split between the Irish and the Spanish. The Minister knows that because he corrected me in the Chamber when I got the figures the wrong way round. What makes the situation totally
We cannot leave the Minister in any doubt on this matter. One of the most depressing aspects of the article in today's Daily Record is the implication that the Government are doing what they can to minimise the spin on the problem. That is an appalling travesty. The Secretary of State for Scotland regularly accuses us of talking down Scotland whenever we present a critical analysis of what is happening. Now we are accused of talking up the problem in Scottish fishing. That is crazy. The figures are the Scottish Executive's own. There are 44,000 families in Scotland facing oblivion.
We want distinct action from the Minister in the next couple of weeks. We also want the Prime Minister to take up the invitation that has come from both sides of the House, and to act with the same determination that he has shown in other matters. In other areas of foreign policy he has been the most determined person. He has access to the top, around the world. Now is the time for him to act, and not to let down Scotland's communities, because we shall not stand for it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) on securing the debate and on a balanced and reasoned speech. He made some good points.
I also welcome the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on what, I think, is his first outing on the Opposition Front Bench. I also greatly appreciate being joined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Her presence is an indication of how united we are, at all levels of the Government, in our approach to and concern about the problem in Scotland.
I do not think that it would be helpful to dwell on the figures, but the Sea Fish Industry Authority figures for employment in Scotland give the number of people employed on the catching side as about 6,650 and the number employed in processing as 7,900. There are, of course, associated onshore jobs. I might also mention the shellfish, nephrops and pelagic sectors, as well as those processing sectors that import fish for processingwhich, I accept, is not all. Of course, many of them depend on the haddock fishery in particular and face problems. However, it is important to try to be accurate. There are many jobs at stake in Scotland and
Mr. Salmond : The text of the Prime Minister's article speaks for itself, and people will draw their own conclusions from that. The point that hon. Members were trying to make was that an appreciation of the Scottish Executive figures, showing that the entire industry employs at least 40,000 people in direct, indirect and related jobs, might concentrate minds at the highest level in Government. That is why we find it difficult when we see figures that minimise the industry's importance. All we want is Government understanding that a huge industry, with 40,000-plus jobs connected with sea fishing, is involved.
Mr. Morley : The hon. Gentleman knows that I exactly understand the implications for the Scottish industry and that there is an important regional dimension to the issue. As we have heard, there are parts of Scotland, in particular, with very high levels of unemployment connected with the fishing industry. In Orkney and Shetland, of course, there are often few other opportunities. I understand that. I have met representatives of SHOAL several times and I congratulate them because they have tried to deal in a thoughtful and pragmatic way with the current circumstances. Not all of the suggestions are practical, but some are worthy of consideration and SHOAL sets a good example in recognising the problem. That is the point: we have a real problem with the state that the stocks are in and we cannot ignore that or wish it away.
As hon. Members have said, we need careful and critical analysis and interpretation of what the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the Commission say. The Commission recommendations must be justified. My Scottish Executive colleagues, my right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that we do not think that it is realistic to close down the North sea. I made it clear at the Fisheries Council last week that the suggested alternative of an 80 per cent. reduction is not very different from complete closure. It is not a realistic option.
Mr. Peter Duncan : Has the Minister reflected on the experience in Canada, where the Newfoundland Grand banks were closed 10 years ago to restore cod stocks, but nothing happened to regenerate them. Fishermen are now, I understand, fishing for plentiful snow crab and shrimps, but there are no cod there after 10 years of closure.
Mr. Morley : The Canadian situation is at the back of all of our minds. I met with the Canadian Fisheries Minister not long ago, and have spoken to Canadian scientists. They have told me two things. First, both the industry and politicians were denying the scientific assessments right up to the bitter end until the cod fishery collapsed. That is worth remembering. Secondly, while the Canadian cod situation is not fully understood, there is a scientific theory that the stock was fished below a crucial, critical level, which meant that its
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman is very generous. He will accept that the aim is not to preserve one species of fish but to preserve an industry. If he had total control and could make a decision without going to the Commission, what would be his policy and approach? Secondly, given that anything that comes out of this effort is likely to be a disaster, is there not an overwhelming argument for trying to delegate it to the states concernedrolling over? Is he aware that Commission officials said this week that they are waiting for such an option to be proposed by a member state?
Mr. Morley : I shall certainly go through what I think should be done. I shall talk about the issues that I have discussed with the industry, for which I shall argue in the Council. They are measures that, if we had complete control in UK waters, I would apply within UK watersperhaps in different ways and at different times. However, I believe that the principal measures represent the right way forward.
I should like to stress what the industry has done to reduce effortthat is important. ICES will not take that into account in its brief, because it looks at the present state of the stocks and makes recommendations to the Commission accordingly. The Commission has to decide how to respond to that.
The scientific measure of the reduction in effort necessary to have an effect on stocks must be considered. We can debate what is realistic, what is reasonable and what will have an effect. Once a credible level is identified, we can also consider what the industry has done in the past two years in terms of decommissioning, bigger mesh sizes and the move of licences from the white fish fleet to the pelagic fleet. Those points constitute a strong case. I have discussed them with the Commissioner and with the presidency and I assure the House that we will ensure that they are taken into account, in the same way that we have already succeeded in having account taken of the work that we have done on nephrops and the fact that the original proposals were entirely unjustified. We have made progress in that respect and I have every confidence that we shall do so in relation to the industry's effort reductions. That will move us a long way from where we are at present with the Commission's suggestions, but more work is to be done. Although our scientists made a casewe could back it up with justificationto exclude nephrops, they are not challenging the thrust of the ICES findings on present fish stocks.
The news is clearly bad for the industry, but it is not in anyone's interests to ignore it. Nor would it be in anyone's interests, and it would be impossible, for me to take a populist position that was not credible given the science and the terms of the case. Our position has to be seen to be credible. That does not mean that we will not support the industry, or that we underestimate the impact of the recommendations on it. Everyoneme, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Executive, right up to the Prime Minister in No. 10is committed to making the case.
When I go to the Council, I will be joined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. My discussions and negotiations have the authority of the full Government and the devolved Administrations. There is a team approach. In that way, I speak with some authority, with the full clout of the full machinery of Government behind me, including up to the level of the Prime Minister. I have talked to No. 10 almost daily since the most recent Council about the problem and the issues that we want to raise. It is important to stress that.
Ross Finnie and I have been attacked by some sections of the Scottish fishing industry, but we cannot take a fundamental decision by denying that there is a problem. I have had responsibility for fisheries for some time and the job is not for the faint hearted. On occasion, Fisheries Ministers have to act as a lightning rod for the industry, especially when it is under stress. However, some of the attacksthey have tried to exploit divisions and play petty politicshave not been in the interests of the industry at the moment. It would betray the industry if we were distracted from the need to unite on the impact on catching, processing and onshore jobs. We must think about what we need to do to mitigate the problem and ensure that the industry is not destroyed in the way hon. Members have described.
We recognise the severe short-term problem, but we must consider longer-term issues as well. I do not want to stagger from crisis to crisis. We have done so, partly because choices on reductions in fishing efforts have been ducked by the Council of Ministers as they were difficult for the fishing industry, which was against it, and unpalatable for Fisheries Ministers from various countries. That is one reason why we find ourselves where we are at present. We must take short-term action. I do not disagree with the idea that it will be painful and we must think about the consequences. However, the action need not be what the Commission proposes, as we can make a credible case for changing that.
We need to consider closer relationships between fishermen and scientists, reform of the common fisheries policy, and research into long-term environmental change such as global warming. The rise in sea temperatures cannot be ignored, especially in relation to cod. We need effective control and enforcement, as misreporting and misinformation helps no one. It certainly does not help scientists in their assessments. Control of effort, gear, technical measures and closed areas are also important.
We must acknowledge the role that the industry has had. On Friday, there were discussions about some of the issues that have been mentioned todayhow we could argue for certain measures and how we could apply them to benefit fish stocks and the long-term
We must tackle short-term and long-term issues. We as a Government are committed to defending the interests of the whole United Kingdom industry. The debate is on Scotland, and rightly so. As a result of the scale of its involvement, the implications for the Scottish white fish fleet are severe. It is right to focus on that, but I emphasise that all levels of Government are committed to defending the industry's interests in a credible and effective way to minimise the impact of the proposals and ensure long-term sustainable management.