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16 Jan 2003 : Column 850—continued

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): I apologise for not being able to stay for the whole debate because of commitments in Committee. As my hon. Friend knows, some hon. Members fought to get compensation for distant-water trawlers after the Government's action in the cod wars. What is he doing to ensure that fishing

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communities get compensation quickly if they lose their livelihood so that we do not have another 25-year fight for their rights?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Of course, there is a case for a support package for the fishing industry, and I shall say more about that later. I recognise that many fishing communities, including those in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, will be affected to a varying extent by the changes—we are not going to ignore that.

There are aspects of the three amendments tabled by Opposition parties with which I do not disagree. However, I find the Conservative amendment the most unreasonable. One issue raised by the amendments is the need to recognise the impact on fishing communities. We do recognise it, and take it seriously. I shall come to that in a moment.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): When the Minister returned from the Fisheries Council blinking into the sunlight, he describe the package as Xa balanced outcome" and Xa turning point", whereas the Scottish Minister who was carrying his bags that week described it as Xinequitable, unfair and crude". Which was it?

Mr. Morley: I understand that the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make such points, but I can assure him that Ross Finnie was involved in every stage, every aspect and every detail of the negotiations that week. I very much appreciate his support and backing in an extremely difficult negotiation. I do not disagree with anything that Ross Finnie said in the Scottish Parliament about those discussions. If the hon. Gentleman listens to what I say in the debate, he will find that there are echoes of what Ross Finnie said.

I made it clear in discussions before the Council that I could not and would not ignore the scientific advice, which was serious, and that we had to respond to that advice in a credible and responsible way. Destroying fish stocks will, of course, also destroy the fishing industry. My approach was guided by the views of Members of the House and reports from the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, which considered the common fisheries policy and concluded that

I had to take that comment seriously. It was echoed by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am pleased to see that its Chairman, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), is present. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on the CFP stated that

The report continued:

I took those comments from the two all-party Select Committees very seriously.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): The EU documentation makes it clear that discards—the

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throwing of dead fish back into the sea—is a massive problem. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish are needlessly wasted every year under that mad policy. Why did the Minister press not just for study and discussion but for immediate action to stop the scandal of killing all those small fish, throwing them back into the water and making no use of them?

Mr. Morley: We do want action, and we want it to be effective. That means identifying the problems. I am pleased that one of the positive outcomes related to CFP reform, including a discard policy, which addresses part of the right hon. Gentleman's point. I should emphasise that the vast majority of discards in the fishing industry are of undersized and non-commercial fish. We must address the matter as an aspect of fisheries management. I shall speak about that in due course.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): As the Minister knows, we have been going round this track for about 30 years. We could go back 30 years or so—the hon. Gentleman would not have been in government—and find Ministers of both parties saying that there were too many fishermen and too few fish, and that we must do something about it. Nothing has been done about it. Ministers keep saying that the scientific evidence is terribly important and we must do something about it, but nothing happens. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says. I enjoy hearing him say the same thing every time. Are we going to make any progress? Surely the only way to make progress is to recognise that there is only a certain amount of fish and that there must be an auction. The fishermen should decide who will bid for each quota, dividing the amount of fish by the number of fishermen. We cannot go on trying to decide that fishing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is breaking into a speech.

Mr. Morley: As always, the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) has some interesting suggestions regarding fisheries. I know that he has extensive experience of and background in the subject. There is some truth in what he says. For many years the problem has been acknowledged and people have been saying that we must do something about it, but action will inevitably be painful. It has always been resisted both by Fisheries Ministers from European countries and by the industry. Even now, there are people who deny the need to take action on the basis of the scientific advice. If we do not address the problem, there will be the constant spiral of decline that the hon. Gentleman correctly identifies.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): On the absence of political will, does the Minister recall that a decade ago the House voted to introduce effort control in the form of days at sea? That was never implemented and, like practically every other conservation measure, it was fiercely opposed by the industry. Does the Minister think that, in retrospect, had it been applied, we would be in quite the mess that we are in now, including over days at sea?

Mr. Morley: I thought the right hon. Gentleman might mention that, and he has every right to do so.

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There are different forms of effort management. I recall the debate on the proposals to introduce effort control. There were problems with that. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there were great difficulties in terms of bureaucracy, ascertaining people's right to days, and the appeal procedures. It was a difficult and complicated structure, and there were some valid criticisms from the industry, which I acknowledge.

There is no perfect system of fisheries management. If there were, it would have been introduced long ago. We must therefore examine the range of management tools available and try to adapt them in the most effective way. I have always had an open-minded approach to these matters, including effort control. I listen to what the industry says. I tried to persuade the Commissioner to take a different approach and consider a recovery programme that did not involve effort control of that kind. With reference to Ross Finnie's remarks, I agree that the measure is crude. Of course, it is an interim measure, and I shall discuss the details in a moment.

Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The Minister is right to say that there is no perfect system of management of stocks, but would it not be an awful lot easier to tie the industry in if we had proper, effective regional management of the industry in the North sea? How soon does he believe he can achieve that?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I do agree with that. One of the successes of the CFP reform is that we have put in place the regional advisory councils. We want to get them up and running as quickly as possible. It is the beginning of a process, and we need to build on those councils. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that an element of regional management and regional involvement, particularly the involvement of the industry, is essential for future fisheries management. That is the direction in which we want to go and for which we were arguing.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Will my hon. Friend immediately discount the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) that the market should play some part in divvying up the fish? The birthright of my constituents in Hastings and Rye, who cannot afford to enter the market, would be compromised. Will my hon. Friend discount that Conservative proposal entirely?

Mr. Morley: I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend, who has been a great advocate for and friend of the Hastings Beach fleet. I made it a priority to exempt the under-10 m fleet from the effort control restrictions, recognising that it is a low-impact fishery. I understand the concerns for such fleets, which are unlikely to become involved in an open-bidding market. Quota is bought and sold; that is a feature of the fishing industry, but the under-10 m fleet is not part of the inshore fleet. The inshore fleet is non-sector, and managed by the Department. We recognise the low impact that it has. It should be exempted from the range of measures that we were successful in achieving.

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