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16 Jan 2003 : Column 853—continued

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): : May I pass on to my hon. Friend the thanks of the Ramsgate under-

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10 m fishing fleet for his efforts? He gets all too little praise in the House. The fleet is broadly pleased with the outcome of the negotiations and wants to thank the Minister and also his officials, who are unfailingly helpful to it.

Mr. Morley: I appreciate that. It is worth remembering that the majority of the boats in the United Kingdom fishing fleet are under 10 m. They support many small, isolated communities. They employ low-impact, traditional methods. I have always had a great deal of admiration for the way in which they operate, and always tried to take their needs into account.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): On the issue of under-10 m boats, will my hon. Friend also confirm my understanding that recreational fishermen who have diversified from the main fishery would fall into that category and therefore not be affected by these proposals?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I can confirm that both under-10 m boats involved in recreational fishery and larger boats that are not carrying fishing gear but are involved in recreational fishery are exempt from the restrictions.

Mr. Salmond: Can we just inject a little reality into this? The overwhelming majority of the white fish industry does not depend on boats under 10 m, important though they are in certain communities. The overwhelming majority of the white fish industry depends on reasonably sized boats. That sector is now at risk of total financial and fishing collapse over the next few months. I know that the Minister has been asked a variety of questions, but will he now turn his attention to the question of whether it is his policy to see that vital historical part of the fleet survive or not?

Mr. Morley: It is absolutely my priority to ensure that that part of the fleet survives. Our fishing fleet is divided into different sectors which have different priorities and operate in different ways. They are all equally important to me as the UK Fisheries Minister. It is worth remembering, however, that the majority of vessels are under 10 m, and that an awful lot of people are involved in that sector. They have needs and rights, which I recognise. I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, particularly in relation to his own constituency, that the white fish fleet on the east coast of Scotland is a very important economic driver in the fishing industry. I absolutely concede that point.

Andrew George (St. Ives): I thank the Minister for giving way once again. His taking of interventions is one of the valuable aspects of this debate, because a great deal is elucidated by it. In the light of the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood) about regional management committees, which we would prefer, does the Minister agree that there has been a change of culture in the industry in recent years? Does he also agree that we need a change from treating fishermen as perpetrators to treating them as partners in the management of their industry? That is the big change

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that has taken place over the last 10 years, and I urge the Minister to take that on board in future deliberations on the development of the policy.

Mr. Morley: Yes, I absolutely accept that. It is unfortunate that there has been a widening gulf between the fishermen and the scientists, for example. One of the objectives to which I want to turn my attention is how to bring those two sectors together in future. I shall touch upon that again later.

Mr. Steen: One or two of the Minister's Back Benchers mentioned two or three boats with six or eight people running them round the bay in Bexhill or Ramsgate and tried to distract him from the important point that I made earlier. I should be grateful if he could deal with it now. Would it not be a way forward to have an auction of the quota, once the European Community has fixed the quota? That way, the fish would be allowed to live, and we could then eat them.

Mr. Morley: I shall give the hon. Gentleman a serious answer to that. I can see some major disadvantages to his suggestion. I know exactly what he is saying, and there is an element of market forces at work in quota trading as it stands. That can be beneficial, particularly in relation to producer organisations ensuring that quota remains within their regions. There are advantages to that. If, however, we follow the full-blown logic of the hon. Gentleman's proposal, it would result in the disadvantage of the Icelandic individual transferable quota system, which, although it has some advantages in management terms, has had the effect of concentrating ownership of the quota in the hands of a very limited number of companies. That is a problem. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's rather disparaging remarks about those who work the in-shore boats in my hon. Friends' constituencies. They are as important to me as anybody else; they support families and communities, and they have every right to be taken into account and to have their needs recognised. I intend to ensure that that happens.

I appreciate the comments of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) about interventions. I do hope that my taking interventions will not lead to the length of my opening speech being held against me. I had prepared a speech of a fairly standard length, but I am happy to take interventions because this is an important debate on serious issues and I know that everybody who attends such debates has a genuine and sincere interest in them. I take that very seriously.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): May I return my hon. Friend to remarks that he was making earlier about the importance of scientific advice? The fishing communities that are being hit by the cuts in quota feel that it is equally important that the views of the fishermen are taken into account when determining the level of fish stocks. Nobody disputes that the levels have gone down, but the extent of that reduction can be disputed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he takes seriously the views of the fishermen who are actually fishing for these stocks?

Mr. Morley: I do take that seriously, and I shall touch on that matter in a moment. The experiences and views

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of the fishermen—the data from their log books, for example—are taken into account in relation to stock projection. I recognise that there are some problems, however. In that respect, I want to try to bring the two sides together and involve them more to ensure that the fishing industry is involved in the scientific projections and that the scientists listen to what the industry has to say.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): We welcome that assurance. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) mentioned a spirit of partnership, which is necessary. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) takes a great interest in the Fleetwood fishermen, and she will recall that I reminded the Minister that, in 2000, there was a tie-up east of the Isle of Man based on the sort of scientific advice that he now advocates, because the scientists claimed that it was not a cod spawning area. It turned out to be one, and the tie-up was a disaster. The fishermen were right and the scientists were wrong on that occasion.

Mr. Morley: I do not know who the hon. Gentleman has been talking to, but that is totally wrong. In fact, the fishermen in Fleetwood have raised a number of technical issues with me about the cod recovery programme, which I took very seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood arranged meetings for me in Fleetwood and I went along and talked to the fishermen. Their concern was about the level of cod in the eastern Irish sea. As a result of their representations, which I took seriously, we arranged trial trawls in the eastern Irish sea—by chartering boats from the fishing industry—which demonstrated that the cod population in the spawning period was extremely low. In fact, the closed area in the western Irish sea was precisely the area in which there was a concentration. That has been the basis of the three-year cod recovery programme, which is supported by the fishermen of the Irish sea.

It was inevitable, given that the UK had the majority of the quota for the most threatened stocks, that the December Council was never going to provide a good outcome for the fishing industry as regards quotas. But not responding to those threats or to the scientific advice was not an option for us either, not least because the threat of emergency measures being imposed by the Commission was a very real one, and we had to take that into account. We paid a great deal of attention to the details of the common fisheries policy and, in terms of the reforms, this at least provided a better outcome for the UK.

In relation to the reforms, the UK achieved all its principal objectives. Those objectives have been repeatedly called for by hon. Members in the House and they include a commitment to a multi-annual approach to stock management and to recovery plans for depleted stocks, and the renewal of our six and 12-mile zones. We pressed very hard for that measure to be without limits, but, unfortunately, the Commission's legal services advised that all aspects of Commission and Council decisions have to be reviewed at intervals. The wording

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of the final decision contained an assumption that these provisions will continue even though they are up for review. That was important.

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