Previous SectionIndexHome Page

16 Jan 2003 : Column 863—continued

Mr. Morley: I suspect that that is the kind of catch balance that individual fishermen are going for. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that such points of detail need to be addressed as part of the talks about the regime that will be in place from July. That is inevitable, and no one is pretending that this is not a crude scheme. It is not our preferred option, and in trying to refine it between now and March, we will address some of the hon. Gentleman's points.

Mr. Salmond: What happens between now and July? Will the prawners have to revert to 80 mm to get the extra days? The Minister will appreciate the cost of re-gearing a boat.

Mr. Morley: I do, but I do not know the exact catch composition or the fishery concerned, and the best way to deal with that point is to consider the advice of the department in Scotland with responsibility for fisheries.

Mr. Steen: Most of the interventions have been from the Scots. [Interruption.] I am not holding that against them, I am just stating a fact. The concern in the west country is that Scottish fishermen will move south. The deal that the Minister has managed to pull off for the south-west was better than most Members thought he could pull off, and we are grateful for that, but what happens when the Scots come marauding down into the English channel, eating up the fish that are currently fished by west countrymen. Is he going to erect some sort of barrier to prevent that from happening?

Mr. Morley: No, their vessels are UK vessels, and they are entitled to fish in UK waters according to the rules and to their quota—as, indeed, is every fishing vessel. Our job is to look at the immediate problems, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the south-west has been exempted from the effort control regime. That happened because it does not have the same kind of problems. The industry also asked me to ensure that measures that have been in place for some years in respect of the Irish sea—and which are showing some welcome, if modest, signs of improvement—are also taken into account, and I have done so.

The days at sea scheme will be applied to the North sea and the west of Scotland from 1 February. It exempts the Xunder-10s" and the pelagic trawlers, and there is no real restriction on the nephrops trawlers. My colleagues and I attach great importance to protecting sections of the industry against unwarranted restrictions. The arrangements do not apply in the Irish sea. Last year's cod recovery arrangements have been in place for some time; they are working, and the industry is supporting them. I also recognise the commitment that the industry has made in that regard.

In addition, the Council adopted TACs, which represent reductions of some 50 per cent. on 2002 levels for key white fish stocks of cod, haddock and whiting.

16 Jan 2003 : Column 864

Taken as a whole, TACs for pelagic species are largely the same as in 2002. In respect of the three nephrops stocks that are of interest to the UK, we secured a repeat of the 2002 levels, despite the Commission's original proposal for reductions. We considered that proposal to be unjustified, and we successfully argued against it.

I fully recognise that many members of the UK industry consider days-at-sea restrictions to be anathema. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to argue that things should carry on unchanged, or to ignore the scientific advice, and we must act if the mixed white fish fishery is to have any long-term future. The agreed provisions are much less devastating than the original proposal, but I understand that they are unwelcome and will have an impact. They represent the best balance that could be struck at this time between the industry's long-term and short-term interests, and in terms of the level of support within the council.

We shall obviously need to take further management decisions in future as we travel the road to recovery—not least when the Commission fulfils its intention to introduce proposals for a more sophisticated and longer-term recovery plan. That is supposed to happen by 15 February, and they could enter into force by 1 July, but a lot of work yet needs to be done. During the discussions, we will need to aim for the same balance that we sought in respect of the emergency recovery plan.

It is at least encouraging to note that in future discussions on fisheries management, we shall be working under a stronger and sounder common fisheries policy framework than in the past, but unfinished issues remain. We have touched on industrial fishing, minimum mesh size and minimum landing size, which are being addressed. Moreover, the hake recovery plan is also supposed to be finalised by July. We did achieve what the industry asked for, which was a mid-term review of the scientific advice on cod, and if it proves to be different from previous advice, it will of course be linked to TACs. That will also be dealt with by the scientific and technical committee, and it will provide an opportunity to look at the details of effort management.

During the recovery programme, I want also to look at ways of decoupling haddock and whiting stocks from cod recovery, because I realise that they are not in as poor shape as cod stocks. However, we do not want to over-emphasise the condition of those stocks, because there is cause for concern. I am very interested in work on separator trawls. Certain designs of separator trawls could allow the use of 110 mm mesh in a mixed fishery, with a larger mesh underneath to allow cod to escape. I want to explore such initiatives with the industry, and for it to become more involved in scientific studies.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): On separator trawls, has my hon. Friend had a chance to read the information—I sent it to him this week—from a retired constituent of mine who used to work in the fishing industry? He did a great deal of work on that initiative a few years' ago, and he hopes that the ideas that he developed then might be of use to the industry.

Mr. Morley: I should be very interested to read about those ideas. Separator trawls for mixed fisheries have been trialled by the Sea Fish Industry Authority, so

16 Jan 2003 : Column 865

some work has already been done. Of course, if we are to get acceptance it is likely that we will have to demonstrate to the Commission the effectiveness of that initiative.

Lawrie Quinn: The Minister is detailing the empathy that he feels for the short-term pain of people at the quayside, and many people in my constituency are fearful of bankruptcy in the short term. Can he tell the House what efforts he has made to hold discussions with banking institutions or regional development agencies in England? Can he also say a little about the real concerns of the safety implications of the measures that he has outlined?

Mr. Morley: On the safety implications and the days-at-sea regime, we recognise that there are potential problems. They have been addressed via pressure from the UK, in that there is 20 per cent. flexibility in terms of the months during which one can bank and borrow, to reflect bad weather, for example. In an extreme case whereby someone was tied up in port for the whole of February because of bad weather, under the arrangements the total number of February days can be added to the March days over a two-month period. In that way, the days can be accumulated. That gives people the flexibility to cope with weather conditions, and it takes some pressure off them.

I cannot give details of the financial package today, because it is still being worked on. I spoke to my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry this afternoon, and we are also talking to the regional development agencies. Of course, the Prime Minister is taking a personal interest in this issue, and he will meet industry leaders towards the end of the month. That work is therefore ongoing, and similar work is under way in parallel in the Scottish Parliament, in terms of the support package required by the Scottish industry.

Mr. Savidge: The fishing industry still has a tragically high level of injury and loss of life. The Minister said that decommissioning will occur, but can the safety of vessels be taken into consideration in choosing which are retained and which are decommissioned?

Mr. Morley: We do not apply a general criterion in relation to the condition of vessels; it is entirely up to individual owners as to whether they want to submit their vessels for decommissioning. There is a legal standard that must be applied to any fishing vessel that is operating normally. Funds are available for modernisation and improvement through our financial instrument for fisheries guidance programme, which is open to all fishermen. I want information to be available in all fishing ports about the grants and so forth that are available to the industry as part of the recovery package, so that those who feel that they could benefit can take advantage of what is there.

Mr. Weir: The Minister has mentioned aid. A circular letter that he sent Members this morning states:

16 Jan 2003 : Column 866

Will the Treasury give the agencies any extra funds—particularly in Scotland, where the impact on many communities will be devastating?

Next Section

IndexHome Page