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16 Jan 2003 : Column 870—continued

Mr. Morley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I should like to make two points. First, I really do not need him to tell me the views of the fishing industry, as I can talk to industry members directly. Secondly, as Opposition spokesman, it behoves him to say what his alternative would be. Would he have ignored the science involved? Would not the Opposition have taken action when it was projected that the cod stock could have fallen as low as 30,000 tonnes of spawning biomass? I remind him that that figure fell to 28,000 tonnes when the stock off the Grand Banks collapsed.

I would also be very interested to know how the hon. Gentleman claims to be a great advocate of financial support, coming from a party committed to cutting public expenditure by 20 per cent.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman should have listened to me more carefully. I simply asked a question. I am not in Government. I do not have the Chancellor's ear. I do not have the power to give this lifeline to the fishing industry. I asked the Minister what he intended to do about it, as did hon. Members from all parties during his speech. Hon. Members from his side asked about the short-term support and payments he would give.

What the hon. Gentleman said about conservation was weak, coming from a man who knows so much about the subject. Is he really suggesting that the only way to conserve fish stocks—the only way to put in place a recovery programme—is through days at sea? He knows that that is not true, and it has never been accepted as true by either party or by him as Minister. There are many conservation policies. The Government could have implemented many fish recovery policies as part of the programme.

As I shall explain, the Minister had the opportunity to pursue those avenues in the European Fisheries Council. He has not chosen to do so. He has ended up with a days-at-sea policy. That is a matter of judgment and choice, a choice that he and other Ministers made, but he knows that it is not the only option. He is not being entirely straightforward in suggesting that it is.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Is my hon. Friend aware how delighted both I and the Southend fishing industry have been to read the terms of the Opposition's amendment, and in particular the clear indication that the Conservative party would want to re-establish national control over UK fishing? We are thrilled with this proposal. I hope that he will be able to find time in his speech to explain how Parliament could do that.

Mr. Hayes: Even my hon. Friend would find it hard to trump me on those matters. I shall be happy to say more about that during my speech.

Let us first talk about the communities that will be so badly affected. The Minister said that he would speak directly to the fishermen and their organisations. I understand that they have been promised a meeting with the Prime Minister, because it is clear that the Prime

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Minister understands the political, electoral and other effects that these matters may have on his fortunes. Let us hope that they have more success with the Prime Minister than we did when we asked him to raise them at Copenhagen.

I have a copy of a letter to the Prime Minister written by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The House will know what a strong stand my right hon. Friend has taken on these matters. He has visited the fishermen. He has gone to the communities. He has had many discussions with them, and he invited the Prime Minister to raise these matters in Copenhagen when European leaders came together.

That would have been an ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister to take a personal lead. When we last debated the issue the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), with me and other hon. Members, asked the Prime Minister to do precisely that. We said that he should take the matter in hand at an early stage and not come in at the last minute, as he had to do, to try to prop up the Minister when he could not do a decent deal for us. He was invited to take that personal lead and raise the matter in Copenhagen. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote:

that will damage our fisherman's interests.

The Prime Minister replied:

That was the level of priority that the Prime Minister gave to this matter and the livelihood of these people. We hope that, when he meets the fishermen, he will be able to offer them a little more hope, a rather more positive perspective, a little more generosity and a little more empathy than he showed on that occasion.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful to the Conservative spokesman for giving way on the subject of leadership. I notice that he says that it is important that the Government should have raised such matters at the Copenhagen summit—the Scottish National party first called for that—but can he tell the House how many times before that summit meeting the leader of the Conservative party raised fishing during Prime Minister's Question Time? Will he confirm that it was none?

Mr. Hayes: That is a cheap point, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. He also knows that I would be first to acknowledge that even the SNP, firing grapeshot as it does—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that it would be for the convenience of those who are trying to record proceedings and in conformity with normal courtesies if he would address his remarks to the Chair?

Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that reminder.

Even the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who speaks on behalf of the SNP, will understand that when his party fires grapeshot, it will

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occasionally hit the target. SNP Members did so when they called for the Prime Minister to take a lead, and he failed to do so.

Fifteen-day tie-ups mean that many boats will be tied up for ever. Fishermen will be driven out of business, unable to meet their costs or feed their families. If fishing effort is reduced by 15-day tie-ups, there is no reduction in fishermen's mortgage payments or the cost of feeding their families, let alone the overheads faced by their businesses. At least 900 vessels are likely to be affected. Hon. Members are right to emphasise the fact that the effect is particularly profound on the Scottish east coast, where fishing is the principal source of employment in many communities.

Bob Spink: Does my hon. Friend agree with the estimate that 20,000 jobs will be lost in the Scottish fishing fleet? Will he explain why France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Holland did relatively well in the December talks compared with the British fleet, which was sold down the river?

Mr. Hayes: I will answer—mindful of the need to address the Chair—in two parts. First, those countries did relatively well because their Ministers care more about fishing than ours do. Their Ministers and Prime Ministers place high priority on such matters and our Government simply do not. That is the truth of the matter.

Mr. Morley: I do not want inaccuracies to be recorded. Denmark was severely affected by the changes because it had the second biggest cod quota after the United Kingdom. Those management methods affect the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France and Ireland to varying degrees, depending on their fishing practices. It is ridiculous to suggest that some members have got better deals; things depended on the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman can find one member state that received quota against the scientific advice, I shall be very interested in hearing about it. The Prime Minister raised fishing at the margins of the Copenhagen summit meeting.

Mr. Hayes: I am not sure whether the Minister's intervention was intended to relate to me or to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), but I shall come to the point about job losses in responding to my hon. Friend's original intervention. With the typical understatement and moderation for which he is well known in Essex and the House, he underestimated the effect of the changes. Estimates suggest that up to 40,000 people could be affected. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan quoted precisely that figure, although he now looks bewildered, when we debated fishing in November. If he checks the record, he will find out. If account is taken of the other industries and people affected—those who work in harbours, in boat building or repairing businesses or in the wider fishing economy—the number is much greater than 20,000. I suspect that it is more than 40,000, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is about to trump me on that.

Mr. Salmond: The overall figure for fishing industry dependent employment is 44,000. Obviously, not all

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those people are employed in the white fish sector, but none the less, thousands of jobs will be lost, and the effect will be heavily concentrated in Shetland and a few east coast ports. People in those areas desperately want to hear what will be done to protect their livelihoods.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman's estimate is right: the figure is 44,000. To amplify his point, it is important to emphasise that the job losses will be concentrated. In some communities, the fishing industry accounts for a significant proportion of total employment and there are knock-on effects for families and the wider economy.

A large number of vessels are affected, yet the Minister and the Government do not appear to be taking the industry seriously enough, despite landings in 2001 to the value of #574.4 million, a figure revealed through a parliamentary question.

The Government's half-cocked and half-hearted defence has been mounted on conservation. In meetings with me, fishermen's organisations have pointed out a number of flaws. Contrary to the Minister's assertions that we are making gradual progress on minimum landing sizes, they have been reduced for certain species. The opposite should happen: the minimum landing size should be edged upwards, with corresponding escape opening areas. We know why that issue is so contentious for many who debate such matters in Europe: the taste in southern Europe for baby fish. We should not be frightened of acknowledging that fact; it is well known, widely understood and should be stated in this place.

Furthermore, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, we should not be frightened of raising the issue of the quota system, which has caused the dumping of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of prime fish, dead, back into the sea. The quota system was never designed to aid conservation or fish recovery; it is all about EU integration.

As other hon. Members have said, the impact of the deal is mainly on vessels that use large-mesh nets of more than 100 mm. It thus encourages vessels to move to smaller-mesh nets—for example, the prawn fishery uses 80 mm—or smaller-mesh areas such as the southern North sea where 80 mm is permitted for white fish, to escape the impact of day-at-sea restrictions.

The Minister asked me to suggest an alternative and I shall speak more about what could be done, but he has to answer the point that day-at-sea restrictions are the most likely of all the conservation options to deliver precisely that movement of effort from one part of our coast to another—from one fishing area to another.

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