Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When I was thinking before Christmas about applying for a useful debate in Westminster Hall about the fishing industry, I intended to consider its long-term future. I expected major parts of the fishing industry to be in calmer waters after the meeting of the European Council and that we would have the opportunity to take a longer-term perspective. However, events have moved on. The outcome of the Fisheries Council was so grave for the white-fish industry in Scotland that I will concentrate on the implications of what happened at that meeting in December.
If we believe the Ministerand the initial reaction, at least, of his Scottish counterpartthe United Kingdom secured a negotiating triumph. The Minister returned from the meeting covered in glory to tell a grateful fishing population that quotas had increased. It was our first victory after a series of reversals at the Fisheries Council. Unfortunately, the reality is very different. In an exchange with him last Thursday, he repeated that view. He cited two respected leaders of the industry: Alex Smith, president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and John Patterson, the chief executive of the Peterhead harbour board in my constituency. He said that someone from my constituency had expressed broad approval for the deal that the United Kingdom won. Unfortunately for him, the press contacted those gentlemen to ask them their views about being cited by the Minister. The Press & Journal (Aberdeen) of last Friday stated:
It reports both Mr. Smith and Mr. Patterson saying that the Minister quoted them out of context. They welcomed the increase in quotas, but their balanced view about the deal was that it was utterly unworkable and disastrous.
The fishing industry is not made up of a huge number of people; it is much like a village society. It is possible for a Minister in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom to contact the major figures in the industry, but such contacts should not be bandied about across the Dispatch Box, as so and so from the CBI or so and so from the TUC are sometimes cited. It is easy to contact the leaders in the industry, so it is impossible for a Minister not to know the feelings of the industry about the deal that was secured. It is therefore extraordinary that he should cite people in the industry as saying something that they clearly and obviously do not believe. That does not do him any credit. It certainly does our debates no credit. The leaders are not
We must first establish today whether the Minister believes that the view of the fishing industry in Scotland is as he said it was on Thursday. If he does so, he is living in some parallel universeunlike the rest of usin which, despite grave fears for the future, everyone says what a marvellous job he has done. I am not just talking about the two gentlemen to whom I have referred. I have a collection of 12 quotations of people in the industry in Scotland. It shows the real view of the disastrous outcome of the December negotiations, and one that is held throughout the Scottish industry.
That view has been repeated by all the industry's representative bodies, across the spectrum. The only congratulation that the Minister deserves is on uniting the industry. It is his misfortune that he has united the industry in Scotland against him. That is the only impact that he has had.
The views of the producer associations, whose members have to implement what Ministers agree in European Councils, are even more interesting than those of the industry's political representativesthe voice to Ministers. Yesterday, I asked all the fisheries producers organisations in Scotland to give me a one-sentence view of what they think of the outcome for the white-fish fleet of the December negotiations. Gary Masson, the chief executive of the Northern PO, said:
My first question for the Minister is whether he accepts that those are the real views of the industry. Does he accept that there are grave misgivings about the deal that he has securedthat the key players in the industry, and particularly the people who have to work with the deal, regard it as an unmanageable disaster?
Such a view is shared not only by the POs and the fishermen. John Hermse of the Scottish Fishing Services Association of onshore businessesthe harbour businesses, which are the lifeblood of our communitiessaid:
Last Thursday, while the Minister was lauding the deal, the Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, had to apologise to the Scottish Parliament for misrepresenting it. Given the spin that the Minister tried to put on the deal, it is hardly surprising that people initially thought that the increased quota was welcome. Immediately one looks at the regulations, however, one sees how unworkable the outcome is. When we consider that, some weeks after the Council, the First Minister of Scotland does not understand things and has to apologise to the Scottish Parliament for misrepresenting the dealpresumably because he was misinformed by his officialsthe extent of the difficulties that the Minister has created for the fishing industry become apparent.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that the deal could create huge difficulties for people in the onshore fish-processing industry, many of whomas in my constituencyrely on Scottish-caught haddock? Although there is an increased quota, there is no way that the fishermen can catch that amount in the days that have been allocated to them.
Mr. Salmond : That is one of the key problems, which I will address. We must try to explain to the Ministerexplanation is obviously necessarywhat his Scottish counterpart described last Thursday as the "unintended consequences", which require "tidying up" if the deal is to be made effective.
I mentioned Ross Finnie, the Scottish Fishing Minister. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties wish him well for the surgery that he is about to undergo. What happened after a meeting that he attended last Thursday was interestingand perhaps shows his honesty. I understand that he was told not only by the fishing organisations but by Iain MacSween of the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation, which is one of the biggest producer organisations, that the impact of the deal would be the closure of the haddock fishery,
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The hon. Gentleman should be congratulated on securing this debate, and on his speech so far. Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that the latest deal has nothing to do with conservationwhich we are always told is the reason for such thingsbut everything to do with the politics of the treaty, particularly concerning equal access to a common resource? The deal will almost wipe out the Scottish white-fish industry. It has been devastated, and it will continue to be so.
Mr. Salmond : Interestingly, I understand that at last Thursday's meeting Ross Finnie also acknowledged that he expected that another 40 per cent. of the Scottish white-fish fleet might need to be taken out of the industry. The fleet has already been reduced by 50 per cent. over the past three years. Are those responsible for the "negotiating triumph" anticipating a further reduction of 40 per cent. in the white-fish fleet? If we have any more triumphs such as the one last month, there will be no industry left in Scotland or elsewhere.
The Minister's argument last Thursdayapart from the claim that the deal was a success and his citing of industry leaderswas that the deal that he had negotiated was based on the fishermen's proposals. I want to examine whether that claim was true. I have brought along the maps, because such things must be explained in terms of areas.
The map that I am holding shows the Scottish Fishermen's Federation proposal for the cod area in the North sea. It should be in the north and east. The Minister is squinting, but he must be familiar with this map because it is based on the international groundfish surveythe bottom-trawl survey. It was also agreed at the Bergen summit by scientists, fishermen and the Commission. There is no argument that the north and east is the cod areawhere the cod congregate. That area was put forward in the Scottish Fishermen's Federation spatial management proposals as the restricted cod area. The Minister is squinting again and I am not surprised, because his Department could not produce this map yesterday when it was asked to do so by my researchers. We had to rely on the fishermen themselves to produce it.
A second map shows the cod-restricted area that was agreed in December, which is not in the north and east, but sweeps into the main haddock fishing grounds in the central North seathe Fladden grounds, which are the main areas from which haddock is taken by the Scottish fleet. They are now in a cod-restricted area from which the Scottish fleet is restricted to taking only 10,000 tonnes of haddock.
The third question for the Minister is this: where did that map come from? Given that he said that the proposals were good and that he would take them forward, how on earth did we end up negotiating at half-
The Minister told us as he was going to the Fisheries Council that the information from the Sea Fish Industry Authoritybased on its survey of the Scottish boats in order to determine the cod by-catch in the major haddock-fishing areaswould be crucial ammunition in taking the arguments to Brussels. I remind him that the provisional results of that survey showed that in the Fladden grounds the cod by-catch for a directed haddock fishery was 2 per cent. or less. If that is soif that was the argument that the Minister was pursuinghow on earth could he leave the Council and put the haddock-fishing grounds in the cod-restricted area?
That is the third question on which we require answers from the Minister, and it brings us to why this deal is unworkable. Not only have the major haddock grounds been put in the cod area, but the Minister has agreed that 20 per cent. of the haddock quota is to be taken in those major fishing grounds and 80 per cent. is to be placed elsewhere. Incidentally, that applies only to the UKand therefore the Scottish fleetand not to any other fleet in Europe.
The Minister has been on the job for six months. Some of us have been representing fishing communities for a great deal longer than that. Some of us remember what happened in 2001, when the fleet was forced into areas that are effectively nursery grounds, such as around Fair Isle up north, and inshore, off Peterhead. The impact of that, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said last Thursday, necessitates the fleet catching small haddock. Everyone agrees that there is a record stock of 450,000 tonnes of mature haddock in the North sea, but there is a worry about the year classes coming in behind that, which are not as ample or abundant. Is it logical to force the fleet in search of an additional quota into grounds where there are immature haddock and to keep it out of the major grounds containing the mature haddock? That may be an "unintended consequence" for Ross Finnie, but for most of us it is illogical, irrational and an environmental and conservation disaster. It makes no sense.
The Minister should reflect on the fact that, despite our having almost 80 per cent. of the haddock quota, the Belgians, Danes, Germans, French, Dutch, Swedes and Norwegians may take 30,000 tonnes of haddock in the major haddock-fishing groundif the Norwegian deal is done later this weekwhile our fleet is restricted to 10,000 tonnes. Is that an "unintended consequence", or is it utter discrimination and disaster?
Some people say, "Okay, it seems as though the white-fish fleet is being sacrificed and reduced again, but never mind, the prawn and pelagic fleets have gained from the deal." That brings me to two more "unintended consequences". If Iain MacSween of the Scottish Fishermen's Organisation is correct in saying that the 10,000-tonne quota in the major haddock area means that that fishery will close in May or June, the
I found out yesterday afternoon about a closed cod area off the west coast of Scotland, which I understand that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) has proposed. Of course, such areas could be part of a fishing management plan. However, the Minister and his team forgot to apply for an exemption for pelagic boats in that area, and for those pursing herring and mackerel. The mackerel are just moving into that closed area. According to the European Commission yesterday, in order to protect the cod stock the pelagic boats will not be allowed into an area that has been closed. Even the Minister must realiseeven after only six monthsthat pelagic boats are not going to catch cod when they are fishing for mackerel. The significant mackerel fishery is to be closed to pelagic boats to protect a fish that they have no chance of catching. That is another "unintended consequence"or perhaps a total botch-up.
Hon. Members might think that for a species under pressure, such as cod, a permit system might be devised under which people needed permission to catch it. However, the deal has devised a permanent system under which a person needs permission to catch haddocka species that does not need protection but is in super-abundance. After reading that in the regulation, I came to the conclusion that somebody had got things the wrong way roundthat there had been a transposition of words and that the document meant to suggest that people should go into the haddock area rather than a permit system that made it more difficult to pursue that fishery.
The Minister must understand that if we are trying to divert focus and effort away from precious stocks, an incentive must be provided to fish stocks that are in abundance. The plan and its "unintended consequences" do exactly the opposite. Not only does it make it difficultperhaps impossibleto catch the full haddock quota outwith the major haddock fishing grounds, if boats are restricted to 15 days a month, their only choice in order to be viable is to catch the high-value cod species. Instead of diverting effort away from cod, the plan will divert effort into the cod fishery, which is another "unintended consequence" of the position that was agreed in Brussels.
My understanding is that the 15-days position has not been finally agreed, as has been widely claimed. What has been agreed is 10 days. The Ministerand, no doubt, the Scottish Parliament Ministermust go back and argue for the number of days fishing that the white-fish fleet in Scotland should have on the basis of the decommissioning schemes that have taken place. There is a variety of ways to make that calculation.
Over the past year, we have lost a third of our white-fish fleet through decommissioning. No one else has lost a third of their fleet; in fact, some fleets in Europe are still expanding. Last year, our white-fish fleet, which had then not been denuded by decommissioning, had 15
Today's debate is well attended and I want to allow Members an opportunity to develop their points. It is tradition in fishing debates that people from a range of fishing constituencies have the opportunity to make points, particularly at a time of crisis. However, I shall first repeat some of my key points for the Minister, and ask him how on earth he intends to get us out of the total disaster for which as lead negotiator he must take prime responsibility.
First, does the Minister accept, having heard the quotations and having had the opportunity to speak to the industry, that the white-fish sector and all its representative bodies believe that the deal is unworkable and that it presents them with fundamental problems? Does he accept that the producer organisationsnot political or representative organisations, but people who have to administer the dealbelieve it to be unworkable? Does he accept that that is the reality for people who work in the industry, make their livelihoods from it and represent people from the industry?
Secondly, does the Minister accept the view of the Scottish Minister that there are "unintended consequences" from the agreed deal and that they must be addressed? Thirdly, does he accept that as a result of negotiations he has placed a major haddock-fishing ground in the cod-restricted area? That will cause huge problems for the fleet, and the impact will be to focus attention in the cod-restricted areas on the cod species. It will be virtually impossible to pursue a haddock fishery in any sensible or reasonable manner.
If the Minister accepts those points, will he give us an indication of the effort that he will make to prevent the situation developing into a total and utter meltdown of the Scottish white-fish fleet? If there were no fish in the sea, what is happening to the fishing industry, and particularly to the white-fish sector in Scotland, would be seen as a major misfortune, a disaster, a human tragedy. People would say that nothing could be donethat there were no fish in the sea, and that we could not sustain an industry without that resource. However, that is not the position. Levels of the prime Scottish stockhaddockare at a 30-year high. Other stocks are in robust condition. One stockcodis under pressure, but numbers are improving from a low level.
How can we contemplate forecasting, and hearing a ministerial forecast of, a further 40 per cent. decline in the Scottish white-fish fleet against a background of an adequate fishery that we should be able to pursue? People are prepared to accept many things, but not a sea teeming with fish but empty of Scottish fishermen. As the lead Minister in the negotiations, the outcome is the Minister's responsibility. I challenge him to talk to industry figures, to become acquainted with their views
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): Our intention must be to ensure a long-term sustainable future for both our catching and processing industries. Obviously, we hope that the proposals that come from the No. 10 policy unit next month will make a significant contribution in providing long-term policies to ensure that. Clearly, a major aspect must be to ensure the conservation of the stocks of those fish that are under threat, and in the north of Scotland the main concern is cod stocks.
Cautiously, we could say that, in the run up to the December negotiations, the policies adopted to maintain cod stocks seemed to work to some extent; there seemed to be evidence of a partial recovery. A major part of retaining cod stocks must be reducing by-catch from other fisheries; that is a matter of common agreement, and sometimes I think that it might be a good idea if, rather than playing party political games, we looked at the matters of common agreement. It is commonly agreed by all parties in Parliament that we must reduce the effects of some of our European allies' industrial fisheries on cod stocks, particularly stocks of young fish.
As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, haddock stocks are so high that there is a real danger that they will predate on their own spawn. Clearly there is a reasonable case for saying that that is counter-productive, and that we should therefore look at increasing the haddock quota if that can be done without damaging cod stocks. Our industry did a good job of arguing that it was possible to fish haddock separately. It managed to give evidence that by-catch could be reduced to 3 per cent. Indeed, on one boat, in a catch of 15 tonnes of fish there was only 25 kg of cod.
Mr. Weir : Given that the European Commission appears to have accepted that there is now a large stock of haddock in the North sea, what is the logic of increasing the quota but not the ability of fishermen to fish it?
Mr. Savidge: The point that I am trying to make is that we should recognise what we have gained. We gain some things in negotiations, and there are other points on which we must keep arguing. It is important that the haddock quota has been raised by 53 per cent. That is significant. Even more important, we have recognition of the possibility of designating areas and of spatial management of stocks. It was also important that we got at least a reversal of the original proposals for further reduction of days at sea.
I recognise that there are unhappinesses in the industry. There are concerns, about which we have heard a great deal, about the geographical areas designated and the remaining days at sea. It is important for the industry to continue in discussions with the Minister; there are further discussions to be had. The intelligent thing to do is to engage in intelligent, rational
Multilateral negotiations are difficult and it can be tempting to take the populist route and argue that we should go for unilateralism. That is what one might call the "neo-con" solution, often applied by the Bush Administration. I am disappointed, although not surprised, that under its new leader the Conservative party has proposed such a solution. That party is in effect the English national branch of the neo-cons. I am surprised that such a route should be proposed by other partieswhat we might call the Scottish nationalist branch of the neo-cons.
Ann Winterton : The hon. Gentleman's speech has been remarkable, both in terms of what he has said and the smugness with which he has said it. The only way out of this awful mess is through national control. The hon. Gentleman mentioned reform of the common fisheries policy. I suggest that he does not hold his breath, because such reform would require a treaty change. Will he tell the Chamber how that could be achieved?
Mr. Savidge : I have always understood that the hon. Lady's real solution to the problem was to come out of the European Union altogether. Such a solution, I take it, is not followed by the Scottish branch.
Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that he did not want to engage in political banter. I had to forgo all I wanted to say about the common fisheries policy so that I could address the immediate consequences of the deal. I did so because unless we settle the short term, there will be no long term to argue aboutthere will be no fleet. If the hon. Gentleman wants to avoid party political banter, he can do us the courtesy of trying to say what he thinks about the deal and what he thinks should be done about it.
Mr. Savidge : I have already said that we should be engaging in intelligent discussion with the industry and the Government. However, the hon. Gentleman's party seems to have taken a position of neo-con unilateralism recently. I find that strange because such thinking is a significant contribution to the problem. It is because the Bush Administration refused to engage themselves at Kyoto that we have an increasing problem of global
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I am sorry, but no Opposition Member has a clue about what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. He will have to tell us what neo-con unilateralism isif he can do so briefly.
Mr. Savidge : I apologise: I was not aware that members of the Liberal party were so ill informed about current international politics. I was using "neo-cons" to refer to the unilateralist policies being adopted by the Bush Administration. I take it that the hon. Gentleman has heard of Kyoto.
In the debate on 9 December, the Conservative spokesman proposed that we should go for something much simpler than multilateral negotiations and said that it would be much simpler to have multiple bilateral negotiations. I used to be a maths teacher, and my understanding is that, if there are 10 European maritime nations, 45 different negotiations would be involved. His concept of "simpler", and of maths, is somewhat different from that of most of us.
The Scottish National party always criticises concessions made in international negotiations, as we have seen today. It does so from a position of immense experience. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan stressed his experience, but one should remember precisely how much experience the SNP has of being in government, or being involved in intergovernmental negotiations. I believe that the hon. Gentleman cares about the fishing industry, but when he stirs up some of his stories there are times when I wonder whether he is concerned about conserving the position of the SNP, because it is now threatened by a number of fishing candidates. Those candidates were initially stirred up by false expectations of what could be achieved, which the party tends to raise.
Internationalism is better than unilateralism or so-called bilateralism. Apart from anything else, fish do not respect international and national boundaries. However, internationalism should be coupled with proper subsidiarity, which is why it is great that we are stressing that regional advisory committees should gain increasing influence. In our international effort, it is vital that we continue to strengthen monitoring and enforcement, and it is right that the Government are increasing satellite tracking. Satellite tracking should be seen as the fisherman's friend. There has been much talk about black fishing. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the various stories that have been raised, the situation must be dangerous. If there is a suspicion that people are cheating, it encourages cheating among others. It is vital that we ensure that the measures finally agreed are stuck to rigidly.
The UK's major contribution to international conservation has been made by decommissioning, and I want to conclude by commenting on that. It is perfectly correct of the industry to say that, since the British fishing industry and the British taxpayer have borne that burden, it is proper that the British quota of fish should
I am not just talking about compensation. Let us consider the Aberdeen processing industry. Although some of the people working in that industry are short-term migrant workers, a disproportionately high number of local employees come from socially deprived and socially excluded groups. It is important that we ensure that there is not just compensation, but a proper focus on redeployment for those leaving the industry and proper training for those remaining in it. For example, in the north of Scotland there is a need for further training in areas such as filleting.
We should seek to retain those things that are of the highest standard, as far as processing and the fleet are concerned. In particular, safety should be a key priority. Last year eight people lost their lives; that is still far too high and far too tragic a toll. The best memorial that we can possibly make to those who have lost their lives in the fishing industry is to seek to do more to ensure that that tragic toll is reduced.
Mr. John McWilliam (in the Chair): Order. I have no power to impose time limits, but will Members please be aware that the point of an Adjournment debate is to provide the Minister with sufficient time to answer the Member who initiated the debate?
There was much in the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) that would make for interesting debates on different days, but it did not relate to the deal that was struck at last month's Council. I will leave the part of his speech that I could understand for another day. We can discuss it then.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on securing the debate. It is exceptionally timely. At the start of his speech, he said that he wanted to establish what happened at December's Fisheries Council. I am not as ambitious as the hon. Gentleman. In the time available to me, I merely hope to examine a few issues that are most pertinent to the fishing communities in my constituency and to explore with the Minister where we can go from here.
I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan concerning my colleague Ross Finney in the Scottish Parliament. I was exceptionally worried and upset to hear last week that he was going to require heart bypass surgery. I am sure
Whatever the reaction elsewhere in the country, there has been little doubt that the fishermen's organisations in my constituency view the deal as a very bad one. Everywhere I go, the word I hear is "unworkable". Hansen Black, the chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, said that it was
Given the reaction of his organisation to last year's deal, that is a remarkable statement. Alan Coghill of the Orkney Fisheries Association described it to me as having been written by regulators who have
The two principal concerns that I wish to bring to the Minister's attention are, first, the question of the number of days at sea and, secondly, what we might call, for short, the map issuesthose that relate to the operation of the permit system and some of our spatial management. The regulation grants 10 days a month at sea to UK white fish fleets. Thereafter, extra days at sea must be applied for. They can ask for as many days as they want as long as the total at the end of the month is no more than 15. I do not understand the logic of that because it takes no account of the decommissioning that has taken place during the past two years. The calculations carried out by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the Shetland Fishermen's Association mean that we ought to be entitled to about 22 days a month.
If the Minister does not agree with that, perhaps he will tell me why, either today or in correspondence. It would do a great deal for the credibility of his Department and this deal if he published the workingswhen I was at school, one used to get credit for showing one's workingsby which he arrived at the number of days specified. It seems to me, and many in the Scottish fishing industry, that the figure of 15 days has been simply plucked from the air.
There is also the issue of force majeur. There is no flexibility in the number of days at sea to take account of those who are taken into port because of bad weatherdodging into port, as it is calledor situations where a boat goes to the assistance of another boat that has experienced a major breakdown. Those are the sort of details that can be resolved between now and the completion of the regulation. I would welcome some reassurance from the Minister that he intends to attend to those issues.
I have severe reservations about the map issues. I do not understand the logic of a system that creates a bilateral approach of cod-sensitive and permit-based fishing areas. Only 20 per cent. of our haddock quota can be taken from the cod-sensitive area, and a restriction of 15 days a month under permit will apply to the remainder of the North sea. My principal concern is that that will push boats in the north of Scotland away from the traditional grounds, where they have always caught large mature haddock, into the nursery areas around Fair Isle and the area known as the jungle to the east of Orkney.
The Minister has said that the fishing industry must take more responsibility for its future, but the fishermen's organisations in my constituency have been saying for years that such areas should be protected. Young stocks in the nursery areas should be afforded protection, but the deal that the Minister has brought back from Brussels will push boats further inshore where they will catch younger, more immature fish which will have long-term consequences for the spawning stock biomass. That will also be of questionable value because it is not valuable to land such fish. There is no real market for small haddock; the market is for the big fish that can be caught in the middle of the cod-sensitive area.
If we look at the totality of the dealit seems that considering things in their totality is very much the vogueour fishermen will either have to target cod and end up dumping haddock because of the rigidity of the 5 per cent. by-catch, or they will target haddock under permit and end up dumping cod. Anything that encourages fishermen to dump has got to be bad for fish stocks and the fishing industry. I do not see the upside of that situation. It is the rigidity of the 5 per cent. by-catch rule that appals me most. There may be some scope for making it work a little more flexibly, perhaps by applying the 5 per cent. for a year or a quarter rather than for any individual trip. As things stand, there is not even that much flexibility.
I have taken as much time as I should. I just impress on the Minister that the fishermen's organisations in my constituency are not traditionally the most militant. Their position is well reasoned, and they have a reputation in the industry and in Europe for being exceptionally constructive. If they say that the deal is unworkable, they must be heard.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on his powerful speech, which set out a case of which the Minister must take note. The hon. Gentleman made the point that the Minister is relatively new to his post. Those of us who have been at this game for quite a long timeI entered Parliament in 1987 with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchancannot remember a single fisheries negotiation or agreement in the Council that was not rubbished or said to paint a doomsday scenario. The Minister should also take note that the hon. Gentleman was normally leading the charge, on which I congratulate him.
I have concerns about days at sea. We all believed that the significant cut in the fishing fleet would bring a corresponding increase in the number of days at sea, but that has not been achieved. It is important that we understand that people whose livelihoods are at stake are asking real questions.
I am also concerned that the press have made much of the fact that foreign vessels are not subject to the same restrictions as ours are. I understand that to fish in some areas one needs a quota anyway, so that may not apply to foreign vessels. However, that question must be answered firmly.
I tried to make the point in our December debate that we face a serious problem with the industry just now: there is a serious lack of trust. In all the years that I have taken part in these debates and been involved with the fishing industry, there has never been a love for the Fisheries Council or the process. There has always been tension, but I believe that we are facing a new situationone in which, for example, colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) feel comfortable promoting a Bill to remove us from the common fisheries policy, which I do not believe he would have done 10 years ago. Perhaps he would haveI do not know.
Mr. Doran : The process, the Commission and the whole engagement are now treated with huge suspicion, if not hostility, not only by the fringes of the fishing industry but by respectable and reasonable people in it. I do not welcome that, but it is something that we must recognise and tackle. Without trust in the process, everything is at risk.
The Herald today has the headline, "Fishing fleet sails into war with EU by defying curbs". Threats have been issued that the process, the fishing grounds, the map and the days at sea will be ignored completely and that fishermen will make their own regulations. The other side of the argument is that enforcement is one reason why we have had such difficulty in the EU negotiations. I read the story only this morning on my way in and it may be that a fringe element is involved, although some reputable people in the industry are making comments in support of the action. We must take note of that.
I have worked for many years with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, a body that I respect. It is generally reasonable and sometimes goes against the wishes of its members. Although, as a membership organisation, it is often put under enormous pressure by its members, it holds the reasonable ground. However, it is now making statements that are hostile to the process and is threatening legal action in Europe. That must be addressed.
The fishing industry faces enormous threats. My main interest, as anyone who has taken part in such debates knows, is in the processing industry, because the Aberdeen fleet disappeared many years ago, although we still have the legacy of the Government's cod war trawlermen's compensation scheme. Having direct contact with former trawlermen has helped me to learn a lot more about the fishing industry in Aberdeen. The industry is important and we want to preserve it, but it faces significant threats.
The lack of fish is one of those threats. Fish is being supplied from other areaswe may not be getting it from the North sea, but imports into this country are increasing dramatically. We face the problem of cheaper fish from places such as Iceland and Norway. I speak to my processors regularly and am told that they are becoming seriously concerned about the amount of fish coming in from China, which makes up a significant proportion of the fish coming on to the United Kingdom market. I was told about a Canadian company that has opened up a processing factory in China that buys haddock and cod from Norwegian and Russian boats fishing in the Baltic. It transports that fish to China, has it processedit is high-quality processingand sells it on the Scottish market more cheaply than the raw fish can be bought at the fish market. That is a part of the future that harms processors and catchers. We must debate such serious issues.
In the context of the Council's deliberations in December, we cannot ignore the problem of black fish. I raised the matter in the House a couple of years ago and was vilified in the local press for even mentioning black fish. I raised it in the context of new opportunities for longer-term solutions to the problems in the North sea and said that it was important to start with a clean sheet. The fact is that black fish continues to be a major problem. No one talks about it and it is not advertised, but it is clear to me from my contact with fishermen and fish processors that in the past year many of them have depended on black fish for survival.
I could make a phone call today and find out how much black fish costs on the market. It is not difficult to obtain, and that must end. The Minister talked about tighter enforcement, but the problem is not only at the catching end. When I asked him a parliamentary question last week, he highlighted satellite tracking. What seems to be happening in the north-east of Scotland is that the boats land the fish and the fish is immediately transported to Humberside because it is easier to get black fish on to the market there than in Peterhead and Aberdeen. We need vigilance onshore as well as offshore.
Mr. John McWilliam (in the Chair): Order. This is one of those debates for which an hour and a half is not sufficient. I must start the winding-up speeches now in order to give the Minister time to respond.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) not only on securing a very important debate but, in his naturally articulate and robust style, on raising genuine issues about the conclusions of this year's Fisheries Council. There is further work to be done not only in what remains of this debate, but afterwards in order to ensure that many of the hon. Gentleman's questions are properly pursued. There are clearly serious issues that must be resolved.
Like the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), I wish my Liberal Democrat colleague and Scottish Fisheries Minister, Ross Finnie, well in his forthcoming surgery at the end of the month and a speedy recovery to robust health.
I know that the Minister will be well aware, having been involved in the discussions, of the difficult background against which the negotiations were undertaken. As far as the UK and Scottish negotiating position was concerned, it would have been impossible to secure any increase in the total allowable catch of haddock without more stringent control and enforcement arrangements. Apparently, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) pointed out, that reflected the fact that the control and enforcement arrangements were proposed against the background of the infraction proceedings concerning the perception that high levels of black fish were being caught. Such a background did not provide the UK with a very satisfactory platform from which to engage in the discussions. Every point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan deserves careful scrutiny and consideration by the Minister and by those in Scotland.
We should leave aside the arguments about who said what to whom and who believes what outcome of the negotiations should be applauded or not. There has been a certain amount of synthetic argument over what was applauded. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, with a sincere regard for the industry, rightly pointed out several unintended consequences of the negotiations. Part of the background to that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, is the nature of the annual discussions. They are a
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that there are unintended consequences. Will he impress on Ross Finnie, who we hope recovers to full health as soon as possible, that he and the Minister should go back to Brussels to renegotiate elements of the deal to end those damaging, unintended consequences?
Andrew George : I am grateful for that intervention. It is a question of projecting what might happen, and there may or may not be unintended consequences. However, the points made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan were right; we must at least have the benefit of foresight. I shall return in a moment to how I believe that we should go forward, but I have serious concerns about the background to the negotiations.
One outcome of this year's negotiations is the fact that the Minister and his Scottish colleague should be working with their European counterparts to establish far better and more effective long-term management of the industry. There would then be no short-term, last-minute, 11th-hour compromise, as there was this year, which has a significant impact on the industry. When decisions are taken in haste, we must consider in debates such as this to what extent we need to repent at leisure.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): My hon. Friend is right: the system is too centralised. I can give one example of an issue that has been overlooked. In previous years, the prawn quota in the west of Scotland was cut by 10 per cent., allegedly because of the risk of cod by-catch. It has since been established that the cod by-catch is insignificant, yet the 10 per cent. of the quota has not been restored. It was simply overlooked in the negotiations. Regional advisory committees with real powers are the way forward.
Andrew George : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes a strong and robust point and argues strongly for the fishermen in his constituency. However, in view of the time, we must look at the totalityI believe that that is the word of the momentof the outcome of the negotiations. Some may disagree, but I believe that to a significant extent Ministers should be congratulated on
The problem is that the restrictions provide a straitjacket instead ofto extend the metaphora woolly cardigan. We will have an opportunity during the year to review the restrictions and the extent to which they can be renegotiated. The Minister knows that last year there was an opportunity, in conjunction with a scientists' review of the industry, to reconsider the appropriateness of the monkfish quota in area 7. The Minister and his colleagues in other European Union member states should look carefully at that, and consider the opportunity to review many of those restrictions and the extent to which they apply. If at all possible, they should be looking for flexibility during the year. Any reassurance that the Minister could give on that subject would go a long way to addressing many of the points that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and others appropriately raised.
I would have liked an outcome on cetacean by-catch, particularly in the bass pair-trawl industry. Last week, many dolphins washed up on the coast in my constituency; the season is starting again. We are talking about unintended consequences, and that is one about which we knew well. This should be the last season that that happens. We need to ban that fishery and talk much more robustly about how we control industrial fishing in the area. Pods and pingers may well have some effect in restricting cetacean by-catch in the bass industry, but I would argue strongly for much more robust measures. I will look closely at the Minister's efforts to achieve such restrictions.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I heartily congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on landing the debate. He raised issues of national importance, but he also put across the real anguish of his constituents, who have suffered from compulsory brutal decommissioning over the past couple of years.
I visited Pittenween in Scotland with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition in early December, and enjoyed meeting senior members of the fishing industry. Like the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, I have rung some of them up over the past couple of days. There is a marked contrast between what they told me and what the Minister told us in oral questions last week. I will mention what some of them have said in no particular order.
Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who we have heard of already, said that as 170 vessels had recently been decommissioned, those left should at least be given 24 days, as is the case in all other countries. That view was endorsed by Alex Smith, who said that he was
That obsession has led to Scottish boats being excluded from the North sea. They will be allowed to take only 20 per cent. of their haddock quota from their most valuable traditional haddock fishing grounds, making nonsense of the trumpeted 55 per cent. overall increase in that quota. However, we are given to understand that boats from other nations are to be allowed to take their full quota in that area, leading to the anomalous situation in which Scottish boats appear to be excluded on the grounds of nationality. In fact, they have been excluded for technical reasons, as they have reported cod by-catches of about 5 per cent. On the basis of those higher by-catch volumes, they, and they aloneso the Commission maintainsthreaten the cod recovery problem.
How can the Minister have agreed effectively to ban the Scottish white-fish fleet from its traditional fishing grounds while allowing continued fishing in the same grounds to Danish, French and German vessels that, between them, have more than 20 per cent. of the UK quota for what can be taken out of the cod area?
The Minister must ask why only British vessels should be made to apply for permits. Is that in breach of article 12 of the EU treaty? On practical grounds, what will the Commission do in the North sea if, as is widely predicted, all the 20 per cent. haddock quota is caught by the end of March?
Taking the Commission's argument at face value, there are good reasons for disagreeing with its preferred course of action. The Commission's fisheries-directorate website points out that a number of other options are available to fisheries managers in order to conserve fish stocks. As well as closing fishing areas, the Commission tells us that it can also require minimum net mesh sizes, the use of selective fishing gear, and a minimum landing size for fish and shellfish. The point at issue is that other options are available. In the context of this fishery and the exclusion of Scottish boats, the single issue is the use of selective fishing gear.
The layperson is used to the concept of fishermen throwing their nets blindly into the seas and bringing up from the deeps all that finds its way into their nets. However, that concept describes what is far from the case. The science of fishing has developed to such an extent that it is possible within reasonable limits to confine catches to particular species. In the case of a mixed fishery comprising cod and haddock, it is possible to rely on the different escape strategies of the two species: when cod are confronted with a net, they dive for the bottom, while haddock tend to rise sharply. If fishermen are required to use nets that leave a gap between the nets and the sea bed, the bulk of their catch will therefore be haddock, and any cod by-catch will be well below the figure of 5 per cent., thus negating the Commission's concerns.
The brutal, blundering unimaginative inflexibility of the Commission's proposals is shown up elsewhere in British fisheries. A long-line vessel in Grimsby, which catches only dogfish and skate and never catches cod, will still be bound to 15 days at sea, making it unviable. Yesterday, Jim Portus, chairman of the south-west FPO, said to me that he was bitterly critical of the Commission's refusal to take account of technical changes, diversification and restructuring. He said:
Also, as cod in the North sea rely on sand eels, it makes sense to safeguard their food supply, if one wants cod stocks to recover. Here we have an apparent contradiction. Last year, the North sea sand eel quota stood at 918,000 tonnes, yet the industrial fleet managed to land only 400,000 tonnes. In all other circumstances, when the Commission finds that a fleet cannot fulfil its quotas, it almost invariably reduces the following year's quota to a figure below that of the preceding year's catch. However, that logic does not seem to apply to sand eels. The Commission has reduced the overall quota by a mere 10 per cent. to 816,200 tonnesmore than twice the historical catch.
Looking at the issues combined, one must first conclude that, if the sole purpose is to protect cod stocks, there are no technical reasons for excluding the Scottish fleet. A requirement to use selective fishing gear could achieve our aim. Secondly, if one is to give cod stocks the best possible opportunity of recovering, it would be positively advantageous to maximise the effort on haddock, perhaps even increasing the quota even higher than the Commission has allowed for. Thirdly, the optimum result can be achieved only if measures are taken to safeguard the food supply, which means reducing the fishing effort for sand eels, which the Commission has not done.
On the Commission's partial exclusion policy, one can only conclude that it has opted for a measure that is not only guaranteed to cause maximum economic hardship to Scottish fishermen, but one that is technically unnecessary
On the other hand, some would have it that there is a darker, more sinister motive for the Commission's adopting such an unnecessarily damaging strategy for saving Mr. Fischler's cod stocks. Could it be that the real objective is to clear the Scottish fleet out of its own waters in order to support the treaty requirements of equal access to fleets of other member states? Again, the national control argument is unassailable.
Whatever the motivation, the one thing for sure is that the partial exclusion of the Scottish fleet from the North sea cannot be justified on technical or conservation grounds. It is therefore a matter of the gravest concern that the Minister agreed to such a maladroit policy. What was he thinking of? How can he justify a policy that ignores the three scientific issues that I have identified in preference to a policy that combines little scientific merit with maximum economic damage to Scottish fishermen? I look forward to hearing the Minister's answers, and I have one last question: of the three days and nights that he spent negotiating, how many minutes were devoted to discussing real scientific solutions that could have prevented the disaster being inflicted on Britain's fishermen?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw) : You will know, Mr. McWilliam, that, as a Minister, I am always generous in taking interventions, but it might be courteous to you and hon. Members if I alert you to the fact that I do not intend to take them in the few, limited minutes that I have to respond to this debate. I am, however, happy to write to hon. Members if they feel that I have, due to time constraints, omitted to respond to specific points that they have raised.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on securing this debate. He started by saying that he was rather sad that it was not going to be a debate about the long-term future of the fishing industry. Let me reassure him that there will be ample opportunity for us to discuss that subject when we have the Prime Minister's strategy unit report on the long-term future of the industry that my hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) mentioned and that we expect some time next month.
The hon. Gentleman spent his first nine minutes accusing me of selectively quoting representatives of the industry, but he did the same thing. I do not intend to enter into a tit-for-tat debate with him about that. The industry can speak for itself. However, he also challenged me to speak to industry figures, which I do regularly. It is nice to see the chairman of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in Westminster Hall this morning listening to our debate.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) helpfully reminded hon. Members about the background to this Fisheries Council, which was not an easy one. Hon. Members who know about such things will know that the scientific advice, which was the same this year as it was in the previous year, was for a total closure of the cod fishery. On going into the Council, Britain's strategic objectives were to agree a long-term recovery plan for cod, which we did, and a multi-annual approach to cod recovery, which we also achieved, in return for maximising opportunities to catch more plentiful stocks, such as haddock and prawns. Those priorities were shared by the industry in the discussions that my Scottish colleague, Ross Finnie, and I had in the run-up to the Council. The industry made that plain to us on many occasions.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is not enamoured of the new arrangements to create the greater opportunity that we achieved, because there are restrictions in the areas where the fish may be caught. Some of his detailed points are best considered by the Scottish Executive, which is responsible for fisheries in Scotland, but I am happy to explain, and defend, the rationale of the scheme. The starting point was the wish of the interested sections of the UK industry, which are, of course, predominantly Scottish, to be free to take advantage of the currently abundant haddock stocks. The independent scientific advice allows for some increase in the haddock quota, but only provided that steps are taken to protect cod. The UK set out at the Council to unlock extra haddock quota by suggesting conditions that would limit the extent to which the increased quota could be taken in cod-rich areas.
The arrangements that we negotiated involved two novel conditions. First, no more than 20 per cent. of the UK's haddock quota may be taken from the designated cod-protection areas. That is substantially less than the proportion of the haddock catch that was being taken previously in those areas. That is the whole point. The purpose is to encourage fishermen away from the designated cod-sensitive areas.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan brandished a map. I was squinting at it because I wanted to make sure that it was the same map that officials have given meindeed, it was. If he and other hon. Members had seen the map that the Commission originally proposed for the cod-protected areas, they would congratulate my Scottish colleague and I on what we achieved.
The second novel condition is a special permit arrangement. Under it, fishermen who want access to the extra haddock quota will have their fishing licences amended to exclude them from fishing in the cod sensitive areas. The combined purpose of these measures is to bring about a change in fishing patterns and to improve enforcementwhich I was grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central concentrated onand control. Without achieving both those things, there would have been no prospect of getting the massive 66 per cent. increase in quota that we secured.
The main objection that has been raised to the quota is that it is discriminatory. The argument is that it is unfair that the extra conditions apply to UK fishermen alone, whereas vessels from other member states may take their quota without restriction or special permit requirements anywhere in the management area. The reason why we accepted it is simple: if we had not done so, there would have been no increased quota. Other member states have very small shares of allowable catch compared with the UK, and none of them was willing to apply extra controls for the sake of gaining what would have been, for them, a very small increase. Therefore, Ross Finnie and I had to choose between no increase in the haddock quota and a significant increase in parallel with new management arrangements. It is not difficult to see which of those alternatives is better from a UK point of view, and nor is it difficult to imagine what would have been the reaction of right hon. and hon. Members if we had come back and reported that we had chosen the alternative.
There is no question but that the UK, with 78 per cent. of the European Union's North sea haddock quota, is seen as the main beneficiary of these arrangements. The other member states with a North sea haddock quota are France, which has 8 per cent., Denmark with 7 per cent., Germany with 5 per cent., and Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, which each have 1 per cent. or less. Most of them do not take their existing share. Therefore, imposing the same conditions on them would bring minimal benefit to cod and would have created a sticking point that would simply have ensured that we did not secure the higher quota from which we are by far the most significant beneficiary.
Mr. Bradshaw : Thank you, Mr. McWilliam, for pointing that out. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan spoke for 20 minutes and I was left with 10 minutes in which to reply to his points and those of many other hon. Members.
This is a novel arrangement, as I have said, and it is important with any new arrangement to clarify the practical implications and to seek to ensure that there are no unintended consequences. As far as Scotland is concerned, it is for the Scottish Minister and the Scottish Executive to consider what this may mean, and I can report that they are in discussions with fishermen. We can certainly look at what comes out of those discussions, although we cannot go back on the principle of spatial management associated with more stringent control and enforcement.
I wish to say something about the 15-days issue on which there is some confusion. The basic days-at-sea regime for all the areas that are in the cod recovery areas is 10 days. The UK is unique. It could be argued that we have been discriminated in favour of, because we have 10 plus five days. We are the only member state that has 15 days. The only other member state that has more than 10 days is Denmark, which managed to achieve 12 days. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that the UK has been discriminated against in terms of days at seawe have not been. The industry's priority before the Council was to defend our existing 15 days at sea, and we succeeded in doing that.
Hon. Members raised the concern that our fishermen will not be able to catch the huge extra haddock quota with the days at sea that they have. I am sceptical about that. Over the past 12 months and more, there have been many complaints about the phenomenon of discard. It cannot be the case that we are catching too much haddock and cod that we are happy to discard it, and that we are now not going to have enough time to catch the haddock and cod that is present. The scientists calculate that the increased haddock abundance should mean that this year's 80,000 tonne quota would be taken by the same amount of effort that took last year's 50,000 tonne quota. However, as always, I am happy to discuss those concerns with representatives of the fishing industry.
Mr. McWilliam : Order. Time is up. It is unsatisfactory that we have only an hour and a half for a debate like this. I point out to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that the convention that he mentioned applies only to half-hour Adjournment debates. However, I intend to raise the matter of hour-and-a-half debates in which there is a lot of interest at the next meeting of the Chairmen's Panel.