Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Austin Mitchell: Coley à la Prescott.

Lawrie Quinn: Exactly. Unfortunately, the dish failed to attract anybody's attention.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the work that he has done for the Yorkshire and Humber region through the establishment of regional development agencies. I know that they do not find favour with the hon. Member for North Shropshire, but the RDA has undertaken some excellent work in my area to engage with the future of our Yorkshire coastal communities. If time allows, I might be able to inform the House and the Minister about that important work.

If the Minister does not know about such work, perhaps he will undertake a review of the work that RDAs are doing on the coast of England to promote partnership and opportunities for fishing communities in terms of investment and improvements in training and marketing. That relates to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster), who told us of the £4.5 million investment in a new fish quay in his constituency. Such work is taking place slowly but surely around England to bring investment for important parts of the fishing community. For example, in respect of shellfish, in Whitby in my constituency, we were able to go ahead with marketing the velvet crab. Mortality rates for the species are better and it is now a viable product, with a new market in that important part of the fishing community.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware that, in July, the EU was able to propose a new European fisheries fund, the EFF, which from 2007 will replace the current financial instrument for fisheries guidance, which runs until the end of 2006. I understand that the proposal will go before the Council of Ministers, which must adopt it for it to come into effect, following consultation with the European Parliament. I assume that that measure must be considered by the House, given the national parliamentary obligations. I hope that that will be the springboard by which the Minister, along with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, might consider formulating a debate that would allow all hon. Members a better attempt at scrutinising the decisions made at that European Council.
2 Dec 2004 : Column 871

It is my belief that the parliamentary scrutiny format represents a far better way for the representatives of fisheries communities from around the coast to achieve closer scrutiny. I am glad that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) also remembered an occasion that may have been the first outing—if that is not the wrong term to use—for the Fisheries Minister in the context of our debate. I hope that the Minister will consider bringing the outcomes for the EFF to the relevant Committee so that we can all engage in the debate and consider in detail the wider consequences of the work that he will do in Brussels in the very near future.

I should like to return to a subject that is almost a tradition in such debates, and I am somewhat surprised that it does not seem to have had the type of airing that we would normally hear in the annual fisheries debate. I refer, of course, to industrial fisheries. As all hon. Members will know, the simple fact is that the Danish fleet dominates the sand eel fishery. I understand that, because of the poor state of the stock in 2003–04, the Danish fleet massively undershot its quota for this year and last year. In 2004, Denmark's quota for the North sea was 727,472 tonnes out of a TAC for EU member states, Norway and the Faroes of just over 800,000 tonnes—a massive slice of the allowed quota. I understand that Denmark was able to catch only about 300,000 tonnes of that 700,000-plus tonne quota. Surely, given the debate that my hon. Friend will endeavour to have with his colleagues at the ministerial Council meeting, now is the time for us to deal with that issue and to ensure that the Danish quota is managed to an appropriate amount.

Mr. Carmichael: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject of industrial fishing—something that is having an impact on more than fish stocks. The seabird stocks around Shetland have been decimated this year, and there is no doubt in my mind at all that the blame lies at the door of the industrial fishery.

Lawrie Quinn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. Once again, he illustrates his knowledge of these issues. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to the fact that the marine environment is complex. I was coming to that issue, which links with the points made by the Minister in his opening remarks and, indeed, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye about the importance of tourism and other aspects of seaside life to the wider economy.

Just down the coast from Scarborough and Whitby, there is an excellent puffin colony at Bempton cliffs. If we have a third season at Bempton that is as bad as the last two, the breeding productivity of kittiwakes will prompt strong demands, not only from naturalists and environmentalists, but from the fishing communities, for a closure, probably from somewhere off the east coast of Scotland down to Northumberland. It is a serious problem, which has an impact on the complicated marine environment and ecology.

Mr. Paterson: An interesting Royal Society for the Protection of Birds study was recently published on the impact of such activity on sea bird populations. In addition, we need to recall that sand eels are a key food
2 Dec 2004 : Column 872
source for cod. Without getting too excited about our upcoming green paper, we will advocate drastic reductions in the practice of industrial fishing, even if not its elimination.

Lawrie Quinn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that the Conservatives are seeing good sense on some issues.

In the short term, however, I want to take the opportunity to wish my hon. Friend the Minister well from all fishing communities in Yorkshire and Humber. He has an important job to do. I am sure that he goes to the Council with the support of Labour Members and the bulk of the support of hon. Members in the Chamber.

6.6 pm

Mr. Bradshaw: With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate.

One or two hon. Members asked whether it would be possible to meet me between the publication of the formal advice from the Commission next week and the Fisheries Council. I am happy to do that. Perhaps we will make informal arrangements, either after the debate or in ensuing days, to discuss the issues that they want to raise.

I am glad that the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) is beginning to flesh out the Opposition's policy on fisheries. The Conservative party's green paper on fisheries will be one of its most hotly awaited policy documents for a long time. I look forward to seeing it.

I do not want to dwell any longer than is necessary on the central plank of the Opposition's policy of withdrawal from the common fisheries policy, but I noted the recent comments by a former Conservative party chairman, Chris Patten, who in October said:

I also noted an excellent article, which I commend to all hon. Members who have an interest in fisheries, by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who, as I am sure hon. Members will remember, was the Fisheries Minister for four years under the previous Conservative Government. He speaks with great authority on the subject and recently wrote in the Yorkshire Post that he believes that the Tory policy is "unwise and undeliverable." He went on to address, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire did not, some of the concerns raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) and others about the possible cost of unilateral withdrawal. He asked the intriguing question of how much of the Royal Navy we are

Those are good, important and interesting questions, which I am sure the hon. Member for North Shropshire will address in his much anticipated green paper.

The hon. Gentleman raised a detailed problem, which he has mentioned to me before, about the situation in Fleetwood. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) very much wanted to participate in the debate. It is the first time she has
2 Dec 2004 : Column 873
missed a fisheries debate, but she is hosting a Select Committee visit to her constituency today. She passed her concerns on to me.

There has been some misunderstanding. There is always a problem in finding technical solutions to mixed fisheries. The vessel cited in The Daily Telegraph article and by the hon. Member for North Shropshire has, of 16 November, used 128 days this year, which is well within the 17 days a month allowed for vessels that use meshes of more than 100 mm. There is no reason why that vessel should not use 110 mm mesh rather than the 80 mm that it used when he was with it.

The other aspect of the hon. Gentleman's contribution—I also look forward to reading about this in more detail—is that he is moving towards an effort control system as the best way of managing our fisheries, which is the Faroese system rather than the Icelandic system. I am particularly interested to know how a complete effort control system would work in the North sea, for example, and what impact it would have. I am sure that he and other Members realise that if we adopted the Faroese system in the North sea, it would mean a dramatic cut in effort and have pretty catastrophic impacts on fishing industries and boats in the constituencies of most of the Members present.

As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) spoke with great authority and experience on this issue. I know that we disagree on some aspects of it, but I was pleased to hear that he described the publication of the Prime Minister's strategy unit report as a turning point. That is right; it shows a real commitment from the highest level to the future of the fishing industry.

While my hon. Friend was speaking, I could not help thinking that, a few years back—I think at a Labour party conference—he changed his name by deed poll to Mr. Haddock. It is about since that date that we have seen a miraculous recovery in the haddock stocks. Perhaps I might suggest that he considers changing his name at the next Labour party conference to Mr. Cod. We will see what happens to the cod stocks. However, I take the points that he made seriously.

My hon. Friend and a number of other Members were slightly unfair about Franz Fischler as a commissioner. He had a certain robust style, but it is not an easy business to chair an annual Fisheries Council meeting. His heart was certainly in the right place on the need for reform. He saw through reforms of the common fisheries policy against pretty fierce resistance from some member states. He shared our vision of a sustainable and profitable fisheries policy for the future. The new commissioner will have a different style, and we will work closely with him and, I hope, to the benefit of the UK industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby asked whether we could relax this year. Compared with some of the very difficult Councils that we have had in recent years, the background to this one is a little easier. I do not think that we can open the floodgates at this stage, but, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that we will be able to make progress on some stocks and that the fishing industry will welcome that. Although there are signs of cod recovery, it is from a very low base.
2 Dec 2004 : Column 874
However, I am determined to do what I can in those areas where the science justifies our taking action. I take on board my hon. Friend's concerns about the proposals for a cod protected area, the details of which I have not yet seen. The issue was also raised by several other Members.

My hon. Friend requested greater certainty for the industry. We are trying to move towards that with the multi-annual approach that was adopted in the reform of the common fisheries policy. We certainly want to embed that, and it will be one of our priorities when we take over the presidency of the EU in the second half of next year.

As usual, the hon. Member for St. Ives spoke with great authority, representing, as he does, Cornwall, which is one of the main fishing areas in England. He expressed frustration with the annual timetable of the whole process, and I share that frustration. I discussed the issue with Commissioner Borg at our meeting, and I think that it is a frustration he shares. If parties here and the industry would like to push for changes to the timetable, I think that we are pushing at an open door with the new commissioner. I shall certainly take that issue on board.

I acknowledge that we disagree with some of the recommendations that we expect to be made by the Commission. They include the recommendations on western channel sole. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the United Kingdom has been working very closely not just at official level but through representatives of the industry to come up with an alternative plan for western channel sole. We hope to make further progress on regional advisory councils during our EU presidency and will continue to push for that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Bradley report. There has been a certain amount of misreporting and Chinese whispers in what I may or may not have said about how we intend to implement the recommendations in the Bradley report. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have not made any decisions yet. I recognise the important work that sea fisheries committees do, and everyone agrees that we need to modernise the way in which we manage and enforce our inland fisheries. Whatever system we adopt, I want to try to retain the local expertise and democratic accountability that the sea fisheries committees bring with them.

The hon. Gentleman should not be too disappointed that a marine Bill was not in the Queen's Speech. There was never any realistic prospect that it would be in this Queen's Speech, but the fact that the Prime Minister is explicitly committed to a Bill as soon as the legislative programme allows is a good sign. I and my colleagues in DEFRA will work to make sure that it happens as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has apologised for the fact that he cannot be here because he has to take a plane back to his constituency, but he made a number of points that I promise to take up and bear in mind. He gave me some good advice about negotiating tactics that might benefit his fishermen in Northern Ireland. He made an interesting point about climate change, as did others, and the role that it might play in changing the habits of fish stocks.
2 Dec 2004 : Column 875
There is certainly evidence that, with global warming and changing sea temperatures, stocks are moving around. Stocks that were formerly further south in UK waters are moving up, and cod seems to be moving north. However, we must be careful about using climate change as an excuse to avoid addressing the problem of over-fishing. We must take all the factors that affect fish stocks into account if we are to have a successful and sustainable fisheries policy.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), as this is the first time that we have faced each other in the Chamber since he resumed the leadership of his party. I shall, of course, keep him informed. In fact, for the first time this year, we have allocated a senior DEFRA official to keep the fishermen informed during the Council. It is difficult for me as the Minister to do so or, indeed, for Mr. Finnie, because we are trapped in the building. We never know when the commissioner is going to burst into the room and ask for a bilateral, or when a Minister representing another country will want to hold one. We cannot leave the building, and the fishermen cannot come to see us, but we shall certainly keep in as close contact as possible. Personally, I intend to meet industry representatives during the Council if possible.

It was slightly unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that Governments have not given priority to the fishing industry. I hope that he acknowledges that the strategy unit report was a major sign that the Prime Minister was worried about what was happening two years ago at the Council, and wanted to get to grips with the problem for the medium and long-term future. I agree that there is a case for fighting for an increased TAC on prawns, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman about haddock. On monkfish, he will probably be aware that a joint industry-science project has helped to secure improved data, and we will argue for a substantial increase in the Council negotiations in December.

Next Section IndexHome Page