Mr. Carmichael: May I reinforce the point to the Minister that we should make more of the fact that we do enforce the law rigorously, and that the penalties imposed by our courts are among the highest in the European Union? Will he make that point to our European partners?
Yes. I do not have them on me, but I would commend to hon. Members the tables showing the relative enforcement and fine levels. The figures are not quite as black and white as the hon. Gentleman suggests; we are about middling in how well we are doing. We are doing a lot better than we did in the past, however. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby said that he doubted whether French fishermen
7 Dec 2005 : Column 952
who had committed a similar offence to those committed in his constituency would be similarly fined. I am sure that he is aware, however, that France has recently been fined €20 million for not enforcing fisheries policy correctly, and that the threat of a €56 million fine every six months hangs over that countrythis involves the national Governmentif it does not get its act together. So the idea that we are the only country that punishes people or follows the rules is not strictly true.
Mr. Carmichael: May I take the Minister back to the Altaire case, which we spoke about earlier? Not only was a substantial fine imposedjust short of £100,000, I thinkbut about £1 million was recovered under the confiscation procedures set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That involved a civil recovery. Will the Minister ensure that such money is taken into account when these so-called league tables are being drawn up? It, too, constitutes a penalty.
I associate myself absolutely with the comments made by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall. The improvements in enforcement that we have made over the past few years have resulted in better compliance, and I hope that Members on both sides of the House will agree that that can only be good for the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby also said that some parts of the industry, such as the shellfish sector, are doing very well. I have also hinted at that, as have other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman extended a kind invitation to me to visit his constituency. I have actually been thereI am sorry, it was before his timebut I shall certainly bear his invitation in mind. I happen to love lobster, and I only regret that the best lobster that his fishermen catch go straight to Spain. I believe that we as a nation could do better in adding value to our fisheries' product. Near to my constituency in south Devon, the best crab in the world and very good lobster are caughtI had better not say that it is the best, but I am sure that it is as good as those caught in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is a terrible shame that 90 per cent. of them are exported straight away, alive, in saline tanks to France and Spain. I believe that we could add some value to those products in this country, as well as encouraging our own consumers to buy and eat more of them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool made an excellent contribution. It is great to have a Member for Hartlepool who is obviously interested in the fishing industry on behalf of his constituents. I hope that he will not be embarrassed by my saying that he asked a number of perceptive and intelligent questions. Widening the scope of fisheries grants is already one of our objectives, and will be as we consider the reform of the European fisheries fund, to which I referred earlier. He also asked about the action plan on the simplification of fisheries rules. As I said in my opening speech, we expect Commissioner Borg to say something about that at the December Council, and the matter can then be taken forward. We have taken that issue very seriously, and it is an area in which we have worked closely and productively with the fishing industry.
7 Dec 2005 : Column 953
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) reminded the House of the tragic events in her constituency involving the drowning of a number of Chinese cocklers. I commend her for her excellent hard work on drawing the issue to the attention of my ministerial colleagues and me at the time, and on her persistence in trying to ensure that decisions will be taken and measures put in place to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. As I made clear to her when she last came to see me, I have said for some time that the Government would support the local sea fisheries committee if it wanted to bring forward a regulating order. I also acknowledge, as she did in her remarks, that the Government's proposed marine Bill will provide a good opportunity to modernise fisheries legislation, including giving powers to manage local fisheries in the way that she describes. I hope that she and other hon. Members who are interested in the marine environment will take an active role in the development of that Bill.
Mr. Paterson: I echo the Minister's comments about the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), who, after that terrible incident, did a tremendous job in bringing the problems to the attention of the House and the Minister. She also played an active part in the gangmasters legislation. Conservative Members would certainly support a licensing regime in Morecambe bay and measures to help the sea fisheries committee.
On the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale asked about abandoned vehicles, I am afraid that I do not have a definitive answer yet, but I have sought one. My officials' advice was that we thought that local authorities were responsible, but that there may be an issue as to whether that applies if vehicles are in the middle of the bay.
Geraldine Smith: The answer that was given to my parliamentary question was that local authorities were normally responsible, but that because such vehicles were in the middle of the bay, they were not responsible.
Mr. Carmichael: Wishing to be helpful, it sounds to me as if that responsibility ought to be the Crown Estate Commissioners', and if the sea bed is being littered with such wrecks, I hope that the Minister will take them to task in the strongest possible terms.
Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend says from a sedentary position that she has not tried them. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has given her a constructive idea, which I am sure that she will follow up, and perhaps I can help her on that, too.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire made a number of suggestions based on the experience that he has gleaned on his extensive travels. I hope that his
7 Dec 2005 : Column 954
travel has been carbon-offsetthere has certainly been a great deal of it. Now that climate change is to be a major priority for the Conservative party, too, I am sure that its travel will be carbon-offset. I am not sure that I would necessarily reach all of his conclusions, however.
It is important that we learn from good practice in other countries, but it is not always easy to make direct comparisons between countries such as New Zealand or Iceland, which basically lie surrounded by large expanses of ocean, and the United Kingdom, which is close to the rest of the continent and has fisheries that we have traditionally shared with other countries, long before the common fisheries policy and the European Union were invented. We have had wars with some of those countries over fisheries, which hon. Members often forget. If there are no rules or means for negotiation and agreement in relation to the exploitation of such a valuable resource, and no institution to apply those rules when some countries do not obey them, to which I referred in relation to the huge fines being levied on France, all sorts of new challenges are faced.
I am still not convinced by the attraction of the hon. Member for North Shropshire to the Faroese system, which relies solely on effort control. I do not want to bore the House again, but were we to introduce effort control in the North sea now to protect cod, no fishing would go on, because the effort would have to be set so low, because cod stocks are so low, that fishermen would not be able to catch any of the other species. In the highly complex, mixed fishery of the United Kingdom, we need to be cannier about our system. As I said, a review is going on, and a mixture of effort control and quota management, perhaps with individual tradeable quotas, might be the answer, although we have not made a firm and fast decision on that yet. We need to be a little more imaginative and canny, as we have a more complex fisheries reality than some of the countries to which he referred.