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I am pleased by the angling development programmes that have been established, but angling needs to get its house in order. What funding the Government can provide is not the only important issue; ensuring that the governance of Britain’s largest participatory sport is coherent and unified is also important. That is why I welcome the work that has been done to establish the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust. In the world of applications for lottery and other public funds, we cannot have a fragmented system of governance for our sport. We need a strong, unified governing body. In marked contrast to the position taken by the Conservative party at the last election, on my website I have floated the idea that anglers might consider paying a voluntary levy, in addition to their rod licence, to help to fund a
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strong and powerful voice for angling. Ninety-five per cent. of those who have responded recognise that that might be a way forward.

Angling knows now where it belongs. It does not belong in the bloodsports lobby. It does not belong in a bunker with a siege mentality, thinking that some nasty Government are going to come along and cut it off at the knees. Angling is where it belongs: foursquare in the centre of the environmental lobby. The Stern report and the challenges posed by climate change have the scope to change politics in this country. Ministers will need all the shock troops they can get when they make the argument for the environment. I would start with Britain’s 3.5 million anglers.

5.11 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I welcome the hon. Members for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) to the debate. The hon. Lady made an important point when she opened her speech by saying that the debate should concern us all. I am delighted that she has been able to take part in it. There was a great deal in her speech with which I did not agree—that will surprise no one—but in that, she was right.

When the hon. Lady returns to see the primary school children in her constituency and they start talking about fish stocks in general and cod stocks in particular, I hope that she will make the point to them that there is now a substantial body of evidence to suggest that the disappearance of cod stocks from the North sea has a lot to do with climate change, and that school children being driven to school—perhaps in Islington many travel in 4x4s and other carbon-emitting vehicles—is behaviour that has an impact on cod stocks. I hope that in the course of the next 12 months until the next fisheries debate, the hon. Lady will take time to reflect on the fact that these matters are not simple; they are infinitely complex.

If the hon. Lady wants to come to Shetland and meet fishing-dependent communities there—

Mr. Salmond: On the margins.

Mr. Carmichael: We do not feel that we are on the margins. People often refer to us as “remote”, but that word has meaning only if one starts a long way away. To us, London is a remote community.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury spoke about grandchildren. She should come and speak to the fishing communities that I represent. She might visit the islands of Whalsay and Out Skerries, where there are few households that are not fishing-dependent. She might talk to the people there about the frustration that they experienced year after year as a result of telling Fisheries Ministers in London and fisheries commissioners in Brussels that effort control was needed, but being ignored; and telling people that cuts in stock levels were needed, but being told, “You’re just fishermen. You’re not clever like the scientists. You don’t know. We know better than you do.”

The fishermen in my constituency are as desperate to be able to continue to catch cod and other fish for their children and grandchildren as the grandchildren of the hon. Lady’s constituents. I hope that when she returns
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to the debate next year, she will think a little more carefully about the terms of her contribution and realise that it is in nobody’s interest to conduct this debate in a way that plays off one community or one part of the country against another. If she thinks about it, her opening gambit was correct: this is a subject of great importance that should concern us all.

Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carmichael: No, because I have already taken more time than I intended to take.

Emily Thornberry: May I intervene?

Mr. Carmichael: Of course.

Emily Thornberry: I want to make it perfectly clear—I thought I had done so—that the subject is important to all of us. That was the point of my involvement in the debate. I specifically said that I understood that the fishing industry has an enormous impact on particular communities in Britain, but we have to be responsible. I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says about fishermen in his constituency. In fact, I have been to his constituency and I met fishermen there, went fishing with them and spoke to them about the difficulties that they face. I am aware of the issues, but communities other than the fishing industry community ought to be represented in the debate.

Mr. Carmichael: As I said, I do not depart from that point of view in any way, shape or form. There has been a lot of optimism in this debate, and that is perhaps reflected in the rather thin turnout of Members from some parties. It is perhaps just part of my character, but I find optimism difficult to come by, and I find it difficult to share a lot of the optimism that is around today. The industry is in a much stronger condition that it has been in recent years, but the task facing the Minister when he goes to the December Council next week will be one of the most difficult that he has faced in recent years, and the reason for that is the difficult hand that he is given to play, following the EU-Norway negotiations last month. I briefly want to consider how that position came about.

The European Commission has played an unhelpful role in the debate, and there appears to be particular tension at the moment between the directorate-general for fisheries and maritime affairs, or DG fish, and the environment DG. My particular concern relates to the role of the latter, which seems to have intervened in a fairly cack-handed manner, without speaking to the regional advisory councils, industry groups or the communities concerned. As a result of that, the Commission went into the EU-Norway negotiation with an initial demand for a 25 per cent. reduction in the total allowable catch for cod. Given that the United Kingdom, the North Sea regional advisory council and all the industry bodies were looking for a roll-over, that was sheer madness. It is not new for the United Kingdom or the industry to be ignored in the debate, but it is new for the regional advisory council to be totally ignored, and it must surely concern us all. As everyone has said, it is
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still very early days for the regional advisory councils, and to treat them in such a way undermines their standing in the industry.

As for the 14 per cent. cut that is now proposed, I told the Minister why that cut would be important earlier. He referred to the good year class of 2005, and I must say that I have heard the same said by fishermen in both parts of my constituency, time and again. I am told that an increasing number of young codlings have been caught in nets, and that they are to be found in many parts of different fisheries, but the consequence of a 14 per cent. reduction in the TAC for cod will be that although the fish are there, and although they will still be caught, there will be more discards than ever. The opportunity presented by the 2005 year class risks being lost, and that should concern us all. It is immensely frustrating for me to see the potential for a breakthrough, at last, in spawning stock and biomass for cod, only for that potential to be thrown away because the Commission takes an irrational position.

The situation is so serious that if it is apparent in the Council next week that there is no workable solution to the problem, the Minister should press the case for a reopening of the EU-Norway negotiations. Frankly, we cannot pass up the opportunity before us, because it may not come again for another 10 or 15 years, so he should not allow the Commission’s irrational position to throw away the good work and the sacrifice that has been made, particularly by the Scottish white fish fleet.

On effort control, may I stiffen the Minister’s resolve? We have heard that the initial proposal is for boats that operate with a mesh size in excess of 120 mm, there should be a 25 per cent. cut in the days available to them. I do not understand—perhaps the Minister can explain—how the same boats would be allowed a mere 8 per cent. cut if they were prepared to sign up to administrative penalties sanctions. That suggests that the Commission’s proposals have more to do with the administrative convenience of those involved in fisheries enforcement than with the conservation of stocks. If there is a reduction from 163 days, which is the current allocation to white fish boats in my constituency, to 125 days, we will be left with an industry that is not sustainable.

On monkfish, a crucial species to the Shetland fleet, I again entreat the Minister to demonstrate real resolve. The monkfish working group of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries suggested in the mid-year proposal a 10 per cent. increase in the quota. That was blocked by the full Committee. The industry has presented the data on monkfish and the UK has supported it in the past. When the stocks are there, surely the case for an increase is unanswerable.

We have already seen an 80 per cent. uptake of this year’s quota for monkfish, after we carried over 10 per cent. of the TAC from the previous year. That will clearly not be available to us, and there is a damaging prospect that towards the end of next year boats in my constituency will have to tie up early because they will have exhausted their quota, unless the Minister is able to get the available 10 per cent. for them. The fish are there. In a well managed and sustainable fishery, surely the fishermen should be allowed the opportunity to catch them.

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Likewise, I entreat the Minister on the subject of west coast herring. The proposal for a 15 per cent. reduction would have a serious impact on a pelagic fleet that is suffering problems elsewhere. The Minister must hold out for a roll-over.

As I said in my introductory remarks, nothing in fisheries is ever straightforward. We have seen some evidence of returning stocks. The evidence comes principally from the industry, but it does not seem to be challenged by the Minister’s enforcement agencies or the scientists. On the other hand, there is the DEFRA report to which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made copious reference. It suggests that because of a change in water temperatures, it might be impossible ever to get the cod back into the mid and south North sea. If the Minister does nothing else, he must ensure that this year and in years to come such thinking is allowed to have its full impact in the decision-making process. He must ensure that the report is given the weight that it deserves.

I am aware that others wish to speak in the debate. There is a great deal more that I could say in relation to wider fisheries issues. I have outlined the pressing issues for the industry in my constituency. The Minister ended his contribution by wishing the Deputy Speaker then in the Chair a happy Christmas. If the Minister is able to address these issues next week, there is the possibility that the fishermen of Shetland and Orkney, too, will be able to enjoy a happy Christmas.

5.24 pm

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to other hon. Members for the fact that I was not present at the beginning of the debate. I am thus more privileged to be called to speak.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said that he may not be available to attend next year’s debate. I am pretty confident that he will be, but I am not so sure about my own interest in next year’s debate if we do not sort out something for the under-10 m fishermen in my constituency, Hastings and Rye.

Yesterday, I led a delegation to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and we were able to tell him just how dire and desperate is the position of those small-boat fishermen in the current situation. Paul Joy, the chairman of Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, his colleague Graham Coglan, and Ron Simmons from the Rye Fishermen’s Association told him that in a year’s time there will not be an industry in Hastings or Rye unless something is done about the quota—that is what it is, in effect, although it is called “licensing conditions”—for the under-10 m vessels in my constituency. I am not ashamed to be parochial about this. I am sure that my comments relate to the whole under-10 m industry, but they are particularly relevant to Hastings and Rye.

Hastings and Rye have an historical tradition of fishing. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is not here, because it is important for those who do not represent fishing ports to understand the importance of the fishing industry to the wider economy. Of course, in places such as Hastings and Rye its total value is
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relatively small. However, it is absolutely essential to the well-being of my constituency in terms of its effects on tourism, onshore jobs and the overall economy. In fact, were it not for the fishing industry, why would anyone go to the port of Rye or the old town of Hastings for that day out or weekend away? Hastings’ fleet of 29 beach-launched fishing boats is the largest in the UK. It might sound pretty small, but it is big in terms of that sort of operation. About 65 fishermen are directly employed, as well as about 600 people in the wider sphere. Most importantly, those small fishing boats do exactly what the Government say should be done. They are wholly sustainable. In 2004, the Cabinet Office strategy unit’s report, “Net Benefits” said:

A year ago, Hastings was officially recognised as being one of the few ports carrying out that aim. Hastings fishermen were accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council as having an eco-friendly fleet as regards three species—Dover sole, herring and mackerel. That means that the small boats working out of the port are confirmed as working in a sustainable way that does not damage stocks and is environmentally sound in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. As the Sea Fish Industry Authority has said:

So here we have perfection that is likely to disappear if nothing happens.

The problem is simply that there is not enough catch. We can argue about whether we get our fair share of the overall European pot, and I have sympathy with those who believe that we do not. My local fishermen are always telling me that they blame Ted Heath and the Conservative Government because in 1973 we gave up 88 per cent. of the waters for just 12 per cent. of the total allowable catch. However, that is history. What matters now is how we deal with the quota that we have. The amazing fact, which people do not seem to acknowledge, is that although about 50 per cent. of the manpower—it is still generally manpower—in the fishing industry is in the under-10 m sector and about 50 per cent. is in the over-10 m sector, 96 per cent. of the allowable catch goes to the over-10 m sector and just 3 per cent. to the under-10 m sector. That is crazy and unfair. It causes problems in industries such as that in Hastings and Rye, where the fishermen simply do not get their fair share.

In the south-east—Hastings is on the south coast—the position is even worse. Of all the 339 licensed fishing vessels in the area, 315, or 93 per cent., are in the under-10 m sector. That sector also accounts for approximately 83 per cent. of the work force. Despite that, the allocation in the region is: for plaice, 78 per cent. for the over-10 m sector and 22 per cent. for the under-10 m sector; for cod, 69 per cent. for the over-10 m sector and 31 per cent. for the under-10 m sector, and for sole, 62 per cent. for the over-10 m sector and 38 per cent. for the under-10 m sector. It is crazy that 80 per cent. of the work force get, on average, less than 30 per cent. of the take. That is wrong. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the unfair allocations carefully. The Prime Minister kindly said that he would bring the matter to the Department’s attention.

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Other things can be done. One of the problems is that fishermen who leave the over-10 m sector frequently buy dormant licences from the under-10 m sector and move into it, sharing the small and diminishing proportion of the available quota, thus making the position worse. The bottom line is that my fishermen in Hastings and Rye are being asked to survive on quotas that produce £80 to £100 a week. They will not survive for another year if that continues.

I wish my hon. Friend the Minister well in the EU negotiations and I hope that there will be greater quotas. Of course, we need to be sensible, but there are cod, and other species are available to be caught. However, there must be a fair distribution of the quotas between all sectors in the fishing industry. It would make little difference to stocks if the share for the under-10 m sector was doubled but it wouldmake all the difference to the viability and survival of the industry, which is so important to the wider economy.

5.32 pm

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the important debate. My constituency of Angus has a long history of fishing through the ports of Arbroath and the smaller communities along the coast up to Montrose. That history is reflected in the fact that Arbroath and Montrose have two of the oldest lifeboat stations in the country. That shows the huge dangers in fishing that other hon. Members mentioned throughout the debate.

In my area, the main catch has always been haddock, nephrops—I cannot get into the new way of calling them “langoustines; I cannot get my tongue round that—and crabs. Sadly, in the past 30 years much of the industry has gone. I find myself in a similar position to the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), because few boats work out of Arbroath. There were about five at the last count but, when I was young, it was a bustling fishing port with a large fish market. All that has gone and what is left teeters on the brink because of the annual anxiety about quotas.

We have heard about proposals for a cut of up to 25 per cent. in nephrops, which would be disastrous for the local industry. I understand that there is meant to be a roll-over of the total allowable catch in the North sea and on the west coast because there is no new science this year. It is due in 2007. However, an argument has developed between committees about the proposed reduction. I urge the Minister to oppose any such reduction in the talks next week.

The same applies to monkfish. Again, there is talk of a decrease, against advice, when there should have been an increase in TAC. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said, it is an important fishery. I urge the Minister, on behalf of Scottish interests, to resist any decrease.

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