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The Minister said that this is not a sword of Damocles over landowners' heads. In Committee, a particular landowner was mentioned in relation to the hon. Member
for Southampton, Test. I have had conversations with that estate since, and it is taking the matter very seriously; for example, it makes considerable efforts to achieve public access in areas such as education. The language in these debates can easily demonise people who are in fact doing immense work to achieve greater understanding about the countryside and greater access for all sorts of people. The Minister's words will be well heard.
Estuaries are very complicated areas to which to deliver access. There tends to be a greater level of occupation: more activity going, more boatyards, more slipways and more residential areas. I liked the phrase that the Minister used-that this will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Again, we are putting a lot of hope in the idea that Natural England will approach this issue in the right way. All my discussions with it suggest that it will, but there will undoubtedly be problems and the Minister will on occasion be required to solve them. A three-year review of progress gives us an opportunity to see whether what the Minister wants-and we all want-is happening: greater access to the countryside.
On amendment 37 and liability, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the legal position. He said that we do not want to see an over-cautious approach to the issue of access to countryside. We live in a litigious society. Cycling and equestrian clubs now get members to sign disclaimers before any activity can take place. The degree of bureaucracy is becoming absurd, and to it can be added Criminal Records Bureau checks and the other checks that such organisations have to go through. We do not want to add an horrendous new tier of liability to the process of simply getting out and enjoying the countryside and coastal Britain. Of course, the Minister reminded us that under clause 292(2), Natural England and the Secretary of State
"must have regard to...the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route".
'The Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers must take all reasonable steps to manage and mitigate the impact on fishing and other existing activities resulting from the designation and management of an MCZ.'.- (Mr. Austin Mitchell.)
'(ea) the extent to which, in the opinion of the authority, the operation of the MCZs have had an impact upon the marine economy in general and the commercial and recreational fishing industry in particular;'.
'(2A) The appropriate authority must also make annual assessments of the cost and impact of the MCZs to the fishing industry and submit these to the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers who must manage and mitigate such effects.'.
'(5) For the purposes of this Part, a licence granted under section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 is a marine licence permitting the holder to carry on marine activity to the extent permitted by the licence conditions permitted under that Act.'.
I wish to discuss not only new clause 8, but amendments 41, 17, 15 and 24. I wish to do so because of a concern for the interests of commercial fishing, which remain a factor, although not as big a one as before, in the health and prosperity of Grimsby. They are more important to communities up and down the coast-many of them isolated-in which fishing is the main industry. Their needs, views and industry need to be taken into account more effectively than they have been. I wish that some of the passion, enthusiasm, interest and involvement that have just been shown in discussion of the rights of coastal access in the Bill were also demonstrated in concern for fishing, because it is a
more important activity to this country economically. The industry employs 13,000 people on the catching side, 26,000 in processing and 40,000 in distribution, it contributes about £6 billion a year to the national economy and, as I said, it is particularly important to remote communities.
The Bill affects fishing in many ways. It is primarily a Bill that has been pushed by non-governmental organisations-the conservation and environmentalist groups-and, in a sense, it is too far weighted towards them and insufficiently weighted towards preserving the interests of fishing as an existing activity. Even I-the MP for Great Grimsby-have been deluged with cards telling me, "These marine conservation zones should be extended to a quarter, a third or even more of the North sea." I have replied by asking these people, who are from Grimsby, whether they had not realised that it is a commercial fishing port with an interest in fishing in these zones. Members have gone around telling schools that the interests of fishing should be precluded altogether and that fishing should be stopped because we are endangering stocks.
The Bill is primarily about conserving the marine environment; it is not a Bill for controlling or regulating fishing. We need to make that absolutely clear, because it cannot do both-indeed, it should not do both, because the fishing industry has a major interest in conservation. It is one of the natural agencies that Governments should look to and be concerned with, because its interests are in conservation, in sustainable fishing and in maintaining a resource on which the livelihoods of fishermen depend and which they want to hand on to their children and to their area. That interest has to be taken into account. This Bill should not be seen instead as yet another restriction on fishing-commercial fishing in particular-which has been harassed and weighed down with regulations, controls, quotas, limits, the days at sea limitation and exclusion from certain areas and certain stocks to the point where it has become desperate.
We cannot use this Bill to impose another series of controls on fishing, because that would alienate the fishing industry. Such an approach would fail to generate the enthusiasm for conservation that exists within the industry and would fail to use fishing as a means of ensuring proper conservation. The fishing industry wants to build up stocks and avoid damage, and, in that sense, it has the same interest in conservation as the Bill. Like New Zealand, whose marine conservation areas are perhaps more natural than ours because they are based on reefs-the more natural way of having conservation areas-this country's approach, in this Bill, should be based on consulting and involving the fishing industry. I want the Minister to take that approach and I know that he wants to achieve that end too.
We are dealing with an area in which scientific knowledge is inadequate; we do not have scientific knowledge about the marine conservation areas, about the sea or about what is underneath the surface. The fishing industry has more knowledge than the scientists, so it should be involved not only when consulting on what is decided in the Bill, but in policing that and in reporting to the Minister and the authorities about what is going on in these areas. Anything that restricts fishing weakens that
superintending role and the conservation concern that the industry has; anything that weakens fishing weakens conservation. That is why I wish to include in the Bill some of these safeguards that have been mentioned.
I should mention that the responsible fisheries schemes, which have been energetically, and rightly, promoted by Seafish, now have the support of 44 per cent. of the fishing industry-by weight of vessel. That demonstrates the degree of involvement of the fishing industry in the conservation issue.
Martin Salter: I am listening, as I suspect many hon. Members are, with some incredulity to the arguments being made by my hon. Friend. Will he clarify for the House his earlier statement that it is impossible to introduce conservation measures that restrict commercial fishing? Does he not see that that statement might be a problem for some of us?
Mr. Mitchell: I am defending the interests of fishing as an industry and as a leisure activity-I would have thought that my hon. Friend would have supported that. My assertion is that fishing is an agent of conservation, and one cannot have marine conservation areas, which are intended primarily to conserve the marine environment, by also placing added restrictions on fishing. That defeats the purpose of the marine conservation areas.
Martin Salter: I shall certainly continue the exchange. Does my hon. Friend recognise that probably precisely the same speech was made in about 1988-89, just before the collapse in the cod stocks off Newfoundland? It is precisely because the fishing industry does not recognise the value of conservation, engages in overfishing and opposes steps to allow fish stocks to recover and replenish themselves that fishermen lost their jobs?
Fishing might have overextended its ambitions there, but that has nothing to do with this and nor has the conservation of cod stocks anything to do with this Bill. We are talking about the conservation of the marine environment. This is not a measure that deals with the conservation of stocks. Any attempt to impose that on this measure will defeat the measure, because it will alienate the fishing industry, which is an agent of conservation. We have a very changed fishing industry now; it is on a much smaller scale, it is much more based on sustainable fishing and, as I said, it is committed to responsible fishing. My hon. Friend, in trying to produce a gulf between his anglers, whom he has worked so hard to protect, and commercial fishing, is doing the whole issue a disservice, because their interests are very much the same. An interest in conservation is an interest in keeping fishing at a sustainable level in a sustainable way. That is what I am arguing today. He is making an entirely artificial distinction, which makes
me take a detour from my main purpose, which is to argue for the interests of fishing. By that, I mean his kind of fishing, and my kind of fishing or Grimsby's kind of fishing-commercial fishing.
I return to these amendments, many of which are similar to those moved by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who is the vice chair of the all-party group on fisheries-I am its chair. Our interests are common and we work in the same way, except that he tends to run with the fishing fox and hunt with the conservation hounds. That is understandable, because he is a Liberal Democrat and, thus, naturally confused about his objectives. I do not think that we are sharply opposed, but it is difficult to have it both ways on this issue.
Andrew George: I caution the hon. Gentleman that it would be unwise to attack people who are on his side. In any case, he should recognise that the golden thread that runs through the amendments that I have tabled and that I am supporting is that the fishing industry should be properly represented at every stage. The problem with the Bill as drafted is that the socio-economic considerations may be considered only at the point of designation, and they will not be considered at the time of a report or the introduction of a conservation policy or byelaw. I simply want to ensure that there is consistency throughout the Bill. I am merely looking for consistency, not trying to run with different groups at different times.
Mr. Mitchell: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I should not have made jibes; I am stirred to such anger and passion by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) that I am lashing out in all directions. That was very naughty of me and I think we should blame my hon. Friend, not me, for that.
As the hon. Member for St. Ives says, the designation and the management of the regimes associated with marine conservation zones will impose significant costs on fishing activities. They will vary according to the size, nature and designation of the zone, but the regulatory impact assessment estimates that impacts on fisheries will be worth between £157 million and £346 million over 20 years. That can be found in table 8 on page 34 of the impact assessment. That will be a significant cost for fishing and it cannot be right or fair, if those impacts on fishing are to be produced by the Bill, for fishing to be expected to bear those costs without some intervention from the Government.
The Bill as drafted does not place any obligation on Government to manage the losses resulting from such impacts or the loss of fishing rights. For that reason, I want a duty imposed on the Minister to manage and mitigate such effects on fishermen, because I think that it is important to the industry to give it such a guarantee. That is the basis of new clause 8. Amendment 44 is very similar and calls for estimated costs to be assessed. We need to know what the impact on fishing will be and what costs will be imposed on the industry by the fishing zones.
Amendment 24 concerns what is generally called the fishing defence. In other words, when accidental damage is done in the course of fishing-we do not advocate that deliberate damage could or should be done by
fishing-there should be a defence on the grounds that the damage could not have been avoided, if a fisherman was acting responsibly and fishing within a zone under the provisions of the byelaws or conservation orders. We need a defence that protects against accidental damage for those who are fishing, which is a traditional activity that has always gone on in these zones and that is to a degree threatened by them. The measure will not protect in cases of intentional or reckless damage; it is merely a safeguard for those who are fishing in accordance with the existing fishing regimes and management plans should they cause accidental damage. Without that protection, fishermen might consider that the risks of fishing in a marine conservation zone are too great. Effectively, it could become a no-fish zone, adding to the huge restrictions that operate in areas around our coast. I would not want that to happen. Fishing needs some kind of guarantee and protection.
Amendment 42, tabled by the hon. Member for St. Ives, echoes a number of amendments that I tabled less successfully. It says that there should be a level playing field between British and European vessels. That is an important principle. My amendments were probably rejected because those in the Table Office and their associated psychologists know that whenever the common fisheries policy is mentioned I froth at the mouth and become incomprehensible. To protect the House and to protect me, they did not select my amendments. They selected those of the hon. Gentleman and I am delighted that they did. We cannot have a situation in which British fishermen are excluded because an area is designated as a marine conservation zone whereas European fishermen-either because they have historical rights or because they are fishing under the basic principle of quotas allocated by Brussels and the basic principle of equal access to a common resource, which has been the ruin of the British fishing industry-and others can continue to fish. Such a regime could not be enforced-fishing would not accept it, and it would be disastrous.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this amendment. He must have steeled himself up to a degree of anti-European enthusiasm that is uncharacteristic of his party-I should not make jibes, I am sorry; he does not need to respond. I congratulate him, because it concerns an important basic principle. I hope that the Minister can guarantee that any restrictions on fishing will not come into force until they apply uniformly to all fishermen, be they European or of other nationalities or be they British. We cannot have a regime that is enforced unilaterally on British fishermen.
Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the equal application of the law is fundamental to its respect? The situation that he is powerfully and rightly describing is likely to bring the law that the Minister is introducing into disrepute. For example, if Belgian beam trawlers are hoovering up fish on the edge of the 6-mile limit in an area that is a marine conservation zone, that will cause immense concern to fishermen if they are prosecuted for straying over the line.
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