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As well as rights to fish and to use ports and harbours, the Act gives fishermen the right to draw their vessels up on beaches, and to use uncultivated land in a 100-yard
strip above the high water mark for fishing purposes, subject to any other legislation in force. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation are adamant that only the 1771 Act gives fishermen those rights throughout Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) said, the Scottish Fisheries Act 1705, gives rights in Scottish waters, but the 1771 Act is the only one that gives rights throughout Great Britain.
Legal advice to fishermen's organisations is that when the 1771 Act was passed, "white herring" referred to all sea fishing and not just fishing for white herring. By inference, it has continued to apply to all forms of sea fishing that have existed at any time thereafter. The courts have always interpreted the Act as applying to all forms of fishing, not just white herring fishing. When it was passed, it was intended to apply to all forms of fishing, which is how it has always been interpreted. As hon. Members have said, keeping the 1771 Act can do no harm, but repealing it could cause great damage to the fishing industry because of the law of unintended consequences.
I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the rights given to fishermen by the 1771 Act will be preserved by other enactments. If he cannot quote other enactments that give fishermen those rights, I hope that he will accept amendment 17, and keep the 1771 Act on the statute book. If it is repealed, we may find later that unintended consequences result in fishermen losing rights to fish the seas, to use harbours, or to lay up their boats on beaches.
I want to refer to another theme of the Bill that other hon. Members have also mentioned: equality of treatment for our fishermen and other EU fishermen. There would be absolutely no point in declaring a marine conservation zone between the 6 and the 12-mile limit, only to find that our own fishermen were excluded from it, while fishermen from all other EU countries were able to fish there. It is a flaw in the Bill, which the Minister must address.
To summarise, I support the Bill. It is a good Bill that sets out how to make progress towards the future for the sustainable development and protection of the marine environment. There are, I believe, one or two flaws, and I have referred to two of them this evening. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on those flaws, keep the 1771 Act and look again at the 6 and 12-mile limit to ensure that our fishermen would not be discriminated against if MCZs were declared in those areas.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab):
I propose to confine my remarks to new clause 8 and to amendments 44, 23 and 5. The tone of the debate on the new clause was set by the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).
One thing we learned from my hon. Friend, and from other contributors, was about the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771, but he also introduced two socking great red herrings. My hon. Friend appears to be under the impression that marine conservation zones will, perforce, ban fishing in them, because he claims that is integral to an MCZ. I would be most obliged if he would intervene and tell me where exactly the Bill says that, as I cannot find it anywhere in it.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: I did not say that there were proposals to ban fishing in the marine conservation zones, but what I will say right now is that if that is the proposal, it is unacceptable to the fishing industry; it is a monstrous proposal. We cannot have a patchwork quilt, which is what the MCZs will be. They will not be universal, but they will be no-go zones in which fishermen cannot fish. That is an impossible way of ensuring conservation.
"enabling or facilitating ...recovery or increase"
of stocks. Clause 129(3)(b) talks about "prohibiting or restricting entry", so there could be a prohibition, but the word "restricting" also appears in the Bill, which is of course different from "prohibiting". Clause 123(3)(a) refers to measures contributing to "the conservation or improvement" of stocks.
The red herring is in amendment 44 and new clause 8, which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby tabled, because he sees things as one or the other, as do elements in the fishing industry. Yes, I will demonise the fishing industry, although not individual fisher folk, because the industry has an appalling record. Sadly, that record has been maintained for many years, although, gradually, it is getting a bit better. Historically, it has an appalling record of fishing stocks out: we see that all over the world-we see it in the North sea; we see it in the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery off the Grand banks of Newfoundland; we see it in the collapse of the Pacific fishery off the west coast of Canada. By the way, that did not happen under a common fisheries policy, as that fishery is not covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement under national legislation.
Let me make my point and then I will give way. Inherent in amendment 44 and new clause 8 is the concept that conservation and preservation of marine
stocks-marine fauna and marine animals are mentioned in the Bill-is counterpoised to the interests of the fishing industry. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and others, "Be careful in what you wish for because you might get it". If marine conservation zones improved fish stocks and thus improved the circumstances for the fishing industry, passing new clause 8 and amendment 44 tonight would mean that the Government would have to take statutory measures to mitigate the consequences of that improvement. That is inherent in the wording of new clause 8 and amendment 44, which shows that those who framed them and support them see conservation and preservation of marine fauna and the interests of the commercial fishing industry as counterpoised, but they are not. I firmly believe that, handled sensitively, marine conservation zones could help increase fish stocks and, therefore, in the medium and longer term, help the commercial fishing industry.
Mr. Mitchell: My point was simply that conservation measures are best handled on a universal basis within our fishing area. My hon. Friend is obviously scarred by the experience of Canada, which he has quoted previously in the House. As he comes from Canada, I can understand that. However, the Canadian depredation of cod stocks was caused not by the absence of conservation zones, but by universal over-catching by Canadian and other vessels. The fishing industry's record has been good on occasions-Iceland is a classic instance of conservation of stocks. We should contrast the fishing industry as it was with the industry now. An increasing proportion-44 per cent.-of the British industry conforms to the responsible fishing agenda set out by Seafish. The fishing industry now believes in conservation, and fights for it.
Rob Marris: On that basis, my hon. Friend no doubt realises that there is no contradiction between marine conservation zones and the commercial fishing industry, and will withdraw his new clause 8 and not press amendment 44.
Mr. Mitchell: One cannot do conservation in itsy-bitsy pieces in minute marine conservation zones-or small marine conservation zones; I am not sure how big they will be-that are not linked up as a network.
Rob Marris: That depends on how big those marine conservation zones are and how deep the pre-existing depredations, which the marine conservation zones are designed to help to restore, are in relation to the sea bed. If the opportunities for commercial fishing were lessened or, in some cases, subject to temporary exclusion, that would help. I accept that we cannot do anything with marine conservation zones of 1 square metre, but the Government are not making such a proposal, as the Minister will no doubt elucidate. If, given that there is no such contradiction, the scales have fallen from my hon. Friend's eyes about the Aunt Sally that he has set up, he will no doubt withdraw new clause 8 and not press amendment 44.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con):
When the system is localised, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) says that a generalised system
would be better. However, when we wanted to have generalised systems, nobody was more antagonistic to them than he was. He might not agree, but he steadfastly supported the dock labour scheme in Grimsby, which did more to damage the industry than almost anything else.
Rob Marris: That is one of the few illuminating pieces of evidence in this part of the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that Wolverhampton is one of the furthest places from the sea in the United Kingdom, and as far as I am aware-I am aware of my family history back to 1050 on my father's side-I have no fisher folk in my family. Surprisingly, however, SBS/Fletcher, which manufactures boats, is in my constituency.
One piece of evidence that stood out, as several hon. Members have mentioned, came from the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox), who was briefly in the Chamber and spoke about the experience of the fishery closure in Lundy. Another piece of connected evidence was provided by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who spoke about the success of the closure of a spawning area between January and March or April each year. Those relatively small-scale-relative to the geography and the coast of the United Kingdom-schemes have worked to the benefit of not only conservation but the commercial fishing industry in those areas. Those are two pieces of evidence for my assertion that the Aunt Sally contradiction simply does not exist.
I want to consider the other red herring suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. When talking about criminal sanctions and so on, he referred to accidents. Perhaps he will intervene to tell me where the Bill refers to accidental damage. What I do see is a reference to recklessness, in clause 140(2). The word "recklessly" appears in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d). Subsection (2) contains only those four paragraphs, and they all contain the word "recklessly". As a lawyer, I must tell my hon. Friend that the term "accidental" means something rather different from what is meant by the term "reckless". Perhaps he sees no difference between the two, but I assure him that there is one.
I do not think that the Government should get rid of clause 141(4)(b), as amendment 23 suggests. Government amendment 5 and amendment 42 also seek to alter the subsection. Paragraph (b) states that it is a defence for a person who is charged with an offence to show that
"the effect of the act on the protected feature in question could not reasonably have been avoided."
"The Secretary of State may by order amend this section so as to remove, or restrict the application of, the defence provided by subsection (4).'
I believe it was the hon. Member for St. Ives who seemed to have gained the impression from the Government that, if granted by the House tonight and enacted by Parliament, those powers would be used quite quickly, and I am concerned about that for constitutional reasons. I freely admit that my lack of knowledge is to blame, but I hope that, when he winds up the debate, the
Minister will tell us where else in statute a provision exists enabling a Secretary of State, by regulation, to remove a defence.
We all know that regulations create offences from time to time, but removing a defence and doing it so quickly-if that is the Government's intention-strikes me as very surprising. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government have any such ideas, if not a fixed intent. If they have such ideas, perhaps he will explain why the removal of the defence in subsection (4) is not itself a Government amendment, rather than the Secretary of State's being given an order to take such action on a whim and on the basis of regulations that will have much less scrutiny.
Let me begin by identifying an absurdity that has featured in a number of statements made today. Members have said that it is not possible to create a patchwork quilt of marine conservation zones-that they will not work. Every Member has been lauding the achievements of Lundy as a no-take zone. That is the first patch in the patchwork quilt that we need to establish around these shores, if there are to be any fish left for the people of Great Grimsby and elsewhere to fish for.
I oppose new clause 8, and I oppose amendment 24, which seeks to enhance the sea fisheries defence. I support Government amendment 5, which seeks to minimise that defence in the context of the reform of the common fisheries policy, as outlined by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). By way of a change, I support Government amendments 13 and 14, which seek important reforms to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
It is a pleasure to follow a number of speeches, particularly those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). However, I must take issue with what the hon. Member for Broxbourne said about accidental damage. There is nothing accidental about beam trawling. Beam trawling is an environmental disaster. If we were to translate it to the agricultural field-pardon the pun-it would mean a farmer ploughing the same field seven times in a single growing season. Beam trawling does long-term environmental damage and cannot exist alongside conservation and sustainable fisheries. They are completely opposed, and such damage is not done accidentally.
There need not be a conflict between fishing-whether commercial or recreational-and conservation, provided that the fishermen decide to come down in favour of conservation. Turning to my own sport, I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with salmon anglers who opposed the bringing in of the rule
of returning spring salmon before 16 June. It has finally got into the psyche of Britain's game anglers that we cannot continually remove spawning fish from the food chain and expect a run of salmon in subsequent years. Fishermen can be conservationists, but the choice is theirs, and fishermen or their public representatives who choose to oppose the single most important piece of environmental legislation affecting the coastline and seas of this nation have clearly not opted to come down on the side of conservation.
I have huge affection and respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. He is a doughty champion for his constituency and for the commercial fishing interest, but I say to him that he will do them no favours in the long term if he encourages people to set their faces against the very conservation measures that are designed to protect the existence of the fish that his constituents wish to catch.
I get tired of listening to the argument that people have had a traditional right to pursue their quarry in this way. The same argument was made about the white rhino in Africa until it was hunted to extinction, and the Spanish and the Portuguese are making the same argument about the bluefin tuna fishery. Bluefin tuna have got probably months, and certainly no more than two or three years, left to exist as a species that can be sustainably harvested. Sadly, a couple of years ago in Luxembourg the European Fisheries Council recommended quotas that were twice as generous as those that should have been introduced in order to secure sustainability.
The commercial sector broke those quotas by a factor of 100 per cent. Unless we change the terms of this debate, and unless we in this House come down forthrightly on the side of conservation, there is no hope for the commercial fishing industry or recreational fishing.
Mr. Mitchell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his moving tribute to me, but, as far as I know, we are talking about white herring, not white rhino. It is not true that the fishing industry is opposed to conservation measures; it supports them, but it wants its position to be made clear within them. As my hon. Friend is such a passionate supporter of marine conservation zones, will he tell us whether he wants them to become no-fishing zones?
I certainly support the power in the Bill to have, on the basis of good scientific evidence, MCZs that are no-take zones where appropriate. They could be established for a host of reasons, but particularly in nursery areas for recovery species. We have already witnessed commercial fishermen in the south-west praising the fact that their catch has risen as a result of the
Lundy no-take zone. I offer a potential golden future to my hon. Friend's constituents through having no-take zones.
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