Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): It is pleasing to see so many hon. Members with interests in fishing communities here on Budget day, which could be an advantage or disadvantage for this debate. In a sense, what better time could there be to put questions to the Fisheries Minister than immediately before the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his Budget? We all anticipate that the Minister's powers are such that he will make a beeline for the Chancellor immediately after this debate to resolve a number of the problems that we shall have brought to his attention.
The disadvantage is that we run a slight risk of the debate being overshadowed, although that was not a risk for yesterday's massive fishing industry demonstration of solidarity in Scotland, which involved 167 fishing boats in a procession that stretched for 11 miles and took the best part of two hours to pass under the Forth bridges. Having had a quick look at this morning's Scottish press, I am pleased to see that the demonstration is dominating the newspapers. As far as I am aware, it was the biggest flotilla of fishing boats ever gathered, certainly in peacetime. It was one of the largest such demonstrations in history.
That should send a signal to the Minister that, apart from some of the more general long-term problems that hon. Members from various parts of the country will want to raise this morning, there is an immediate crisis in the Scottish white fish industry that needs to be addressed. Those of us from Scottish constituencies have high hopes for this afternoon's meeting between the First Minister and fishing industry leaders, but if the crisis is not urgently addressed, much of the long-term future--and today's debate--will become redundant. We shall see, effectively, a wipeout of the most important white fish stock in Scotland; the haddock fishery.
I spoke to the Minister privately last week, but I hope that this debate, whatever else it does, will show him the strength of feeling that exists, the importance of the crisis that has befallen Scottish white fish boats and the solidarity in the industry as a whole with a view to doing something about it. Yesterday's procession was made up not only of white fish boats. As it sailed down the coast of Scotland, there was a demonstration by the
The procession picked up boats from the south-east of Scotland, which came up from Eyemouth, and 30 boats joined at the mouth of the Forth. Even the small fishing fleet in the firth of Forth joined the flotilla at the last minute as it started to sail towards the bridges. It was a remarkable demonstration of the strength of feeling by a variety of interests and sections of the industry. I have never seen the catching side of the fishing industry as unified as it has been over the past two weeks in response to the crisis.
The realisation of the problems with white fish by those who are not immediately affected is interesting and important. As we sailed down, we received a message of support from the scallop fishermen, who are largely on the west coast of Scotland. The prawn or nephrops fishermen realise that, unless something is done to solve the white fish problem, one of the next developments to occur after the demise of the haddock stock will be pressure on the prawn fishery, and chaos and dislocation will continue in the industry.
A number of the deep-sea boats in Scotland, which are equipped to go into far waters, were also part of the flotilla. Again, they have not been immediately affected by the crisis that has hit the medium-sized white fish boats; none the less, they realised that dislocation for one part of the industry would cause problems for the entire industry.
It was even more interesting to hear last week--not for the first time in my memory, but certainly for one of the first times--the statement of support from the Scottish White Fish Producers Association and again from Will Clarke by telephone as we sailed towards the Forth yesterday. They realise that every part of the industry will have little or no future unless the problem of the slaughter of juvenile haddock is resolved. I hope that the strength of feeling that was on display yesterday will be evident to the Minister. I also hope that he will excuse my fragile condition because, although the weather yesterday was fine, being on a fishing boat through the night on the North sea is something that few hon. Members will have experienced. It was worth while to see that strength of solidarity.
I urge the Minister to respond to the demonstration, because the industry has shown unity and an awareness of the crisis over the past ten days. Above all, it has been a responsible and dignified protest that has tried to take its concerns to the heart of Government. It is incumbent on the Minister to say something positive because, as he accepted last week, the situation is urgent.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I suspect that all hon. Members will agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis. Does he accept that one unique feature of the fishing community's present attitude is that, when it came to juvenile haddock, it voluntarily
Mr. Salmond : Yes, that is a vital point. In effect, we have had a voluntary tie-up of the fleet for the past 10 days or so, which has meant a substantial sacrifice on the part of the crews. They have mortgages on their boats and houses, and other financial commitments, yet they have voluntarily tied up their boats to illustrate dramatically that fishermen are sick to the heart of having to pursue a fishing strategy that will mean the decimation and slaughter of the fishing grounds.
Less than £10 million is needed to solve the immediate crisis. I am not talking about the long-term problems--which we might discuss later--or about something that many hon. Members would like to see; a step change in structural support for an industry that lags far behind those in comparable European countries. I am speaking about an immediate move to protect and preserve the vital haddock stock.
By any estimate, such a move would cost less than £10 million. As I said in the Scottish Parliament last week, that is less than the price of Tore Andre Flo, the recent Rangers star signing. Rangers fans might have a variety of views on whether that was money well spent. As one fisherman said yesterday, "It may be less than Rangers pay for a striker, but it's mair than Aberdeen pay." That is undoubtedly true, but the point is obvious. The sum needed to address the immediate problem is, at most, marginal for Government; £10 million from either the Scottish Executive or UK Government Budget would prove to be good value for the Minister.
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): Most hon. Members would agree that this is a crisis, but the question is whether the Scottish National party believes that it is appropriate for the Scottish Executive or the UK Government to resolve it.
Mr. Salmond : I would welcome a resolution to the crisis from the Scottish Executive in their meeting this afternoon or from the Minister this morning. Like most of my fishing constituents, I am anxious for it to be resolved. We can worry afterwards who should take the credit for resolving it. Given the billions that have been talked about as the Chancellor's potential giveaway this afternoon, less than £10 million to meet this immediate crisis seems to me a very solid investment.
The argument for dealing with the immediate crisis is that it is man-made. It is not a natural disaster, an act of God or a great calamity that has befallen the industry because of the forces of nature. It is a man-made crisis. The key grounds that the white fish boats have been pushed into by the closure of areas under the cod recovery plan have been regarded by Scottish fishermen for generations as nursery areas for young haddock and whiting. No amount of technical innovation, in which the Scottish fleet has been first and foremost, is going to help in that situation. The sea to the east of Shetland, around the Fair isle, teems with huge quantities of young fish, particularly juvenile haddock; yet that is one of the few remaining fishing grounds left open to Scottish fishermen as a result of the closure of cod areas.
It would be a substantial and fatal irony for Scotland if the attempt to address the problem of the cod fishery--that may or may not work; it has had broad support--resulted in the destruction of the haddock fishery. Let us remember that haddock is twice as important as cod to Scotland. Many hon. Members are familiar with the map that I showed the Minister last week. It illustrates that the policy of closing 40,000 square miles of fishing grounds--as opposed to areas of the sea that are not fishing grounds--where a fleet of 150 white fish boats would have been pursuing the fishery for mature cod and haddock has forced the boats into what is effectively a nursery area for young fish.
When the Scottish Minister responsible for fisheries, Mr. Ross Finnie, was asked about that issue last Thursday, he said that he knew about the problem of the young haddock. I accept that he has other questions to deal with, as does the Minister. However, the young haddock are not a problem, but an opportunity. It has been many years since the sea held the vast quantity of haddock that the 1999 year class represents. If those fish are nourished, cherished and allowed to survive the next two to three years, we will regain a substantial haddock fishery in Scotland. Many of the other difficult questions that the Minister is grappling with, such as decommissioning and the structural power of the fleet, will be much less problematic if we have a substantial fishery. I will discuss the problems of the processing sector shortly, but a substantial haddock fishery would address the problem of supplies to the processing sector.
If people in the industry, both offshore and onshore, could see light at the end of the tunnel, or if they could see the prospect of a new fishery with substantial quantities, much of the current economic and financial pressure would be easier to bear. One of the biggest difficulties faced by the processors onshore and the fishermen offshore is that few people in the industry are optimistic about its future. The vast quantity of young haddock in the 1999 year class is one of the few bright lights, and that must be protected at any cost.
In the fisheries negotiations in December, the scientific advice was that the discard rate for haddock would increase as a result of the cod closure areas and might reach 2:1; that is, two boxes of dead undersized haddock discarded over the side for every box that could be landed and marketed. The ratio east of Shetland, in that part of the sea around the Fair isle, is 10:1 at present. Until the white fish fleet voluntarily stopped fishing there, 10 boxes of undersized haddock, which were illegal and could not be landed even if there were a market for them, would go over the side for every box landed. That slaughter has sickened the hearts of fishermen. That is why they have voluntarily tied up their boats and are making that economic sacrifice in an attempt to secure the future of the industry.
That remarkable demonstration is essentially about conservation and is supported by a number of Scottish environmental organisations, which issued a statement last weekend. It is also supported by the processors who have a huge stake in the long-term future of the industry. Would it not be an appropriate moment for the Government to agree that such an attitude and behaviour should be encouraged and that, in the light of this man-made crisis, things should be tided over for the next eight weeks until the closed areas are reopened? The case for action is unanswerable. It is a moral case, based
Before I move on to the processing side of the industry I should like to say a word about the fishing tragedy off the west of Scotland, which the fleet heard about yesterday as it sailed in the Forth. Our condolences go to the members of the largely Spanish crew who were lost on that German registered boat. Such events unite people, regardless of nationality. Fishermen are fishermen in essence. That was certainly the feeling of the flotilla that was sailing down the east coast of Scotland. I know that the Minister, as is traditional and proper in a fishing debate, will refer to the danger that is inherent in fishing as an industry. He should not underestimate the public support that can mobilise itself behind an industry which, like mining, has a special place in people's hearts because its inherent dangers are recognised. They are aware of the real price of fishing.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Naturally, I share the hon. Gentleman's regret at the loss of the Spanish fishermen. Those who survived, including the man who was in the water for an astonishing 16 hours, were wearing survival suits. Does he agree that too few of our vessels carry that vital piece of safety equipment?
Mr. Salmond : Yes. Every Member representing a fishing constituency, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and a number of others who have been through fishing tragedies in their constituencies, would support that call. We welcome the recent resumption of the grants for safety equipment on fishing vessels after they were quite scandalously interrupted. I know that Governments have pressing reasons for making cuts, but that was one of the most vicious cuts ever. We should all like to see further safety improvements in vessels. Although fishing tragedies are not necessarily the result of economic pressures, a combination of young skippers and older boats going to ever more distant waters in a desperate attempt to maintain their boats and their livelihood is inherently more dangerous. Obviously not every fishing tragedy is due to financial pressures, but they do make the industry more hazardous than it traditionally was.
Finally, I shall refer to the processing sector and I shall offer three documents in evidence. Unfortunately for my constituency--I am sure that other hon. Members will be deeply worried about processing factories in their constituencies--I have the notification from the receiver concerning Abacus Seafoods, which went into administration just before the turn of the year. There have been several expressions of interest but--perhaps unsurprisingly in the current climate--it is not clear whether this terrific factory, with its terrific facilities and first-class work force and location, will be able to maintain its position.
Although the factory has its own water treatment plants and its own access to water supplies--a common difficulty in the sector--it has yet to find a buyer. The fact that such a fine factory, at Lintlaw, has yet to find a purchaser demonstrates the problems facing the industry. We all hope for the best, but fear the worst. We
Last week, the results of the year 2000 UK sea fisheries survey were released and I want to put one of the steering group's statements on record. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) looks interested, and the statement also encapsulates much of what he frequently says on the same issue. It relates to the processing sector's response to
A company with a large factory--one of two in my constituency, but for obvious reasons, I shall not name it--has invested in new facilities and has a substantial programme for further investment. The company made that investment commitment under difficult conditions, but wanted a pause, or breathing space, in the present difficult circumstances before it proceeded. Millions of pounds were already committed to the factory, but it found that the water authority wanted to rush to court on the basis of compliance legislation. It is extraordinary that a public agency should behave in that fashion when people's livelihoods are at stake.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Would the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to the co-operation of local processors in Aberdeen with the city council, other parties and the water authority in finding a solution to the problem?
Mr. Salmond : I would indeed. I was coming on to discuss the Grampian Enterprise initiative document, which expresses the hope that the same process can occur with Aberdeenshire council. "Finding a solution to the problem" may be optimistic because, although the agreement represents an improvement on a disastrous position, it is hardly a solution, as the hon. Gentleman would accept.
The document seems hidebound by the fact that its proposals must fall within existing budgets, a matter that the Minister may wish to discuss with his Scottish colleagues. The money specified in the document can be added up in several ways, but the most reasonable total--although it is still not new money--is £1.8 million, which will not go far in addressing the processing sector's difficulties.
The action plans include working with companies to develop the ability to process alternative species and enter new markets, and a marketing campaign to help in that aim; that will be worthwhile and useful. Processors must be helped to adapt and marketing campaigns are important in that respect. Fish is one of the relatively few foodstuffs that is in roughly the same condition as it was 50 years ago. People can have confidence in it and be reassured; there is much evidence that pelagic fish is good for people's health. However, the problem with the admirable marketing objective is the cost--£30,000. I am not in the advertising business, but I do not think that £30,000 will buy us much space, air time or anything else to promote the action plan. The budget for that worthy and admirable initiative should go far beyond the amount specified in the document.
I have spoken before about the long-term future of the industry and most people accept that capacity must be considered. The Minister and his Scottish colleagues should take a different attitude; instead of reducing the capacity of the boats or the processors, they should consider how to increase stocks, an issue to which the Minister is deeply committed. It is a great opportunity, given the mood of the catching side of the industry. The Scottish fleet is prepared to experiment with technical measures; it is the only fleet in Europe that fishes with a square mesh panel. The mood of the industry generally is to co-operate in pursuing those measures.
The problem with the cod closure area is not that people do not accept it, but that there is no plan to deal with its consequences; despite warnings to Ministers in this House and in the Scottish Parliament that there would be a displacement effect on other areas. We must think of something for the 150 boats to do when the areas are closed. In return for the compensated lay-up scheme, which is critical in the next few weeks, Scottish fishermen are prepared for the area east of Shetland to be closed, to protect juvenile haddock and to secure the industry's future.
David McPherson, a member of the action group that met Scottish Ministers recently, died, tragically, last weekend. He was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Moray, who will speak about him in a moment. There will be an empty chair at the action group's meeting this afternoon, and that brings home to us dramatically that people are protesting for the noblest cause of all; the future of their industry. They can see the opportunities swimming in the sea; the vast quantities of young fish stock. They may not be growing
Despite the crisis atmosphere and pessimism, fishermen believe that something could be done. The processors' support for the demonstration illustrates their belief that something could be done. The Government have it within their power during the next few vital days to make or break a large section of the fishing industry. I hope that the Minister steers a wise course.
Madam Deputy Speaker : It may be helpful if I remind hon. Members that this debate will finish at 11 o'clock and that the winding-up speeches should begin at 10.30, commencing with the Liberal Democrat spokesperson. If speeches are brief, it may be possible to call all hon. Members who are trying to catch my eye.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on securing this debate. During the past few months, we have had several debates on the fishing industry, all of which have been important and constructive.
I was a little disappointed when I came into the Chamber this morning. It is the first time I have been here since it was realigned and we seem to be back to the old adversarial system. The previous arrangement was more constructive and Members felt that they were all part of a group discussing an issue--[Interruption.] I see that there is a rebellion from Opposition colleagues.
The fishing industry is important and I want to follow the constructive approach of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. I disagree with little that he said. It is important to focus on the problems and how they might be resolved.
I have been in the House for approximately nine years and have attended debates on fishing every year. There always seems to be a sense of crisis in the industry; sometimes it is real, but often the industry is crying wolf. However, there is a serious problem now. The present crisis is distinguishable from previous crises by the way in which the industry has approached the problem. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which is based in England, have taken a constructive approach. The processing industry onshore has also been constructive. Ministers should examine that carefully because we hear language from both sides of the industry that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. There are discussions of sustainable fisheries and the fish processors have set up an environmental committee to discuss how to achieve long-term goals for the industry. That is backed by the important report of
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan told us about the problem and it is important to focus on some of the solutions that the industry is suggesting. I am particularly pleased with the proposals from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation--it is based in my constituency and I am pleased to have it--which is considering the problem in three parts. For the short term, it has proposed a tie-up scheme that covers the problem of closed fisheries and displacement to the haddock spawning grounds. The Government should consider a tie-up scheme because the proposals seem to be modest.
We must not think that this is simply a Scottish problem; the problem exists throughout the United Kingdom. The current focus is on the white fish side of the industry because of the closure of the cod spawning grounds, but it is still important to make wider points.
A decommissioning scheme is the long-term solution to the problem. In all my years as a Member of Parliament--especially when the Conservative party was in government--decommissioning has almost been a dirty word. The taxpayer has not obtained best value from previous decommissioning schemes because the industry has not played it straight. Boats were decommissioned but were later recycled, so decommissioning never led to a reduction in catching capacity.
The SFF has approached the situation constructively. It has recognised that the Government cannot pay the whole cost and that we need more than a simple decommissioning of boats. It recommends the decommissioning of the vessel catching unit, which is effectively the licence. It has recognised that there are three essential components to the value of a fisherman's licence; the boat, which has an intrinsic value, the vessel catching unit and the quota. It has come up with constructive schemes that anticipate the industry playing a part in finding finance for decommissioning so that we can get catching capacity down to a level that matches available stocks. That must be the long-term future for the industry. However, there must be Government support for such a scheme. I support that argument because I cannot see how the industry can be restructured towards a solid and profitable long-term future without Government support.
Finally, part of the long-term solution is the reform of the common fisheries policy. The SFF has come up with constructive proposals, which are not new but are in tune with Government thinking, on regional and zonal management. These would ensure that our fishermen became stakeholders, rather than being outside the decision-making process. Those are all constructive suggestions.
I shall make a brief political point to which I suspect the Conservative spokesman will refer later. The Conservative party's idea to withdraw unilaterally from the CFP is at odds with the wishes and interests of the industry; it should spend more time listening to the public.
My major interest is the fish processing industry because there are 2,000 jobs in that sector in Aberdeen, all of which are threatened by a shortage of product. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to the industry's work with Scottish Enterprise Grampian and the local authorities, which are working hard to help the industry through the restructuring process. Scottish Enterprise, the local Scottish enterprise companies and the enterprise companies in England and Wales are the appropriate agencies to tackle the processing industry's problems. However, I accept the need for extra finance. I do not expect the Minister to respond to that today, but if he can find more money in the short to medium term it would be well spent on this side of the industry.
The statement made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that he does not care where the money comes from concerns me. He discusses the Scottish Executive coming up with the cash when he makes statements in Scotland, but when he is in Westminster he discusses the Government coming up with it. This is a UK--indeed, a European--problem.
Mr. Salmond : Given the extent of the crisis in the white fish industry, the hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the last thing in the minds of fishermen at the moment is where the money is coming from. If they do not get the money in the next few days, much of the future that the hon. Gentleman described will not exist.
As I said, this is a UK problem that requires a UK solution. I do not want the industry to be split by, say, the Scottish Executive producing one solution and MAFF in England and Wales producing another. A UK solution is important for the unity of an industry that, in a crisis, is taking a unified approach. The Government must ensure that the industry continues to take such an approach.
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): I shall try to be brief because I do not want to be an English voice crying in a Scottish wilderness; I see that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) is here to add a Cornish perspective.
All the points made by Scottish Members are equally valid in respect of the English fishing industry. There is the same feeling of bitterness and neglect, and of making representations to Government that are ignored. There is also the same desire for fishing to be treated fairly. At the moment, the focus is on support for agriculture, yet fishing has coped for decades with very little help. The industry is experiencing a crisis that in relative terms is more serious than that experienced by agriculture, but still nothing happens.
I met representatives of the Grimsby Fish Producers' Organisation just 10 days ago, and they were 20 angry men. They were angry about proposals to increase mesh sizes, and about burdens such as light dues, inspection charges and higher landing charges. Such burdens should not be placed on an industry that is in financial crisis, yet they are being added to by, for example, the waste water processing directive. Nothing is being done to provide relief. The industry is being fed a constant diet of hope, but nothing materialises.
Industrial fishing, whether for sand eels or other species, should be stopped altogether. It produces a huge by-catch that is deeply damaging to the marine environment. Given the present state of conservation, catching edible fish to produce fish meal is a crime. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is concerned about animal welfare, but something also needs to be done about the seals. If the fishing quota is to be reduced, there should also be a cull of seals. The seal population at Donna Nook is expanding, and I am sure that seals take more fish than does the industry.
There is also the question of power stations. The Financial Times has highlighted the problems caused by Sizewell B. It is estimated that about 200 million fish a day are sucked into a water cooling intake that acts as a killing hole. Again, that is a crime against conservation. There is also an enforcement problem. The British enforcement police are taking an increasingly heavy approach to British vessels. The complaint has been made many times that fishery protection vessels are nowhere to be found--either they cannot be summoned or they never arrive--when friction or conflict with Dutch fishermen arises. However, there is a heavy weight of enforcement on, and constant interference with, the British fleet. Fishery protection vessels approach at night with fishing lights and board British vessels. I shall quote a couple of instances that were described in a letter from the Grimsby Fish Producers' Organisation. It states:
We have 25 vessels left in Grimsby--not many. Six are laid up, while many have to fish three-handed because they cannot afford to go to sea with more men. That is not safe. The industry faces a huge burden of debt and the banks are unhelpful and unco-operative because they know about the state of fishing. Something must be done. Operating and lay-up support is needed. A similar package to that offered to competing European industries is required. The danger is that our quotas and licences will be sold on and purchased by foreign vessels, which are kept viable because their
I am not keen on decommissioning because it would work against the interests of Grimsby. I want to retain a viable fleet in Grimsby to provide the critical mass to support the facilities there. I would like to put an idea to the Minister. Why can we not give a loan or advance to the FPOs so that the licensing of quotas can be put in escrow--in reserve to be reactivated later, like a post-fishing credit--until stocks recover? That might be a way to hang on to an entitlement locally and revive it later.
It is important that the fishing industry operates in centres that have a concentration of facilities. Something must be done. Fishing is in a crisis that could be fatal, particularly for the English industry, which is harder hit than the Scottish one, although both are badly hit. It is no longer satisfactory to say that MAFF has problems in agriculture--for example, with BSE and foot and mouth disease--and so it is difficult to get money from the Treasury. That excuse is no longer acceptable to an industry in crisis that will fold if it does not get support.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on securing the debate. I also offer my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives to the west of Shetland, and I ask the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) to pass on everyone's sympathies to Mr. McPherson's family.
It is important that we address the future of the fishing industry. It is of environmental significance to our country that we maintain our biodiversity and stocks, which, if handled properly will give us an industry for life and for future generations. If we do nothing, and simply stand back to watch the crisis develop, there will be no fishing industry. Fishing will not recover unless we take action now. Fish is a quality, healthy food and maintaining the world's fishing stocks and sustaining fisheries is laudable and sensible.
An excellent paper from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has been sent to MAFF and the Treasury and I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he has analysed its suggestions. It is time that we had more detail. The Minister has met representatives of the fishing industry in England, and we have heard promises of more substance in future. Time is rapidly running out. We must know what cost MAFF puts on proposals from the industry. The industry needs to know what is happening and where its future lies, otherwise it cannot respond constructively.
The technical measures are an important part of the process--the industry has bought into them--but they must be developed further for long-term sustainability. Part of the light at the end of the tunnel should be a decommissioning scheme. That must be seriously considered. The document, and the comments of scientists, have made it clear that the sustainable level of fishing that will have been achieved even after five years will not match current catching capacity. The earlier a decommissioning scheme is sorted out, the earlier the Government will want a long-term sustainable fishery to be achieved. That would also partly address the problem of overcapacity.
As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) said, the paper from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation sees the Government's key role as buying back licenses. That would begin a regime under which quotas could be sold, in the first instance, to the remaining boats in the fleet, within the producer organisation. Where possible, other uses should be found for boats whose licences had been bought back. There are other commercial uses for such vessels; for example, as guard ships in the North sea. If a non-fishing use could be found, it would bring in money that had not come from the Chancellor.
The SFF's figures for the Scottish fishing fleet suggest that the Chancellor would have to find £15 million for buying back the licences to underpin the package. The industry would have to find £50 million to redistribute the quota. If another commercial use were found for the vessels, there would be no further cost. If the Government insisted on destroying the vessels, another £10 million would probably be needed. We will be interested to hear MAFF's comments on those estimates.
That is the long-term picture. However, overcapacity and over-fishing mean that there might not be a long term. The Government, therefore, must seriously examine the SFF's proposals on managing the lay-up scheme. It is crucial for the Government to know how big the cheque must be, and how open-ended the scheme is. An estimated 40 vessels would have to be laid off to get a 20 per cent. reduction in white fish catching capacity. At a cost of £1,000 per day for 180 days, the total cost has been estimated as £7.2 million in the first year. That would taper off to about £1 million in the fifth year, because as the recovery takes place, less lay-up is needed each year, until, finally, the sustainable fishery is reached. That is the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Minister has seen the document and the figures. Does he accept them? If not, why not? If he thinks that it is too early to comment, may I emphasise that it is urgent to move on from discussing the philosophy to discussing the nuts and bolts? I hope that today's meeting in Scotland will be constructive and helpful, but we in Westminster can add our weight. The all-party
The Minister said, in a sedentary intervention on the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, that the Treasury would say, "Oh, not you again" when he turned up. Perhaps he should emphasise that he will not be speaking just on his own behalf, but on behalf of all hon. Members in this Chamber and of all hon. Members who represent fishing areas. The all-party group wants to meet the Treasury Minister to get across to him the key point; we are talking about a UK resource, we have a UK Government and hon. Members throughout the UK are concerned about this serious structural problem.
If the Government decide to wash their hands of the matter and refuse to engage with these constructive proposals, they cannot hope that the market will sort things out, as it does in industries on the mainland. There will be no sustainable future for the fishing industry if it is left to the market, with its current regime and structures. All that would happen is that bankruptcies would occur.
When someone goes bankrupt, the value of what they have is sold on at a price that the market will take. Catching capacity will not disappear through bankruptcies; it will fall back to a price at which it is seen as worth buying. When overfishing kills off more fish stocks, bankruptcy will recycle that capacity back in. If it is left to the market, capacity will remain and fishing will disappear. The long-term future for a viable industry with a sustainable, healthy fishing product will disappear as well. The Government must start to respond to the problem with some detailed solutions.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I promise to be brief. I begin by offering my condolences to Mr. McPherson's family and to the families of the fishermen who died the other night when their vessel foundered. It is worth pointing out that those who survived were wearing survival suits. The rule in this country, by which survival suits must be carried only on vessels of a minimum overall length of 24 m, is not good enough. I have long campaigned for all fishing vessels to carry such safety equipment.
I agree with much of what has been said today. However, one bright note is the decision by the Minister's Department to award the contract for the new fisheries research vessel to Ferguson's, a yard with which I have long been associated and where several of my constituents work. The last fisheries research vessel built for the Department by Ferguson's at Port Glasgow is reckoned by naval architects to be among the top three such vessels in the world. The Minister and his officials did well to select Ferguson's.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has a strong case on the need to protect stocks of young haddock. It would be insane to destroy those stocks. The discard problem to which he referred is difficult to tackle, but the Norwegians have given us a lead and I should like to know whether the Scotland Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food believe that we can learn any lessons from them.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about industrial fishing. It is being reduced, but it should be banned altogether. It destroys valuable fish stocks and I do not believe that anyone in any maritime nation--with the possible exception of Denmark--can make a case for it. In fairness to the Danes, they are beginning to examine the question. My hon. Friend was brave to talk about a seal cull, which is another matter that must be tackled.
Our fishing communities deserve the sort of sympathy and consideration that is given to other communities, in particular farming. Let us have equality of treatment for our damaged fishing communities, which have been badly treated down the years by both Tory and Labour Administrations. We have a good Minister dealing with the industry's problems and it is time that the Treasury listened to the all-party case for assistance.
Mr. John Cummings (in the Chair ): I advise hon. Members that the Opposition spokespersons have kindly and graciously agreed to reduce their contributions, which allows me to call the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing).
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on his clear exposition of the crisis and I am delighted that so many hon. Members from all parts of the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland, have attended the debate.
I want to make a local point. I am grateful to hon. Members who mentioned my constituent David McPherson of Hopeman, who tragically died at the age of 39 last weekend, leaving behind a young widow and three youngsters. Our thoughts are very much with them, because their loss is most severe and heartbreaking. In addition, our fishing communities have lost a strong advocate for the fishing industry. Over the years, many hon. Members will have been in contact with David, who fought with great dignity and vigour for his cause and always presented well-argued cases. Last week, when he spoke at the rally in the Scottish Parliament and met Rhona Brankin, our Fisheries Minister, he put his case with his usual vigour. As my hon. Friend said, there will be an empty seat at the meeting with the First Minister this afternoon.
The dignity with which David argued his case is the dignity with which we should treat our coastal communities in responding to the issues that have been raised during the debate. This is one of the most despondent times that I have experienced in the years that I have represented the beautiful fishing constituency of Moray. The fleet has been in the van of technical conservation measures. It supports 25,000 jobs in our coastal communities and has a huge impact on our economic life. These small businesses--floating businesses--are critical if a way of life is to have a future.
I conclude with words that were spoken last week in Edinburgh by one of David's fisherman colleagues. He said: "How can we talk of a long-term future if we don't have a present?" We must deal with the present crisis quickly and effectively, or we will not secure the future for the industry that we all want.
I want to concentrate on local issues. Recently I went to Troon harbour to speak to local fishermen and learn first-hand about their perspective on the situation. That situation is slightly different from that in other areas, but as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) said, individual circumstances have a knock-on effect on the whole industry. I found a dismal local picture. We are down to about 20 boats. I spoke to the owners of small family businesses in Troon, including a father and son whose family has been in the fishing industry for generations. I had intended to speak in detail about their plight, but I shall not take up time in doing do as all hon. Members will be well aware of it.
Through the partnership between the Labour-led Scottish Executive and the Labour Government here in Westminster, we will do what we can--notwithstanding structural change and the fact that we cannot artificially support market conditions--to deal with these crisis situations. We will be there to offer any support that we can. We have done that with shipbuilding and various other industries, some of which are represented in my constituency. Surely, that also goes for fishing. Surely, we should support fishing as much as any other industry.
I ask the Government for their support on behalf of small family businesses in Troon, which have served our community well for many years. I shall not expand on that argument, as time is running short. I shall simply plead with the Government for their support. I know that they and the Scottish Executive are considering a response to the matter and I hope that it will come soon.
Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on having secured the debate. He passionately expressed the united desire in Scotland to sort the problems out. He also pointed out the consequences for nephrops and distant-water fishermen.
The debate provides an opportunity to reflect upon yesterday's deaths on a German-registered vessel west of Scotland. That reminds us of the danger that fishermen face so that we can have fish on our dinner tables. We must reflect on that.
The nub of the hon. Gentleman's argument was the law of unintended consequences. Closing off areas for cod fishing has pressurised the haddock fishery. The 1999 year class has not yet reached minimum landing size. He stated that the discard ratio of the catch is 10:1--I was told that 90 per cent. is below minimum landing size. If such catches continue, there will be a drastic impact on stock. We should have anticipated that that would happen although it was an unintended consequence.
The primary purpose of the debate is to concentrate on the challenges facing the Scottish fishing industry. I was grateful that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out that those challenges have consequences for England in general and Cornwall in particular. The basis of the case being made either to the Scottish Executive or the Government is that there is an immediate need for £10 million, which was compared to the price of a striker recently bought by Glasgow Rangers. In terms of Government expenditure, that is a relatively small sum. If that investment were made, it would have a significant knock-on effect in protecting stock around Scotland, which would have consequences for the remainder of the United Kingdom.
I am interested in the Minister's response to whether such a relatively small amount of money could have such a dramatic impact. We are discussing £10 million, which sticks in the craw of fishermen who know that at least £55 million is being given away to Spanish and Dutch fishermen as a result of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 fiasco, which was botched by the Tories. Britain's fishermen believe that they have a right to compensation when times are tough because we are spending £55 million on a serious mistake. Conservative Members have not apologised and during the previous fisheries debate we heard a brazen statement from them that blamed Europe, which was not in keeping with what I believe fishermen wanted to hear. However, it might be helpful if the Conservative spokesman would shed a little light on the assistance that a Conservative Government would provide in the current climate and on their fishing policy, because it is not clear. Does it include withdrawal from the CFP and limiting fishing to United Kingdom nationals in some way? How would Tory policy help to solve the crisis in the Scottish haddock fishery? We would be grateful for information on that.
The matter is urgent and I should be interested in the Minister's comments on whether a settlement for Scotland would set a precedent throughout the United Kingdom. I understand that under article 16 of the financial instrument of fisheries grant, compensation may be paid for a biological event and loss of access to a third country. Spanish fishermen are being paid for their loss of access to a third country and United Kingdom fishermen will find it difficult to understand why they cannot receive compensation under that instrument when the Spanish can.
What assessment has the Minister made of the proposals of the World Wide Fund for Nature for long-term restructuring and recovery of the fishing industry? What assessment has he made of the estimate of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation of the cost of compensation and paying for the fleet to be laid up? What discussions has the Minister had with his counterpart on the Scottish Executive about the crisis?
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on this timely and important debate. As the official Opposition spokesman, I pay tribute to Mr. McPherson, who, tragically, died recently. His contribution to the fishing industry was immense and his words of wisdom will be sorely missed.
This debate is narrowly focused on the immediate problems in the fishing industry, which have been precipitated by the cod fishery closure programme. This is neither the place nor the time to make political points or an election address, although the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) seems to believe that it is. It is not the place to discuss the medium or long-term future of the industry, important as that is, nor the future of the CFP. However, the debate is not concerned only with the problems of the Scottish white fish industry, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, because they also affect the English east coast ports from North Shields to Lowestoft, many of which have beamer fleets which, at this time of year, would be fishing for their quota of plaice and sole in the areas that have been closed. It is important that if any compensation is forthcoming because of the problems precipitated by the closure of cod areas, it should be United Kingdom wide. That has been pointed out several times this morning.
The problem has been caused by the cod fishery closure programme and it is important that the Minister explains exactly how that came about and whether he was fully in favour of the way in which it was done. Was it based on accurate science? If so, why was there a second draft of the proposals and why were they different from the initial proposals? Was the closure programme based on the logbooks of vessels that were fishing in the traditional way in that particular area of the sea? If so, is it not an attack on fishing effort rather than a conservation measure? Was the timing of the closure appropriate? Fishermen to whom I have talked believe that spawning--which took place in November and December--was largely over by the time the recovery programme was implemented. Yet again, we have tried to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Why did the Commission not anticipate the problems that fishermen in the North sea now face? It was surely obvious to the fishing industry that catching effort would be switched to those areas and quotas that had hitherto been ignored at that time of year. It is no surprise to Scottish fishermen, who have picked up prominent early-year-class juvenile haddock, that there have been great problems in certain areas. A discard ratio of 10:1 is obscene in the extreme and credit must go to Scottish fishermen for voluntarily deciding to tie up in such circumstances.
There is a real crisis in the industry and the time for consultation and discussion is over. The fishing industry sees the Government responding positively to the problems in farming and agriculture and regards its own need for compensation as modest in comparison and no less warranted. If the Minister has no words of cheer this morning, he will confirm the industry's worst fear: that it is to be made dispensable.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley ): As with all such debates, the speeches today have been thoughtful, serious and worthy of careful consideration and a detailed response. However, my time is limited so I want to focus on the main points.
I offer my condolences to those fishermen who were affected by the recent tragedy off the west of Scotland. I also echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) about the use of the survival suit. That was a truly remarkable feat of survival by the fisherman concerned. I also pay tribute to the remarkable efforts of our rescue services in finding a single person in the seas at this time of year. It was a tragedy that Mr. McPherson died as he did, particularly given that he leaves behind a young family. They and the community in which he lived will miss him, and I hope that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) will pass on my condolences.
The debate has focused on compensation, which is linked to the cod recovery programme. I should make it clear, particularly to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), that I make no apologies for the cod recovery programme. It was the right action to take and was undertaken with the unprecedented involvement of the fishing industry. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan knows, the European Commission's original proposals were altered because the industry itself did not think that they were justified or would achieve their objectives. The final scheme was designed with the views of the fishing industry very much in mind, and was applied in a way that kept large areas of the North sea open for fishing. Alternative fishing grounds were available, although I do not dispute that a closure of that scale has an impact on the fishing industry.
The industry's involvement was crucial to the setting up of the cod recovery programme and I very much appreciate that. It is true that issues such as spawning dates need to be addressed, especially in the southern part of the North sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) brought inshore fisherman from his constituency to talk to me about
Compensation is the most important issue, and I understand that. When I have met industry representatives, I have said that I accept the case for compensation because of the pressures on the industry. I have made it clear to the industry that I will press its case, and I have kept that promise.
There have been unprecedented demands on MAFF's reserve this year, as has already been touched on. Foot and mouth, swine disease and the cost of the flooding--[Interruption.] If hon. Members will let me finish, I think that I can reassure them, because I know what they are going to say. The financial demands on MAFF have been enormous. That does not mean, however, that the fishing industry does not have a legitimate case for compensation. I am not saying that, for one moment.
Mr. Salmond : I am glad that the Minister made that last remark, because he could see the outrage of hon. Members who represent fishing communities. They do not begrudge people compensation for foot and mouth disease; no sensible person would. However, if that were a reason for giving no compensation to the fishing communities, there would be mass outrage around the coastline. The Scottish fishing fleet has been voluntarily tied up for almost two weeks. If it is driven to sea by economic pressure, as it will be, the cod recovery plan will become the destruction of haddock plan. That will happen because haddock fishing is one of the few remaining areas where people can make a living, although they do not want to make a living at the expense of the future. Does the Minister accept that that is the reality? Can he offer us some help for the crisis period?
I return to the demands on MAFF's reserve. Many people have demanded compensation, such as those who have suffered consequential losses because of foot and mouth--including the meat industry and the processing industry--and those who have suffered because of the floods. The Government cannot compensate all of them. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I am not saying that because of such demands, there will be nothing for the fishing industry.
Sir Robert Smith : I think that the language used causes problems when the Treasury is approached. The Minister must understand the structural problem. Compensation is not as important as the fact that MAFF has issued too many fishing licences. MAFF must ensure that there is restraint, or market pressures will mean that only some people take action. This is not a collective industry in which everyone can be forced to do something. MAFF has issued licences, and is part of the problem.
The first issue to be examined is where the money comes from. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, in some ways the fishing industry is not concerned about that, and I accept that it is not its worry. However, the fact that there are devolved Administrations contributes to the issue. The Scottish Executive have their own budget, within structural funds. Two thirds of the white fish fleet is in Scotland, so much of the cost of any scheme could fall on Scotland.
I strongly support devolution, and with an element of it, different choices can be made. However, structures are available for assisting the fishing industry in both England and Scotland; I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) on that. We must approach the matter on a UK basis. Although devolution means that England and Scotland can have different approaches to fishing patterns and needs, we want a broadly similar approach. I have been working closely with Rhona Brankin to find ways of doing that.
Mrs. Ewing : Will the Minister assure the Committee that he will do everything possible to encourage the Scottish Executive to use the funds available to them to compensate those who have joined the voluntary tie-up scheme?
Mr. Morley : I take it that the hon. Lady is not asking me, as an English Minister, to tell the Scottish Executive what they should and should not do. Devolution is about making choices and I have every confidence in my colleagues in the Scottish Executive. They understand the pressures on the fishing industry.
How can we best help the industry? A case has been made for a tie-up scheme. I have carefully considered whether such a scheme would be effective and would meet the objective--which was the main point of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan--of alleviating pressure on juvenile haddock. That is an important issue. The fact that we have one of the best year classes for many years is good news; it has the potential to be a good fishery for the North sea fleet. We need to protect that fishery.
We must decide on the most effective use of resources. For example, we might feel that there is problem with the Scottish fleet catching undersized fish. If we subsidise it for three months, after which it continues to catch undersized fish, it would be a bad use of resources. [Interruption.]
Mr. Morley : Members will be aware that there are many ways of reducing the catch of undersized fish. Concerns have been raised about the length of extensions to nets, which, in some cases, have been more than 70 m. That will negate the effect of using a square mesh panel. One way of reducing the catch of undersized fish is by prohibiting lifting bags. I know that those practical issues are under consideration by the Scottish Executive and the industry, which knows full well how to reduce the level of discards.
Mr. Salmond : The Minister should not only acknowledge the failings, but the fact that the Scottish fleet is further forward in technical conservation than the English fleet.The fishermen who demonstrated on those 167 boats know where the concentrations of juvenile haddock are. They were fishing in those locations to make a living. They refuse to fish there now because of the circumstances. Why can that area not be closed? The Minister says that closed areas work for cod, so why can they not work for haddock? Will he make it clear that he will not stop Scottish Ministers if they decide to do something about the crisis, a crisis that the Minister seems to be doing nothing about?
I was arguing that tie-up grants might be a short-term fix. I am not interested in short-term fixes, but in addressing the long-term problems of the fishing industry. We should also consider over-capacity, which raises the issue of decommissioning. Decommissioning has its downside, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned. If we are to go down the decommissioning route, we must consider the shape of such a scheme. I acknowledge that the federations have been thoughtful in putting forward ideas that are worthy of consideration. My officials are considering the proposals and costings. The suggestions are serious and sensible.
On seals and industrial fishing, hon. Members know where I stand. We agreed on closures, for the first time, for sand eels. Norway pout fishing is excluded from the closed areas because it has a big by-catch. There is a dispute about the impact of sand eel fishing, but we have agreed on a joint study with the Danes of the total allowable catches. We are sharing science and putting our scientists on their boats. That has not been done before.
It is too easy to look for scapegoats such as industrial fishing, seals or power stations. The principal reason for the problem is over-fishing and too much capacity and effort. My time has been too limited to deal with the