Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Morley: I know that my hon. Friend has been very much involved in this process, and that he is anxious to

6 Dec 2001 : Column 506

ensure that the views of the industry are fed through. He will be pleased to know that a series of seminars and conferences has been held around the country, to allow fishermen to express their views on the common fisheries policy and the post-2002 reforms. The industry has been very active in that process, and has made a range of proposals. The joint document produced by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation was extremely well argued, and it is clear from the Green Paper that it strongly influenced the way in which the Commission was thinking. That is a good example of the way in which the industry can feed through its ideas.

On decommissioning, one of the key problems faced by the fishing industry is the imbalance between the size of the fleet and the stocks available to it, as was mentioned earlier. To help the industry to address the problem, we have introduced a £6 million decommissioning scheme in England, which, taken with the schemes run by the devolved Administrations, means that £36 million of public funds have been made available to the industry this year for decommissioning.

While decommissioning has an important role, it should be seen as only one tool. The downside to decommissioning is that it takes vessels out of the fleet, which has an impact on regional ports. So, although there is an important role for decommissioning, we should not regard it as the only fisheries conservation management tool. It is one of a range of measures that we need to introduce. There is, however, no doubt that taking some of the capacity out of the UK fleet helps the viability of those who remain in it.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he was shocked by the fact that the decommissioning scheme introduced in Scotland has been oversubscribed by 100 per cent. in the north-east, an important area in which many of the newer, larger boats are based? Is that not a shattering blow to the Scottish fishing industry? Does he agree that it does not augur well for the future?

Mr. Morley: We need to be fairly shock-resistant when dealing with fisheries. I was not altogether surprised, because decommissioning has been very useful to the industry, not only in helping people who want to leave the industry. The evidence of the previous decommissioning schemes shows that a lot of the decommissioning money has been recycled in the form of investment in the industry. I am sure that some people see the decommissioning scheme not as a way of exiting the industry but as a way of reinvesting in different parts of it. I suspect that that is one explanation of the high level of interest in it.

Mr. Salmond: Is not the key to the effectiveness of the decommissioning scheme—which was long resisted by the previous Conservative Government—the question of whether the quota allocation of the decommissioned boats remains in the sector? Would it not be the worst of all possible ironies if boats were decommissioned, whether in the north-east of Scotland or elsewhere, and their quota allowed to leak outside their area or outside the country?

Mr. Morley: This is a difficult issue, and I have discussed with hon. Members before, both in the House

6 Dec 2001 : Column 507

and in Committee, how we should try to keep a fisheries quota within the region in which it has operated. I would very much like to do that. Unfortunately, all sorts of legal difficulties are involved in achieving that in practical terms. There has always been movement of quota around the country, and there is a need for some flexibility in the buying or leasing of quota, as that helps the producer organisations to manage their fisheries. The producer organisations are very well organised these days, and they are looking for opportunities to buy quota in their areas. That will keep the quota in the region and will be to the benefit of their members. I would be glad to see that, and I hope that it will happen.

Andrew George: Following the intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), may I ask the Minister whether he is prepared to intervene on the referral of the Shetland and Orkney quota schemes—and, by implication, the new Duchy quota scheme—to the European Commission? Those schemes support new entrants to the industry and protect quota in vulnerable fishing communities. That referral will clearly have a detrimental effect on the Duchy quota scheme in Cornwall, as it will delay its implementation. Will the Minister express a view on that matter and, if he is concerned about it, will he intervene to ensure that the investigation is completed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I shall be happy to give my personal view on that. It is a very good idea for local communities to come together in a co-operative way to ensure that their quota is kept in the area and managed for the benefit of the region. I must make it clear that state aid rules apply to this issue, and I would not want unfair subsidies going to one region to the detriment of another. That would not be fair. As I understand it, both the Duchy Fish Quota Company and the Shetland scheme are based on commercial operations, and the quota is leased at a commercial rate. I also understand that there are no plans to restrict this in a discriminatory way. On that basis, they seem to meet state aid rules. We take an interest in the matter, although it is one for the Commission. We shall certainly examine the Commission's concerns, but as long as state aid rules are not breached, there is no reason why the schemes should not continue to operate.

Mr. Steen: Has all the decommissioning money for the past couple of years been spent in the south-west, especially in Brixham? Was it at Amsterdam that the Minister negotiated to ensure that 50 per cent. of the foreign catch is landed in English ports, and does that help?

Mr. Morley: The decommissioning scheme was a UK scheme. It was not restricted to any one region and all the money was fully utilised. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Amsterdam treaty negotiations, which do not relate to the economic links conditions that we have negotiated and successfully applied. He may be interested to know that I shall say a few words about the outcome, although I want to conclude soon.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way to so many

6 Dec 2001 : Column 508

Members. I agree with the previous intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on decommissioning, but he made an earlier intervention on tie-ups. My clear impression of the joint meetings that the industry had with us down here is that it believes that decommissioning is a much better answer than tie-ups. Decommissioning is a long-term solution to the industry's problems, whereas tie-ups pour money into a potentially bottomless hole.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right. There were differences of view in the fishing industry, but there is a strong school of thought that decommissioning is a greater priority for available funds.

Mr. Salmond: I have here the Scottish Fishermen's Federation brief for this very debate. It expresses firm support for tie-ups as part of fisheries management policy, so I wonder whether the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) managed to attend the meeting at which he thinks the federation said something that it most certainly did not say.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that there was a difference of view in the Scottish industry over tie-up grant. He will find that there was a slight difference of view between the west and east coasts. I must move on.

On stock recovery programmes and technical measures, the UK has played an important development role and there is a great deal of scope for dealing with some of our conservation problems. We intend to take the measures forward in conjunction with the industry. On quota management generally, I appreciate that the reductions in total allowable catches and quotas for 2001 have resulted in many fishermen eking out their allocations and making difficult decisions about what to catch and when, although many have been successful. I am also pleased that good prices in general have helped in that respect.

We have tried to help the industry out through quota swaps and the Department has a good record of managing our fisheries effectively. Nevertheless, it is important that all sectors play their part in ensuring that measures designed to conserve fish stocks are respected.

Fixed quota allocations have been reviewed and they seem to be a success—that is certainly the conclusion of the review. They have achieved greater stability and have greatly facilitated the process of securing extra quota through quota swaps, both in the UK and internationally through the Department.

Economic links were referred to by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). Those arrangements are a further example of how we have tried to address a particular problem realistically and pragmatically. Last year, I informed the House of the economic links arrangements and the benefits that they have brought. The first full year in which they were used was 1999: landings in the UK by foreign-owned, but UK-registered, vessels increased by 70 per cent., an additional £3 million was spent on goods and services in our ports and more than 300 tonnes of valuable quota—sole, predominantly—was made available for redistribution to our inshore fleet.

I am pleased to tell the House that the benefits achieved in 1999 were maintained in 2000, and I am hopeful that the trend will continue throughout this year.

6 Dec 2001 : Column 509

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the trend in respect of foreign-owned, but UK-registered, ships has been downward in the past couple of years.

On grant aid, the principal aim of DEFRA is sustainability in environmental, economic and social terms, and one of our objectives is to promote sustainable management and prudent use of natural resources, domestically and internationally. Our sea fisheries are an important national resource, so we have involved the industry in the priorities that we want, and the schemes that we have identified for the financial instrument of fisheries grant programme involve such matters as increasing the value of fishermen's catch by helping them to maintain the quality of fish at sea and in port.

There are grants to help fishermen to transfer their fishing from pressure stocks to others, and that includes grants to switch to more environmentally friendly gear. There are also grants to help the processing industry to develop new markets, improve efficiency and minimise waste. I encourage all in the industry and environmental groups to consider how they can make the most of the grant aid available.

We have also encouraged the industry to benefit from adopting electronic working. DEFRA and other fisheries Departments want to encourage the industry to explore the possibilities, including electronic marketing and electronic transfer of information, with which it is becoming increasingly involved.

We commissioned a report on the impact of e-commerce on the UK fishing industry, using independent consultants, and in October we presented the findings to an industry seminar, sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry and organised by the Sea Fish Industry Authority. We also showed what a Government web portal for the industry might look like. The feedback is encouraging and we shall want to consult the industry further on the report's recommendation on how best to take the matter forward.

I do not underestimate the difficulties for the industry in the forthcoming Fisheries Council negotiations. Some cuts are justified on the science and some present difficulties, but we must remember that stocks need to be protected. We must achieve sustainable fisheries management and stocks that are below their safe biomass must be rebuilt.

It is fair to say that some decisions should have been taken years ago, as some catches have been unsustainable for a long time. It will take years to achieve recovery for those stocks, but it can be done. I emphasise yet again that I have been consistent and that I have followed the science. That consistency also means that we should challenge cuts that go beyond the science, and I shall ensure that that is done in the forthcoming negotiations.

The new atmosphere in the Fisheries Council means that the posturing of old has gone. We must concentrate on sustainability and responsible fisheries management, but I emphasise once again that the Commission is deadly serious about its proposals. The negotiations will not be easy and the Commission will not simply roll over because we disagree with it. We must make a strong and robust scientific case to the Commission, and we will.

There are bright spots. We expect some stocks to increase and I am pleased that prices generally have been good. Consumers are prepared to pay a good price for a top-quality product. The inshore sector has done well, particularly with shellfish, but clearly I recognise that

6 Dec 2001 : Column 510

there are problems in the industry. They key one is sustainability and the need to put in place management for the long-term, for the sake of the marine environment and a viable, sustainable, financially secure future for the industry. I believe that we can do that.

Next Section

IndexHome Page