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6.40 pm

Mr. Morley: I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their kind remarks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Minister should ask for the leave of the House to speak a second time.

Mr. Morley: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to the debate. I am not used to both opening and winding up these days.

One thing that does not change about the debates is their seriousness. Of all the debates in which I participate, this is one of the few where we have a genuine, thoughtful discussion about serious issues, such as fisheries management and conservation, the importance of the fishing industry in a regional context and all the other

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points that we have heard in the course of the debate. Not least of those was that made by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) about onshore interests, which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and other hon. Members.

I have so many points written down that we could have another whole debate on them, but I shall do my best to address them. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has a long history of involvement in the fishing industry and great knowledge of it. He, and several other hon. Members, asked about what would happen with regard to access in 2003. We should not forget that the quota is the key issue and that that is why the issue of relative stability is so important. There is very little in the North sea that is not a quota stock. It would not be economic for any fishing vessel that does not have a real commercial quota to take all the trouble of steaming all the way to the North sea to fish. By-catch is monitored and would not count in that fishery towards establishing a track record, so there is no advantage in a by-catch. I cannot see any commercial inducement for anyone to enter the North sea when that changes.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the 2.9 per cent. cod allocation from north Norway, which is part of the European Economic Area agreement. That is a legal agreement and forms part of the relative stability for the range of quotas that we have. I hope that that reassures him. He also raised the important issue of rising sea temperatures, which we take seriously. We are carrying out research on such matters as the decline in plankton, but it is important not to try to look for scapegoats.

We cannot escape the fact that the biggest pressure on fish stocks comes from fishing. That is not to say that we do not take into account, for example, the impact of seals, although that impact is complex, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes stated. We have little evidence that seals have much impact on commercial fish stocks, but the research is being done. The same is true of power stations. I have been looking at some figures on power station intakes—that is the kind of person I am—and considering the fish by-catch that is sucked into the intakes. The figures are fairly low, but measures can be taken—such as bubble streams—to minimise the problem. I expect power stations to implement those measures because I take the problem seriously.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) questioned whether the demonstrations on fishing were before the aid package was announced in Scotland, and I have checked the facts in the Library. The flotilla sailed on 6 March and the aid package was announced on 8 March. I know that the Minister wanted me to put that on the record. Will the debate or the information that I have supplied help in his examination of the migration of species, especially cod? Will that information be useful in establishing whether that migration can be substantiated or whether it is anecdotal? It is a widespread belief among fishing communities.

Mr. Morley: The migration of species is a widespread belief—and I had made a note to myself to reply to the hon. Gentleman on the matter, which I know that he was very keen to get on the record. All I can say is that, from my close and friendly contacts with the Scottish Executive, I am aware that the package was being

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discussed for some time. I suspect that it was being discussed even before the flotilla, of which the hon. Gentleman was part, sailed down the Forth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby also referred to aggregate dredging, as did a number of hon. Members. These days, any new application for a licence must go through a thorough environmental impact assessment. That will take account of the impact on the local fishing industry and whether the area is a spawning area or important for shellfish. If the study finds that the impact would be detrimental, the application is turned down. Applications have been turned down for that reason, and I emphasise that we take into account the impact of activities on the fishing industry.

Finally, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we have commissioned a new research vessel for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. It is under construction at present—and in a British shipyard, I am glad to say.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) always takes a sensible and pragmatic approach to reform of the CAP, which is a matter of what is achievable. He also emphasised his support for multi-annual quota, which I share. I support, too, the concept of banking and borrowing, which has been used quite successfully in the south-west.

The hon. Gentleman also emphasised the need for the industry and science to work together. I agree, and believe that the industry's involvement is important. It has an important contribution to make, which I take very seriously, as do the scientists in my Department. We have worked hard in the past few years to involve the industry more in discussions and decisions. Recently, we invited industry representatives to sail with CEFAS on our research ships and to work alongside our scientists. I am sure that that experience was mutually beneficial: the industry representatives watched the scientists work and saw the techniques that they used, and I understand that the scientists found very helpful the representatives' advice about matters such as net repairs and setting nets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) emphasised the importance of the prawn fishery to his port in North Shields. I know that port and the industry well, and I repeat that I think that the Commission's suggestion about the scale of the cut in the nephrops quota is not justified by the science. It would have a devastating effect on the prawn industry, and I assure him that I take very seriously the points that he made. They will certainly guide me in the negotiations to come.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) is a fixture in these debates, as he has been a Member of Parliament for a long time. Although it is fair to say that the process of these debates is largely similar year to year, different issues and priorities arise every time. I am used to seeing hon. Members posture in debates, but the hon. Gentleman's description of posturing fish—although interesting—was new to me.

However, I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that things have changed in the Council of Ministers. Less of the horse trading—or sea horse trading—mentioned by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) goes on. It will not be easy to get the Commission to shift position

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on some of the matters that have been raised, as it is acting according to what it believes to be the basis of sustainability.

There is a genuine motivation behind what the Commission is doing, and I would not want to criticise that. I simply believe that it is not interpreting the science correctly on a number of points and not thinking through the implications of moving beyond the science in a range of stocks, particularly in a mixed fishery. We want to emphasise those issues to the Commission so that it will think about them and, I hope, make changes.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Commission can deliver now when it has failed to do so over the past 19 years?

Mr. Morley: It is hard to put the blame completely on the Commission. It has to take its share of the blame and, indeed, it was open and honest in the Green Paper about the failures of the common fisheries policy. The people who should take the blame are Fisheries Ministers from a range of countries who have refused, over the years, to follow the science. They have been reluctant to go against the undoubted impact on their industries and have talked up the quota over and above the scientific advice. That has to stop. That attitude has changed within the Council of Ministers because it is not sustainable and we are still paying a price for it now with regard to the desperate state of many stocks. Even stocks that are not in their recovery position are on the borderline of sustainability in relation to their biomass. Every year, what is being taken away for the commercial catch should be increasing the biomass.

We must address these tough issues. Over the years, people have ducked them because they are so difficult. If we are not careful, we will have no fishing industry in this country and will be in a situation similar to Canada. Whatever has been said—and there are some unknowns in the Canadian situation, which I would not dispute—the principal reason that the cod stocks were wiped out was overfishing.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made some pertinent points about the history of the common fisheries policy and the involvement of the previous Government, which we all noted. He raised the issue, which has been put to me by a number of fishermen, about whether cod have migrated further north because of changing sea temperatures. We do not rule out any kind of environmental change. Our scientists have a whole range of sampling points, including the northern North sea, and they will take these figures into account.

I take the views of the fishing industry seriously. They are the ones out at sea and they have a valid contribution to make. Indeed, much of the science is based on catch records and the fishing patterns of the industry. I will ensure that the figures that the hon. Gentleman presented are considered very carefully by our scientists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) raised a number of issues about the industry in the Irish sea. I understand the worries about the scale of the proposed cuts in haddock. I also understand the concerns about twine thickness, although I can reassure her and her industry that we are not looking to apply standards that mean that her industry would have

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to have a different twine thickness. They can continue to use their present twine thickness, which is environmentally friendly.

All the evidence that we have and the surveys that we have carried out, including surveys in the eastern part of the Irish sea with British and Belgian beam trawlers, show that the main spawning cod concentrations are in the western side of the Irish sea. That will be closed in the coming spawning season, and it will be closed to beam trawlers as well—so they will be kept away from the cod concentrations. However, we have little evidence that the concentration is on the eastern side.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) spoke about the Shetland box, which is of great regional importance. I was glad that the Commission, in its Green Paper, accepted the continuation of the Shetland box and, indeed, the Irish box. I recognise the regional importance of the fishing industry to Orkney and Shetland. As he said, I have visited the islands on a number of occasions and had a chance to talk to his industry. I always appreciate the opportunity to go there and chat to the very far-sighted and progressive industry.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's points about a co-operative venture to buy up quota and lease it on commercial terms, which has also been considered in Cornwall and other areas. As long as it is a commercial operation and does not discriminate against other regions, I am sure that it can meet state aid rules and I look forward with interest to the outcome of the current investigation. I am sure that the Commission will be sympathetic to the way that it has been operated in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) represents two important east coast fishing ports. Cod is, of course, an important catch there. He raised several points, including the impact of horsepower and I wholly accept the comments of his constituent, Mr. Arnold Locker. I shall be seeing a great deal of Mr. Locker in his NFFO role in forthcoming months. No doubt he will make his case clear to me.

Effort control has not yet been agreed. It has not been decided whether it will be a feature of the cod recovery plan in the North sea. I realise that people are worried about that. We shall need to talk to the industry about the issue and keep it involved. I also know of my hon. Friend's concerns about 120 mm nets in a mixed fishery. Mesh size is important and we should think about it carefully, but it will be difficult to move to 120 mm in one go. That is why I have argued for a phased approach.

I understand my hon. Friend's point about industrial fishing. I am a long-standing opponent of industrial fishing and my views have not changed. Human consumption should always take precedence in fisheries management. I expect to see a reduction in the TAC for sand eels in the negotiations. I support the 20 per cent. reduction. There may be attempts to raise it again, but I assure the House that I shall support the Commission on that particular reduction, because we need to introduce it.

We are working with the Danes on by-catch. I accept the dangers of excessive by-catch as reported in Fishing News. I notice that the Danes suspended the licence of the vessel concerned. That is a draconian power that we do not have in this country, and I was pleased to see the Danes using it.

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The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) also spoke about scientific advice and withdrawal. It is important that the industry concentrates on quality, not quantity. We want to encourage that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) stressed that the fishing industry has a cultural and social importance. The industry is important to him locally. He raised the issue of the plaice quota, and I was pleased to hear of the responsible attitude of the industry in his area. I shall certainly take that seriously.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) spoke about CFP reform. It is important that we try to address that realistically. At present, all inshore boats must have a licence—we are very keen on that. I understand the pressure for review of the legislation on sea fish committees. I am sympathetic, but it is a question of finding parliamentary time. That discussion will continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) made an excellent speech on the needs of the inshore sector. She spoke about the differences in the horsepower of large vessels and expressed the concerns of fishermen in her area about shellfish licences, although I think that such licences are in their interest. The majority of the inshore sector support them.

The hon. Member for Angus expressed concern about Arbroath smokies. I should not want them to be threatened in any way. He made an important point about the impact on the onshore industry if supplies were limited.

The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made several points, some of which I shall have to deal with on another occasion. There has been enormous interest in the decommissioning scheme; the money will certainly be fully utilised. In fact, it is likely that the scheme will be oversubscribed—as, I suspect, will the Scottish industry scheme.

I point out to the hon. Member for Congleton—as I did to her predecessors—that it is all very well to talk about national control, but what does it mean? I have never been clear about the meaning of the Conservative concept of national control, and nor has the industry. The industry believes that sensible reform—in which it is engaged—is the way forward. That is why it supports our position and that of other parties.

We are seeking that reform pragmatically and sensibly. Unless it is undertaken in that way, we should be completely isolated—like the hon. Lady's party during the last Parliament. There would be no support and we would make no progress. I believe that we can address some of the serious weaknesses of the CFP. We can make it better. We can take into account the needs of the industry and bring about that reform.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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