Fishing vessels (Decommissioning) Scheme 2001

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Mr. Keith Simpson: Does the Minister know of any examples of the reverse taking place? Have vessels in other EU countries that have been taken out of use reappeared in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Morley: Off hand, I cannot think of any such examples, but I am aware of fishing vessels from other member states fishing here without proper registration. That is a slightly different issue and it is being dealt with. We must take such matters seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby made a fair point about targeting. It is considered by the industry, however, that an across-the-board scheme represents the most logical way forward in the English industry. I do not rule out targeting for the future if there is a strong case for it.

On the point about DEFRA, fishing is part of the food industry in the same way as agriculture and farming. The change in name should certainly not be interpreted as meaning that the fishing industry has been downgraded in importance. The new Department is much to the fishing industry's advantage because it deals with the whole marine ecosystem under one roof. That is the right way forward, with a strong emphasis on environment management. Indeed, the WWF, which was mentioned earlier, has taken seriously the issue that examining sustainable fisheries involves the whole sustainability of the marine environment. It is a powerful ally for the fishing industry to have such environmental groups lined up with it. They have found common ground, which is to the fishery industry's advantage, and the new Department is much better placed to deal with those points. It is good news for the industry.

The FIFG programme includes the option for help with switching to more environmentally friendly gear. I am keen on that option. It does not apply to those changing nets because of regulation, but whenever we introduce new regulation on nets, we try to give the industry time to adjust. Fishermen replace their nets at intervals, and we try to take that into account and give them a lead-in time to prepare with minimum cost and inconvenience.

The hon. Member for St. Ives asked several questions. There is a geographic issue and, as he rightly stated, I have a lot of sympathy with it. I understand the regional importance of fisheries and have a lot of respect for the south-west. I know how important fishing is to both the economy and the culture and history of the area, and it is important to recognise that. There were so many problems about restriction, with legal difficulties as well as mixed views in the industry. However, he should not think that it is a one-way process, nor that, if vessels are decommissioned in the south-west, the quota will automatically leave the area. In fact, there might be opportunities for the south-west to buy quota that is on the market. Producer organisations in the area are well organised—I know that they are considering the issue—and my preferred option is for them to buy the quota when their members decommission. That retains the quota within the producer organisation and the regional location. Producer organisations take the issue seriously, and I am sure that many are thinking about doing just that. The collective power of the organisations gives them buying power.

Andrew George: I am pleased to hear the Minister's comments, and he will be aware of the Duchy Fish Quota Company, which was recently launched with the intention of raising funds in Cornwall to do that. Any support that he and his Department are able to give to achieve that would be much appreciated.

Mr. Morley: I certainly think that the principle is a good one.

We have had some detailed debates in Committee about tie-ups, and hon. Members from fishing constituencies know that I am not persuaded by the arguments in favour of them. We should aim for longer-term permit solutions, rather than short-term solutions, and not enough effort and research has been put into examining the benefits of tie-up. If we tie up the fleets for a limited period and then let them go out and increase their fishing effort—which they can do when quotas are low—we gain nothing and use funds that could be used more constructively.

The Department has commissioned Portsmouth university to research alternatives to decommissioning. We must not close our minds to any approach. We like to examine different options whenever possible, and we will talk to the industry about them. The economic link conditions that we imposed have made a difference to the concern about quota hoppers buying up the quota. We do not face the same level of difficulty and threat that we faced some years ago.

Scuttling is an interesting idea. The hon. Member for St. Ives is right that my Department recently gave permission for a Royal Navy frigate to be scuttled, by a consortium that wants it as a dive site. It is good news for the south-west economy and I was in favour of the project. However, getting permission for scuttling involves a long, detailed and expensive decontamination process, and vessels must also have a licence under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. It is an expensive process and permission for a vessel to be scuttled is not generally given unless there are no alternative methods of disposal. It is an unattractive option because of the cost of the licence.

I apologise without reservation to the hon. Member for St. Ives for the delay in answering his letter about tuna. All I can say in mitigation is that the Department has been severely disrupted by the foot and mouth crisis, to which attention and resources had to be diverted. I accept that that is not a proper excuse and I shall take immediate steps to track down the letter and ensure that he has a reply as quickly as possible. I will also have to write to him about the TAC track record, because I need to check some details on it. GT and GRT cannot in practice make a difference to the industry. What counts is the bid price. A more important calculation is how the scheme is being carried out and how it will fit in to MAGP.

The wording referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) was chosen because the fisherman will get what he bid in terms of decommissioning money. The bid system has been used and has proved itself a good value for money mechanism. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for St. Ives about crew comfort and safety. There is scope for that under FIFG. There are rules about it which, as he said, ensure that if crew comfort and safety are improved, capacity is not. That can be difficult. I will write to him with the details.

It has been a detailed debate with many detailed questions. I hope that I have not missed any out; if I have, I will be only too pleased to respond—I hope somewhat more quickly than to the hon. Member for St. Ives. The scheme is important to the industry. It deals with a real problem with excess capacity and effort. I accept that such a scheme, and decommissioning, are not enough. We must look at other issues of conservation and fisheries management. I am sure that we will have more to say about that in future and I look forward to the continuing constructive comments of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) Scheme 2001 (S.I. 2001, No. 3390).

        Committee rose at eleven minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Widdecombe, Miss (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Caton, Mr.
George, Andrew
Gillan, Mrs.
Hughes, Mr. Kevin
Mandelson, Mr.
Mann, John
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Morley, Mr.
Reed, Mr.
Savidge, Mr.
Simmonds, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Swire, Mr.
Tami, Mark
Younger-Ross, Richard

 
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Prepared 5 November 2001