Total Allowable Catches and Quotas 2002

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Mr. Morley: We have been closely involved in arguing, for example, for more selective gear and square mesh panels, which have been pioneered by the UK fishing industry. Square mesh panels are now mandatory throughout the EU nephrops fishery in the North sea, because of UK influence.

I, too, have seen the proposals. As I said, it is premature to discuss them now, as we do not know the final shape of the proposals that the Commission will present to the Council, but I believe, judging from some of the documents, that there is a great deal of common sense in them.

There is a good argument in favour of mini quotas for by-catch and other proposals designed to minimise by-catch problems, which is desirable. The proposals show that the Commission is thinking along the right lines and that what we and the UK fishing industry have been saying—for some time, I concede—has not gone unnoticed. One sometimes feels that what one says is ignored and that nothing ever happens. This shows that the arguments that we have advanced, backed up with science and practical experience, have influenced the Commission's thinking, which is all for the good.

Mrs. Winterton: Would the Under-Secretary oppose any suggestion of internationally traded quotas?

Mr. Morley: We shall oppose internationally traded quotas, as we do not think that they are in the interests of our industry or of a lot of industries.

Issues surrounding the management of quotas include how one can manage one's quota in relation to other countries that have a surplus when one's own industry is under real pressure. That happens with channel cod, for example. We currently deal with those situations with such things as international swaps, which is right and proper. We do not want to lose that facility and can explore ways of making it work a little better. However, I do not think that the industry is ready for the selling of quotas across international boundaries and I do not think that that would be in our national interest.

Andrew George: On the management of quota from the perspective of reducing fleet size, I know that the

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industry welcomed this year's decommissioning scheme. However, there have been anecdotal reports that some skippers who have received a decommissioning grant have seen that as money that they can put towards investment in new vessels. That clearly undermines the purpose. I understand that it is not impossible for that to happen. Can the Under-Secretary rehearse some of the efforts that the UK Government have made to try to ensure that the money for decommissioning cannot simply be reinvested to add further capacity to the industry?

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that the decommissioning money cannot be used for reinvestment to increase capacity. That is impossible because there are caps on capacity and restrictions on the number of licences available. However, if a fisherman decommissions a fishing boat and then has a capital gain, we cannot prevent him from reinvesting that in the fishing industry in some way. We cannot control that. There are potential benefits to be gained from such investment in the industry, but we must be careful that it does not then distort different segments of the industry.

There has been a tendency for some time—it is not a new tendency—for some people to sell off their larger boats and invest in boats under 10 m. If new, under-10 m boats, which are specially designed and very efficient, are commissioned, issues are raised not of increased capacity, but of increased effort. We are aware of that. Those are not extra vessels, but people have to have licences for them, so they buy up licences from existing under-10 m boats. There is a potential problem because a licence might be bought from a very inactive or inefficient under-10 m boat for a new, very efficient under-10 m vessel. We are alert to that, and have put a limit on horsepower for those new vessels to try to restrict the amount of effort. However, as long as the investment is within the capped effort control, and as long as it is not increasing capacity, in many ways it is not a bad thing for the industry.

The Chairman: If there are no more questions, we shall proceed to the debate on the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 14130/01, draft Council Regulation fixing for 2002 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where limitations in catch are required, No. 15238/01, draft Council Regulation fixing for 2002 the fishing opportunities for deep-sea fish stocks, and No. 6918/02, draft Council Regulation establishing specific access requirements and associated conditions applicable to fishing for deep-sea stocks; recognises that a number of fish stocks have fallen to particularly low levels; notes the Government's success in negotiating TACs which take full account of scientific advice while securing the best possible fishing opportunities for UK fishermen; recognises that action is required to constrain fishing effort in relation to deep-sea species; and supports the Government's attempts to secure a European agreement that will return these species to long-term viability.—[Mr. Morley.]

5.18 pm

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): We always find ourselves in an unusual situation when the Committee is asked to take note of a regulation that a Minister and his counterparts in the Council agreed some four

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months ago in Brussels. However, that is how the cookie crumbles.

The eyes of the whole industry are now firmly set on the future, not on the recent past. I cannot, in all honesty, congratulate the Minister on another deal that does not tackle the deep-seated problems facing the industry but that will, I believe, cause fishermen even greater hardship. I trust that he will take on board the concerns of Members contributing this afternoon when he attends the next Fisheries Council, which I understand is scheduled for 11 June, including in particular the two proposals on deep sea stocks on which we have already touched. It is clear that the presidency wishes to achieve a positive result on fisheries before the ends of its term on 30 June. The Under-Secretary has recently advised fishermen that they should look to other areas to compensate for the continuing loss of opportunities within Community waters and has suggested that fishermen should try to add value and find new opportunities.

He will be aware that approximately 30 vessels, mainly from Scotland, have made financial investments of about £80 million to diversify into the catching of deep water species. I understand that Greenland halibut and redfish are not to be regulated, which will certainly provide a loophole that will be of enormous benefit to the French, allowing them to continue to fish uncontrolled. Will the Under-Secretary investigate this situation during his negotiations in Council? It would surely be prudent to obtain definitive scientific evidence regarding these species before any closed areas are put in place.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will take on board the message that the true deep water species fishery is worth approximately £13 million a year to Scottish vessels. That valuable resource cannot be allowed to be lost to those particular local economies through the allocation of insufficient quota or days at sea. Special fishing permits created within the provisions of the treaty of Corfu, to which we are legally bound, will once again be the management tool. We must also remember that, should he fail to obtain the sufficient quota or time allowed, a double-edged sword will fall on the Scottish deep sea sector because those vessels will have no alternative option but to target the already hard-pressed stocks in areas such as the North sea.

In addition, with the imminent threat of regulation from the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, we are seeing a build-up of effort to secure track record. The Under-Secretary, in reply to one of the questions, did touch on our position on that. If the EU introduces unilateral measures, we would probably see the development of Olympic-style fisheries, as third countries race to secure track records before the NEAFC regulations are introduced. It is true to say that the industry faces a very difficult situation where the moral high ground does not in fact pay the mortgage.

It was something of a surprise that the Under-Secretary suggested, during last Thursday's Department of Environment, Food and Rural

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Affairs Question Time, that repatriation of fishing policy to member states meant drawing a line down the North sea. I think that he was teasing the House by speaking with his tongue firmly in his cheek because he will remember only too well that the line was drawn by a previous Labour Government in 1976, which established the British 200 mile to median line zone.

It is indisputable that fish know no boundaries and when the food chain is broken, as is happening with a vengeance at present in EU water due to the complete failure of the rigid management system in place, they will move to other areas. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) make a light-hearted comment last week about the nationality of fish and, at the same time, show genuine concern that the proposed regional advisory councils will be mere talking shops. He and his party have set great store by the concept of regional management, and it must be most galling to find that what is to be implemented is a hollow sham without real teeth and without a real say in how policy is delivered in the fishing regions.

The Amsterdam treaty does, of course, expressly forbid any power being devolved from the centre, so the thought of anything other than what is on offer was always wishful thinking. Moreover, the proposal that members serving on these councils will represent all stakeholders will ensure that they must reflect wide-ranging and indeed diverse opinions. I think that the industry is fearful that if the measures come into effect they will be unwieldy and its influence—because that is all that it can be—will diminish as a result. It would be difficult to imagine, for example, the aquaculture lobby agreeing to curtailment of industrial fishing when it needs food to feed fish in their farms. The Under-Secretary has said that that sector has grown considerably over the last few years.

The Under-Secretary, in his comments and answers, never fails to mention the fact that it was a former Conservative Government who signed the treaty of accession. He obviously places great store in the treaties, and I agree that he is right to do so because they dictate the limits of our powers to act on behalf of our own industry. He tells us that the most important factors in the forthcoming changes are access to quota and the maintenance of the present share-out under relative stability. The treaties, however, make no mention of this share. He really cannot have it both ways. It is a sad disappointment that he is going into negotiations believing transitional discriminatory derogations will override treaties based on equality and non-discrimination.

The Commission's 1991 report clearly stressed the importance of distinguishing between the principle of relative stability and the shares approved and applied in the 20-year period under that principle since 1983—in other words, the application keys. From 1 January 2003, the application keys will have to be decided on a non-discriminatory basis. That decision will be made by the Council and must ensure relative stability of fishing activities using their individual size at the end of the meti-annual guidance 4 programme of all the fishing fleets of member states. The economic importance of the whole of the industry, including the processing sector, in fishing regions throughout the

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Community, will most likely be a factor. In addition to the allocation of quota shares for each member state, fishing effort may also be allocated amongst the member states, probably calculated as kilowatt-days. These will be the subject of negotiations, among other matters, in the Council of Ministers later this year.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will not mind me pointing out a lesson that we should learn from the past. The 1983 allocations were decided under the principle of relative stability, and permitted the UK additional opportunities to compensate them partially for the loss of the deep water fishing opportunities resulting from the exclusion of British vessels from Icelandic waters. During the past year, as a result of the exclusion of vessels from the waters around Morocco and Senegal, many fishing opportunities have been lost by Spain. Large deep water vessels are currently lying idle in Spanish ports. The Community cannot subsidise these vessels indefinitely.

Two points that the Under-Secretary might like to take on board are, first, that Spain may seek additional quotas and days under the deep water proposals being discussed at present as compensation for the loss of those third-country agreements, and, secondly, that as a result of the UK setting the precedent in 1983, Spain may seek to secure an extra share of quota and days in compensation for the loss of those third country opportunities when the new relative stability keys are negotiated. Of course if a new management structure is not in place by 31 December of this year, article 2 of Council regulation 101/76 prevails with the possibility of a repetition of the famous Kent Kirk situation, which the Under-Secretary put clearly on the record in response to an earlier question.

It is no good us now blaming a previous Conservative Government. Indeed, I—the Under-Secretary will be relieved to hear this—do not blame the previous Labour Government which created and then gave away the 12 to 200-mile zone. The buck stops with Parliament. It is Parliament that determines that competence over all British waters from the base line to 200 miles remains in the hands of the European Union.

Parliament could choose the opposite; national control. The Under-Secretary has asked many times what I mean by that. When he was a shadow Minister with responsibility for fisheries he taught us well. He might recall that he said:

    ''We believe that the CFP should be radically reformed to allow us far greater autonomy and national control of fishing waters within our country's limits.''

He went on to say:

    ''We must say that the current situation is unacceptable and that there is a better way which meets the criteria of the CFP, but which gives all member states greater national control and a better way of managing fish stocks leading to a sustainable fishing industry. If we do not meet that objective we will have no fishing industry''

The final quote is:

    ''The common resource is a key issue in the common fisheries policy. The Labour Party does not think that the use of expression 'common resource' is a credible position to take within the common fisheries policy''.—[Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 23 July 1996; c. 25–27.]

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Well done on that tremendous u-turn. On taking power and entering government, the Under-Secretary hid the pretentious claim that a transitional derogation overrides a treaty obligation. None of that, of course, was mentioned when the above words were uttered, but I believe that what I have said is absolutely correct. Unless that matter is cleared up, it does not auger well for the coming months of negotiations.

I believe that what the Under-Secretary said in opposition was right and what he is saying now in government is wrong.

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