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Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My hon. Friend refers to the Treasury's response, but does he think that it might not be a negative response, but an ill-informed response and that it is incumbent on all Members who represent fishing communities to ensure that the Treasury is better informed so that the issue can be corrected?
Mr. Mitchell: I would not want to be critical of the Treasury under its current management, but it does not rush around looking for opportunities to spend money. It has certainly had a blind spot in respect of fishing, but the question is how long it can get away with that blind spot. The serious criticism is that it has been reluctant to draw
Mr. Morley: I am afraid that the Fontainebleau agreement works very much against this country's interests. The small print, negotiated by the Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, works against this country because, although the rebate was agreed, we cannot gain access to European money. Any money that we get from Europe is deducted from the rebate and, as a result, we have to find the bulk of the money ourselves. That disadvantage is unique to this country, but we have to live with it.
Mr. Mitchell: I accept the point that my hon. Friend makes, but if the money is unfortunately not available from Europe, there is a greater pressure on national Government to put up the money that we cannot get from Europe because the industry still needs financing. The money has to come from somewhere, so someone must provide it. Many of the sales to quota hoppers took place because of our reluctance to invest in decommissioning early enough, for example, and people were in a desperate financial position.
Most of our fishing competitors in the North sea and other British coastal areas have some form of aid or subsidy. As usual, the French led the way, but pressure produced a response: not a direct fuel subsidy in every case, but ways were found to get around the problem that were acceptable to Europe--but nothing happened here. That is disastrous because those industries are being better financed and subsidised to survive and to compete with our industry, which is more exposed to financial pressure than they are.
We need a firm, clear and comprehensive recovery programme to produce sustainability and to bring the stocks and the fishing effort into balance, so that, as the stocks increase, so can the effort. That demands money. The inevitable consequence of leaving things to market forces is that people will sell their quota and licences to those best able to buy them--the foreigners, who are being subsidised to keep their industry going. The industry will be sold off bit by bit.
We need to restore fish stocks. The WWF gives an interesting example, showing that with proper conservation, control and investment, the return from catches in the channel could be 1,500 per cent. more profitable than the current effort, in which too many vessels catch minimal quantities of fish, pressing on diminishing stocks. "Invest now; benefit later" has to be the slogan. Some of the money will have to come not only from Europe, which has never done justice to fishing in the way that it has to agriculture, but from the Treasury. We need a comprehensive plan to save and develop fishing.
We have to wake up to the fact that the fisheries are a national resource and that communities depend on fishing. We must wake up to the disastrous social and economic costs of closing down fishing. One job at sea supports 12 jobs on shore. Such matters cannot be left to market
The programme must be comprehensive and sustainable; it must finance not only decommissioning, but investment. Sustainability will not be achieved for five--perhaps 10--years, so the industry needs a steady flow of finance to ensure that it can plan and think ahead. The programme must be worked out quickly, in consultation with the industry.
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup): I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words. I hope that I may be forgiven if, instead of dealing only with the present, I look back into the past a little. However, I cannot refrain from making one remark about the present. I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), especially in his statement that his colleagues propose--if they are returned to Government--to withdraw from the fisheries section of the European Community, and, if they cannot do so fully, they will leave the Community altogether. Many of us have seen that coming, and it is good to have it put plainly so that the press and everyone else knows what we are facing. I might add that it also gives a complete assurance that they will never again be returned to power.
Sir Edward Heath: Well, I can return to earlier matters, not because I have no proposals to make but because so much of what happened in the past has immensely damaged the attitude towards this country and the Community. I have a clear example of that. An article under the headline, "How Heath betrayed our fishermen" says:
Why would I have done what Christopher Booker suggests? I was born by the sea; I lived by the sea for 60 years; I swam in the sea; and I fished locally. One year, I won the local fishing championship. I fished for six hours, between 10 and 4 o'clock, and caught 146 lb 12 oz of the best cod. I do not know how many Prime Ministers can say they did that, but it is all on the record. That has been my life for a long time.
I have no desire in any way to damage fishing or anything connected with the sea. I represented my country internationally in ocean racing for three years, and we won the first event completely. Those experiences are all very dear to me. People who argue that I wanted to break up the fishing industry and lose the benefits of it, especially for those whose lives were based on it, could not be more wrong.
As for the action that we took as a Government, we must look back a bit, in particular to the first years of office when the emphasis was on deep-water fishermen. That is forgotten now. It was only in the second half of the 1970s that people thought about inshore fishermen, for the simple reason that we had thrown away everything with regard to offshore fishermen. We had tried to hang on to offshore fishing for as long as we could. Indeed, we put in the Navy to protect the fishermen around Iceland, which it did, very successfully. After a rather stuffy dinner at No. 10, I arranged with the Icelandic Prime Minister that we would only put so many ships in at a time. Of course, our chaps were clever enough to be able to fish continuously, and we did not lose anything. We got almost the same amount of fish--in fact, in one case, we got more than we had ever landed before.
The 200-mile limit was then introduced, which put an end to that activity. I wanted our people to fish in deep waters elsewhere. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Joe Godber, did a great deal to help them. We made plans. It was useless fishing off the coast of west Africa because the Russians were there in full strength, so we thought about fishing off the west coast of south America.
We sent out the exploratory force. It reported that, although the water was deep, there was ample fishing territory. The only problem was that the product was rather unsightly and, therefore, fishermen would have had to take with them the equipment to chop off the nasty fish heads and scrape off other bits, so that they had beautiful fish when they landed. However, we could not persuade them to do that, so that part of our fishing fleet just disappeared.
The emphasis naturally moved to the home fleet. By that time, we had negotiated with the Community, but the matter of fishing was not settled in time for my agreement with President Pompidou, which settled everything for our future. There have been arguments about the common fisheries policy since 1963.
The argument that the policy on fishing was produced to do us in could not be more fallacious. The French battered away to get the matter settled. It was not finalised until almost Christmas, when I had finished my talks with President Pompidou. We managed to get 10 more years of our existing policy, and we made the most of it.