Examination of witness (Questions 23-39)|
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2001
23. Minister, thank you for appearing before
what is the last meeting of this Select Committee of this Parliament.
None of us knows what shape we will all be in when Parliament
comes or what shape the Committees will be in, although I hope
that they are re-constituted very rapidly because there is obviously
a great deal of ongoing business, at least in the fields we are
interested in, which will need to be discussed. You are here to
deal with fishes. The loaves and the fishes are being dealt with
in Committee room 14, I was told, where the Prime Minister is
addressing the parliamentary party in about 20 minutes' time.
When you look at the value of the catch landed and the amount
of government money which supports the industry in the shape of
research (you have just commissioned a new vessel), inspection,
control, it must be about the most heavily subsidised industry
in Britain, must it not?
(Mr Morley) You can put that interpretation
on it in terms of the overall expenditure of the budget because,
as you quite rightly say, a lot of the budget is on regulation
of the industry which does need to be regulated, not just our
own vessels as you know, but vessels fishing in our waters. And
indeed there is a considerable R&D function which has always
been accepted as a responsibility of the state. I think perhaps
it is more justified if you look at it in its broadest sense which
is the link with the catching side, with the processing side on-shore
and the fact that it is interlinked with the marketing of fish,
the processing of fish, where there are many more jobs of course
in shore-based industries.
24. When you discovered the amount of aid that
the Scottish Executive was going to give to its industry, did
you say to yourself, "Good luck"? Did you say, "We
need to look at the Barnett formula pretty urgently"? Or
did you say, "They must be out of their tiny minds"?
(Mr Morley) Those are very provocative questions,
25. The fact that you have not repudiated any
of them is very interesting.
(Mr Morley) The fact is of course that we are now
in a devolved situation and the logic of devolution of course
means that on occasions the devolved administrations will take
different decisions from the United Kingdom Parliament's. I have
always argued, and I think there is common ground amongst all
of us as ministers from myself and in the devolved administrations,
that it is better to go forward on a broadly United Kingdom basis
so that whatever we provide in relation to our particular regions
for the fishing industry it is broadly similar. It does not have
to be exactly the same because, as you know, Chairman, there is
enormous regional difference in the fisheries in this country.
The fisheries in the North Sea are very different from those in
the Western Approaches and the south west. There are those differences
and so therefore recognising the differences within different
fisheries there is of course going to be a different emphasis
and different needs and therefore different policy approaches.
I think that the decision in relation to the allocation of funds
from the Scottish Executive is clearly one for them, but I have
always said to the English-based industry that I would not want
to see them disadvantaged and therefore the opportunities available
to the fishing industry on a United Kingdom basis should be broadly
similar, and they are broadly similar.
26. The concordats which were signed with the
Scottish Executive, do they not cover this sort of territory?
Is there nothing in there which might enable you to talk about
the level playing field within the United Kingdom?
(Mr Morley) I think the concordats do allow this level
of regional discretion and the difference in terms of emphasis
in the administration of what is the administration of FIFG funds
which are regional funds. I think it is fair to say, Chairman,
as you will know from the past, that there was always a regional
difference in the administration of regional funds and the Highlands
and Islands Development Board, for example, always had funds available
to the Scottish fishing industry even pre-devolution, so there
has always been a difference in the regional approach in different
parts of the country.
27. Do you feel that there could come a time
when the fishing industry in Britain in practice becomes almost
entirely a Scottish industry? The bigger part is in Scotland now
as we know, and probably the more modern part as well, partly
because of its pelagic interests. Could that happen and would
it make you feel uncomfortable if it did, or would it not matter?
(Mr Morley) I suspect that would not happen. The bulk
of the in-shore fleet for example is in England and that, in terms
of the shellfish sector, has been a reasonably successful fleet.
Of course there are other sectors of the fleet, the beam fleet,
for example, which is very much English-based. While of course
different sections of it have their own strengths and weaknesses
and they have their own problems at the present time, I really
doubt that we would have a completely Scottish-dominated fishing
industry. I do not really think that would happen. It is true
there is a lot of money in that industry and the pelagic industry,
which is predominantly Scottish-based, has been an extremely successful
industry and a lot of investment has gone into some very modern
boats in that sector.
28. Those are interesting insights, Minister,
into your expectations of where we are heading. What is the Government's
proactive vision for fishing?
(Mr Morley) What we want is a healthy and sustainable
fishing industry with good returns to those people who are operating
within it, generating enough money to provide their own investment
and therefore as a stand-alone business, as indeed it should be,
and also linking in with the on-shore side, the processing side.
In some parts of the country like the south west there is a link
between tourism and active, viable fishing ports. People like
to see fishing ports operating and active and we should not forget
that side of it. It is hard to quantify and it is on the peripheral
side but it is still a consideration. I think we have a lot of
work to do on the sustainability side because with the growth
of technology, the efficiency of the fleet, there is no doubt
that stocks on a European basis have taken a hammering. There
are no two ways about that. That is what we are trying to address
currently with the recovery programmes and they are quite difficult
and painful for the industry but they have to be done and they
recognise that in the same way that we do.
29. Do you have a geographical picture in your
mindyou have touched on this alreadyfor how the
fishing industry in the future would be spread across the United
(Mr Morley) I do not think it is for the Government
to take an interventionist role in terms of saying, "You
must have a certain section of the fleet in this part of the country",
and "You can only have a certain section of the fleet in
that part of the country". I think that is bad for the industry
and if we want the industry to be viable there are always going
to be some movements within the industry in relation to the way
they think the best business opportunities are and where the best
fishing opportunities are. It is very difficult for us to interfere
with that and I think it would be dangerous for us to interfere
with that. Obviously I want to see the geographical spread of
the industry remain where it is today. I do not want to see fishing
ports run down, wherever they are, and indeed we have been trying
to take steps to try and support fishing ports around the country.
However, I think it is fair to say that there are some fishing
ports who are having a harder time than others.
30. Are you drawing up a strategy which would
outline the kinds of things that you are describing now?
(Mr Morley) Yes. From your previous report you did
call upon the Government to produce a strategy for fishing. The
Sea Fish Industry Authority did act as a convenor to bring together
a strategy document and that was published a few months ago. That
was a useful document but I think that that needs flesh putting
on the bones. I think we need some more thought about a longer
term strategy for the industry, particularly in relation to different
methods of fishing. I know we have had these discussions before
about low impact fishing, for example. It might be low impact
in-shore based, but it might support quite a few jobs and I am
not unsympathetic to giving those kinds of fisheries some particular
thought. Whether or not we should have restrictions on the size
of the industry in relation to the horse power, for example, or
whether there should be unrestrained development and simply let
the market dictate which way the industry goes, I am not sure.
There are quite difficult issues because the issue that we have
to consider is how interventionist we are as a government in what
in the end is a range of private businesses. I think our principal
role is to try and work with the industry and the support we should
be providing is on the added value side, the marketing side, the
processing side, to encourage the industry itself to have more
control over its own business, its own management to a very large
extent, the use of the producer organisations which can be very
successful in terms of managing the business, and also pooling
such things as quota and sharing quota out and well run POs are
a very good model, but of course POs themselves do vary in relation
to their professionalism.
31. Presumably that document you are describing
will include the kinds of objectives that you agreed with on our
(Mr Morley) Yes.
32. Do you have a timetable for when we can
expect the finished document to be ready?
(Mr Morley) No, because the Sea Fish Authority were
producing that document. That is done; that has been produced
and has been made public. If I can be frank with the Committee,
one of the problems with it is that Sea Fish were acting as a
convenor and a lot of it is wish lists which are quite familiar
from various industry sectors, which are sometimes not compatible
in terms of different sectors who have different wish lists in
the long term future of the industry. What we have to do as a
government is to try and pull that together and we do have to
give that some thought.
33. The Government, as you rightly say, could
pull that together by exercising leadership to achieve a result.
Can I suggest that it would be helpful if you were to establish
a timetable by which everybody who wants to contribute to this
could contribute and by which time the public or this Committee
could then focus on making plans for the major debate when we
come to focus on the issue?
(Mr Morley) That is not an unreasonable suggestion,
Chairman. What we have done as a government is set up high level
meetings with the fishing industry, which actually include the
whole of the industry. It brings together all sectors and there
are not many forums where you have everyone in from the processing
side to the catching side. Obviously the election is an interruption
in the process but there would have been a meeting scheduled for
May. I think the next meeting of the high level meetings of the
industry is one to address these points and to think about a timetable,
discuss the Sea Fish document, which is a good basis for taking
this forward, and to try and agree with the industry because you
need involvement with the industry in terms of developing this
34. Would you consider postponing the election
so that we can get that document ready?
(Mr Morley) I do not think that is one for me to make.
35. The last serious questionthat was
not. Can you make any comment about where you envisage levels
of financial intervention settling down in the long term?
(Mr Morley) Yes, I did touch upon that, I think. Where
it is legitimate for the state to provide financial intervention
is obviously on the enforcement and restriction of development;
that is perfectly legitimate, and also on the infrastructure side,
marketing side, processing side, adding value side, so that we
could provide elements of grant aid to the industry itself. This
would be on a matched funding basis. We are not talking about
completely paying for these things. It is legitimate, as we always
have done, through structural funds to give support for the infrastructure
development to increase profitability and to help the industry
in relation to its returns. I think it is also legitimate as part
of the R&D side to give some financial support to more selective
gear, more environmentally friendly fishing methods. We have included
those within our objectives under the new round of FIFG. Those
are the areas where I think it is quite justified to have an element
of public funds.
36. One of the key components of the compiling
of the strategy for fishing has to be our approach to the common
fisheries policy and its reform. You set out your priorities for
that and consulted on those priorities. What feedback have you
had as to whether the goals the Government has set are the ones
that the industry would share?
(Mr Morley) This is on the Green Paper?
(Mr Morley) We were very pleased with the draft of
the Green Paper because it has certainly picked up a lot of issues
which we think are priorities in terms of CFP reform and the structure
of the CFP. I think in all fairness the UK industry should be
pleased because their arguments on such things as a regional approach
have also been picked up. One of the things I should perhaps have
said in relation to what Lembit was saying in terms of a long
term strategy for the industry is I think the Green Paper is part
of that long term strategy. I think that the discussion that we
are going to have on the Green Paper is also a way of looking
ahead for the longer term and the structure of the CFP and the
future structure of the industry, of which important elements
are that regional approach and the need for the CFP to be more
flexible. Part of its problem is it is very monolithic, it is
very slow to react and to adapt and it needs to be more flexible.
It needs to take into account the regional differences in fishing.
38. Would you not agree that one of the great
weaknesses of both the CFP and, to be honest, the perception of
the UK Government policy is the divorce between the industry and
its perception of its own interests and the regulatory authority
and its perception of its role in conservation? It should be possible
for those two functions to work in partnership for the long term
health of the sector. We have not devised mechanisms to ensure
that there is that common belief.
(Mr Morley) I understand the point and it is a very
fair one. I think we have made some progress on this. The fishing
industry has had probably unprecedented involvement in the recent
discussions on the cod recovery programme, the hake recovery programme,
Irish Sea recovery programme, North Sea recovery programme. They
have played a very important role in that and a very serious,
thoughtful role. I think that bodes very well for the future.
There is always going to be, well, there should not be, the point
that you are making, but I think there is always going to be a
little bit of tension between the enforcement role of the Government
and the role of the fishing industry. They want to catch as much
fish as possible. They want as few regulations and restraints
as possible while, of course, in relation to the Government we
have an obligation in terms of fisheries management that does
involve enforcement, does involve restrictions at times and, of
course, restrictions have economic consequences and that is why
you sometimes get the conflict with the industry.
39. There must be some inevitable tension but
if one makes the assumption that entrepreneurs have a wish to
have a sector in which they can be active for some reasonable
foreseeable future then there ought to be some basis of common
(Mr Morley) Yes.