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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I welcome the contribution being made by the industry towards development of a strategy, through the Fish Industry Forum. The outcome of the common fisheries policy review that is now beginning will also be an important influence.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Does he realise, however, that more than two years have passed since the Select Committee's report? In his response, he accepted that we need a long-term strategy for the future of the industry; and that there is clear evidence that the piecemeal and reactive response to the problems of the industry for more than a generation does not address those problems. They need to be addressed. Today's announcement that the decommissioning package has been oversubscribed more than five times is further evidence that the fishing industry is in crisis. Piecemeal responses are no longer acceptable.
Mr. Morley: We asked the Sea Fish Industry Authority to make proposals for a strategy on behalf of the industry. It produced a document that I very much welcome as a contribution towards that strategy. I have also held discussions with the Fish Industry Forum, the industry itself, the WWF and other interested parties. It is fair to say that we would have made more progress, but the foot and mouth epidemic has had a devastating effect on the Department's work loadas it has on other parts of the rural economy. We are committed to taking the matter forward and will hold a high-level meeting when we
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as devising plans to enable fish stocks to recover, we also need a plan to ensure that the fishing industry itself survives in the best condition to catch those fish? Will he look at the success of the oil and gas industry Government taskforce, which set out a clear 10-year strategy that is being implemented? Will he set up a similar taskforce for our fishing industry?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend has been a great advocate of a regional approach to fisheries, and I will certainly take his suggestions seriously. The important thing to recognise is that the most important strategy for the fishing industry is to ensure that we have a sustainable fisheries industry, with sustainable management. That involves addressing some of the problems in relation to the state of our fish stocks and the pressure on them.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The Minister will be aware that, under the Scottish decommissioning scheme, some 20 per cent. of the fleet has applied to be decommissioned. Although that is good for the industry, it has long-term economic consequences for fishing areas. Will he therefore consider a tie-up scheme to ensure that there is still a fishing industry when stocks recover?
Mr. Morley: A tie-up scheme would not address the problem of the effects of decommissioning on regional areas. The arguments for tie-up schemes are phrased in a different way, and I am not altogether persuaded by them. Funds are available through the regional development agencies and the Scottish Executive to help regions affected by job losses and changes in industry restructuring, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and I also say to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) that decommissioning has consequences and should not be seen as an end in itself. Decommissioning should be seen as only one of a range of options to deal with the industry's structural problems.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I am sure that the House would want to wish the Minister well with his negotiations in Brussels next week, but will he confirm that his approach to those negotiations will be based on sound science, sustainability, especially for areas such as the North sea, and a long-term approach that will deliver for fishing communities such as Scarborough and Whitby?
Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that, and I know that my hon. Friend is very concerned about the fishing fleets in Scarborough and Whitby, but the fact is that if we do not follow the science, even though that, on occasion, might mean taking very difficult and tough decisions, there will be no fishing industry. It is fair to say that, in this round of negotiations, the Commission's position on a range of stocks goes beyond the science and does not appear to have sound scientific justification. In those circumstances, I will most certainly challenge its position.
Mr. Morley: The European treaties certainly have a major bearing on fisheries policy, but the hon. Lady should be aware that the way in which we manage our fisheries in our own waters and the strategies that we apply to our own fishing fleet are matters for the House and the Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): We are actively promoting farmers shops and markets as a good means of getting a higher proportion of the end price back to the primary producers. Farmers markets in town centres help to reconnect town and country. Our target is 400 farmers markets by 2003.
Mr. Dhanda: I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Is he aware of a local initiative in Gloucester, involving the local authority, that has brought about a regular local farmers market right in the heart of the city centre on the third Friday of every month? That has not only benefited Gloucestershire's rural economy but provided consumers with a choice of good-quality fresh fruit. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a good model for other towns and city centres to follow?
Mr. Morley: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate his local council on its promotional work. We have encouraged local councils to promote farmers markets. Indeed, there is a possibility of their receiving support from the Countryside Agency and, following the recent White Paper, through the rural enterprise scheme. I use farmers markets myself on occasion; they are a source of excellent-quality British food from regional producers, and I certainly commend them to the House and encourage their support.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Bracknell Forest borough council on its initiative of organising a monthly market in the town centre? Does he accept that many people in my constituency, which is not a rural area, like to use farmers markets and to buy local produce, because they know where it has come from?
Mr. Morley: The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I join him in congratulating his local council. Such markets are a way for local producers to obtain the benefits of added value by selling direct. Many producers, including some in my area, have seized upon such initiatives and developed them constructively. That is good not only for
Phil Sawford (Kettering): Although we all welcome the growth of farmers markets, there is considerable concern in the farming community about the current restrictions on livestock markets and their long-term future. Given the length of time that has elapsed since the last case of foot and mouth was confirmed, will my hon. Friend review those restrictions?
Mr. Morley: We will certainly review the current restrictions in the light of circumstances and the veterinary advice that we receive. I emphasise that risks remain even though it is very welcome news that we have had no further outbreak of foot and mouth since 30 September. Livestock markets still present a risk, so we must not drop our guard or be complacent. However, as the situation changes, we shall of course review it.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Macclesfield borough council has a beautiful paved area in front of the town hall and parish church in the heart of the town. The Minister has been very supportive of farmers markets, so will he be more specific about the assistance that might be available in the short term to establish them on a regular basis for the benefit not only of hard-pressed farmers but of consumers who want real British-produced fresh food?
Mr. Morley: As a Department, we have helped to promote farmers markets and develop a national network. We have advised and supported them. It is possible to obtain advice and support from the Countryside Agency and the rural enterprise scheme. Last but not least, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's local council might be interested in providing support to an excellent initiative.