§ Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his important constitutional point, which he understands thoroughly and I do not.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) acknowledged the speed of the Government's action. The basis of his speech was that the restructuring funds should be spent not only on vessels but on the men manning those vessels. I am in considerable agreement with him and hope to say more about that later. The hon. Gentleman talked about British United Trawlers. I represent part of the port of Hull. We have been losing men from the distant water fleet for many years. If one has an agreement about the matter, the difficulty is knowing where to start. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman mention the three orders that I understand the Opposition are praying against. He concentrated on the scheme.
I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Minister and briefly touch on the background to the orders. Older Members will remember the full history that led to them. The three cod wars gave the deep water fleet in Hull 10 more years of fishing. Then the 200-mile limit was imposed and we had to fish in our own backyard or, as far as we were concerned, in the EEC's backyard. We spent five years arguing about that.
When the Labour Government left office, every member of the EEC was against us. Thanks to the work of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Energy and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that has changed. We now have an agreed common fisheries policy. That is a big feather in the Government's cap, and that has been sufficiently noted. Of course, we asked for more than we expected to get, but we obtained an agreement that was as good as possible and was accepted by the industry. We had a major debate on the matter on 7 December and a statement was made on total allowable catches on 1 February. Both were largely welcomed by the House.
Statutory instrument No. 1883 will bring into force many of the matters that we discussed on 7 December. The grants for laying up, decommissioning, exploratory voyages and joint ventures will be useful to the remainder of the distant water fleet remaining in Hull, not that there is much left of it, but there is some. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, joint ventures could include the Falkland Islands. There is still scope for those fine vessels costing over £1 million each.
When I first became a Member of the House, 30 years ago come Friday— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—Hull was the senior port in the country. Now it is reduced practically to nothing. However, the announcement made today will be of great help in future. There will be some facilities for the distant water fleet and money will be available in decommissioning grants, which should be used in the area. I was pleased to see in Fishing News the advertisement: 978The Fishing Port of Hull Born 1760Survived its darkest hour in 1980invested in the future and going strongly in 1984".The orders that we are discussing will be of assistance in that. Of course, it would have been better, as some of us had pressed the Government, to make the grants available earlier, but for obvious reasons that was impossible. As I said in December, the industry is extremely grateful that it was done in 1983, which made a considerable difference to the remainder of the distant water fleet. Whether the grants are sufficient, and the method of payment, will be debated. It is now up to the industry. It has a firm basis for restructuring. One hopes that it will take full advantage of that.
A firm which buys or builds a trawler or other fishing vessel obviously expects compensation if that vessel is scrapped or laid up. However, there should be redundancy payments for the crew. While the money for that cannot come out of the sum that goes in compensation to the firm, it should come from somewhere. Reference has been made to letters from the Department of the Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I hope that we shall be told which Minister is responsible.
The restructuring of the fleet can now proceed, and I gather that a total of £111.6 million will be available.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
I was including the EEC grant. I gather, however, that I am wrong and that, broadly speaking, the total sum available will be £85 million. That is a large sum. Now that we are building much smaller vessels, that should cover the restructuring of the fleet.
I need not comment on statutory instrument No. 1879. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South dealt adequately with that. Statutory instrument No. 1881 also reduces the size of vessel needing a licence from 12.19 to 10 m. I believe that that is a good thing, because, as the Minister said, it puts us in line with the EEC. It is really also a matter of conservation, and Opposition Members are as keen on conservation as we are.
Statutory instrument No. 92 is a specialised provision which also reduces the size of vessel which must be licensed. That, too, is good, and I am wondering why the Opposition have prayed against that and the other statutory instruments. They have not told us why they have taken that action. I do not want to sound facetious, but as two of the statutory instruments alter "monk fish" to "angler fish", and as some Opposition Members are against not only hunting but angling, perhaps it was that that caused the Leader of the Opposition to put his name to the prayers.
It seems strange that the Leader of the Opposition should have put his name to prayers concerning somewhat minor statutory instruments. We do not know why he has done that. Perhaps we shall receive some enlightenment when their spokesman winds up the debate for the Opposition. Suffice it to say that these statutory instruments represent a follow-up to successes that have been achieved since we came to power in 1979.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
The hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) referred to the change in name from monk fish to angler fish, and I had intended to question the Minister about that alteration. I am no 979 expert on fish, but I think that I would recognise them as separate fish. The monk fish is important for our fishermen because it fetches a high price nowadays; it is palmed off in many restaurants as scampi because of its quality. Although the angler fish is in the same class as the monk fish, it is a different fish altogether, and perhaps the Minister will enlighten us as to why the change is being made.
The Ministry's introductory remarks were lucid, and hon. Members cannot be in any doubt about what the instruments contain and what they portend. He pointed out that many people had claimed that the common fisheries policy would never work. It is early days yet. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's optimism will be confirmed in due course, but, having spoken to fishermen since the policy was signed, I have the impression that they welcome it purely because they got tired of the argy-bargy and interminable negotiations. At the end of the day they were prepared to settle for a good deal less than what they might have been entitled to. We must remember that we in the United Kingdom have 60 per cent. of the fish in the Common Market pool. The EEC argument is that fish swim everywhere, but for the fishing industry what counts is where the mature fish are caught.
The restructuring of the fleet has been mentioned. I believe that the scheme is concerned with reducing the fleet. We should be in no doubt about that. I intended to ask the Minister about the sentencereduce the time spent at seaand whether a recipient of financial aid would be barred from ownership or part-ownership of a new vessel. The Minister made it clear that the licences will not be transferred to a new vessel. It is therefore clear that the intention of the scheme—it was clear from the Common Market at an early stage — is to ensure that any fisherman who takes advantage of it is required to take the money and, if the phrase is not inappropriate, ride off into the sunset and get out of the fishing industry. That is the main purpose of the assistance.
The Minister said that the scheme will cost £85.6 million. I am intrigued at the precision of that figure. How does he know how many applicants there will be? I agree that the basis of the payments is good. Vessels will be removed by scrapping, by going to a third country, or by being assigned to another purpose. That is a commonsense arrangement, as many of those vessels could be used for many purposes in the confines of a harbour.
I agree with what the Minister said about a licensing system, although it would appear that taking advantage of the scheme will mean that the number of vessels in the fishing fleet around the United Kingdom will be reduced considerably. Although the licensing system is sound, fishermen taking advantage of the scheme will have to get out of the industry. It is a scheme for redundancy payments which are not all that generous. Although it is good that there will be something for vessels that have passed their day and that the fishermen who owned them will have some compensation, it has ominous undertones for the British fishing fleet.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that the inevitable consequence of the scheme is that the number of fishing vessels around our coast will be drastically reduced. With great respect to him, that is not necessarily so as the aim 980 of the scheme is restructuring. That is often a euphemism for scrapping, but some of the fishermen affected might switch from deep-water boats, which have nowhere to go unless they come to the south-west, to a more suitable local type of boat. In many ports, especially in the southwest, there has recently been an increase in the number of fishing boats. I hope that the forecast which the right hon. Gentleman made with such firmness is proved wrong.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for reassurance — perhaps he can get it from the civil servant in the Box—that the consequence of the laying up or decommissioning scheme will not be that some of the grants are used for vessels which are now technically British but, in practice, are to all intents and purposes Spanish. I do not need to remind the House of the campaign in which some of us were involved—I was not a Member then—against a massive abuse by which Spain re-registers boats in Britain, many in west country ports, thereby setting up companies and gaining access to our waters. One such company has its head office in an antique shop in Kensington. Some of us said then that we feared that a side effect of that practice would be that some Spanish boats would eventually qualify for such grants.
I draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 18 of the order, which states that boats will qualify for decommissioning grants by(a) scrappingor(b) permanent transfer to a third country otherwise than in pursuance of a joint fishing venture.I am no lawyer—I am not even a constitutional expert like my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—but, on the surface, that paragraph could mean that Spanish boats which have been reregistered in Britain and which are subject to the British Fishing Boats Act 1983, a measure which I like to believe I played a small part in introducing, could be transferred back to Spain with the help of a decommissioning grant. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that that is not the case, and that there will be safeguards against such an abuse.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Could not that aim be achieved practically by putting a full stop after the words,permanent transfer to a third countryin paragraph 18(b) and leaving out the wordsotherwise than in pursuance of a joint fishing venture"?
§ Mr. Harris
As I said earlier, I am not a constitutional expert, let alone a lawyer. I do not mind what words are removed from the order. I leave it to the Minister and the civil servants to ensure that the scheme is not abused. If it is, there will be shouts of anger from the fishing ports round our coast, not least from the south-west.
I had not intended to say much about the mackerel box in this debate until the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) mentioned a letter of which I have not seen a copy. Now that he has mentioned it, and as part of the order deals with western waters, stocks and licensing arrangements, I must return to the subject. First, I assure the hon. Member for Clackmannan that the last thing that I or the Cornish fishermen want is a war with the Scottish fishermen. As I said in an earlier intervention, the reason why the mackerel box was advocated by the scientists was not to stop people from outside the area from fishing inside the box but to conserve fish. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had been with me last Friday when I flew over 981 Falmouth harbour in a helicopter. I counted at least 24 factory ships—most of them from Communist countries—lying off Falmouth. They were transhipping mackerel from Scottish boats, some Cornish boats, and from other boats that were indisputably fishing against the spirit of that conservation measure.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman has been in Penzance about a fortnight ago to hear Dr. Stephen Lockwood, the Ministry's senior scientist on mackerel, give a lecture on the state of mackerel stocks in the west. He made it clear, as he has on many occasions, that the scientific advice is that there should be no fishing of mackerel to protect the immature stocks off the south-west coast.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That distinguished scientist announced to an astonished public what a Select Committee of the House recommended eight years ago, but which the then Government denied.
§ Mr. Harris
I have heard the self-same scientist give his advice on a number of occasions, and he has not wavered from what he is saying now.
The principle of the box is conservation, whoever fishes in it. As I said during the December debate, the fishing is increasing considerably. It has increased enormously since the previous debate on this issue. That is happening because of a defect in the regulations on so-called bottom trawling. I warned the House that it would not be confined to fishing by Scottish fishermen or Cornish fishermen and that the fishing would go wider. Unfortunately, that prophecy has been upheld. There are boats fishing inside the box from Ireland—I believe north and south, but certainly south. My latest information, which is authoritative, is that there are 27 large Dutch bulk catchers fishing inside the box. We are fearful that once again a conservation measure is being brushed aside and that the stocks are being depleted. It does not matter who is catching the mackerel, because if the stocks are wiped out there will be nothing to argue about. If that happens, a crime will have been committed.
§ Mr. O'Neill
I was endeavouring to stress that eight weeks ago we were discussing a situation that had virtually reached mackerel war proportions between the north-east and some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. There was an inability to communicate. If that difficulty has not been resolved, at least the south-west fishermen's organisation is talking about a dialogue taking place and the prospect of an improvement. Part of the fragility of the present arrangement is leading to the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman has referred tonight and in December. The difficulties within the British fleet have receded somewhat because there is no longer an inability to communicate, but only time will tell whether we can establish a proper arrangement.
§ Mr. Harris
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining what he was saying earlier. I am all in favour of dialogues, but there can be no talking about arrangements that lead to over-fishing in the box. I want good relations with the Scots and I have pleaded with others not to talk about a fishing war—the leaders of 982 the Cornish fishermen have made a similar plea—be it between Cornishmen and Scots or anyone else. There cannot be a dialogue that leads to a continuation of the fishing that is going on inside the box. My plea to the Minister tonight, as on a number of occasions both inside and outside the Chamber, is for him to take urgent measures to protect the stock.
Unfortunately, we have passed the meeting of Ministers that took place earlier in the month when a decision could have been taken to correct the defect in the EC regulation. As the next Fisheries Council meeting is not until 5 March, the only step that can be taken to protect the stock right away is to stop the bulk catching of mackerel. The hon. Member for Clackmannan referred to the South-Western Fish Producer Organisation, and I shall quote from a letter from the Cornwall Inshore Fishermen's Association, which I know has been sent to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The final paragraph states:In view of this we think it advisable to suspend the mackerel licence in the South West at the usual time in February or early March again this year.The licence should be suspended immediately and bulk catching should be stopped because the dodge about which I spoke in December has worsened. The box is in danger of being burst completely. It is the worst of all worlds when conservation is seen to fail and fall into disrepute.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
I agree with the hon. Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) about the increasing frequency of debates. I welcome it, but the number of debates, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials and Front-Bench speeches grows in inverse ratio to the catch of the British fishing industry. It is an imposition on the rest of hon. Members that Front-Bench speeches should be so long in such a short debate.
I welcome the scheme, but with much the same warmth as the Prime Minister welcomed her son turning up accidentally in Oman. I assume that there was some coolness. Although there are some benefits in the scheme, especially the extension of registered length to 10m—if it had been shorter, it would have split the Grimsby fleet—it is, especially on the laying-up grant, complex and almost Byzantine. It is not generous.
More importantly, this measure is a substitute for operating aid which is essential to the continuity of the English fishing industry. We must recognise that we are buying out capacity. We are providing for the shrinking of the fishing industry. The former Minister provided for the planning of the industry by liquidation and bankruptcy; the present Minister is providing for buying out, which is his version of planning. The consequence, as has been pointed out by fish merchant, Mr. Ken Beeken, is that there will not be fish to catch on an all-year round basis. For many months, catches will not be landed from British vessels. The processing, merchant and market sectors will be forced to make arrangements with overseas suppliers to provide for continuity. That will reduce demand for British catches and have an adverse effect on British industry. Those facts must be borne in mind.
It is important for a place such as Grimsby that provision is made for shrinkage of a fleet which is already too small to make optimum use of the facilities concentrated on the port. That shrinkage is not in the interests of British industry vis-à-vis its competitors in the Common Market. Those competitors are not regulated in 983 the same tight disciplined way as British industry. The catch not being made by British vessels—which will be bought out as the industry shrinks under this type of measure—will be taken up by continentals fishing in a far less effectively controlled fashion. Their authorities have not shown the same determination to conform to the rules of the game as our authorities. That will be a disastrous consequence of the Minister's proposal.
Operating aid is essential to the English fishing industry. It provides between £6,000 and £10,000 a year for the average vessel in Grimsby, which is the type of contribution that the vessels cannot do without. Fishermen are being asked to make a transition to smaller fishing opportunities and more limited catches without the operating aid that is essential if they are to make that transition. Operating aid was essential as a sign of Government confidence in the industry. It was essential to keep the confidence of the banks going. The fishing industry is functioning largely on credit, and that is in danger of being recalled without the confidence that the Government could have shown by providing operating aid.
The industry's problem is cash flow. We have had a disastrous winter with savage weather which has meant non-existent catches for Grimsby. There has been no income, and the industry is being asked to survive without the operating aid that it has received in the past. It cannot.
The Minister is providing a push-pull measure. He is not providing operating aid to keep the industry going; he is luring vessels out of the industry with lay-up and scrapping finance. We should have operating aid, and the Minister can pay it, because the Community rules, about which he tells us so much and which he alone seems to be observing, have been completely ignored by the French Government, without any proceedings being taken against them by the Commission. The fuel subsidy for French vessels is about 21 centimes per litre. The French Government provide about 10 per cent. of the operating costs of the French vessels.
Our vessels are being asked to compete with French vessels, whose fuel charges have been subsidised, to catch our fish. We do not know what other aids have been provided in other countries. The French fuel subsidy came to light only as the result of a strike by French skippers refusing to put to sea because the fuel subsidy was not increased. Our industry has been keeping tabs on that ever since. We do not know what covert aids are being paid by other countries.
How, for instance, can the Dutch afford to build freezers when our industry is laying them up? What about the aid that is provided by low port charges? Docks are provided as a service to the industry in many countries. I visited the west Danish ports with the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and found that aid was provided to the ports as a kind of regional development aid to provide growth points for the industry. Their landing charges were much less than ours. They are so low that British vessels are being lured to land in Denmark. Catches are being made within 150 miles of Grimsby, but it is cheaper for the vessels to land them in Scotland, other English ports, or in Denmark, and to have the catches transported down the Ml, or across the North sea, to be sold on the Grimsby market when the fish is less fresh. That is ludicrous. If ever there were a case for planning within the industry, that is it.
We should provide the aid that will enable the industry to keep going, and use the available facilities to the 984 optimum level. The Government are effectively saying to the industry, "Compete with subsidised competitors and bear the heavy burden of dock charges which make you uneconomic." Dock charges in Grimsby must be about 15 per cent. of the revenue from each trip as against 4 per cent. in other English ports, 2 per cent. in Scotland and a similar amount in Denmark. The industry is being crushed by that unreasonable burden.
The industry's economics are completely distorted by charges that are at the Government's discretion. If the Government are to plan for the industry by providing benefits for people who lay up vessels, they must provide equality of charges.
The main ports—Aberdeen, Hull and Grimsby—are subject to charges set by Associated British Ports, which must make a return on its capital, and the return will be keener now that the ports have been privatised. It does not pay to land fish locally. It pays to land it where the charges are lower and to bring it in overland.
The Government must consider the spread of the industry and recognise the importance of concentrating the full range of services needed for a viable industry and encourage the industry to make the best use of those points instead of dispersing the industry, which will lead to the ruin of major ports such as Grimsby. Confidence is at a low ebb in Grimsby. There is a mood of fear, now that the operating subsidy has been withdrawn.
§ Mr. Harris
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a high proportion of the charges that he complains about in the port is a direct consequence of the dock labour scheme?
§ Mr. Mitchell
That is a constant red herring. If a port is to be efficient and have a quick turn-round of vessels, it needs an efficient labour force to land the fish quickly. The problem is that we are trying to spread the burden of charges over an increased catch. The Government are, in effect, stopping that increased catch from being made. They are limiting the catch that the industry can make, which is crucial to a port such as Grimsby. Grimsby depends totally on cod, and the cod catches are being limited. Therefore, the attempt to spread the charges over a reasonable level of catches is completely vitiated. We need efficient labour to land the fish if we are to have an efficient industry. Otherwise, we shall become a small-scale industry. The major problem concerns the charges imposed by Associated British Ports, which go on escalating and bear no relation to the industry's ability to pay.
I second remarks made about the one-sided nature of the benefits. We have a restructuring plan here which benefits the owners — and benefits them only to the extent of putting them out of the industry—when the opportunity should have been taken to consider the needs of the people who have served the industry, often with their lives, and certainly with back-breaking toil—the fishermen. For years, they have had a raw deal on redundancy. Cases need to be analysed individually. It is wrong to say that because of signing on and signing off fishermen do not have continuity of service. Most of them have had no redundancy payments. There were two recent cases—the Miller and Massey cases—which turned out to be exceptional, because both had not only long service but some kind of retainer from the company. Those two cases aroused a lot of expectation among redundant 985 trawlermen that something would be done for them. Certainly something should have been done. That expectation has been exploited for political motives, but there is still a moral obligation to do something.
The opportunity has not been taken in measures of this nature, as the industry expected, to do something for the men and their redundancy. They carry the burden. The 108 fishermen in Hull who are made redundant by the laying-up of the BUT vessels carry the can. Their lives are destroyed, while the owners go out of the industry altogether. Something should have been done to regulate redundancies.
I sympathise with the Minister, because he has the job of clearing up after the inadequate settlement that was made. Indeed, if it were not inadequate, we should not have to run down the industry in the way that the measure proposes. The Minister has done his job conscientiously, and in many respects the measure is to be welcomed, but fishermen need an imaginative plan, not just a process of buying out vessels and running down capacity. Fishing has a future, provided it has an imaginative leadership and a plan that will allow it to concentrate on those points where the industry can be properly served and be most efficient. This measure does not do that.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I support the orders, but I want to draw to my hon. Friend's attention events of which he is wholly unaware—and, therefore, defects of which he is wholly unaware — bearing in mind the fact that the House does not have the power to amend statutory instruments or orders.
I served on the Select Committee of the House under the distinguished chairmanship of Dr. Edmund Marshall, then Member for Goole. That Select Committee produced the first and only report on the British Fishery industry that has ever been produced, to my knowledge. The Committee in the course of its inquiries had to do a sub-investigation on the stability of fishing vessels regulations. In the course of the investigation the senior civil servant involved—I make no point of the fact that it was under a previous Government — Mr. Malcolm Service, an Assistant Secretary in the then Department of Industry and Trade, resigned from the public service prematurely when caught out giving untruthful evidence to the Select Committee. When his surveyor in the south west, who had boasted round the pubs that he would put a large number of fishing vessels on the beach, was summoned to give evidence to the Select Committee, he resigned from the public service rather than come and give evidence.
My message to my hon. Friend is that he should not rely, without any mechanism for appeal, on what is alleged in the scheme to be his opinion, when it is not he who has examined the boat.
I recommend to the House Statutory Instrument 1883, Fishing Vessels, Financial Assistance Scheme, 1983. Under "disability and unfitness" of vessels on page 5, section 7 says:must not in the opinion of the appropriate Ministerreferring back to an earlier page, one finds that he is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodbe unfit for undertaking sea fishing without undergoing repairs.What appeal has the owner of the boat—or, indeed, the owners of the boat, because in many cases there are 986 Partners—against an opinion of we know not who? It is not the opinion of the Minister. The Minister will not examine the boat. Will the Minister sub-contract the technical survey of that boat to a Department that is already discredited by the Select Committee on which I served? And there is no reason to suppose that it has become more perfect since. This is a matter not of fishing habits but of survey. Has the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food surveyors in whom my hon. Friend has such confidence that there need be no appeal proceedure from the secret advice to the Minister that a vessel is unfit, that advice being unchallengeable?
Under "fitness of vessels" on page 9, paragraph 21 says:On the date of application the vessel to which an application for a de-commissioning grant relates must not in the opinion of the appropriate Minister"—that is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—be unfit for undertaking sea fishing without undergoing major alterations or repairs.This is the opinion, not of the Minister, but of some unspecified officer, and it may be by agency. The order makes no provision for appeal in this case.
I am not asking the Minister to say that the fishermen can write to him and say that a vessel is really fit, or that a fisherman can go, as under any outrageous law, to the High Court and ask for a judicial review. That is not the remedy that we look for when legislation is discussed in the House. I am asking the Minister not to withdraw the order but, after reflection, to introduce a subsidiary order providing for an appeal procedure. I hope that he will introduce—[Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Whip want to intervene? I hoped that he might. [Interruption.] Does the Whip want to intervene? He does not? But I thought that his conversation related to what I am saying. As an experienced lawyer I should have thought that my argument would appeal to him.
I should like the Minister to agree that in a subsequent order he will provide an appeals procedure against a declaration of unfitness which disqualifies. That is not an unreasonable request.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) referred to a recent television interview by a Dr. Lockwood, a senior, if not the senior, adviser on fisheries to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in which he rightly said that the records of the attrition of breeding stocks were hopelessly unreal because not all the catches were landed.
That astonishing revelation which hit the world on television was highlighted in my Select Committee's report seven or eight years ago. Not only that, but it was denied by the Ministry's chief fisheries adviser at Felixstowe.
The Committee then took evidence from the director of the Icelandic fisheries laboratory in Reykjavik — in a country where 37 per cent. of the GNP comes from fisheries. We reinforced that with evidence from the Joint Permanent Secretary of the Norwegian Department of Fisheries in Bergen, and then recalled the witness from Felixstowe who admitted that the evidence that he had given to the Committee was wholly capricious, and not based upon experimental evidence.
That witness said that shoals of mackerel caught in pure seine nets and released into the sea because they were not of prime market size, were dead. That was the point at issue. The Ministry evidence first was that what the west 987 country fishermen had told us was untrue. The sea bed was being polluted with dead mackerel which meant that when demersal fish were caught they were unsaleable because they were polluted with rotten mackerel. It also meant that the rates of attrition were not properly recorded.
We made two recommendations. The first was that all fish caught at sea should be landed, so that accurate records could be kept. The second was that transhipment should not occur. Why? What happens on factory ships is well-known. The operators pay 25 per cent. a tonne above the going rate, but demand overweight to be booked as true weight. This is the scandal of the factory ships. The records show only the booked weight, but they demand 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. overweight in a booked tonne—they pay a bit more for it—so that the records are false.
Dr. Lockwood has announced that by his scientific methods he has discovered what a Select Committee of the House knew seven or eight years ago, and announced to a public that were indifferent and to a Government that did not want to know. My hon. Friend should beware of the technical advice he gets from within his own Department, when Members of the House who have taken evidence and know what they are talking about can give him better advice. He would not have to wait seven or eight years for it, during which time the breeding stock is being murdered. This is material and it has to be said in public, because when it is said in private it has no effect. That is why it must be said in a debate like this tonight.
§ 11.6 pm
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The House is grateful for the meticulous care which the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) gives to orders such as this, because he can spot loopholes. Perhaps the House is not indulgent enough about the length of time it gives for the explanation of a straightforward but important omission. No doubt the Minister will refer to it in his reply.
This is a welcome debate which gives us an opportunity to examine the proposals in detail and to discuss fisheries without necessarily being obsessed with the minutiae of the common fisheries policy with regard to total allowable catches and quotas.
On the financial assistance scheme I wish to stress a point already referred to in the debate about the decommissioning grant. The response to the Department's discussion paper suggested that the decommissioning grant should be accompanied by a system of payments for elderly fishermen who, after a minimum period of 20 years at sea and having reached the age of 55, might be seeking early retirement. That does not appear anywhere in the scheme. Perhaps it affects the efficacy of the provisions, as I hope to illustrate in my remarks.
If one is to assess how useful these measures will be, one would hope to be able to consider them in the context of an overall Government policy. The Government paper to which I have already referred was not so much a discussion paper as a question paper. In paragraph 3, headed "Need for Restructuring", there is a series of questions:Is there a need for change to the size and structure of the fleet? If so, is the present problem a general one, or is it limited to particular fish stocks or to vessels of particular size or type? What changes should be looked for in the numbers and types of vessels operating, their location and their fishing patterns?988 We have had no answers to these questions. My initial reaction was that perhaps the Government had not got round to finding answers, but from what the Minister said in his opening remarks it appears that they do not want to come up with answers; they would rather leave the fishing industry to adapt freely in response to new operating conditions. That is what has happened up to now and it has not worked out to the benefit of the fishing industry.
The questions which are asked in the discussion document in many respects beg earlier questions. It would be impossible for the fishing industry to give an indication of the size and nature of the fleet in future when more fundamental questions have not been answered. The Minister indicated that the Government were considering proposals on marketing. Until we know how much assistance the Government will give to marketing, and the consequences that that will have for the processing industry and the men who do the fishing, we shall not be able to make a proper assessment of the needs and structure of the fishing industry in the coming years.
We are now in a som what better position than 12 months ago, with quotas for the most part agreed, although it is still likely that from year to year TACs will fluctuate, but until we have greater stability, the fishing industry will be left in some doubt about its requirements.
The prevailing view seems to be that our fleet is at maximum capacity. Therefore, is one to assume that the present package is meant to reduce the size of the fishing fleet? In that respect, it could fairly be asked whether the decommissioning grants will be adequate.
The Minister said that there had already been 70 applications, but he was unable to answer the pertinent question from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about the geographical location of those applications. That again shows the Government's failure to have any coherent policy or planning on the future of the fishing industry.
If the vast majority of those applications came from the one port, that would pose serious problems for the community in that area. The Government should address themselves to where the main parts of our fishing fleet will be located. There is an argument for greater location in the more peripheral areas—the south-west, the north-east and the Highlands and Islands—that are much closer to the fishing grounds, with consequent savings in fuel costs. Again, that question has not been answered.
The absence of any coherent Government policy has been reflected in the way in which they have approached licensing. It is clear that the response of the Scottish fishermen's federations to the Government's discussion paper was for a form of structural licensing. It was suggested that each vessel currently in operation should have a structural licence and that there should be a board—not the Government—comprising people with a sound knowledge of the fishing industry to allocate licences within a general policy framework set down by the Government.
The Government have been rather lazy and have opted for second best. They have used legislation presently available to them under section 4(1) of the 1967 Act to license vessels with regard to specific species in specific areas. That is a flawed approach which could possibly undermine the general purpose behind the decommissioning grants.
989 The Minister said that he wishes to see a modernisation of the industry and a reduction in some of its capacity. The scheme announced last week is such that one boat—
§ Mr. Wallace
From a sedentary position I have been asked to watch my time. I am not party to any deal between the two Front Benches, and it is unfortunate that the Liberal Member has been called so late in the debate. My party has numerous fishing interests and I have great constituency interests. Therefore, it is only fair that I be allowed some time to mention them.
The system announced by the Minister implies that there must be a decrease in the number of licences. One boat must go before a new licence is granted. That can often be a lack of incentive to older fishermen and, hence, can hinder the modernisation of the fleet.
I take it that we are seeking to decommision an older boat which was built, say, in the 1950s. Under the present regulations a 75 tonne boat would receive £30,000. If a licence can be transferred with the vessel, and if the new owner is able to use that licence for another vessel, corporate bodies wishing to build vessels may well buy up the older vessels. Of course, the decommission grant price would be the bottom price for any sale.
The great fear expressed to me by those in my constituency with fishing interests is that the licensing system adopted by the Government could result in an increasing number of licences in the hands of some central or corporate body. That would not be in the best interests of the fishing industry, particularly the parts of it located in our more peripheral areas.
We do not have detailed criticisms of the package, but any criticism should be put in context. The package shows the Government's continued support for a laissez-faire approach to fishing, which has not been conspicuous to date in its success of matching catching capacity to market demand and available stocks. When it has responded, it has left communities desolate and reduced the size of the fishing industry in parts of the country—for example, Humberside.
Therefore, we call on the Minister to think again about licensing. The Government should come forward with a policy on marketing plans. They should tell us the size and structure of the fleet that they would like and its location, and introduce a proper mechanism to achieve those objectives.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)
I believe that it would be in the interests of the House if I were to be extremely brief to enable the Minister of State to reply to the many points raised in the debate.
I draw the Minister's attention to the areas to which he needs to address his reply. The first was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—the position of the Isle of Man. We need a definitive statement on where the Government stand on the control of the fishery round the Isle of Man. I am aware that the matter is extremely complex both juridically and in terms of conservation of fish, but I do not believe that Isle of Man, Ulster and Fleetwood fishermen can be left in uncertainty any longer. I trust that there will be a definitive statement.
990 Secondly, I support the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) in his comments about the right of appeal against losing a vessel on a somewhat arbitrary facility. I ask the Minister specifically to address his remarks to the redundancy of men as opposed to payments for boats. It is no good offering a scheme that lays up boats and provides no effective provision for laid-off men. That is an unacceptable relationship.
In the European Assembly eight years ago, I advocated boat licensing as the essential measure of conservation. I welcome the licensing of vessels so that those who abuse their right to fish lose their livelihood. That must be the ultimate sanction that we apply in this country, but we shall not apply it unless we are assured that our colleagues in other countries in the Community apply the same strict rules and that what is licensing for our fishermen must be aliquot licensing for the Danes, Dutch, Belgians, Germans and everybody else.
§ Mr. Hughes
And, in turn, the Spaniards.
I welcome the scheme, particularly the licensing, but it must be for everyone on an equal basis.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am grateful to the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) for giving me the opportunity to reply at least to some of the points that have been made in the debate. I assure him, in relation to the last point that he made, that I agree with him in spirit, which is what we endeavour to do in all our discussions in the Council of Ministers and in looking at the whole question of fishing inspectorate and controls for the years ahead.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) complained about the length of my opening speech. It was about double the length that it would have been had I not given way to a number of hon. Members, so as to be helpful, and among those to whom I gave way was the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. I am tempted to say that I will never give way to him again. He asked me about the geographical spread of applications. I have some figures on the subject, but the real point is that it would be premature to draw conclusions at this stage. The schemes have only recently opened and we do not know whether the pattern will continue. The schemes will be open for three years and I am talking so far only about applications and not about approvals. It would, therefore, be misleading to talk about this short period, particularly in terms of what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) suggested, if he would base his wise, all-central planning on the basis of the first initial applications. That is not the way in which, in my view, anybody should approach these matters, and I said earlier that I did not believe that that was the way in which it should be approached.
I was grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) for his welcome of the move from 40 ft to 10 m. He asked for certain changes in the laying-up grant rules, but we must stick within the rules laid down by the Community if we are to benefit from the Community funds. That is why we have the rules in the relevant instrument. But the scheme, in terms of the laying-up grant rules, is aimed at the type of vessel which may not be currently viable, and that is an important aspect of what 991 we are trying to achieve. We have chosen the maximum rate of grant permitted under the Community legislation, and I suggest that we have got this one about right.
The hon. Member for Clackmannan criticised, in relation to decommissioning, the figure that we have used of £400 per gross registered tonne. That is the EEC figure, and had we wanted to go further, anything more would have had to be wholly nationally financed. In terms of what was wholly nationally financed, we responded to two of the industry's main suggestions, to which I referred in my opening remarks. Those suggestions were regarded by the industry, as well as by us, as the most cost effective and should be given the highest priority if we were able—as we were able—to find additional national funds to add to the scheme.
We must recognise that the decommissioning part of this package will be a substantial element, in terms of cost, in the whole package. I am doubtful whether we would have been right to go further and give additional funds, which would have come wholly from national funds, for decommissioning as against other parts of the package. Indeed, hon. Members have drawn attention to some of the difficulties involved in the decommissioning side—of which I was acutely aware—and for that reason we were right to stick to the EEC figure.
A number of hon. Members referred to the question of redundancy payments. The hon. Member for Clackmannan referred to a letter from Mr. Connolly, the national secretary of the docks, waterways and fishing group of the Transport and General Workers Union. That letter has come to me because he is raising certain parts of this whole area which are relevant to my Department; others, as he will know, are relevant to the Department of Employment. I have seen the letter—I have only just got it—and I shall shortly be replying to it.
To answer a particular point that the hon. Member for Clackmannan raised in that connection, there is no provision for Community finance under the common fisheries policy package for payments of this type. The finance made available by the Community was allocated to specific purposes and cannot be directed by the Government to the compensation of trawler crews, and tonight it is those particular Community finance packages about which we are talking. That is a straight factual point, one that I shall have to make to Mr. Connolly.
Going much further—I should be out of order if I developed this too far — I must point out that this problem has been with successive Governments for a considerable time. The main impact of the losses of crews caused by the change to the 200-mile limit occurred under a Labour Government, and they rejected a number of possible solutions. Indeed, I have with me an extract from the Official Report from which I am interested to see that you yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I am saying "you yourself' in the correct terms on this occasion—commented on the subject. It has been a long-standing problem and I shall reply to Mr. Connolly in full.
I am grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) and for his recognition of the substantial advance that these masures and the agreement on 1984 TACs and quotas brings about so quickly. He made some points about Fleetwood. I have noted that, not for the first time, he will be making an approach on the matter soon. I shall consider it the moment I get it.
992 I move into rather trickier waters in regard to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He said that I was an interested and attentive auditor in the two Adjournment debates to which I listened. I am more inclined to think that I was an interested and attentive audience. However, it is true that I listened carefully to what he said and others said in those debates. I hesitate to comment on the constitutional points, especially as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) also got entangled on this issue.
This is not the appropriate forum for a definitive statement on the Government's stance on the judicial point about control in Isle of Man waters. The reason for that, quite apart from the fact that I have neither the time nor the authority to do so, is that the order affecting the Isle of Man has a limited effect. The right hon. Gentleman raised much wider issues about the approaches that the Isle of Man authorities have made. I understand his taking every parliamentary opportunity to do that, but they do not relate to this order. As he knows, the key ministerial authority lies with the Home Office. I shall ensure that his comments are passed on to my right hon. and learned Friend. He gave the statutory authority for carrying out this order as the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, as amended by the Fisheries Act 1981. Any conditions attached to the licences to which the order refers are determined in consultation and agreement with United Kingdom fisheries departments and, therefore, ultimately Ministers.
With regard to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall), I understand well the agonising time that the port of Hull has suffered for reasons outwith its control. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for and appreciation of what the total package that we are endeavouring to put in place can mean.
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) asked about angler fish and monk fish. I hesitate to take issue with him because I am not an expert in these species, but I am assured that they are the same fish. The order includes this rather minor point to bring our licensing orders into line with the European Commission TAC and quota regulation which uses the term anglerfish. I hesitate to say that I am also told that anglerfish is also the correct English name for the species.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) raised an important point about Spanish vessels. It is a complicted and technical point which I do not have time to go into, partly because I want to cover his other point. However, paragraph 46 of the order goes some considerable way to meet his point. I shall nevertheless write to him about it. With regard to the mackerel box, in view of the lack of time I shall have principally to refer to the debate in the Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. last Thursday on the Draft Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Conservation Measures) (Amendments) Order 1983. We went into this matter in some detail then. I made a fairly long statement on current circumstances. I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not regard this matter as a battle between the Scottish and the Cornish fishermen. It must be examined entirely on conservation grounds. There is nothing illegal in bottom trawling at the moment because that exemption was allowed.
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is a different question. We are actively pursuing it with the Commission. I am aware of the extent of the fishing that has taken place this year. My hon. Friend might know that the European Commission's scientific and technical committee has recommended the elimination of the derogation for bottom trawling. We are pursuing that actively.
I shall consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton. I want to check the precedents for such aid schemes not only in MAFF but in other Departments. I can remember the enormous amount of time I spent judging ministerial cases on regional development grants when I was in another Department. The only reason that I am not giving my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks is because we must consider whether the setting up of a new body to act as a point of appeal would be expensive and cumbersome in relation to the issues themselves. That is something that—
§ It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Fishing Vessels (Financial Assistance) Scheme 1983 (S.I., 1983 No. 1883), dated 19th December 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th December, be approved.