asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on the question of pressure stock licensing; and if he will make a statement.
I have had representations for some easement of the pressure stock licensing rules from fishermen and vessel owners excluded from the pressure stocks. I have also received a number of representations for the tightening-up of the scheme. I have already announced a review of the arrangements for the pelagic fisheries in advance of the full review due next year.
Does the Minister accept that the decision, which he announced through a written answer on Monday of this week, whereby the three vessels from the Nethelands could gain their licences by means that are in total contravention of the rules—the Minister has confirmed that—is disgraceful? On top of that, they have been allowed respective catches of almost 3,500 tonnes per vessel. Will the Minister confirm that the review that he has announced will try to correct what is clearly a thoroughly shambolic, unfair and discriminatory state of affairs, which he has described as a regrettable misunderstanding and which, in any Minister's language, is fairly strong?
It is important to recognise that there have been sizeable changes since 1980 in the structure of the pelagic fleet and in the nature of the fishing opportunities available. Therefore, our review is timely. In particular, the number of freezer trawlers has dropped from 26 in 1980 to only one last year. Many of them came out of fishing without the benefit of decommissioning grants. It is doubtful whether the number was expected to drop so fast when the original decision was taken in 1980. It is doubtful, too, whether we should have such a low freezer trawler capacity. That is why we should have a review and why that issue should be considered within the review. The quota amounts for the three trawlers—which are not Netherlands-owned, but British-owned—are the same as purse-seiners would get.
Can my hon. Friend give an estimate of how long the review of pelagic licensing arrangements will take? Can he explain how the mistake of granting licences to what are, in effect, foreign vessels came about?
At this stage I cannot say how long the review will take. I must repeat that the trawlers are not now foreign vessels. I have been given assurances by the owner of two of them that it is intended increasingly to employ British crews. In regard to the error, it is a complicated matter. We are considering it at the moment, but we have made it clear that the licences that have been granted are provisional, pending the outcome of the review.
While these may not be foreign vessels, they have no historic right to the licences. Fishermen understand that mistakes can occur, and they respect the way in which the mistake was acknowledged. What they find intolerable is that the trawlers will be allowed to continue fishing. Will the Minister revoke the licences immediately?
No. On the last point. I have nothing to add to the written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Spence) on Monday. It is important for us all to reflect on whether there have been changes since 1980 and, therefore, whether it is desirable to make changes in our own arrangements. I am not prejudging that issue. Obviously there have been changes since 1980. Therefore, a review is now sensible.