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Total Allowable Catches

Volume 164: debated on Thursday 11 January 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any proposals for a compensation and decommissioning scheme to allow the English fishing industry to adjust to reduced total allowable catches.

I do not believe that decommissioning would provide value for money. It would not achieve any worthwhile fish conservation objectives because it would not lead to a proportionate reduction in fishing effort.

I am saddened by that reply. There can be only two explanations of the Government's refusal to do justice to an industry that has been brought to the brink of ruin by the failure of the EEC to provide proper policing on conservation. The first is that they are too mean to do it and the second is that they made such a cack-handed, crackpot cock-up of the compensation scheme last time that they are now anxious to redeem their own reputation at the expense of the future of the industry. Which is it?

The answer is very simple. The hon. Gentleman reaches for someone else's wallet whenever he finds himself in a difficulty. We do not believe that that is appropriate. The sensible way to approach these matters is by putting far greater emphasis on conservation. I accept that in the past, the European Community has not given sufficient priority to that area. The second method is to produce far more intelligent management measures that are designed to secure the long-term future of the industry. We are doing that and, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman supports us as we do so.

It appears that the Government have rejected decommissioning on the grounds, as the Minister says, that it does not give value for money and is interventionist. As the Government are obliged by the European Community to find some way of reducing fishing effort by the end of January, do they intend to impose a compulsory laying-up period for the fishing fleet for certain parts of the year and will that be done without compensation for the fishing industry? Is that any more acceptable, because it is still very interventionist?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to our commitment to reduce fishing effort for haddock by 30 per cent. We shall consult the industry fully on the proposals and we hope to be able to come up with a formula that the industry accepts as being intelligent and operable.

Before my hon. Friend comes up with that sensible solution, will he bear in mind that the fishing industry is extremely complicated? There are many different interests to balance and he must also balance the interests of the taxpayer. Will my hon. Friend consult widely and carefully with all the different parts of the industry before he makes a statement?

I am very aware from my visits around our ports that they do not always have the same interests. I am also very aware that Lowestoft, which my hon. Friend represents, regards itself as being a very special fishing port. We shall be certain to consult all industry interests fully.