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8. Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): When he next proposes to meet the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations to discuss the regulation of fishing. [47163]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): Frequent meetings are held with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations on a wide range of fisheries issues. No firm date has been set for a future meeting, but I last met them on Monday of this week.

Mr. Mitchell: I know that my hon. Friend makes unprecedented efforts to keep in touch with the industry and, in particular, to come to its natural home in Grimsby and consult the industry there. At the same time, he is imposing an unprecedented diet of change and now the possibility of charges on the hard pressed industry. Will he undertake, first, to introduce changes and charges only by consent and after consultation and, secondly, to impose no more restrictions or charges on the British industry than its European competitors face? We need a genuinely level fishing ground where regulations are not imposed and enforced in this country while they are blithely ignored across Europe.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that, when we came to power over a year ago, we inherited a fishing industry in utter shambles. That is why a great many changes in regulations and procedures have been introduced. It is correct to say that, as part of a comprehensive spending review, we have been considering all options, including whether there is a case for charges. That is an academic exercise, and we have made available to the industry the results. I assure my hon. Friend that proposals will not come forward without full and proper consultation with the industry and without taking into account what other European countries are doing in relation to such things as charges.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Is the Minister aware of the great disappointment that, under the proposed regulations, Bridlington will not be a designated port? Is he aware that the reasons that he gave me in his letter of 17 June--that there were no auction facilities and no fisheries office--are not acceptable? It is not acceptable that such decisions are made for bureaucratic convenience. My fishermen see this as further evidence that this is a Government of deregulation and I hope that he will reconsider that decision.

Even more worrying to my fishermen is the fear that in future the regulations for designated ports might be extended to those dealing with pelagic varieties, which would severely affect Bridlington. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be no extension?

Mr. Morley: Designated ports have been introduced to try to improve fisheries enforcement. Whether we like it

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or not, there is a problem of enforcement and blackfish. This is a national issue for which we are responsible. In addition to the reasons given in the letter to which the hon. Gentleman referred, Bridlington was not included because of the number of over-20 m boats which operate from there. We have received representations from Bridlington and they will be considered as part of the consultation exercise. However, I emphasise that the restriction applies only to over-20 m vessels and it simply requires them to give only four hours notice on their way to port or in port to give us the option of having a seafish inspector on the quayside to ensure that everything is in order.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): What assurance can the Minister give the House that Britain's 6 and 12 mile fishing limits can be protected after the reform of the common fisheries policy in 2002?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the issue seriously. The 6 and 12 mile limits are a derogation from the common fisheries policy and must be renewed by a majority vote in the Council of Ministers. However, the value of the 6 and 12 mile limits has already been emphasised in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from the President of the Commission. I am confident that the value of the 6 and 12 mile limits, which other countries also acknowledge, means that they will continue after 2002. That certainly will not be part of the conspiracy theories against Europe that we have heard today in the House.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Fishermen in my constituency feel that my hon. Friend has done well since the election in his support for the fishing industry, but they never stop telling me that the fishing regulations are just not enforced as strictly by some European countries as they are by Britain. Does my hon. Friend agree and, if so, what steps is he taking, and what steps can he take, to ensure a level fishing ground--words taken out of my mouth earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)?

Mr. Morley: I can assure my hon. Friend that his fishermen are right to be concerned that measures are not enforced equally and fairly by all member states. It was for that reason that, under our presidency, we introduced a new draft directive which addresses the issues of enforcement and control, common definitions and common standards of enforcement, which all member states at the Council of Ministers agreed was important and should be introduced. I am confident that those issues will be properly addressed.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Has the Minister given consideration to the implications of the EU working time directive, particularly for the catching sector? Given the complexities of the implementation of the directive and how it will affect that vital sector, particularly in my area, is it the Government's recommendation that the catching sector should be excluded?

Mr. Morley: MAFF accepts that the working time directive is not appropriate for the working pattern of

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share fishermen. We have had representations from fishermen's organisations and they have raised the issue with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): What confidence can the fishing industry have in the Minister's willingness to stand up in Europe to oppose further regulations such as the working time directive, the extension of logbook regulations and species recording when he is unilaterally planning, without reference to Europe, to introduce designated landing ports? Is it not time that he stopped contributing to the blizzard of overregulation that fishermen must undergo and did something positive, in Europe and in this country, to oppose it?

Mr. Morley: This is about national competence and the Government accepting our responsibility for the problem of over-landings and black fish. We had to introduce regulations such as designated ports because of the utter failure of the previous Administration to tackle the issue.

Food Quality

9. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): What steps he is taking to ensure that British farmers co-operate with British supermarkets to ensure high-quality food. [47164]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker): The quality of British food is second to none. The Government continue to help our farmers and growers to develop their marketing expertise so that they are better able to supply their products with the consistency, and in the volumes, that the supermarkets say they need.

Mr. Sheerman: That answer may seem a little complacent to anyone who has sampled the diversity and richness of other countries' food. Does the Minister agree that we have some of the most efficient and effective but also some of the most powerful supermarkets in the world? The power that they wield against our farming industry is quite intimidating. Will my hon. Friend ensure that our Government play a role in evening the balance to give diversity, choice and a good price to British farmers?

Mr. Rooker: I do not think that the supermarkets are against the British farming industry. That is not my experience from visits around the country or my meetings in London. They have worked incredibly well over the past 12 months, on the farm assurance scheme in particular, so that there is some consistency and so that farmers are not played off one against the other between different supermarkets. MAFF's task force has helped more than 500 food businesses to improve their marketing techniques. Although we make every effort, we cannot, do not seek to, and are not qualified to do the industry's marketing job for it.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): One of the finest products on supermarket shelves is traditional British brandy butter, made to a recipe tried and tested for more than 100 years. Does the Minister agree that a new EU directive that will make it illegal to market this traditional product as brandy butter is unreasonable? Will he do something to help brandy butter producers such as

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Charles Gordon Associates in my constituency, which tells me that jobs are at risk from the directive? Will he help it to stop the directive preventing it from selling its traditional product in our shops?

Mr. Rooker: For traditional chilled butters with alcoholic content, if there is a minimum of 34 per cent. butterfat content, I presume that there is 66 per cent. rum or brandy. One wonders what else is in there if those quantities are not matched by the manufacturer.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): As someone who makes and consumes brandy butter, I am sympathetic, but can the Minister go back to the original question and address the relationship between supermarkets and the farming community? Many farmers are concerned that some supermarket chains choose to import goods that are produced to lower standards than those acceptable to our farming community or aware consumers. Steps should be taken to increase public information about such practices.

Mr. Rooker: I take my hon. Friend's point, but I can only repeat what I said earlier. This week, when I was at the spray and sprayers exhibition in Cambridgeshire--[Laughter.] Well, many thousands of other people were there as well. I see that people find that a laughing matter, but that is a serious and important part of the industry. In discussions with representatives of farmers, supermarkets, the agrochemical industry and women's institutes--the whole food chain--it was clear that people were seeking to work together to ensure good-quality British food. We claim that it is the best, and that people should buy British, not just because it is British but because it is the best. People are working together in a way that they have never done before. We would encourage and embrace that, but people have to be free to import products. It comes down to nothing more or less than consumer choice, but food will not be allowed to go on sale in this country unless it conforms to the food safety legislation.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): Surely the Minister must understand that there is a growing realisation that the powers of the supermarkets, their domination of the food chain and the way in which they dictate terms to farmers and suppliers are a cause for concern. Is it not a grotesque fact that one of the most effective farmers' co-operatives, Milk Marque, is under investigation while the supermarkets are able to exercise considerable dominance without being questioned? Is it not important that farmers be encouraged to combine and co-operate to achieve countervailing power? Do not the Government and the development agencies have a role in facilitating and encouraging that?

Mr. Rooker: Yes, indeed. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are encouraging farmers' co-operatives, but food producers, especially supermarkets, are always subject to the Office of Fair Trading restrictions. They are not out there as completely free agents.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): It may be a shade early to talk of Christmas, but my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) mentioned brandy butter. May I draw it to the attention of the Minister that another Christmas favourite, beef on the bone, remains banned? He knows that we have consistently opposed that ban,

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and in today's Financial Times and Evening Standard there is a ray of hope in the indication that the Prime Minister is calling on the Minister of Agriculture to lift the ban. May I congratulate him on recruiting the Prime Minister to our cause? In the light of that information, may I now ask the Minister when he intends to stop pursuing people in the meat trade--caterers, butchers and others--in terms of prosecution? When will he repent like a sinner who has made a mistake, apologise for imposing this unnecessary ban and get it lifted?

Mr. Rooker: We are not the prosecuting authority, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware. We are not pursuing anyone. The law is the law and it will take its course. I am not prepared to comment on cases that are currently before the courts.

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