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Mr. Nicholls: I think that the Minister will at least give me credit for the fact that I have always been prepared to criticise his predecessors from my party as much as I criticise him. Will he at least assure us that there will be no question of agreeing to extra restrictions being imposed on our fishermen if they are not imposed on those from other nations who could be fishing in our area? If not, those who are practising conservation will not receive the benefit of it.

Mr. Morley: I want to apply measures in such a way that the benefit goes to our fishermen. The new limit has been agreed in the Council by a majority decision, so I cannot apply a higher measure to other member states who want to abide by the European directive, but our fishermen are telling me that they do not consider a catch of that size to be marketable. They also do not consider it good for conservation. If our industry tells us in consultation that we should apply our own rules, we must consider that. Other countries may make similar unilateral decisions. I am prepared to discuss that option with the industry.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister agree that haddock is the stock about which we are talking? As we catch about 78 per cent. of the relevant stock, the survival or otherwise of the haddock is in the

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hands of our fishermen. If our fishermen say that they would like special conservation measures, does not it make sense to grant them?

Mr. Morley: A number of helpful suggestions on conservation have come from our industry. In many cases, it would be better to apply measures on an EU-wide basis--there are no two ways about it, and that is a priority. In other cases, there may well be measures that we could apply in the UK that would benefit our industry, and we should not rule that out.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): I have provided the Minister with proof positive that undersized fish are landed and sold openly in Spain. Have the British Government ever tried to bring enforcement proceedings against the Spaniards for allowing the landing of undersized fish? Is that not a failure of their inspectorate?

Mr. Morley: Making sure that each member state complies with European regulations is a matter for the Commission. We have argued consistently within the Council of Ministers that control measures should be applied properly across all member states. I believe that we are making progress on the new control measures, and that genuine efforts are being made by countries such as Spain in tackling what they admit is a problem with undersized fish. They are tackling that through market controls--and, from their point of view, that is the right way to do it.

We have been developing an interchange between our inspectors and those of other countries, including Spain. Our inspectors have been to Spain, in the company of Spanish inspectors, and their inspectors have been to the UK in the company of our inspectors. Recently, I was pleased to address a conservation course run by the sea fish inspectorate, which included a Spanish and a Norwegian inspector. It was useful to have them involved in a course run by our UK administration, and it was useful to listen to their experience and ideas. We are trying to develop better national and international management and to make sure that each EU country applies the same regulations to the same standards. We take that very seriously.

Mr. Gummer: Will the Minister consider building on the decision of Baroness Thatcher, when she was in office, to support an international inspectorate in the EU, and consider enabling that inspectorate to make unannounced visits to ports? Until that happens, it cannot do the job properly. Until now, the UK Government have been least happy about that, so it seems to be entirely in our interests if the inspectorate were to have that power.

Mr. Morley: I am glad to report to the right hon. Gentleman that we have reached agreement this year. The new control measures include the right of the Commission's inspectors to make unannounced visits to any member state fishing port, accompanied by the inspectors of that member state. That is the right way forward and we support it strongly.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): Fishermen in the south-west, and Cornwall in particular, view with dismay the proposal to reduce the minimum landing size for megrim. As the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill)

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pointed out, the Spanish market has a particular taste for immature and small fish. All this measure will do is to encourage that market, which I understand--as does the Select Committee on Agriculture, following its visit to Spain--the Spanish authorities are trying to stamp out.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right that Spain and other member states are seriously addressing this issue, as it is in no one's interests to have a market in undersized, immature fish which have not had a chance to breed. Our industry does not want to catch such fish, not only for conservation reasons--which they take seriously--but for marketing reasons, such as demand and maximising prices. That is why it may be in the interests of our industry to take steps which benefit other markets and fishing patterns. As I said, we should not rule that out and I am prepared to consider it.

Mr. Steen: I am having difficulty understanding the problem. If the Minister believes that conservation and quotas are important, how can he justify the fact that sometimes, when fish of a certain species are caught, all of them have to be thrown overboard? Would not the simplest way to deal with the problem be to stop that happening, as dead fish do not need to be conserved? I mentioned sea lions earlier, but seals rushing down from the north kill live fish and eat dead ones. However, apparently they are not a conservation problem as there are plenty of fish and no quotas are needed. Why does not the Minister deal with that issue?

Mr. Morley: We cannot look for scapegoats for problems that we have inflicted on the seas. I do not suggest that seals do not have an impact, and the hon. Gentleman mentions issues that need to be examined carefully. Research programmes are currently looking into seal numbers and population dynamics, and the food chain and food web in which they are involved.

However, the problem with discards stems from the difficulty of managing a fishery where there are many species whose quotas are exhausted. How do we prevent such a fishery from being deliberately targeted? I accept that it is impossible for fishermen not to catch certain species even when their quotas are exhausted. That is where discards come in, but experienced fishermen know how to target certain species within the limits that are set. That is another reason for the management system that is in place.

I would be the first to accept that the system is not perfect. As I have made clear to the industry, I am more than willing to consider options and different waysto manage quotas, but they must be managed for conservation and sustainability. As we have discovered, it is neither simple nor easy to find alternatives.

Mr. Townend: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Morley: No. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once already and I want to make progress.

I shall not go into great detail about the common fisheries policy review in 2002, as there will be other opportunities to discuss what is a very large issue. Suffice it to say that we recognise that the CFP is not perfect and, indeed, has a number of serious flaws. We believe that it can be improved, but not simply by abolishing a fisheries

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policy designed to manage stocks in all European waters. That must remain an important element of the policy, but we want the CFP to adopt a more rational approach with more regional management and greater flexibility.

I am glad to say that I was encouraged by the very sensible approach to CFP reform displayed, in our recent talks, by Franz Fischler, the new Fisheries Commissioner. He certainly had a good grasp of the problems involved. We are also talking informally to other countries with a common interest in CFP reform, especially in connection with the regional issue. Some of the responses have been very encouraging, which shows that progress will be possible in some areas.

Earlier, I touched on the very good report from the Agriculture Committee. I shall not go into detail about that, other than to say that we are trying to act on its recommendations.

This year, we have brought in some new technical conservation measures, one of which will provide better protection for shellfish stocks. Another measure--introduced unilaterally, but strongly supported by the UK industry--imposes limits on catches of bass in the south-west of either 5 tonnes a week or 15 tonnes a month. Incidentally, France applied those limits unilaterally long before we did. The move has been warmly welcomed by all concerned, and it is an example of how local action can be taken. I should mention also that the organisation representing fishermen in the south-west applied that measure unilaterally before we introduced it.

Mr. Andrew George: At the time of the consultation, the Minister did not propose a 15-tonne-a-month option. That has not gone down well in the south-west and around the Cornish coast, and I think that the hon. Gentleman understands why.

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