The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Commission originally proposed large cuts for a wide range of total allowable catches, in many cases going further than science would justify. At the December Fisheries Council, after lengthy negotiations we achieved an outcome that closely followed the scientific advice but did not avoid the taking of tough measures where they were justified.
Mr. Carmichael: The Minister's answer illustrates rather well the inflexibility of the current system of total allowable catches and quotas, and the problems caused by that inflexibility. Does he agree that the dumping of perfectly marketable fish to which the system often leads brings the common fisheries policy, as currently constructed, into disrepute? Does that not make the case for the inclusion in the new CFP of multi-annual and multi-species quotas? What progress is the Minister making with our European partners in that regard?
Mr. Morley: I support the introduction of multi-annual quotas, and we are making good progress. There is support for such quotas in the Council of Ministers, and the Commission has flagged them up in a discussion paper on reform of the common fisheries policy.
The problem with multi-annual quotas, however, is that stocks need to be in reasonable shape before they can be applied. Many of our commercial stocks are below their safe biological limit. Strict limits must be placed on what can be taken out of the sea. There is a rough and ready mechanismI accept that it is not perfectinvolving discards once fishermen have exceeded their allowable catch. Without such a system, how could we deal with people who were deliberately targeting fish, as opposed to those who had caught them by accident as part of their normal fishing operations? It is an intractable problem to which no one in the industry has suggested a solution apart from the multi-annual approach, but we must secure stock recovery before applying it. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will apply it where we can.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I know that the Minister is as concerned as United Kingdom fishermen and others, including me, about the number of dolphins being caught and killed in netsmainly, it seems, in the winter bass fisheries. It has been suggested that separated grids might solve the problem, but research in America shows that naval and commercial sonar can damage cetacean sensor systems. That may explain why dolphins are entering nets and becoming trapped. What co-operation is taking place between British and American authorities to find a way of ending this needless slaughter as soon as possible?
Mr. Morley: It is a serious problem, which we are trying to resolve. We have instituted a three-year research programme to monitor different fisheries and to try to establish where the problem has been occurring. Unfortunately, it is difficult to persuade people to admit where it has been happening. We know that it is happening in the winter bass fisheries, however, and we are getting the support of the pelagic fishermen, without which we could not do the work.
I know that research has been conducted into acoustic noise and potential disturbance to small cetaceans. The sea mammal research unit is studying such issues. This problem, however, is a seasonal one in a particular fishery involving, potentially, a particular kind of net. We expect to give a trial to a new net this month, financed through the Department. It has been used in New Zealand, where it has been 95 per cent. successful in reducing the by-catch of sea lions. We are optimistic, but if that does not work we will consider other solutions.
Dr. Lewis: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but it does not go very far. Is it not the case that the agency has much better formalised arrangements, known as concordats, with other Departments? Does the right hon. Lady share the concern of the National Farmers Union, which has been running a campaign since the
Margaret Beckett: I am of course aware of concern about illegal imports. I was not particularly aware of the view that a concordat is the best way of solving the problem. My Department is already undertaking a number of actions, and is having discussions with the FSA and others. That will continue. I intend, in the next week or so, to convene a high-level group to assess what more can be done. There is no need for a more formalised structure; considerable and ongoing contacts exist at all levelsofficial and ministerialto solve that problem and others.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): Much has been said about illegal meat imports, and rightly so, but there are stories of meat carcases with specified risk material attached being illegally imported into this country. Does my right hon. Friend envisage a tougher role for the FSA? For example, will it visit premises suspected of receiving such carcases and take tough actionsuch as requiring immediate closureif they are indeed found?
Margaret Beckett: As my hon. Friend says, such carcases have been identified. They are inspected and dealt with, and a range of organisations and agencies are involved in that work, of which the FSA is one. I can assure him that the goal of everyone involved in such scrutiny and the application of precautions is to ensure that we pursue the matter as vigorously as possible.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): It has been necessary for livestock markets to remain closed for much of the past year, and a need remains for disease control measures. Nevertheless, new biosecurity rules have allowed many markets to reopen in recent weeks, and I expect more to open in the coming weeks.
Mr. Atkinson: Does the Minister accept that many of the regulations introduced after foot and mouth are threatening the viability of livestock markets? Does he further accept that livestock markets play an absolutely vital role in setting base prices for livestock transactions? Will he undertake as a matter of urgency to review those rulesparticularly the 20-day movement restriction and some of the rules affecting transportto establish whether they can safely be modified, so that we can maintain a vibrant and successful livestock market sector?
Mr. Morley: It is absolutely essential that markets operate with good biosecurity and that proper livestock movement controls are in place. In that respect, and as markets recognise, the situation will not be the same
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): Has my hon. Friend considered funding a project to establish whether a virtual livestock market, through which stock could be bought and sold, might supplement the traditional livestock market in Britain? Such a market would entail less stock movement, less stock stress and less exploitation by purchasers of marketplace suppliers.
Mr. Morley: Yes, we have. Indeed, many markets found alternative ways of operating during the period of closure, and we provided support for that. In fact, the Department grant-aided the Hexham market for internet sales and diversification on the premises. That provides benefits in terms of the social function and connections within the industry to enable the setting of prices. As I understand it, the Hexham market has obtained a licence for marriage ceremonies to be performed therethat really is diversification.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): The Minister will be aware that one of the greatest threats to the continuing viability of livestock markets is the fact that foot and mouth disease valuation payments to certain businesses remain outstanding. When can those businesses expect to be paid?
Mr. Morley: My information is that just about all valuations of compensation for animals killed in the outbreak have been paid. Some cases have gone to arbitration, but they are a matter for the arbiters. A very small minority of cases remain outstanding.
Phil Sawford (Kettering): While we all welcome the reopening of the livestock markets and recognise the valuable contribution that they make in our communities, will my hon. Friend please ensure that every effort will be made to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination at markets? Will he also consider carefully the traceability of animals that pass through markets in out-of-ring deals?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that the independent inquiry will consider issues relating to the spread of disease. The fact is, however, that moving animals around the country is a risk, and that is recognised by everyone, including the livestock industry. A range of measures must be taken to reduce that risk, and biosecurity at markets, movement controls on animals and traceability are all important elements.