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16 Jan 2003 : Column 857—continued

Mr. Salmond: As the Minister knows, the Spanish fleet now has access to the North sea, but not to pressurised stocks. I have read the Commission's account of the Council meeting, and it seems to suggest that inspections of Spanish boats in the North sea can be carried out only with the consent of the Spanish authorities. If that is the case, it will be a disaster. I hope that it is not the case. Will the Minister tell me whether it is the case, and clarify the account that I have seen in the Commission's explanatory notes?

Mr. Morley: That is most certainly not my understanding. Any EU vessel within a member-state zone is subject to the enforcement and inspection measures agreed by the EU.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Minister confirm that this country will use its powers and inspect those vessels?

Mr. Morley: This country inspects all vessels that are fishing in our waters and we will continue to do so. Indeed, enforcement and inspection is one of the areas that have been strengthened and we strongly argued that that should happen.

We also obtained the retention of the principle of relative stability, which is very important and is one of the priorities of our fishing industry, as hon. Members have said. We have also retained the Hague preference. That was not easy, because it benefited only the Republic of Ireland and us, but it has nevertheless been retained. As has been pointed out, there was no adjustment of stock allocations in the North sea in favour of Spain or Portugal. Even though they have access under accession, that is meaningless economically without a quota to go with it.

The Shetland box has been retained pending a review of all restricted areas in 2003. Public aid for fishing vessels is being ended, as is aid for the transfer of EU fishing vessels to third countries from 31 December 2004. That issue was controversial and was an important sticking point in the Commission negotiations. Indeed, there was a threat that Commission powers would be used in relation to that issue because it proved so controversial. We would have preferred the aid to have ended immediately, but its doing so in 2004 is a reasonable outcome in the circumstances. There are also limitations on modernisation aid.

Countries that use public funds for building will, in addition to the aggregation penalties of 1:1.35 that they will have to apply for vessels of more than 100 tonnes, have to reduce capacity by 3 per cent. over two years as a penalty. That was also agreed at the Fisheries Council. There is also an increase in the maximum rate of scrapping grants in the EU.

Major improvements in enforcement arrangements are important in relation to what I have been saying about better information and co-operation, and information sharing between member states. Provision

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to establish regional advisory councils has been mentioned. We regard the councils as very important and see them as the beginning of the process. We want to strengthen them over time, but the priority was to establish them, as the proposal was controversial when it was originally made.

The policy on discards, on which I can now provide some details, includes technical measures dealing with the structure of nets and making them more selective. The policy will take into account the issue of minimum landing sizes, which has been raised before in the House. Hon. Members will be pleased that the landing sizes are going to be reviewed with a view to the possibility of raising them. Catch composition in relation to defined mesh sizes also needs to be considered, as will the application of closed areas and real-time closures when, for example, there are temporary concentrations of juvenile fish or spawning areas are identified.

The fishing industry has been keen to make progress on all those issues, which hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised on a number of occasions. I am pleased to see that those points have been agreed.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): The Minister suggested that the Government were effectively satisfied that they had got all the CFP reforms that they wanted. Does that mean that they are now satisfied that the CFP will deliver for British and Scottish fisherman in the next 30 years, just as it has failed them for the past 30 years?

Mr. Morley: These are important improvements, but I do not want to pretend that they are the be-all and end-all. As far as I am concerned, this is the beginning of a process. However, the changes are beneficial and address some of the problems in the CFP. Of course, we want to make further progress, and we will do so over time.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): May I join other hon. Members in welcoming my hon. Friend's achievement in exempting under-10 m vessels from the days-at-sea regime? Will he also confirm that he has secured extra days' fishing for those whose method is long lining? Most of them are covered by the rule, but will he confirm that the figure is 19 days for those who are not covered, bearing in mind that people would want a couple of days off a week or eight days off a month? Does he agree that that is quite an achievement?

Mr. Morley: Following the representations that my hon. Friend has made and having met long liners from his constituency, I told the Commission that, in relation to recovery plans, we should take into account the sort of gear that is being used and how selective it is. Long lining is very selective and involves minimal discards. Indeed, it is often possible to return the fish to the water alive and that has been recognised in the 19-day allocation. Other forms of gear may be equally selective. I should like to explore that issue and will continue to argue for further exemptions for gear that is selective and minimises discards.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): One of the most selective and conservation-efficient forms of

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fishing is anchor seining, which is practised by Grimsby vessels. Will my hon. Friend work to ensure that that is excluded in the same way as long lining?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I most certainly will. I know that the Grimsby anchor seiners use a net with very large mesh because they are targeting large, high-quality fish. Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that we have a severe problem with cod. That includes taking into account the total allowable catch and total quotas, and that involves the anchor seiners. However, as we develop the cod recovery programme, we will have to take into account the issue of minimising discards and selectivity. It is perfectly legitimate for whatever system is in place to recognise that fishermen are using selective gear, and the anchor seiners are certainly a case in point.

Mr. Peter Duncan: In considering very selective forms of fishing and the settlement that has been reached, we see that Danish factory boats can sail off into the sunset with a by-catch that is effectively unlimited and unaffected. That seems a totally inequitable settlement and I would be obliged if the Minister would comment.

Mr. Morley: I agree that that is unfinished business in relation to the industrial fleet, and yes, the arrangement is inequitable. As I have said before, the problem is a lack of scientific information in relation to the level of by-catches of the industrial fleet, especially of the sand eel. There is no argument in relation to the Norwegian pout fishery, which is included in the discards strategy. One of the assurances that we have in relation to reform of the CFP is that the impact of industrial fishing and its by-catch in particular will be examined in detail, which I very much welcome. In case I have not written this down in my notes, I should also say that we reached agreement on extension of the closed area to industrial fishing off the east coast of Scotland and Northumbria for a fourth year. That is the first time that a closed area has ever been agreed in relation to industrial fishing.

Mr. Salmond: If I remember rightly, that area was agreed because of the potential effect on sea birds, as the Minister will recall. Given that the area has been agreed, that he has been banging on about industrial fishing for as long as he has been speaking for the Government about fisheries and that he has now been the Fisheries Minister for more than five years, why is no research available on the impact of industrial fishing, which we all know is devastating to a marine environment? He is telling us that there is no research. Why not? Is he not the Minister?

Mr. Morley: I said that there were no clear scientific findings. Research has been conducted, but to date, it has not identified a very high white fish by-catch. We need to do more work on that issue, but I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that nothing has happened. The problem is that the work that has been done has not identified the sort of problem that is being portrayed.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, fishing for human consumption should always take priority. I believe that the scale of industrial fishing must have an impact on ecology and ecosystems, so we must take the issue seriously and examine it. Progress is slow and I am not exactly pleased about that, but since I have been

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fisheries Minister, a TAC has been applied to industrial fishing for the first time. That TAC has been cut since I have been a Minister, although not by as much as I would like, and closed areas have been introduced. That is a bit of progress compared to what happened in the past. I am not pretending that it is enough, but I do not think that he should allege that nothing has been done.

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