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6 Mar 2003 : Column 951—continued

Fishing Industry

7. Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): If she will make a statement on her policy on fishermen from EU accession countries fishing in UK waters under flags of convenience. [101116]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Only vessels licensed by their respective member state and third-country vessels licensed by the European Commission may fish in European and UK waters.

Mr. Simmonds : I thank the Minister for that answer. As he will be aware, fishermen in Boston are gravely concerned both about other EU vessels fishing in the Wash and about the current closure of the mussel beds. Will the Minister today assure my constituents that he will resolve the contradictory policies of English Nature and the Eastern sea fisheries joint committee and reopen the mussel beds to allow the fishermen from Boston to go back to work?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman's latter point was a very good way of working into his question a local issue, which is, I know, of concern both to him as the MP and also to his local fishermen. I have raised the issue of the mussel beds with English Nature and I want any action to be based on proper scientific evidence and to be proportional in its impact on the industry.

On the access of Spain and Portugal, and of other countries in future under the accession agreements, the principle of relative stability was agreed and included in the reformed common fisheries policy at the December Fisheries Council. That will protect the UK quota share of quota species and will not allow access to other member states.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Given that the common fisheries policy is essentially a political policy, rather than a conservation policy—it is concerned with doling out catches to nations—will my hon. Friend make strenuous efforts to try to ensure that there is more effective monitoring of other European nations' catches and by-catches, particularly in the North sea but in British waters generally, because we have a problem, first, as Spain is now able to fish there and it will be

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anxious to build up a track record and, secondly, with Danish industrial fishing catching large by-catches of immature white fish?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend raises a very serious point. On the need for uniform enforcement across the European Union, which was agreed at the December Council, we are, for example, extending satellite monitoring across the EU to another range of vessel sizes. On the by-catch strategy, which was also agreed in December, we are looking at the by-catch in the industrial fleet sector and, indeed, at the impact that the by-catch right across the fishing fleet has on stocks, as well as at how the various fishing methods contribute to that. I take my hon. Friend's point that the CFP has been far too much of a political tool in the past, and we must concentrate much more on the conservation priorities of fisheries management.

David Burnside (South Antrim): The Minister must realise that running a fishing vessel is like running a small business—it has revenue and it has costs. If he goes to see his opposite number in the Irish Republic, for example, he will find that other EU member states give massive capital grants for replacing, refurbishing and modernising vessels, which produces unfair competition against the fishing vessels that come out of Ardglass, Portavogie and Kilkeel, as well as fishing vessels and fishing businesses in England, Scotland and Wales. Will he look at the example from the Irish Republic and try to give our fishing industry the same sort of Government support?

Mr. Morley: I have to be honest with the hon. Gentleman: I genuinely believe that public subsidies that increase fishing capacity and effort are entirely unsustainable; they go against the principles of sustainability. I appreciate that some member states are really rather addicted to those subsidies, but I am glad to say that those subsidies will end in 2004 and will not be available in any member state. As for our own fishing fleets and those of Northern Ireland, we have funds available through FIFG—the financial instrument for fisheries guidance—which is designed to be used much more sustainably, not least in helping fishermen to add value to their catches. That is a much better way to use such funds.

Foot and Mouth Disease

8. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): What steps she is taking to minimise the possibility of reinfection of the national herd with foot and mouth disease; and if she will make a statement. [101119]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): We have taken a large number of measures, including improving the detection of illegal meat imports, banning swill feeding, subjecting animal movements to licensing and a standstill period and strengthening the contingency plans for dealing with an outbreak. Details are set out in the Government's response to the FMD inquiries published last November.

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Michael Fabricant : The Minister mentions the illegal importation of meat, and he will know that the British Veterinary Association believes that that is one of the prime causes of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Does he agree with the Governments of the United States, Australia and New Zealand who believe that one of the best ways to detect illegal meat imports is to use specialised sniffer dogs? How many sniffer dogs do we have at British seaports and airports?

Mr. Morley: We currently have two, which is two more than the previous Conservative Government used at ports. Of course putting in place border control measures is very important, but the hon. Gentleman should also be aware that, although the virus may well have come into the country through some form of illegal meat import, it spread because of the failure to observe rules on the use of pigswill and in processing and to report the fact that animals had the disease. That resulted in the disease becoming widespread in this country, with catastrophic results. So we need a range of measures, not just one, if we are to tackle the control of the disease.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Does my hon. Friend know the names of the dogs? [Interruption]. I have not finished yet. If we cannot stop illegal drugs and illegal immigrants coming into this country, we will never stop all illegal imports of meat. The reality is that we can safeguard against a further outbreak of foot and mouth disease only by routinely vaccinating all the animals that are susceptible. What efforts are going into developing that vaccine?

Mr. Morley: We have access to a range of vaccines, but complex issues are associated with how they are applied. As my hon. Friend will know, in response to independent inquiries, we are moving vaccine use up as part of our response strategy. As I said, if we are to have an effective strategy to combat disease, we must apply a range of measures. I confess that although I take a close interest in the work of the dogs, I am not aware of their names.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Given that under the terms of the European Union animal by-products regulation vans carrying carcases will be moving from farm to farm, which will significantly increase the risk of infection and reinfection, will the Minister explain why he agreed to that regulation? It will do away with the practice of disposing of fallen stock on farms, which has been going on for thousands of years. Who will pay for it? Will it be the local taxpayer, the national taxpayer or the farmer?

Mr. Morley: The collection of fallen stock from farms is nothing new. Vehicles go on to farms. People who go through the process understand the biosecurity issue well. Given the risks of disease, which we have just discussed, and the public health and environmental issues, the basis for the European directive is logical. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is spending about £30 million a year on the collection of fallen stock for a variety of reasons—the over-30-months scheme, and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy monitoring. We have told farming

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organisations that we are prepared to use that money as the basis for a national collection and to provide funding for organising start-up, but it is not unreasonable that the livestock sector should contribute to what is a problem in that sector. We are trying to approach the matter in partnership and to deal with the issues in a practical sense.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Minister will know that foot and mouth disease is at its most stubborn in the sheep flock, where it is hardest to detect. The Government have relaxed the 20-day rule to six days, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is serious concern about two further elements: the European proposal for double tagging of sheep and the severe restrictions on sheep movements, which will make undertaking normal business difficult for farmers. Will he ensure that the regulations are always set at the minimum level necessary to achieve security and that they will be designed to be relaxed as soon as possible so that trade can take place and farmers may have at least some hope that their already poor incomes will recover?

Mr. Morley: I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point. The fact that we have changed the 20-day rule to a six-day standstill is a reflection of trying to balance the best veterinary and scientific advice that we can get on risk reduction, the practical problems and the effect that the standstill had on the livestock sector. The six-day standstill is a fair compromise and I am confident that the vast majority of the sector will support it and ensure that it works. On double tagging, there is a serious problem with traceability in the sheep sector as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. I accept that the EU may not have given adequate thought to some practical issues. We will certainly put forward the practical arguments that we hear from the industry about the difficulties of applying the scheme.


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