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Mr. Bradshaw: I shall certainly look at that. The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to do whatever we can to try to decouple cod from other healthy stocks and to encourage a reduction of the cod by-catch in the fisheries to which he referred.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Is the Minister aware that the balance between vessel viability and control of fishing effort is delicate, especially for the inshore fleet, which is not responsible for the mass depletion of fishing stocks? Will he make an exception for small inshore fleets such as that at Leigh and Canvey Island, so that they can remain viable?
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the need to protect the interests of our inshore fleet, which was one of the successes of the reform that we achieved at last year's Fisheries Council. We did protect those interests, contrary to the predictions of several hon. Members, including some Conservative Members.
We also support the element of the proposal that would allocate a total amount of fishing time to each member state, enabling the member state itself to decide how to allocate that total among its fleet. That flexibility would enable us to allocate fishing time in the way most appropriate to our own national needs. It would, however, take some time to work out, in consultation with the fishing industry, how to apply those arrangements in this country. We agree with the Commission that it would not be practicable to introduce the scheme at the beginning of next year. If the Council can agree on how fishing effort should be controlled, we would look to introduce the scheme in perhaps a year's time.
We already have limits on fishing effort in the North sea and the west of Scotland, which should continue next year. The Commission has proposed an extension of the current scheme. The formal proposal for the extension is the fifth annexe to the TAC and quota regulation, so we would have to get used to remembering that the scheme that we currently call annexe XVII would from next year be called annexe V.
There need to be some changes to the form of the scheme. Annexe XVII was negotiated very quickly, and experience has shown that there is room for improvement. We want the scheme to be adjusted so that it can achieve the objectives that the Council set for it a year ago. Several aspects have made it difficult to operate as effectively as is necessary. I hope that we can make changes that will ensure that the limits on time at sea are fully observed. I hope, too, that we can minimise the amount of bureaucracy. We appreciate that the number of days permitted for vessels targeting cod is an
Mr. Blizzard: Does my hon. Friend agree that the various schemes, such as TACs, stand any chance of succeeding only if they are adhered to? As he said earlier, there is a large discrepancy between what is supposed to be landed and what is landed. What is his estimate of the degree of misreporting and underreporting that exists in this country and throughout the European Union?
Mr. Bradshaw: The fact that it is unreported makes it difficult to put an exact figure on it, but it is serious. Otherwise, the European Commission would not have singled out the UK and Spain for strong criticism of our enforcement. My hon. Friend may await with expectation the report from the Prime Minister's strategy unit, which is expected in January and which has looked closely at enforcement. My hon. Friend is right, however: none of that will be any good unless we can be satisfied and confident that our enforcement procedures work, and I was just about to set out exactly what we propose to do about enforcement.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the Minister clarify the Government's stance in the negotiations on the allocation of days at sea between countries? Will he press for the baseline to be the 2001 fleet, given that since then we have made considerable efforts to decommission our fleet while other countries have been using EU money to build up their fleets? A fairer allocation would be made using 2001.
Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the next sentence of my speech: I was about to say exactly that. The UK decommissioned substantial amounts of capacity in 2001 and this year, and we must ensure that we obtain full credit for that cut when the days permitted for fishing are calculated.
Mr. Weir: The Minister mentioned annexe V of the new regulations. Is he aware that it includes a two-net rule that would affect fishermen who fish for white fish and nephrops? They use a different-sized net for each species, and as the regulation proposes that they may change their nets only once every three months, it would effectively destroy that fishery, which is extremely important in many small ports in Scotland, such as Arbroath in my constituency. If the Minister is involved in negotiations on annexe V, will he ensure that the two-net rule is amended to allow individual nations to impose their own time limit for the swap-over period?
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's comments in mind, but I hope that he will join me in welcoming the fact that there has been a slight increase in the recommendation for the TACs for prawnsnephropsand that we must do as much as we can to exploit those opportunities without taking cod as a by-catch or in any other form.
No debate on TACs and quotas and the conservation of fish stocks would be complete without reference to enforcement. This year, enforcement is of added significance because fisheries scientists have repeatedly referred to stock assessment work being compromised by the lack of reliable data on landings, while the industry has repeatedly claimed that stocks are in much better shape than official landing statistics. To manage fisheries successfully, it is essential to have reliable and accurate data on fishing activity and landings. It is the very lack of such data that has led the Commissionreluctantly, I believeto begin legal proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to take adequate steps to ensure that fishing activity and landings are properly monitored and recorded.
I recognise that the fishing industry has been badly affected by the impact of successive cuts in quota over the last three to four years and that there have been tensions as fishermen adjust to changing circumstances, but that is no excuse for dropping our guard. Effective and consistent standards of monitoring and control across the Community remain a key objective and we must be seen to be playing our part. Fisheries inspectors have a key role to play. They do a difficult job at the best of times, and I trust that all members of the industry will continue to co-operate fully with them in the performance of their duties.
Mr. Bradshaw: I certainly welcome the PAC report, which has already informed some of the measures that we are taking to improve our enforcement record and will continue to do so. I do not think that it is fair to paint a completely bleak picture of our enforcement system. We have one of the highest spends on enforcement under the CFP in the whole EU; we impose some of the stiffest penalties on people who are caught and prosecuted, and our inspectors do an excellent job. However, I acknowledge that there is plenty of room for improvement, and the recommendations of the PAC report are welcome and helpful.