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Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I know that the Minister is doing his very best, and many of us realise that he is not quite King Canute—we know what happened to him; was he not washed away?

The problem in the south-west is that more fish are thrown back dead than are landed in the ports. The Minister must agree that that is immoral and obscene. Does he agree that the best way of dealing with that problem is to renegotiate the common fisheries policy, which he has failed to do? If that is the case, what is the alternative to our policy of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy, unless we are to go on throwing more dead fish overboard than we actually land?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was agreeing with his party's policy of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy or advocating renegotiation. Of course, renegotiation goes on all the time. The reforms that we achieved two years ago were a renegotiation of the common fisheries policy. Indeed, the policy addresses the very problem of discards that he has just outlined. It is not right to suggest that more fish are thrown overboard in the south-west than are landed. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that discards are a problem. There is not a fisheries system in the world that has
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managed to avoid the problem of discards completely. It is a serious problem, particularly in the mixed fisheries, and we are actively addressing it.

Mr. Salmond: A few seconds ago, the Minister said that he saw no reason why regional advisory councils could not adopt management responsibilities. Why then does the proposed European constitution maintain exclusive competence over the conservation of marine biological resources? The maintenance of that competence was described last week by the European Parliament's own Committee on Fisheries as unjustified. Does the Minister not see a contradiction between his statement and the European constitution?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, I do not. Because of the many conversations and exchanges of letters that we have had on this subject, the hon. Gentleman knows that we will have to agree to disagree on it. There is no change in the European constitution on the competence on marine resources, as he knows very well.

The Government's concern to manage our marine environment sustainably can be illustrated by a number of other actions we have taken this year. We secured permanent protection for the cold water coral reefs off the north-west coast of Scotland known as the Darwin mounds. This followed the emergency protection that we secured in the previous year, which was the first time the EU used powers under the reformed common fisheries policy to give special protection to a valuable marine environment.

The UK also led the way in persuading the EU to adopt, for the first time, measures to address the problem of cetacean by-catch—the catching and drowning of dolphins and porpoises in nets. These measures did not go as far as would have liked and the UK will continue to push for more action more quickly, but they are an important start.

Mr. Steen: It is a real treat to be allowed to ask two questions, and I am most grateful to the Minister. As he knows, along the length of the south Devon coastline dolphins are washed up dead on the beaches. One was washed up in my constituency only this week. Although he has taken a lead in trying to limit bass fishing, the French in particular are notorious for carrying it out along our coastline. Has the Minister not banned the French from breaching the 12-mile limit, so are they breaking the law? As for Europe, he has failed—although I accept that he has tried—to do something more. When is his next battle, and will he lose it?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes the argument about the common fisheries policy for me. If we did not belong to the CFP we would have no influence whatever over what the French did in their own waters or halfway across the channel, where most of the bass pair trawl fishery takes place.

The first experimental marine closed area in Britain, around Lundy island off the north coast of Devon, has been a resounding success. The number and size of crab and lobster both inside and, more importantly, outside the closed area has grown significantly. My view has
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always been that closed areas, if supported by the scientific evidence, are likely to play an important part in our future management of marine resources. That is another subject that the UK intends to prioritise during our presidency of the EU next year, and my officials are already exploring the benefits of a network of such areas as part of the follow-up to the strategy unit report.

This annual debate has traditionally concentrated on the commercial marine fishing sector in advance of the all-important December Council. However, as its title is "Fisheries", it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the important and growing role played by recreational angling, both at sea and in our lakes and rivers. Britain's most popular recreational pastime goes from strength to strength. The importance of angling, and sea angling in particular, has not always been recognised in the past, and I want to give anglers a greater say in how we manage our fisheries.

The UK has remained at the forefront of international efforts to protect the whale. At this year's international whaling conference, we helped to resist attempts by Japan and others to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling. We will continue to work with like-minded countries and world opinion to stop the small handful of whaling nations and their allies trying to weaken the protection that those magnificent mammals enjoy.

Turning to our priorities for the annual Council of Ministers meeting just before Christmas, as always, the UK's priority is to maximise opportunities for our fishermen while ensuring that fish stocks are not over-exploited. The latest scientific advice should mean that the Council can agree an increased total allowable catch for some stocks, including western monkfish and megrim, as well as west of Scotland nephrops, However, tough decisions are likely on stocks that are not doing so well, including plaice and sole in the south-west, cod in the North sea, the west of Scotland and the Irish sea, and sand eels.

This year, my officials and I have gone to extra lengths to include industry representatives in discussions in the run-up to the Council. We will continue to keep in close touch with them until and during the meeting. That unprecedented co-operation helped to achieve a satisfactory outcome to the potentially difficult EU-Norway negotiations last week. It is unlikely that the industry will get everything that it would like out of the December Council, but I believe that the way in which we have worked together over the past year will make it easier for the UK to make a more robust and coherent case.

Finally, during last month's Council meeting, I, along with my Scottish colleague, Ross Finnie, had the opportunity to meet the new Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, on his first day in his new office. We had a wide-ranging and friendly conversation in which Mr. Finnie and I outlined to Mr. Borg and his officials our main concerns and priorities. I am pleased to tell the House that Mr. Borg accepted our invitation to visit the UK early in the new year.

3.39 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to fishermen who lost their lives or were injured last year. My figures show that 27 vessels
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were reported lost and 11 men died. In his statement, the Minister mentioned several more recent deaths. I extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those brave men who put their lives at risk in order to supply us with a healthy and popular food. We owe them more than we are offering them today—a mere three-hour Adjournment debate jammed in at the end of the week, after two lengthy and important statements.

The annual fishing debate used to take a full day, and it was intended to give the Minister a mandate before he set off for Brussels and the annual Fisheries Council. We are in no position to do that today. The only document available is a transcript of oral evidence taken by a Sub-Committee of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired in his inimitable, colourful manner by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). We have not seen the Commission proposals and we have no basis for a serious discussion. All we can do is wish the Minister the best of luck on 21 and 22 December.

The Minister will be presented with a huge amount of material, much of it inaccurate and most of it out of date, and decisions of great complexity will be taken at very short notice. I urge him to keep the representatives of the industry in the loop. At last year's Council they were left alone and ignored in their hotels, and a settlement for the North sea was agreed without their advice. The details turned out to be totally impractical. I am not suggesting that they have a veto, as the Minister said in questions two weeks ago, just that they be consulted on the practical consequences of any proposals that he may be about to agree to. Those men represent an industry that has been forced to accept huge reductions in capacity and opportunity in recent years, and with enlargement it looks as though the opportunities may be further reduced.

Since last year's debate I have visited numerous fishing communities around our coast—Aberdeen, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Shetlands, Whalsay, Ullapool, Stornoway, Plymouth, Brixham, Hastings, Folkestone, Scarborough, Whitby, and, most poignantly, Fleetwood, twice. Fleetwood has seen the number of vessels fall from 64 to 25. I met the manager of an engineering company who only 20 years ago employed 120 people. He now employs one fitter.

I was told on my first visit about the high level of discards in the Irish sea and I simply did not believe it, so I returned two weeks later to see for myself. I spent the night of the 14–15 October on the trawler Kiroan. In order to fish 22 days per month, 80 mm mesh must be used for plaice. If 110 mm mesh is used, Phil Dell, the skipper, told me, his days at sea are reduced by five and his business is no longer viable. We set off and I instructed him to set one trawl of his twin rig with 80 mm mesh and the other with 110 mm mesh.

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