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Mr. Salmond: Is there anything I can do to have such things bestowed on me by Santa Bradshaw? Is there any way in which I can persuade the Minister to provide such largesse for my hard-pressed constituency?

Mr. Foster: I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman should carry on voting Labour.

Even within the context of the under 10 m sector, I can offer a third thank you to the Minister. I thank him for setting up the process whereby following the report of the Prime Minister's strategy unit—as I have said, that constitutes the first involvement of No. 10 for many years—meetings have been arranged between representatives of the under 10 m fleet and DEFRA, in my area at least. Such dialogue will undoubtedly lead to better understanding, at the very least.

The strategy unit report recognised the need to protect small fishing communities, not—I acknowledge—because they were of massive economic importance in
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themselves, but because in many such areas the wider community depends on their survival. That applies very much to my constituency. Why would one want to visit the town of Rye and its harbour if the harbour were not kept open for fishing? Why would one want to go to Hastings old town, but for the net huts and the charm of the boats on the beach? While small fishing communities are important for historic and cultural reasons, they have a wider economic value in their wider community.

What can be done? As the Minister will know, for cod fishing purposes the eastern channel is bizarrely treated as part of the North sea. The idea of Hastings and Rye being on the North sea is certainly bizarre. Perhaps my first request should be for a more realistic attitude to the way in which the European areas are zoned: there is a particular reason for that in the eastern channel.

My fisherman constituents firmly believe that the eastern channel is overstocked with cod. As has been said, area VIId is treated as part of the North sea for cod stock assessment purposes, and TAC cuts in the North sea apply to that area as well. However, the validity of that grouping was based on work done by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science back in 1964—under another Labour Government, true, but many decades ago. My constituents say that that historic calculation is no longer valid. They believe that the cod are of a different stock from those in the North sea, and that the eastern channel cod are particularly plentiful. Indeed, it is impossible not to catch them.

Therefore, a fourth thank you is due to the Minister for his agreement to look again at the science relating to the eastern channel. He has now approved a new research project which CEFAS will undertake to identify and quantify the stock. I do not know how long that survey is likely to take, but I welcome the Minister's initiative and hope that the outcomes will be known very soon. If they justify my constituents' belief that area VIId should be separated, my constituents should be allowed to fish in a way that is more appropriate to the available stock. In the meantime, while the issues are under review, alternative arrangements will be necessary. It is simply impossible for my constituents to survive on the small cod catches that their current licences permit.

For the past two years, the small boats in the eastern channel have not even caught the quota permitted for their sector, due to the over-restrictiveness of the licensing conditions imposed on their individual catches. Of course, my hon. Friend the Minister has sorted things out for this year, but we need to do something for the years to come. Incidentally, this procedure is not necessarily covered by European law. Other member states, which need only to estimate the under 10 m catch, do just that. There is no regulation requiring small limits and licensing conditions for such fleets. The Minister has therefore made a wise decision in suspending the licence conditions for this year-end period, thereby perhaps enabling the catching of something nearer the permitted quota. But does he agree that next year, it would be helpful to come up with a different scheme from the very beginning?

As I have pointed out, a monthly limit of 750 kg for a boat with a crew of one equates to a weekly wage of £66. If the boat is unable to take its monthly quota because of the existing conditions, even that income is lost. My constituents therefore propose that the
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monthly allocations be scrapped altogether. The cod fishery could be left open and unrestricted until all the channel quota has been caught. It also seems reasonable that the eastern channel share of the cod quota be separately determined, given that 67 per cent. of fishermen who target channel cod are based in that area. I think that the Minister can rely on the good sense of my fishermen constituents to make the quota last through to the year's end. I certainly hope that he takes that point on board in respect of next year's arrangements. Indeed, is it really necessary to have a licensed quota at all for these very small boats?

It is believed that the French do not rely on cod to the same extent as fishermen in the eastern channel. Although this is never an easy task, could the Minister, in this, the year of the entente cordiale, speak to his French counterparts and persuade them to surrender just a little of their unused quota?

Finally, I should point out that my fishermen constituents have been cruelly deceived, in that they have been told that it is somehow possible to abandon the common fisheries policy, which they wish to do, without leaving the European Union. They are indeed happy to leave the EU, but I wonder whether the Minister knows of any other nation among the 25 EU nations that could negotiate abandoning the CFP without leaving the EU altogether.

5.37 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Other Members have remarked on the fact that this is merely a three-hour debate. That is undoubtedly true, but for my constituents and for the fishing industry in my constituency, it is probably the most important three hours in the parliamentary year. I am therefore very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part yet again in such a debate.

Unfortunately, unlike the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—he is not in his place— I cannot boast a long pedigree of participation in such debates. In fact, this is my fourth such debate, and I do detect a slight improvement in tone this year, and perhaps a feeling of cautious optimism among Members representing fishing constituencies. I wrote down the phrase "cautious optimism" while making notes during the debate, but on mature reflection it was perhaps a gross overstatement. For my part, it might be more accurate to say that I do not feel quite as pessimistic as in recent years; hopefully, that is an indication of movement in the right direction.

Of course, such feelings might simply reflect the fact that this debate is being held at an earlier point. Come 8 December, when we know the full extent of the Commission's proposals for the industry, we might feel very differently. However, I thank the Minister for responding to my earlier intervention by saying that those of us who represent fishing constituencies and the associated industries will have further opportunities for dialogue with him and his officials.

The Minister must be aware of the need to involve fishing industry representatives throughout the whole Council process—a point discussed at the last DEFRA questions, which I want to re-emphasise today. As
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proposals and counter-proposals emerge, the industry's views must be sought and listened to. It is not a question of giving anyone—either fishermen or conservationists—a veto, but the fishermen must be heard in the course of the process. If that had happened last year, I remain convinced that we would not have been left with a system that, for white fishing in the North sea, verged on the unworkable. We spoke last year about unintended consequences, and we found ourselves in June unpicking some of the unintended consequences of things that could have been done better in December. I certainly hope that that lesson will have been learned.

The Minister referred in his speech, and it was echoed by others, to the establishment of the North Sea regional advisory council. Given that it was part of the Fisheries Council from 2001, if not 2002, it is fair to say that its establishment was long overdue. The Minister will accept that it also remains the subject of a fair degree of scepticism among the fishing industry. Having said that, I am pleased to see that it is now up and running and I take the view that the council has made a good start. In particular, its working party on demersal stocks has produced an excellent provisional opinion, to which both industry representatives and conservationists have been able to sign up. The important point is that the Commission and the member states must listen to the views expressed. If not, the fishing industry's scepticism will be felt to be justified. Frankly, I could not dispute that analysis.

There has been concern for some time about the science and I hope that the regional advisory councils will be able to make some progress in that regard. It seems incredible that, at the end of 2004, we are still using figures that are more than 12 months out of date. The data on which next year's decisions are being made, taking us to the end of 2005, will be almost two years out of date by the time they are finished with.

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