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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 24 January 2005


Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 21 and 22 December 2004; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [209495]

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I represented the UK at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 21–22 December 2004. Fisheries Ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland were also present.

The main items for decision were on fisheries. The Council agreed on Total Allowable Catches and quotas for 2005 and on related measures. Much of the discussion at Council centred on the need for further measures to protect depleted cod stocks.

The Commission had proposed a series of closed areas in the North Sea. Ministers, however, were not convinced of the case for the Commission's proposal which would have significant impact on the fishing industry but without clear benefit for the North Sea cod stock. The UK believes that closed areas have a part to play in fisheries management and we indicated at the Council that we would be willing to consider more radical measures, including closed areas, if the scientific advice on the state of stocks justified such an approach.

The Council agreed a general reduction in fishing days within the North Sea, west of Scotland, and Eastern Channel to protect cod stocks. However, in recognition of the role that large mesh gear plays in reducing catches of juvenile fish, the Council agreed that fishermen using mesh of 120 mm mesh should receive an extra day, subject to administrative sanctions for infringements. The UK's mixed cod/haddock/whiting fleet already uses 120 mm and will, therefore continue to be able to fish for 15 days per month as soon as the new arrangements are in place.

The Council also agreed to implement UK proposals for improved controls to ensure that illegal landings do not undermine cod recovery and for scientific monitoring of discarding. The European Commission will present detailed proposals to improve control and enforcement in early 2005.

The Council agreed to apply days at sea limits to the western Channel to protect the sole stock. Fishermen fishing with beam trawls or fixed nets will be restricted to 20 days fishing in the area per month.
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Ministers agreed that the closure to demersal fishing of an area to the West of Scotland (the 'windsock' closure) should continue in the same form as in 2004. For the sixth successive year, there will be a closure on the western Irish Sea in the spring to protect the spawning stock. The UK reached a bilateral agreement with Ireland to take forward a review of the Irish Sea closure with industry participation. Fishermen who spend most of their time in the Irish Sea will receive one additional fishing day (instead of two in 2004) in recognition of the reduction in effort as a result of the closure. The Council also agreed to implement a proposal from the UK, French and Irish industries for a cod spawning closure in the area between south west England and Ireland from January to March. However at the request of Belgium, there will be a derogation for beam trawlers in January.

The UK secured at the Council a number of increases in Total Allowable Catches in commercially important stocks where there was scientific evidence that previous TACs were out of line with the real abundance of the stocks. This meant that fishermen were having to unnecessarily discard catches with no conservation benefit. The stocks concerned were:
2005 TAC (tonnes)Percentage increase
Western Channel sole865188
Western monkfish25,08220
Monkfish (North Sea/west of Scotland)(1)15,000
West of Scotland nephrops12,70012
Irish Sea nephrops19,54412

(1) With the prospect of a further increase with agreement on management measures early in 2005.

The Council also reached agreement on cuts in fishing effort and quotas on deep sea stocks. A closed area will be introduced to protect orange roughy which is thought to be particularly at risk. There will be a review of management arrangements for deep sea stocks in 2005.

The European Commission presented a Communication on simplification of the Common Fisheries Policy and this will be followed by an action plan next year.

On agriculture, the Presidency reported on two conferences that had considered the handling of animal disease outbreaks, including zoonoses (animal diseases transmissible to humans), from both the financial and disease control angles. The Commission indicated that it would be taking forward work in this area with a view to developing a more strategic approach to animal health. I strongly supported this initiative.

The Council held an orientation debate on measures to deal with illegally logged timber imports. I joined a number of delegations in welcoming progress in this area while noting that further work to counter attempts at circumvention of EU controls was needed. I also welcomed the Commission's intention to work closely with interested NGOs on this subject.

The Council endorsed conclusions on the application of cross compliance conditions in the reformed CAP. Member states agreed to review the working of these provisions in the light of further experience.
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The Agriculture Commissioner informed the Council of her intention to prepare a paper reflecting on the possibilities for further simplification of the CAP; it will come to the Council towards the end of 2005.

Under other business, Hungary, supported by several producing member states, expressed concern about the protection of geographical indications for wine in the EU/Australia wine agreement.

Sweden sought views from the Commission on its plans for proposals to improve the welfare of farmed livestock and the Commission indicated that further work on pig welfare would be undertaken in 2005 and proposals on broiler and laying hen welfare were also likely.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the current state of play in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations and Commissioner Fischer Boel reported on her recent contacts with other parties in Geneva.

Air Pollution

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received suggesting a relationship between cancer in under-16s and air pollution. [210203]

Alun Michael: The Department has not received any representations on this subject in the recent past.

However, we are aware that a report has recently been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggesting such a relationship. The report evaluated childhood cancer by linking residence and migration of children who had fatal tumours (who died 1966–80) with emission data from the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) data for 2001.

The Department of Health has advised as follows:

One of the issues the COC will need to consider is the validity of the assessment of exposure for children who died in 1966–80 based on emission maps for the year 2001. The magnitude and location of pollution sources is likely to have changed dramatically between these two periods. For instance, emissions of the two pollutants suggested as posing the greatest risk, 1,3-butadiene and carbon monoxide, declined by 64 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively between 1990 and 2001.

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the Government's strategy is for reducing (a) air pollution and (b) the impact of air pollution on (i) the environment and (ii) human health. [210204]

Alun Michael: The Government's policies on improving air quality are set out in detail in the "Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and
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Northern Ireland", published in January 2000 and Addendum, published in February 2003. The Strategy includes objectives for the main pollutants of concern to protect people's health and ecosystems and explains the measures that are in place to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants from all sectors, including road transport and industry. Copies are available via the Department's website at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/airquality.

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