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Mr. Salmond: Ecosystems change. Fishing activity changes as do fishing patterns. I made the point recently during a meeting that we used to have a strong shrimp fishery in the Fladden. It is now a massive prawn fishery. That change has taken place only during the past 10 or 15 years. Not all changes are bad. Can the Minister give us a time scale on his welcome agreement to consider the idea of a grant for fuel-efficient engines, which would be a significant response to the enormous pressure of high fuel costs on the fleet? Is there a time scale, and how will he make the information available to right hon. and hon. Members?

Mr. Bradshaw: I was going to refer later to the issue of the future European fisheries fund, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool. However, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it, I will deal with it now. The time scale is not in our hands, as we depend on an agreement for a replacement to the financial instrument for fisheries guidance—FIFG—scheme, which runs out next year.

The House should be aware that something that concerns me about enlargement—largely, enlargement has been in the UK's strategic interest—and should concern others who care deeply about sustainable fisheries is that the process has shifted the balance of view within the EU away from the conservationist approach. Substantial pressure is being exerted by the southern European countries, in alliance with the eastern European countries, to reopen some of the issues that we managed to close in the 2002 reform, a reform which I think was welcomed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It phased out, for example, the iniquitous awarding of grants by some countries to build new boats, to which several hon. Members have referred.

It would be a retrograde step if we were to renege on those earlier commitments made as a result of the 2002 reform. One of the possible compromise areas is that we may be able to reach agreement with enough countries to maintain the ban on the use of grants to build new boats, while considering initiatives to improve fuel efficiency and to help the environment. That will not be in our hands. We had hoped to get an agreement on the new European fisheries fund during our presidency because we were worried that any agreement would be a step backwards from the 2002 reform, which we are not prepared to contemplate. We would rather wait until we are liberated from the presidency so that we can advance that argument more clearly.
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Mr. Hayes : Before the Minister moves on from white fish—he may be about to—to what does he attribute the decline of cod? Is it the record of industrial fishing and the effect that that has had on the ecosystem, is it environmental change and the changed water temperature, or is it the result of inadequate conservation measures? Have these factors affected cod stocks? Once the Minister has given us the reason, perhaps we shall be able to come up with a proper solution.

Mr. Bradshaw: One of the challenges for Governments around the world who wish to establish good and sustainable fishing policy is that there is uncertainty about the science. The overwhelming bulk of science, with the exception of a small number of mavericks, accepts that the single biggest impact on cod is over-fishing. There is no doubt about that. A role may be played by climate, and the hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a northward shift in species—it is not just cod that we are talking about—as we are now catching more exotic species off the south-west coast. However, just because climate is impacting on a species, it does not necessarily mean that one can fish it harder and solve the problem. That is not the case—proper controls are needed on over-fishing, otherwise stock will be written off.

Mr. Salmond: If over-fishing is the explanation, how, in a mixed cod and haddock fishery in the same area of the sea, can there be a record low for cod and a record biomass high for haddock? Would over-fishing not affect both species, rather than just one?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is not a record high any more. That was the case a year or two ago, and it was dependent on a single year class. Recruitment to such a class can make a huge difference to the biomass. I do not want to go into further technical detail, as I do not wish to detain the House much longer, and I wish to respond to many points made by hon. Members.

Mr. MacNeil: Has the Minister not made the case for environmental effects by highlighting the appearance of species in the south that are not usually seen there? Does that not underline the argument that the cod are migrating north?

Mr. Bradshaw: I was not arguing that there was a lack of evidence that the cod were migrating north. Fisheries scientists would agree that an overwhelming body of evidence suggests that over-fishing has had the biggest single impact on fish stocks. We need to inject some reality into our debate. Hon. Members who have participated today tend to represent fishing communities, but there are other interests that wish to protect the marine environment. While it is important that they talk to their fishermen, they should also talk to environmental organisations and the scientists who wrote the Royal Commission report, which is an important international report on the state of our seas in this country and elsewhere. They will find that there is general global consensus, with the exception, as I said, of one or two mavericks, that the single biggest impact on fish stocks is over-fishing by human beings.
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Mr. Hayes: I am grateful for the Minister's measured response to my initial intervention, which led to further interventions. If over-fishing, or what I described more generously as inadequate conservation measures, is responsible, can we conclude that the approach of the CFP, which has largely been about effort management and discard has been ineffective for conservation? Should we not have looked long ago at the proposals advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), including technical changes, closed areas and a different approach to spawning grounds, as they would have been more effective? According to the Minister, what he calls over-fishing is the problem, but is that not the responsibility of the CFP?

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall come on to that later. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that the existing system is based on effort control. In fact, that is the system advocated by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). There is some effort control in the current system, but it is mainly based on quotas. There is a debate about whether that is the best system, and we will discuss that later.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan asked a number of specific questions. I shall write to him about the aggregation of licences, as I am afraid that I have not been able to obtain the information that he requested. However, to repeat my earlier assurance, this is an issue on which there has been consultation, and the industry has been involved. He asked about the proposed increase in the mackerel TAC, and wondered why there was a difference between the scientific advice and the increases of 15 per cent. and 5 per cent. That TAC was the result of the EU-Norway agreement, so it is now fixed. Some TACs—I shall come on to haddock in a minute—are officially agreed in December, but are effectively dependent on the EU-Norway agreement. That TAC was the result of the negotiating of Norway, which did not want an increase in the TAC at all.

On the question whether quota should be released by banks, we are, as the hon. Gentleman knows, undertaking a major review of our quota management system and we are involving the industry in that. I should be pleased if the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring a delegation of industry representatives to talk to me or my officials to feed in their views as to how that should be taken forward. That will be an important element in putting our fishing industry on a sustainable footing in the long term.

As we have said on numerous occasions, we will resist the proposal for a cut in days for the white fish fleet. However, as I said earlier, other countries have not taken the same amount of pain as we have on cod recovery. They have not even provided the Commission with proper data. There may be scope for further tightening of the cod recovery regime in respect of such countries. Any impact that that may have on the UK fleet will, I hope, be more than offset by the very large TAC increase that we expect to get for prawns. I shall come to the details of that shortly. I know it is of great interest to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

I mentioned the issue of fuel costs.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister will recall that in my contribution I mentioned the 12 days at sea that were
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obtainable as a result of the administrative penalties elective measures. Can he confirm that he will fight to retain those days, which are extremely important?

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