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Mr. Bradshaw: I will check up on that and write to the hon. Gentleman. That relative increase was also connected with the reduction in the effort on cod that we had already made. We persuaded the Commission and that has not changed, so I do not anticipate any problem but I will check with officials after the debate and write back to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also raised the subject of the search and rescue helicopter. I addressed that at the beginning of the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, had discussions with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport about that today. I am sure he will be happy to update the hon. Gentleman at an early opportunity.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned frontloading, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). Frontloading is a horrible piece of jargon that means trying to do as much work as possible before the December Council so that one does not end up dealing with a lot of detail at the last minute through days and nights and inevitably making mistakes.
Mr. MacNeil: I thank the Minister for his time. If any concerns emerge over the next few days about the change of the helicopters at Stornoway and in Orkney and Shetland, may I count on the Minister to be diligent within the Government in representing the concerns, particularly those of fishermen?
Mr. Bradshaw: It may be more useful for the hon. Gentleman to go through the Scottish Executive, but if he wants to make representations to me about the matter, of course I will pass them on to ministerial colleagues.
I accept the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that there has not been as much frontloading this autumn as we had hoped, but there has been some and it has made a difference. For example, we have managed to secure agreement on technical measures in the Baltic, which will be significant for the long-term sustainability of the fisheries there. We have also had useful policy discussions on principles in advance of the December Council. The timetable for the science reporting, the Commission's proposals being made, and Governments, industry and other bodies being able to make representations about those has improved somewhat.
As was pointed out, we are not in a position this year where we do not have an EU/Norway agreement. We have one, and it is a very good agreement. I congratulate my officials, as I should have done earlier, on their hard work. Still acting as UK fisheries officials under the presidency, they have also had to deal with difficult technical negotiations in Brussels involving all the other 24 member states. Some hon. Members have covered fisheries issues for a long time in the House. It would be a brave hon. Member who described himself as an
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expert in the UK fishing industry, but to become an expert in a few months on the fishing industries of 24 other countries is quite some feat, and my officials have done an excellent job.
Sir Robert Smith: The Minister has pointed out that the negotiations are detailed and technical. Does he therefore feel that there is scope to involve fishermen's representatives on the EU side in those negotiations? The Norwegians directly involve their fishermen in their negotiating team, and bringing the expertise of those who must cope with whatever is agreed with Norway into the negotiations might help to bring fishermen onside and engage them in the process.
Mr. Bradshaw: There is always scope to consider whether we can do a better job involving the industry and other interested parties early in the process, which is one of the rationales behind our putting the matter on the agenda, getting it debated and obtaining a commitment from Commissioner Borg to publish in April an action plan on the review of the fisheries year.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) has mentioned including representatives of the fishing industry in the negotiating team, but I am not a great fan of sub-contracting such negotiations to anybody. In September, we failed to reach an agreement on conservation in the Mediterranean, and one of the member states with a strong interest had its industry representatives in the salle d'écoute watching proceedings. Such negotiations are supposed to take place between Ministers and behind closed doors, so that horse-trading can go on. Such negotiations can be reduced to Ministers with no officials, which happened in the sugar negotiations in the week before last. It sometimes takes political will and courage to reach an agreement on a difficult subject, and it is not necessarily sensible to conduct negotiations with people who have a strong interest one way or the other looking over one's shoulder or even watching on television.
It is important that we keep in close touch with our industry, and there has been a sea change in DEFRA's approach. The Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department has also improved its act in recent years on involving and informing the industry. It works closely with the industry to establish the industry's priorities and to deal with the Commission's proposals as they are made, so that we can get the best possible deal for the UK industry that is also based on sustainability.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also raised the issue of industrial fisheries. The current recommendation is for a continued closure, which has been welcomed on both sides of the House, with a monitoring catch of around 25,000 tonnes and a review part of the way through next year25,000 tonnes might sound like a lot, but last year's TAC was 660,000 tonnes. The new quota is a huge improvement, and it has been a long-term aim of successive UK Governments. It is nice that it has been achieved, although I wish that it had happened a little bit sooner.
Like a number of other hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman raised the importance of nephrops and prawns. Twenty years ago, few people would have said that the UK nephrops industry would easily be the most valuable part of our fishing industry in 2005. The health of the nephrops stock, which is being exploited sustainably, is one reason why the fishing industry is doing well. Thanks to some chivvying by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, other SNP Members and others, we have established fisheries science partnerships to evaluate the evidence, which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan always said was there, on an increase in the TAC. My officials have been very successful in doing that this year. The Commission proposes a 39 per cent. increase in the TAC in the west of Scotland and a 31 per cent. increase in the North sea. I am sure that that will be welcomed by fishermen and their parliamentary representatives in all constituencies with an interest in the matter. It will also be of great interest to Northern Ireland Members, who are no longer present, because some Northern Irish fishermen fish in the west of Scotland.
We are also arguing for an increase in the TAC in the Irish sea. As there has not been a similar fisheries science partnership there, the Commission does not propose any increase; indeed, it proposes a decrease. We will argue against that. It does not make sense to argue that the stock in the west of Scotland is doing well enough to allow a 39 per cent. increase but say that there should be no increase at all in the Irish sea. We will also argue for an increase in the plaice TAC in the Irish sea. One of the reasons why the Commission is recommending a reduction, despite the fact that that stock is in extremely good shape at the moment, is that it argues that there is a relationship with cod. We do not accept that. We will argue for a 20 per cent. increase, which will be of great benefit to the industry, not least in places such as Fleetwood, where people feel that they have had a very raw deal in recent years.
The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) made some sensible remarks about scientific evidence. I have already described some of the ways in which we have been working with the industry. In recent years, we have spent about £5 million on fisheries science partnerships. That has not only helped to improve the quality of the science but enabled us to negotiate better deals for sectors of the industry. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that certification is important. He is right to point out
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the error of whoever suggested that haddock should be taken off the House of Commons menu. Anyone who knows anything about fisheries could have told the person who made that decision that haddock is in good shape. Indeed, we should be encouraging people to eat a lot more of it. I sometimes wish that my kith and kin in the south of England had the same taste for haddock as people in the north and in Scotland. It would help cod if we southerners were automatically served haddock with our chips instead of codalthough most of the cod that we eat comes from sustainable fisheries in other parts of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, as well as talking about front-loading and other issues that I have already covered, asked about the grant for safety in his part of the world. Following the meeting that we had, I made it clear to the regional development agency that there were no reasons why that money could not be granted. It is now up to the RDA to decide whether it thinks that it is value for money. As far as we are concerned, it is free to make the grant. The subject was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill).
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) was one of the few Members to talk about the importance of enforcement. I welcome that. If I can put it in terms that Members who represent fishing communities will understand, if we are to negotiate good deals in Brussels and elsewhere, we must be able to convince the Commission that our system is solid and sound. It helps us to get good deals if we can produce evidence that we are enforcing the rules.
That leads me to a point that the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby made when he talked about a case in his constituency. I hope that he would not expect me to comment on any individual case, but I stress to him and to other hon. Members that the illegal catching of black fish is theft, pure and simple. It is theft of a natural resource and theft from other fishermen. If we do not get a handle on it, we will lose out in negotiating good deals for the hon. Gentleman's constituents and those of other Members. Such catching will also lead to a depletion of stocks, and we all know what that means. It is bad for the fishing industry as a whole, bad for the environment, and bad for the communities that the hon. Gentleman represents. I hope that all hon. Members would stand up for good enforcement and support the very important work done by our enforcement officers, many of whom are former fishermen, in difficult and sometimes very hostile circumstances.
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