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The annual wrangling over quotas oppresses fishing communities every year at this time. I understand that there are proposals to change the system, with some TACs being agreed earlier in the year but others continuing to be decided in December. My
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understanding is that most of the stocks that affect Scottish fishermen will still be dealt with in December, so the annual depression up to Christmas will continue as we await the outcome of talks. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

I also urge Members to remember that it is not just the fishing industry that is important, but the onshore industry that backs it up. Angus still has a buoyant fish processing industry, which produces a great deal of fish for supermarkets and other outlets up and down the country. The famous delicacy from my area is the Arbroath smokie, which can be bought in many London supermarkets. Again, that industry depends on the supply of haddock, which, as we have heard time and again, is in danger from the proposed cut in the cod by-catch. If that is put into effect, much of the industry will go.

I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) and her proposal for a moratorium on fishing. She never answered the question posed by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye about what fishermen were to do during such a moratorium. I urge her to consider what happened to the herring industry. In Scotland and the north of England, there was once a buoyant herring industry. People used to move around the coast following the herring. Because of difficulties with stocks, however, the industry was closed down and never recovered. When the herring came back, no one was left to fish it. We should therefore be careful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) dealt with the question of the role of climate change at some length. I do not intend to repeat what he said, other than to urge the Minister to ensure that such important research is fully taken into account before any more damage is inflicted on an important Scottish industry. I hope that he will take that far more seriously than the Secretary of State for Scotland seems to take it.

Fishing communities are increasingly cynical about the scientific evidence produced by ICES, which, as we have heard, has for the fifth year in succession asked for no cod to be caught. Year after year, our fishermen have argued that cod are moving north. The new scientific evidence, which has been alluded to, seems to back that up. Certainly, there seems to be plenty of cod in the waters around Iceland and the Faroes. Perhaps the problem is not with the cod so much as with climate change. As most people recognise, however, the effect of climate change on the ecosystems of the sea is a complex matter, and it is vital that that is investigated fully. There is no point in continuing with a recovery plan if there is no chance of the cod coming back, as seems to be the case.

I repeat the point that I made last year: haddock is suffering from efforts to save cod. If one goes into any supermarket in London, one will find loads of cod for sale, from cod nibbles to fish fingers to whole cod. I appreciate that some of that might be imported cod, and not from local sources, but if more effort was made to encourage people to eat more sustainable fish such as haddock, some of the problem might be tackled. I would be wary of some of the big supermarkets’ efforts to claim that they are only getting fish from sustainable stocks. A few years ago, there was a movement towards hoki as an alternative, but I understand that the hoki
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industry completely collapsed as well, and one rarely sees hoki these days. Again, we should be careful.

There is plenty of evidence that the North sea contains lots of haddock. It is the main fishery for Scottish fishermen, and it is imperative that it is not imperilled because of an obsession with the cod by-catch, without taking into account the important new evidence on climate change. I appreciate that the Minister wants to wind up, so I shall conclude on that point.

5.39 pm

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have had a good debate, and I will start with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who took a lot of stick from the old sea dogs of these fisheries debates from the past and, I hope, the future. But I found her speech refreshing, because these debates are, inevitably I suppose, dominated by Members who represent mainly commercial fishing interests. Generally, they want me to go to Brussels next week and bring back more fish for their fishermen. There are more than 20 other Fisheries Ministers from around the European Union who I imagine are being asked to do exactly the same by their MPs. That is one of the reasons why we are in the mess we are in, and why our European and global fish stocks are in such a mess. I am afraid that there are inevitable political pressures for short-term gains that result in long-term pain. Although I did not agree with everything that my hon. Friend said, I hope that she will continue to research the subject and attend these debates. It was important that the voices of the people that she represents, who are deeply concerned about fish stocks in our waters and internationally, were heard. She certainly ensured that that was the case.

I was also pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) spoke up on behalf of the recreational fishermen in fresh water and at sea because theirs is another voice that traditionally has not been heard loudly in these debates. As my hon. Friend rightly said, they make an enormous contribution in overall terms to the economy and to conservation. They are fishermen and conservationists, which is where we want to try to move the whole of our fishing industry. My hon. Friend went through a list of issues that he hoped would be addressed by the secondary legislation that we announced today in response to the independent Warren review of 2000. I can assure him that all of those—movements of non-native invasive species, salmon and trout protection, eels, blockages to spawning, feeding grounds and fish thefts—will be addressed in the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and several other hon. Members said that we should have an early marine Bill. I want to see such a Bill as early as we can possibly get one, but I also want a Bill that is well thought out and will stand the test of time. Most hon. Members who know about this area appreciate that this country is trying to do something—by taking an holistic approach to marine management—that no other country has tried to do. We are trying to do that against a devolutionary backdrop, which is complex. This is the first piece of major legislation that the Government have attempted to get on the statute book with such far-reaching devolutionary complexities and repercussions. Inevitably that involves a lot of discussion with colleagues
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in Scotland and Wales and with other Government Departments. We have promised to publish a White Paper in the spring and I hope that all hon. Members will respond to that. We will propose legislation as soon as we can.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am reluctant to give way because I have so much to respond to, but I will on this one occasion.

Mr. Salmond: Is the Minister at one with the Scottish Fisheries Minister in his attitude to individual transferable quotas? Does the Minister support the policy? Does the Scottish Minister oppose it? What will be the resolution of that conflict?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will come to that later if I have time; that may encourage the hon. Gentleman not to intervene any more.

The port represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) has probably been one of the hardest hit in recent years in terms of its commercial catching sector. I shall endeavour to go to the Council next week to see whether we can get some of the things she asked us to try for. We are proposing the scheme on data collection to the Commission formally and we hope to get support for that. I was very pleased to hear about the health and stability of her processing sector, which I have visited during the past 12 months, and particularly about her shellfish sector exporting all around the world. No decisions have yet been made on the points that she raised on the European fisheries fund, but we will consult about them next year and I hope that she will respond in due course.

I also take on board my hon. Friend’s concerns—and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and others—about wind farms. One of the reasons why we desperately need this new marine legislation is so that we can resolve some of the potential conflicts in the marine environment more quickly and ensure that if fishermen are adversely affected they are at least properly compensated and proper space is allowed for them to continue their activities, because it is inevitable that we will need more renewable offshore energy. I hope that that issue can be resolved in the marine Bill.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) raised several issues. He suggested that it was time that pressure was put on other countries. We achieved progress on that at last year’s Fisheries Council; the hit that we took was less than those taken by the types of fisheries operated in other countries. There is recognition at the European Commission that the UK has taken the biggest hit in terms of cod recovery, and in respect of the amount that we have reduced our fleet by—two thirds in the case of the white fish fleet. We will certainly make the same arguments again; when the proposals are finalised and negotiated, we will make the point that we think that we have already contributed more than anybody else. However, it is wrong to suggest that other countries have not taken pain as well; the industries of Denmark,
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the Netherlands and Ireland have. But the hon. Gentleman is right that there needs to be a level playing field.

We will argue for a roll-over for cod because of the review and the state of the 2005 year class. However, I have to say that I would be being pretty optimistic if I were to allow myself to think that we will get that, given the recommendations made by the Fisheries Council and the pressure that it is under from the environment directorate-general.

I have already dealt with the marine Bill. On funding, we will have to see what happens in the 2007 comprehensive spending review, but as long as I have been in my current job at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs I have done my best to argue the case for the marine and fisheries bit of the Department, and if the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire looks at some of the figures for the past few months he might notice that I have argued with some success on that front. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the regional advisory councils, and I was grateful for the thanks of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby for the financial support that we have been giving them. Contrary to the many predictions that were made by some in the industry and some in this House that they would be a talking shop, they are playing a meaningful role. As I said at that time, if they can prove themselves by offering good and sensible advice, they might be able to accrue more powers to themselves, particularly as we move towards the common fisheries policy review in 2011.

Since my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) entered the House he has become a doughty champion of the fishermen in his constituency, and he made a number of very good points. He spoke about the three-yearly deals on some species. There are already long-term management plans for some species, and a new rule was recently introduced that only in exceptional circumstances should the tax and quotas go up or down by more than 15 per cent. That was an attempt to introduce for the sector a little certainty and the possibility of long-term management. That is one of the reasons why we have achieved more stability than previously in the last two or three years, and we shall certainly try to get the Commission to stick to that.

A number of Members, including the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), raised climate change, and I addressed that in an earlier exchange. I hear what people say about the role of climate change in respect of cod in the North sea, and I know that there is a natural tendency in the industry to grasp on to that as a reason why cod has declined. But let me read from the recent report that the hon. Gentleman referred to, because he did not refer to all of it. It states that:

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But it continues:

The advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea does not support the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that in parts of the North sea, cod is extinct so there is no point in worrying about it.

The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) made a number of detailed points, about which the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) has also written to me. I should be very happy to receive a delegation—from both Members, if the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon does not mind discussing with a neighbouring Member of Parliament the issues that he raised today. We are aware of the position regarding species of ray, and we are trying to get the Commission to distinguish between the various species, so that his Bristol channel fishermen are not hit in the way that he fears. Consultation is currently under way, so we have some time to address the issue.

The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon also raised the issue of the minimum landing size for bass that we announced earlier this year. The counter-argument was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, who, in making the case for what we are doing, wished that we had gone further. As he said, 42 cm is the size at which most female bass start to spawn, so if we allow them to grow to that size we will get not only more but bigger fish. As I said in my introduction, in the short term that will involve some pain for certain fishermen, particularly inshore fishermen in the south-west. However, just as with the registration of buyers and sellers, in the medium to long term they will benefit from the increased landing size and the increased number of bass in exactly the same way as recreational fishermen. We carried out a long public consultation, based on research, which showed that the vast majority of the beneficiaries will be our own fishermen, because the bass that are caught are moving within our own waters—even within the six-mile area to which other fishermen do not have access.

The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon also mentioned Belgian trawlers. Our information is that there is no evidence of fishing activity by any Belgian vessels over 220 kW converted to twin otter trawling within 12 miles of the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, with the exception of one vessel in excess of 221 kW that fished with twin otter trawls for four hours in the six to 12 mile zone off the coast of Devon. The same vessel also fished for 48 hours to the north of Lundy island in the outer belt toward the end of June. The major Belgian effort in the Celtic sea occurs outside the 12 mile zone, between Cape Cornwall and Milford Haven. However, if the hon. and learned Gentleman has more up-to-date information than that, I should be happy to look at it.

I omitted to respond to a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool made about conflicts off the north-east coast involving some French vessels. There has been one successful prosecution and as I understand it, the problem has been amicably resolved. However, I think he said that further problems have occurred—it might have been my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby—in that two of the eight
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French vessels are not adhering to the agreement. I will certainly have another look at this issue and get back to him, if I may.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby was keen to put lead in my pencil and to ensure that I do not take my eye off the ball in Brussels next week; as always, I shall try to reflect the former and not to do the latter. I take on board the points that he made about the recommendations on tax and quotas. He is absolutely right to say that, in cases where quotas have not been fully taken up in the previous year, it does not make sense to reduce the quota as a result. As he said, that introduces an incentive along the lines of, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” We may have some success in persuading the Commission of that argument, but we shall have to wait, as we usually have to do, until we see its first compromise proposal next Tuesday. My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that we have already defended the 2.9 per cent. figure as part of the EU-Norway agreement.

We have not ruled out decommissioning completely—in fact, we are holding out the prospect of some decommissioning in the south-west if we get a sole recovery plan for the English channel. However, we have come to the view that in general terms, decommissioning is not a sensible use of public money because it is not the best way to reduce capacity in the fleet for the long term.

I turn to the contribution—I hope it is not the last during a fisheries debate in this House—of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. He pointed to the contrast between the more optimistic analysis of the state of the industry that I gave and the briefing that he had been given by the Scottish Fisheries Federation. I suspect that that is because it was briefing him on this debate in advance of the Council negotiations and, as he knows as he has been doing this for a long time, the recommendations that are made initially tend to be quite tough and we do not usually end up in the same place. Indeed, I would not expect anything less from the Scottish Fisheries Federation. It will of course brief the hon. Gentleman that the proposals are very serious and something needs to be done about them. As I have already said, I will do what I can.

It is also fair to point out that in October the president of the federation, Alex West, told its annual dinner in Edinburgh that the feel-good factor was coming back. He said that prices this year have exceeded all expectations and that it has been a good year in some sectors. He said that for some it may be a record year. At the same dinner, his chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said that there was a new optimism in the air. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that although everything in the garden is not rosy, Fishing News reports that his port is heading for a record year. It states:

I take the hon. Gentleman’s points about the importance of obtaining as good a deal as possible for his constituents, within sustainable fishing limits, but the last year has not been a bad one for them—partly due, I suspect, to assiduous lobbying on their behalf for which he is well known.

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