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The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): It is not possible to provide a figure for UK seas because fish move around. Quotas are set for stocks in general and UK fishermen fish outside UK waters in the same way as fishermen from other member states fish inside UK waters. However, approximate estimates of the agreements reached on the stocks that the hon. Gentleman refers to would amount to removal of between 10 per cent. and 60 per cent., depending on the state of the stock. Of those stocks, the UK’s share of the total allowable catch ranges from 4 per cent. for North sea sole to 61 per cent. for west of Scotland plaice.

Mr. Pelling: I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, particularly for his great perception that fish move around. I am also grateful for the advice that I have received from Mr. McDermott, who runs the excellent McDermott fish and chip shops, which have won many awards. Speaking as an urban Member, it is important for me to ask questions about fishing policy, though it is very often Members representing ports who ask such questions. Is not 60 per cent. a devastating take? Would we not do better to follow the example of the Norwegians, who manage their Arctic cod stock in the Barents sea in co-operation with the EU and Russia? By having that sense of possession over our own seas while being co-operative with the EU, we could secure more effective management of our fish stock.

Mr. Bradshaw: I hate to inform the hon. Gentleman, but his Front Benchers have abandoned the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. I am told today by Dundee’s The Courier that the Conservative Scottish fisheries spokesman, Ted Brocklebank, is so outraged that he is planning his resignation. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a word with his Front Benchers.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will be aware of the impact of the burning of fossil fuels on the state of the ocean, on commercial fisheries and on quotas, so would he recommend that the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) visit the exhibition on oceans and climate change, which is displayed in the Upper Waiting Room? Other hon. Members should also pay a visit—if they have not already done so—while it is on this week to observe the scale of the problem and, indeed, to see some of the very exciting solutions ventured by the Plymouth marine science partnership, which is conducting the exhibition.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I certainly would recommend that all hon. Members visit the exhibition that is sponsored by my hon. Friend. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is going there at 11.30 this morning. My hon. Friend and the exhibition make very important points about the connection between the health of the marine environment and climate change. Our seas play a crucial role in absorbing CO2 and there is a danger that increasing acidification of the seas will help tip the balance even more severely towards global warming. Some fantastic technological solutions are being developed in my hon. Friend’s Plymouth constituency,
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which will not only help to mitigate that, but provide solutions to promote absorption of CO2 in the future.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Minister believe that there is a future for a fishing fleet catching whitefish in the United Kingdom? I ask that because the Minister with responsibility for fishing in Northern Ireland refused to give the tie-up aid for the Northern Ireland whitefish fleet. That will mean the decimation, the destruction and disappearance of our whitefish fleet. Is that policy the same throughout the UK?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has noted the comments of the representative of the Northern Ireland fishing industry after the December Council. He was full of praise for the agreement that was reached, not least because we managed to achieve a 17 per cent. increase in the quota for prawns for Northern Ireland fishermen. Prawns are their most important economic stock.

Of course there is a future for the whitefish fleet throughout the United Kingdom as long as we ensure that we do not overfish and exploit stocks unsustainably. The hon. Gentleman may have read in the Northern Ireland press this week, if the news was reproduced there, that the Government in the Irish Republic are planning a massive decommissioning scheme for their whitefish fleet in recognition of the problem that I outlined: in the past, our fishing fleet has not always been the right size for exploiting the stock.

Community Land Trusts

5. Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has to assess the use of community land trusts to underpin county council smallholdings. [117814]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): The Government have always encouraged authorities to maintain county council smallholdings, and I am aware of the good work of organisations such as the community land trust at Fordhill farm and Stroud Community Agriculture in my hon. Friend’s constituency in supporting smaller agricultural holdings. The management of county council smallholdings is ultimately a matter for individual authorities to determine.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for responding to the Adjournment debate a few weeks ago on the same topic. Like me, he perceives the value of county farm estates. However, will he continue to examine ways in which we can secure the future of those county farm estates? They are continually under review, which can sometimes lead to their sale. We must therefore consider solutions such as community land trusts. I hope that my hon. Friend and his officials will continue to investigate the matter.

Barry Gardiner: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the matter over many years. He may be interested to know about community finance solutions—an initiative by Salford university, which is undertaking a national demonstration programme that
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will partly support several community land trusts in their work and help local people establish them when necessary. I hope that that may form part of the solution that he seeks. I am aware that Gloucester county council is examining the matter on a case-by-case basis as the portfolio comes up for renewal to determine what it will do. That process has gone on for a long time and must be left to local decision makers. However, we should all be interested in the model of community land trusts for the future of farming.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I am sure that the Under-Secretary joins me in acknowledging the role that county council estates play. In the event of selling county council smallholdings, will he examine the rights of sitting tenants, especially those of their sons and daughters, so that their future in farming is not overlooked?

Barry Gardiner: I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point. Sometimes tenancies are held in a family for generations but suddenly come to an end as the land is disposed of. She is right to highlight the matter as requiring closer attention. We believe that tenancies give farmers the flexibility that they need to adopt new practices. They also provide an effective way into farming for people who could not otherwise farm. Indeed, their origin is in encouraging people to farm who did not have the land and the means to do it. In one sense, when generations have continued on the same smallholding, it is the equivalent of bed blocking. However, we must acknowledge that the matter is a genuine concern for many families and we should enable the next generation to continue in farming.

Environmental Liability Directive

6. Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Whether he plans to make special provisions for sites of special scientific interest when implementing the environmental liability directive. [117815]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): The Government are consulting on their proposed approach.

Mr. Hunt: According to GeneWatch UK, 11 sites of special scientific interest in my constituency are at risk of genetic and toxic pollution, including one site near Eashing farm in Godalming, where there are plans for a quarry, despite the deep reservations of many of my constituents. Will the Under-Secretary ensure that the directive is implemented in a way that gives proper protection to wildlife? That is one of my constituents’ biggest concerns about the often unpopular quarries.

Barry Gardiner: I understand the force not only of the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about sites of special scientific interest in his constituency but of the wider issue. The arguments in favour of a wider and of a narrower interpretation of the directive are finely balanced. In line with Hampton, Arculus and all our principles of better regulation, we should not over-implement EU directives in this country. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear support from the Conservative Front Bench on that. Equally, we wish to
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ensure that we meet our biodiversity target of restoring 95 per cent. of SSSIs to a favourable condition by the end of 2010. The consultation is a genuine opportunity for the hon. Gentleman and others in the Chamber to present evidence in support of the case for gold-plating, in this instance, if that is what they wish.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): GeneWatch UK’s campaign to press the Government to extend the directive to all SSSIs and all biodiversity action plan species is supported by many Members of the House. Will my hon. Friend address that argument when he responds to the consultation taking place on the implementation of the directive?

Barry Gardiner: Yes, the whole consultation is about that. Approximately 75 per cent. of SSSIs overlap—by area, not by number—with Natura 2000 sites and would therefore have some protection under the directive. I take my hon. Friend’s point that she wishes that to be applied to the protected species and habitats that we designate under SSSIs in this country. Strict liability, which the directive proposes, is a test that should be used sparingly. On the whole, the Government consider that when a person has sought and obtained a permit for some activity, or when the actions were clearly in compliance with the best scientific practice and information available, it is wrong to hold that person accountable should damage result. When damage was intentional or reckless, however, we already have powers under the SSSI regulations to take action to remediate and to prosecute the perpetrators.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I am concerned that the route being pursued by the Government may exclude three important SSSIs in my constituency, Mapledurwell fen, Pamber forest and Silchester common, all of which are highly valued by local residents. It has been useful to hear the Minister’s comments, but will he specifically consider cases put forward for protection? Mapledurwell fen in particular has been cited by botanists as the “richest half acre” of Hampshire, and I believe that it deserves more attention.

Barry Gardiner: I am pleased to give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks: we will be considering the issue in relation to SSSIs. I want to correct one misapprehension under which she may be labouring. The greatest threat to SSSIs comes not from the sort of damage that it is envisaged that the directive would counter and remediate, but from inappropriate management, over-grazing and heather-burning of moorland. When the proposal as to how the Government should treat the issue first came forward, the regulatory impact assessment showed that the cost to small farming businesses might be 5 per cent. of average turnover. Although the costs are small nationally, as a proportion of small farm holdings’ turnover they are high. The Government had to come to a resolution on that fine balance when we put forward our interim position in the consultation. We have a position on our preferred status, but it is subject to consultation. A cost of £30,000, however, is a lot to a small farmer.

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Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I am pleased that the Minister is clearly thinking hard about the issue and I hope that he will continue to do so because he may avoid the Government scoring yet another environmental own goal.

There is a real danger that the Government will squander an opportunity to enhance ecological protection. By excluding a large number of SSSIs and species listed under the biodiversity action plan, they are in danger of sending out a message that those do not matter very much. More specifically, as the Minister should know, the science of genetically modified crops is still being debated and the commercial and environmental dangers posed by the risk of cross-contamination are a matter of serious public concern. Will he therefore follow the example of the Welsh Assembly and remove the permit defence against strict liability in the case of contamination by GM?

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman knows that we are consulting on that. I take positively his remarks about it being given serious consideration, which is what we wish to do. He will accept that devolved assemblies have the right to come to different conclusions. The different situations in England and Wales in terms of progress towards our biodiversity targets—in particular, towards their favourable and improving status in our SSSIs—mean that in Wales the traffic lights are showing red whereas in England they are showing amber-green, as he will know. There is a relevant difference, and it is appropriate that in different jurisdictions we consider the directive, the impact that it may make and the gold-plating that may result from it.

Fish Quotas

7. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What discussions he has had with fishermen's organisations on quota levels for (a) larger boats and (b) smaller, inshore boats. [117817]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Ministers and officials meet fishermen’s representatives regularly to discuss quota levels. The Prime Minister recently met a delegation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) to discuss the quota allocation between the fleet sectors.

Bob Spink: Is there any unused sole quota in the over-10 m sector? If so, could that quota be transferred to help the small boat inshore sector, which could use it without damaging the stocks? Do we need a little more flexibility in the way in which we manage our national fish quotas?

Mr. Bradshaw: We do use that flexibility and my officials work hard to organise the swaps that the hon. Gentleman advocates. I shall certainly consider his suggestion. My understanding is that there is a possibility that this year the quota may be under-fished in the over-10 m sector, in which case that might allow for some swapping. However, in previous years the allocation has been over-fished in both the under-10 m and over-10 m sectors. It is difficult to devise a system that could be made permanent without upsetting either
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sector. However, we try to be as flexible and helpful as we can be in instances when quota is not fully fished to benefit those who want to fish a little more.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): What discussions has my hon. Friend had with representatives of the fishermen of Young’s prawns who this week chose to harvest their quota of prawns, ship them to Thailand to be peeled by cheap labour only for them to be shipped back again to be sold as Scottish prawns in the UK market? What pressure does he think could be brought to bear on companies that choose such environmentally unsustainable business models?

Mr. Bradshaw: The pressure is being brought to bear on such companies not least by my hon. Friend in making that point in the Chamber. The case he refers to involves, I think, a Scottish company. If my recollection is correct, I am pretty sure that my Scottish colleague, Ross Finnie, expressed similar concerns about the sustainability of that activity when it first arose in the latter part of last year, as did the First Minister in Scotland, Jack McConnell.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The cod recovery plan can have an impact on fishermen’s quotas. What is the future of the plan and when will it next be reviewed?

Mr. Bradshaw: The Commission’s intention is to review the plan this year.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Like the Minister, it is entertaining to observe, as it dawns on some political parties, that although fish may not be that bright, at least we know that they are just about intelligent enough not to have hang-ups about their nationality.

What are the Government doing to make a strong case for extending the work of the sea fisheries committees to 12 miles? We have discussed this before and I know that the Government are keen to achieve that. It would be useful to have an update.

Mr. Bradshaw: As I have told the hon. Gentleman during our discussions, we are keen to explore the issue in the context of the general review of the common fisheries policy, which I believe is due in 2012. That does not mean that we cannot in the meantime make applications to the Commission for the extension of certain competences in agreement with the sea fisheries committees, but the arrangement would obviously have to be agreed at Commission level. Where there is potential for interference in the activity of other member states’ vessels fishing legitimately between 6 and 12 miles offshore, difficulties could be caused, but, as I have said, we are keen to explore the issue.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Is it the case that the Department has miscalculated the under-10 m quota, and that the Minister does not have the flexibility that he mentioned owing to the Government’s implementation of fixed-quota allocations for the over-10 m vessels? While he is apologising for those mistakes, will he also apologise for failing to encourage more English, Irish and Welsh representation on the board of Seafish?

Mr. Bradshaw: No.

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Energy Consumption

8. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What incentives he plans for energy companies to encourage them to help their customers reduce energy consumption in their homes. [117818]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): The Government launched the energy efficiency commitment in 2002. It obliges gas and electricity suppliers to promote household energy efficiency, and is a key driver of reduction in energy consumption in homes. We doubled suppliers' targets after the first phase of the commitment, and they will rise by another 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. from 2008. We will maintain a supplier obligation in some form until at least 2020.

Mr. Blizzard: When I look at my electricity bill I see that for the first 197 units I pay about 15p a unit, and for the remainder I pay about 9p a unit. The initial amount of electricity that I use is the most expensive, and the more I use the cheaper it becomes. The standing charge has the same effect. Is that not completely the wrong incentive? Low energy use is being penalised by the tariff structure, while high energy use is being encouraged. Will my hon. Friend take up the matter with the energy companies? If we can encourage low energy use through the billing structure, we can also help to reduce fuel poverty.

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Government are keen to encourage better billing and better information, and we need to look at tariffs as well.

My hon. Friend, who is a long-standing campaigner on these issues, will know that in the 2005 energy efficiency innovation review we mentioned the possibility of considering, after phase 3 of the energy efficiency commitment, setting a target for the reduction of absolute energy demand. We think that that is a model well worth exploring, and we shall be discussing it over the next few years to establish whether it would be feasible after 2011.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the present cost of installing solar panels or wind turbines is prohibitive for many householders who are unlikely to see a payback on their investment? Has he made any representations recently to the Treasury, which today introduced a new air passenger duty without the authority of the House—a so-called green tax, but with no green benefits?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady is out of order.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend consider encouraging commercial energy supplies to provide packages of energy measures, including both energy efficiency measures and the installation of local energy systems, as recommended in the excellent Trade and Industry report published last week? Will he take account of the barriers to the installation of such systems to which the report refers?

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