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Question agreed to.

SALE OF STUDENT LOANS BILL [MONEY]

Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With the leave of the House, I shall put together the remaining two motions.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Constitutional Law


Companies

Question agreed to.

Petitions

Front-line Health Services (Haverhill)

4.49 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): Haverhill is the most rapidly expanding town in Suffolk and is served admirably by the three general practice surgeries
22 Nov 2007 : Column 1423
located there. The GPs are valued and cherished as well as being highly productive, and they are held in great professional esteem by the local community. The proposal to cut funding to Haverhill GP practices will inevitably lead to job losses and have a devastating effect on front-line patient care, and it is wholly unacceptable. Ten thousand people have signed the petition acknowledging the injustice of the proposal and the lack of fairness to the people of Haverhill and their health needs.

The petition states:

[P000057]

Post Office Closures (Nottingham)

4.50 pm

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab): I beg leave to deliver a petition in the names of the users of Woodland Grove post office, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and borders my constituency.

The petition states:


22 Nov 2007 : Column 1424

[P000064]

Post Office Closures (Fareham)

4.51 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I present this petition on behalf of more than 1,000 people who use the post office at Arundel drive in Fareham. They are concerned at the threat posed to its continuing existence, as it is one of the post offices scheduled for closure.

The petition states:

[P000066]


22 Nov 2007 : Column 1425

Sea Bass

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. David.]

4.52 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): With no sense of irony at all, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box today, especially as it was touch and go as to whether either of us would make it to the Chamber, given the curtailment of Government business. The issue of the future of Britain’s most popular recreational fish does not appear to have found any favour on the Opposition Benches. That will come as some surprise to the 1 million sea anglers in England, Scotland and Wales, although perhaps we should leave that matter for another day.

It is ironic that, if the Minister had not been able to make it here on time—I am delighted that he has—the Whips Office had chosen my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) to take his place. He is an angler, and I am sure that he would have agreed with every word that I have to say. To have done so, of course, might have contravened the words that he might have been required to read out.

This is an Adjournment debate; we are not limited by time, and I know that that will please everybody here. I am genuine in my congratulations to the Minister, who is a friend of mine. In his other role as Minister for the South East, he has impressed many people with how he has worked in the region with local communities struggling to deal with the aftermath of the July floods. I thank him for his two visits to my constituency; he will be aware that it is impossible to visit Reading without being harangued by fisherman, although in the case that I am thinking about they were freshwater fishermen.

I look forward, particularly in my capacity as Labour’s angling spokesman, to the day when I can offer similar praise for the decision that my hon. Friend has made as Minister with responsibility for fisheries. Sadly, as a result of his decision to go back on the commitment made by his predecessor to increase, in the interests of conservation, the minimum landing size of bass, I am not here to praise the Minister but to challenge him—which is, after all, the purpose of this House. His announcement of 25 October on retaining the minimum landing size for bass at 36 cm rather than increasing it to 40 cm and then to 45 cm by 2010, as recommended by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science just two years ago, flies in the face of scientific evidence and has been greeted with understandable anger and dismay by hundreds of thousands of sea anglers, as well as by conservationists. He himself admitted that his decision was based on looking after the short-term interests of the inshore fleet rather than the long-term interests of the species and the environment. I want to tease out those points.

It is worth reminding the House that the recreational sea angling sector in England and Wales is worth more than £1.3 billion a year to the economy and provides 19,000 non-subsidised jobs. The entire commercial fleet employs only 12,000 people, with considerably fewer in the under-10 m inshore fleet. We should be concerned about the impact of any decision on jobs, but let us not forget the devastating impact that unsustainable fishing
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has had on all sectors, both commercial and recreational. The livelihoods of charter skippers, who take anglers to sea and depend on healthy fish stocks to maintain a viable business, are every bit as important as those of the commercial fleet. Everybody suffers when a fishery collapses, as we saw in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and in the American striped bass fishery, or as was nearly the case in respect of North sea cod stocks. Future generations will not remember kindly those politicians who duck the challenge of creating the sustainable harvesting of the resources of our planet.

The nub of the argument is that we were promised that Britain’s most popular fish in terms of its sporting and eating potential would be managed sustainably, and primarily as a recreational species. That was a promise made in Downing street, and it should be kept. In 2002, the Prime Minister’s strategy unit commissioned a report on the benefits of recreational sea angling. That report, “Net Benefits”, was eventually published in 2004, to wide acclaim. It said:

Among its recommendations were:

That was followed by the findings of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which looked at “Net Benefits” and, in a consensual report on an all-party basis, said:

In its conclusions, at paragraph 141, it added:

It is easy to see the direction of travel in terms of public policy in respect of bass and its value to the commercial and recreational sectors. By 2004, we had No. 10, the Government and an all-party Commons Committee moving in the same direction, and it is fair to say that there were reasons to be cheerful. Rarely for a policy, the process survived the 2005 general election; in fact, it was enhanced by it. In Labour’s “Charter for Angling”, the Minister’s predecessor wrote:

That was before the 2005 election. It goes on to say:

and

I accept that the Minister has announced nursery areas. I welcome that and I praise him for that announcement, but it is only part of the picture. The document concludes:


22 Nov 2007 : Column 1427

At this point, it is fair to say that the sea angling community was fairly content with my party, and with the direction of travel in respect of the policy of conserving valuable species. The Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), made good that promise when he launched the DEFRA consultation in 2005 to increase the minimum landing size for bass, in order to produce a sustainable fishery with more and bigger bass for the commercial and recreational sectors. That proposal was based on sound science and in the interests of conservation and the environment. It followed a report from CEFAS, which made it perfectly clear that the sound policy to adopt, which would maximise the yield per recruit, would suggest that

in the long run. In respect of the impact on the commercial fleet, the report says that under a scenario of a 40 cm minimum landing size with no discard mortality,

assuming, of course, mesh netting controls and bass nursery areas.

To summarise the matter of policy, it was quite possible to put together conservation measures that would deliver more and bigger bass for the commercial sector and the recreational sector. The question that all sea anglers are asking is, what has changed? What changed the entire direction of travel of policy from 2002 onwards in the past few months? I go back to CEFAS. It is DEFRA’s main agency, and leading scientific body, by which Government policy is informed, and from which it is derived. A presentation was made on 1 October by Mike Smith of CEFAS, which said quite clearly that the

On a general summary of benefits, it says:

The optimum spawning size for female bass is 42 cm. It is a simple act of conservation science that every species should be given the opportunity to breed once. Not to allow that does not promote sustainable fishing policy. Not to do so would not be in the interests of the environment, or in the interests of the oceans.

The consultation was launched. There was a predicable outcry from the commercial sector, but then there was an outcry from that sector when conservation measures had to be introduced in the American striped bass fishery and in the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. The commercial fishermen now welcome those measures, which were put in place to sustain the stocks and allow them to recover. It is important that as politicians we take the long-term view, not the short-term one. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter took the long-term view in his statement in 2006 when he announced the conclusions of the consultation and his intention to increase the bass minimum landing size to 40 cm from 36 cm, and then on to 45 cm, beyond the optimum spawning size. The DEFRA press release contained quotations from the Minister’s predecessor. He said:


22 Nov 2007 : Column 1428

I emphasise,

That is not my view. Those are not the words of sea anglers, but those of a previous Fisheries Minister. He went on to say:

in connection with

He concluded:


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