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At present, with the Government deploying strategies within an attempt to contain the infection, the work being undertaken does not involve the screening of all
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passengers. It is simply not possible to model and undertake that, and when it has been attempted elsewhere it has been ineffective. What is going on is that, first, we are ensuring that passengers are provided with information and advice. Secondly, symptomatic passengers identified en route are seen by port staff. Thirdly, if necessary, contact tracing is undertaken with regard to passengers on particular flights and anyone else who may have come into contact with them, for the purpose of ensuring that those who need Tamiflu on a prophylactic basis have it provided.

Airlines are responsible for their employees, and there are already actions that they are required to take. They have received, and continue to receive, advice through the Health Protection Agency, and particularly guidance about their employees. With several hundred returning travellers, identifying those with symptoms has been crucial. It is important to keep things in perspective by noting that to date, only 31 cases have been confirmed among those returning travellers. The surveillance and work being undertaken are clearly doing their job.

On the wider considerations for the community, the question is whether there is sustained spread across the whole country, which would mean that we needed to move on from the containment phase. The primary care trusts and hospitals have plans for those circumstances. The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) pointed out that he had had access to his local PCT’s plan for a pandemic, and the responsibilities are the same for the PCT that covers the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. If he feels that he has not received enough information or been given access to the PCT’s plan as the hon. Member for Reading, East has, he can certainly write or speak to me and I will ensure that he has access to it. Local health authorities are making those plans, and that should be going on in my hon. Friend’s local area, including at Hillingdon hospital in its role as the nearest hospital to Heathrow.

John McDonnell: I raised the specific point about the staffing of the health unit at Heathrow, and I would be grateful if the Minister could examine whether she is satisfied that the staffing and resourcing levels there are adequate.

Dawn Primarolo: I have already examined, as my hon. Friend would expect, the surveillance expectations at all our points of entry, and particularly Heathrow as a busy airport. However, I am more than happy to assure him that I keep that matter under review. I shall certainly return to it and satisfy myself about the situation again. If he has any concerns or examples, I shall be grateful if he lets me know about them.

I have already answered some of the points raised by the hon. Member for North Norfolk. As for travel restrictions, there are none to the United States at the moment. It is important that travellers going anywhere should have proper up-to-date information, and we are making sure that is the case. We are keeping under review the advice given to travellers to Mexico.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about understanding more about what has happened in Mexico, a team from the Health Protection Agency has been there over the past 10 days to work with the authorities. The team has returned to the United Kingdom with a great deal of
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information, which we can consider in greater depth. I hope that some of the questions that the hon. Gentleman and others are asking will be answered.

On antibiotics, I confirm that we are on track to have sufficient stocks to cover 31 per cent. of the population—19.6 million courses by the end of September—with the stockpile reaching over 10 per cent., which is 6.3 million courses, by the end of May.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) asked various questions, some of which I have already answered. On face masks, no scientific evidence supports their general use, and such use is not part of the Government’s strategy. Although television images from elsewhere in the world might convey an impression that such use should be made, there is no evidence for a general issue of such masks. As the Secretary of State said, the Government have increased our order to 226 million additional face masks and 34 million of the high-quality face masks.

The hon. Gentleman and others asked about the role of the national director for NHS pandemic influenza preparedness. Let me be clear: this person’s role is to strengthen lines of communication and implementation of policy with regard to any operations of the NHS flu plan, and anything necessitated by the pandemic. Professor Lindsey Davies, who has been mentioned, remains responsible for national pandemic preparedness—but it is important to ensure that decisions are implemented promptly and smoothly across the NHS, and that information is available. The hon. Gentleman requested that more information be made available to Members of Parliament for their offices, should they be contacted. I am happy to consider that point, because it would be relatively easy to provide, over and above the information available to the general public, a simple guide for MPs’ constituency offices about where to direct concerned constituents.

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On the preparedness of primary care trusts’ plans, we do not propose to publish them at this time; we are busy, as they should be, ensuring that preparedness is at the right level. PCTs are responsible for developing appropriate local plans for their communities, and the Department of Health has issued guidance on the interim arrangements that we would expect, including on the flu line.

The hon. Member for Reading, East asked me to comment on those who have suggested that the best thing to do is just to go out and get the flu, and not take any personal hygiene steps to prevent it. Indeed, one of his colleagues, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries), gives the same advice on her website. The chief medical officer’s advice is clear: that is not appropriate action in the current situation. There are still so many uncertainties about the virus that the best thing to do is to be prepared and to take the necessary steps.

I took note of what the hon. Gentleman said about his PCT’s preparedness. He also raised the important point about closed communities and what needs to be done. Plans are in place to help those in closed institutions, such as prisons, and the PCTs should have that in hand, including the use of Tamiflu, should that be necessary.

Some scientists believe that swine flu cases could ease over the summer, but we most not signal a lowering of our guard or a downsizing of our preparations. The swine flu pandemic, and with it a serious outbreak in this country, may or may not be imminent, but the threat remains real, remains urgent, and demands our complete attention. We must continue along the same path of being neither alarmist nor complacent, taking the strong and sensible measures necessary to cope with all eventualities, and continuing to work in partnership across the Floor of the House to ensure the very best outcome.

Question put and agreed to.


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Under 10-metre Fishing Fleet

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Claire Ward.)

4.37 pm

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity, somewhat earlier than anticipated, to speak yet again on behalf of the fishing communities of Hastings and Rye. I am sorry that it is necessary to raise the same issue, but the urgency of the message is not getting through. I shall try to leave no ambiguity as to the importance of responding to the cry for justice for the under 10-metre fleet in Hastings and Rye. The issue is that of quota.

As we approach the Euro elections next month, I can well appreciate why there is hostility towards the European cause within the fishing communities. The price that Britain paid for joining the EU back in the 1970s was perhaps worth while in many respects, but in terms of fishing, it was a huge cost. That, of course, was under a Conservative Government, who have never been forgiven for what happened—for the surrender to the European Community of the greater part of our fishing grounds. In return, the UK was allowed a relatively small proportion of quota, but even that gross unfairness is not the issue today. No major party is suggesting withdrawal from the EU, and thus we are stuck with the EU distribution to national governance of a negotiated share of the catch each year. It is then for national Governments to divide up that quota catch within the fishing industry, and it is that calculation that has brought the under 10-metre fleet to virtual extinction.

I acknowledge that the under 10-metre fleet in particular may not be significant economically—not to the nation, anyway—in terms of the sector’s direct contribution. However, it is often forgotten that the contribution that the sector makes to tourism and other onshore industries is significant. That is certainly the case in Hastings and Rye. The key issue is how we as a nation distribute the quota among the fishing industry. As I have brought to the Government’s attention before, and it is well known, the division of 96 per cent. of total quota to the over 10-metre fleet, and just 3 per cent. to the under 10-metre fleet, is manifestly unfair. It has to change, and it needs to change soon.

Back in December 2006—some two and half years ago—the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, having set up a Downing street policy group to look at the sustainability of small fishing fleets, such as that at Hastings and Rye, agreed to meet my local fishermen. In March 2004, the Cabinet Office strategy unit prepared a report entitled “Net Benefits”, which stated that:

So it was already Government policy—from then, at least—to support small fishing communities.

Tony Blair wrote to me on 5 February 2007. I have the letter here, and it states that:

Two and a half years later, nothing at all seems to have happened. I think that the Minister will understand why it makes my fishermen constituents, and me, so angry
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that despite our best efforts, DEFRA is immovable. Even the efforts of the Prime Minister of the day to move things on came to naught.

I shall not bore the House by listing the debates, discussions and meetings that have taken place in the intervening period, but it seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that the Department is in the clutches of the big boys who run the producer organisations, and is incapable of breaking out of their control. It is frequently said that the allocation of quota is based on historical catches, but the fact is that the under-10 metre fleet, which is small—indeed, it consists of the minnows of the industry—is not just sustainable, but without significant catch records. As a result, the producer organisations take the cake, or rather the quota, and DEFRA stands by and ticks the boxes. That is certainly what appears to be happening.

If the big boys—the over 10-metre fleet—employed significantly more personnel, there would be some understanding of the current position, but that is not the case. About 50 per cent. of the personnel of the United Kingdom fishing industry are employed in the over-10 metre sector, and the other 50 per cent. in the under-10 metre sector. So, where is the justice in the current arrangement? Those in the under-10 metre sector are not even permitted to form their own producer organisation in order to bid for their share of the quota.

The Government seem to suggest that quota is based on historical calculations of catch that cannot be altered. Why? The quota that the UK receives belongs to the UK, not to the producer organisations or to any particular sector. If fairness so demands, it is for the Government to exercise their discretion without fear of producer organisations taking the huff. A doubling of the quota available to the under 10-metre sector would make little difference to the over 10-metre industry, but it would be a life-saving change for the under-10 metre fleet.

My hon. Friend the Minister was the first person for a long time to acknowledge and understand the injustice, and I compliment him on that. Earlier in the year, a new division for allocation of cod quota was created in area 7D. That was a big step forward, and I do not think it too much to say that those in my local under-10 metre industry were elated about the possibility of a fair deal as a consequence. Quota is normally—or so it is said—distributed on the basis of the historical catch. In area 7D, which is the bit off the south coast between Hastings and Dover, the under-10 metre fleet accounts for 93 per cent. of the fishing vessels in the area and 83 per cent. of the fishermen employed. There was real hope that the new allocation would follow the established pattern.

On 18 February, my hon. Friend the Minister wrote to the chief executives of the producer organisations and other interested parties, proposing that a quota of 109 tonnes—live weight—or 70 per cent. of the overall total should be allocated to the under 10-metre sector in area 7D. The proposed quota was apparently based on official records showing actual landings at that percentage. The under-10 metre fleet believed that its share was even greater, but it did not look a gift horse in the mouth. The allocation appeared to mean that its demands were being recognised for the first time, while also conforming to the historical basis of allocation.

While the 70:30 split was still minimal, the principle had been established, and my hon. Friend the Minister was held in high esteem as a result. What happened
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then, however, was nothing short of an outrage. Officials talked again to the producer organisations and the policy was changed around completely: 70 per cent. was now to go to the south-west producer organisation, which only seldom fishes in the area, and 30 per cent. to the under 10-metre sector. I am told that the south-west producer organisation, which has that 70 per cent., for the main part sells it on. It is not even the local fishing industry. This is an outrage, and it is barmy. There is no explanation. What is going on?

I am sorry to be so forceful to my friend the Minister, who I know really does work hard on this, but the forces of darkness are out there and they are defeating his best efforts. I am asking him to be bold and stand up for fairness and justice, given his acceptance of the argument. We do not need to go over the argument again, as he has accepted it; it is now just a matter of implementing it.

My friend the Minister is very thoughtful, and I know, by reason of his initial proposals, that he has the interests of the under 10-metre fleet at heart. He was good enough to hold a recent meeting with me and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who has a similar interest to me, at which he expressed, first, a clear desire that measures be put in place to ensure the continuity of the under-10 metre fleet—that is to say, that it should have sufficient income to survive—and, secondly, that he would want to enter into a dialogue with all the parties, including the producer organisation and the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, which now represents the under-10 metre fleet, to ensure that the allocation of quota is more fairly distributed.

I know that my hon. Friend is wholly genuine in that desire. However, I have to tell him that that is what the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, asked should happen some two and a half years ago, and I cannot share his optimism that further discussions will now make a difference. I fear that this will not be settled by negotiation. It will be settled by decisions being made along the lines of those that my hon. Friend the Minister earlier proposed. I say as loudly and clearly as I can that the Minister has the obligation to divvy up the quota fairly to allow my constituents to survive.

I understand that my hon. Friend does not want to rock the boat—the industry is dangerous enough already—but the under 10-metre industry is not too worried about risking the wrath of the producer organisation and forgoing the crumbs from its table. Now this is not only an issue about survival—although it is about that—but one of justice. I am fairly sure that no court in the land will accept that the current arrangement is fair. Sadly, I think that opinion will be tested, because Paul Joy and his colleagues in NUTFA have now issued proceedings in the courts. That action will inevitably challenge the distribution unless a very early reversal of the recent decision is made.

I challenge my friend the Minister to give an unequivocal answer as to the justification for the most recent decision of the 96 per cent:3 per cent. split and for the 70:30 split in area 7D in favour of half the total industry, when it was the established practice that that be determined on catch records. I know the answer to that question; I would not ask it if I did not. The answer is that it cannot be justified. There is no argument; there is no
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basis on which it can be justified. That is why I encourage him to take this bold stand now to remedy that historic failing—not in the fullness of time, but in the here and now.

I anticipate that my hon. Friend the Minister’s response will be as courteous and thoughtful as it always is, but, with respect, I just want to hear the following words: “Yes, you’re right. We are going to make the change. We understand the justice of the case.”

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) on securing the debate. This is a timely juncture for discussion of the under 10-metre fleet for a number of reasons. I thank him not only for the courtesy he has shown me in his opening remarks, but for his forceful and passionate contribution and what he has done in his frequent formal and informal meetings with me in Parliament to act as an advocate on behalf of his constituents and the under 10-metre fleet as a whole. Without my being charming or disarming, I hope we will be able to reach some agreement on a way forward and what we need to do on quota reform.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, the under 10-metre fleet is an economically, culturally and socially vital part of the life of the UK, in terms not only of coastal communities but the fabric of this island nation—it really is. I have said before, and I will say it again, that I am utterly committed to seeing it not simply eke along but thrive and have a very long-term viable future. The question is how we get there. I understand exactly what he is saying. He is saying, “Show us some certainty that you will step up to the mark and do it.”

I do not wish to go off on a tangent, but may I begin by discussing common fisheries policy reform, which my hon. Friend mentioned at the start of his contribution? That is a long game, as many things with the EU are, but we are now starting on it. I was the first of the 27 Ministers to address the recent Council, when I spoke boldly and radically for fundamental reform of a 30-year-old policy that is clearly not doing what it was intended to do. I put the following points then, which I shall re-put and work. Right at the heart of radical CFP reform we need to see that fisheries management is integrated with management and conservation of marine resources; that fishing of commercially exploited fish has to be within safe biological limits; that the policy has to ensure a prosperous and efficient fishing industry; that there is effective, targeted support for fishing-dependent communities; and that there is more regional and long-term management of fisheries and devolved responsibility. It is not right that we lurch from year to year in this annual process of bartering and negotiation that is surely not in the best interests of either fishermen or fish stocks. I say that in passing because our discussions of the under 10-metre fleet are integral to how we look at this reform as well.

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