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Common Fisheries Policy

5. Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): What his priorities are for the 2002 review of the common fisheries policy. [146780]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government wish to see the maintenance of key features of the present arrangements such as national quotas based on relative stability and access restrictions within national six and 12-mile limits. At the same time, we want to secure improvements to make the CFP a more effective instrument for conserving fish stocks. That includes enhancing the regional dimension, integrating environmental considerations more fully and reducing discards.

Mr. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he give a commitment to fishermen that no other countries will fish in the no-fishing zones? Our fishermen are a bit cheesed off, as we keep to every dot and comma of European law, while our competitors--our partners, I should say--are flouting it to their advantage.

Mr. Morley: Claims are not always borne out by the facts, but I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance: I am confident that we will ensure in negotiations on the review of 2002 that our six and 12-mile exclusive fishing limits remain. Indeed, I intend to argue that they should be a permanent feature of our national limits. I am confident that we will achieve that outcome, as we have been engaging with our European neighbours and have adopted a consensus approach to the matter.

Our approach contrasts with that of the Conservative party, which has unworkable policies on fishing. In last week's debate on fisheries, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), made it clear that the Conservative party will be unelectable if it pursues its half-baked proposals.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): How can the Parliamentary Secretary have the gall to speak about making the common fisheries policy a more effective instrument for conservation, when it has been a conservation disaster? Would he not be better employed facing up to what he acknowledged in opposition--that it

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is only by obtaining control of our own waters that we will ever be able to conserve stocks, as well as the British fishing industry?

Mr. Morley: When it comes to issues such as enforcement, we have control of our own waters. We need to ensure that the necessary enforcement is provided. Hon. Members may like to consider the location of the fishing grounds specified in the recent cod recovery programme. Almost all the most important cod fishing grounds for our country are currently outside our national limits. Unless we have a European mechanism for dealing with conservation, we will have no influence on matters that are vital to our industry. That is the mistake that the Conservatives are making: they are considering narrow national interests, rather than the long-term interests of our fishing industry.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): My hon. Friend has made it clear that he understands Conservative party policy well. Conservative Members would withdraw from the common fisheries policy, effectively make a unilateral declaration of independence in the North sea and the channel, and enter into complex negotiations over access, which our fishermen have had for decades, if not centuries--

Hon. Members: Order!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must ask about ministerial, not Opposition policy.

Mr. Doran: At a time when the fishing industry is facing its most serious crisis in decades, can the Parliamentary Secretary imagine a more serious threat to its future than Conservative policy?

Mr. Morley: I cannot imagine a more serious threat. I should like to know the exact details of the policy, because last week's debate revealed that it would not involve non-UK vessels leaving our waters, or returning the quotas of non-UK fishermen to British fishermen. It would lead to a loss of UK influence on fisheries control and management. The Opposition's policy is half-baked, ill thought out and undeliverable.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Does the Parliamentary Secretary accept that the uncertainty with which many fishermen regard European negotiations was increased with the release of documents under the 30-year rule? They revealed that, in European negotiations about fishing in a wider UK context, fishermen would be regarded as expendable. He and I can remember more recent European negotiations when fishing interests were subordinated to other objectives.

What is the Parliamentary Secretary's perspective? When entering into negotiations, does he regard relative stability as an essential, without which there can be no common fisheries policy? Will he persuade the Government to subordinate other European objectives to fishing, for a change?

Mr. Morley: I believe that relative stability is vital and that we need to maintain it after 2002. I am confident that we can do that, because it is in our country's interest and that of other countries. As for the hon. Gentleman's

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comments about the fishing industry being expendable, the documents related to a previous, Conservative Government. They do not represent the Government's view. We have given the fishing industry probably unprecedented involvement in making decisions on issues that are important to its future.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): My hon. Friend doubtless knows the strength of feeling in Grimsby and Cleethorpes about the impact of no-fishing zones on income and jobs. Is he sympathetic to calls for compensation for loss of income? What will he do to get money from the Treasury to further that aim?

Mr. Morley: It is difficult to grant compensation for limited closures to protect fish stocks that have been damaged by fishing. However, I accept that the fishing industry faces structural problems. I met industry representatives this week to discuss ways in which the Government can help with the long-term problems that they face.

In relation to the cod recovery programme for the north-east ports, I stress to my hon. Friend that the prawn grounds have been kept open and that the inshore fishing industry's interests have been protected. There is a balance to be struck between protecting fish stocks and ensuring that our industry has fishing opportunities. I believe that we have got that balance right.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the UK industry is now in crisis owing to swingeing quota cuts imposed by the common fisheries policy and the high price of fuel, and that the problem has been exacerbated by the recently announced cod recovery programme in the North sea? Given that financial support by Spain and France for their fishermen is under European Commission scrutiny as a possible breach of competition rules, how exactly does the Parliamentary Secretary intend to give financial support to our fishing industry in the short term?

Mr. Morley: Structural measures are available; funds are available in our structural programme. Regional programmes can also assist fishing ports. We must explore all those methods. There is also decommissioning, and consideration of whether there is an argument for reducing the capacity in the UK fleet. Those measures are under discussion.

I accept that policies have financial implications, and some funds are available. I note that financial commitments are not forthcoming from the Opposition. Given their pledge to make cuts of £16 billion in public expenditure, it is difficult for them to make such commitments.

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Farm Animal Welfare

7. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): What recent representations he has received concerning the impact of agricultural trade liberalisation on farm animal welfare. [146782]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): I have received a number of such representations. We support the European Commission in its recent formal proposal to the World Trade Organisation, which explicitly calls for animal welfare to be considered in trade liberalisation negotiations. The proposal was tabled by the EU Commission in Geneva in December, with the unanimous support of EU member states.

Mrs. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that it would be a disaster if trade liberalisation were to mean that UK livestock was exported to countries with lower animal welfare standards? Will he give the House an assurance that Britain will be at the forefront of EU efforts to place this matter high on the agenda in the next WTO round of negotiations?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The issue has been raised by the UK and the European Union. It did not feature in the previous World Trade Organisation talks, and it is a welcome step forward that it will now do so.

In relation to the higher standards being implemented by UK and European Union farmers, consideration is given to issues of quality standards in the context of globalisation and liberalisation of trade. It is legitimate that those issues be raised in the context of the WTO talks, and they will be.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): In the context of moves towards more trade liberalisation, do the Government share the concerns of many poultry farmers that some imported poultry may have been reared using growth-promoting drugs that have been banned throughout Europe on health grounds? Are there any circumstances in which the Government would consider blocking such imports?

Mr. Morley: Under this Government, we now have an independent body--the Food Standards Agency--responsible for monitoring the safety and quality of food coming into this country. Quality standards are monitored in the UK and throughout the EU, with further inspections of plants in third countries. If the FSA has evidence of a problem, it will make recommendations to the Government, who will have no hesitation in acting on them.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): Farmers in my constituency have no problem keeping within the guidelines for animal welfare. They keep their livestock to a very high standard, but are concerned about the quality of imports. What advice does my hon. Friend the Minister have for those farmers on informing consumers

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of the high quality of animal welfare in this country, and advising them how to make decisions when buying their meat?

Mr. Morley: A number of quality assurance schemes are already in place, supported by a range of bodies, including the red tractor standard supported by the National Farmers Union. Consumers should consider that information carefully. The Government are keen to ensure that consumers have as much information as possible, so that they can make informed choices and use consumer power to support our producers, who are applying the very high standards that people want.


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