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Shona McIsaac: My hon. Friend has mentioned the power stations on Humberside. As he is well aware, they are mainly located in my constituency. They take fresh water from the River Humber, which is obviously not as saline as the water out at sea. Therefore, different species are involved, so he cannot blame the power stations in my constituency for reductions in cod stocks.

Mr. Mitchell: Loth as I am to disagree with my hon. Friend on any occasion, and closely as we always co-operate, edible fish, including haddock, are found dead in the intakes to the power stations. The problem goes wider than riverine fish, and we need to have a policy on the issue. If we are to build more power stations and if it is possible to prevent fish stocks from being destroyed, we should surely act because we have a conservation crisis on our hands.

We cannot regulate in the dark, but we are being asked to accept arguments that we do not know can be supported and that are based on fairly shaky evidence. There is a genuine dispute not only between the fishermen and the scientists, but between the Commission and the scientists. My argument is for more light to be shed on the problem. Because there are so many generators in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, I am sure that she will not argue with that. There is a measure of common ground between us on that at least. Ocean research cannot be left to the BBC. Such work is an important part of the role of DEFRA.

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I am sorry that I have gone on for so long, but the discussion is based on an uncertainty that is bad for fishing. The industry has been badly battered over the past few years, and it is in a desperate financial state. Many of the vessels fishing are not viable in that they do not produce a return or support the fishermen who operate them. Some improvement will result from the decommissioning that will take out vessels in Scotland and England, but I fear that that will not be enough to return the industry to viability. We expected a slightly better deal for the North sea and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) has pointed out, we have a damaging status quo in the Irish sea.

I wish my hon. Friend the Minister all power, because he carries a major burden in trying to bring certainty to an industry when the Commission pulls one way and the scientific evidence is not available. The industry needs a national plan and the confidence that the Government will sustain it through the difficulties that it faces. It wants to be assured that the Government will resist the mercurial ups and downs of the Commission and support it by investment so that it will be seen through the problems that will undoubtedly arise. If British vessels go bust, fold up or leave the industry, we must not allow licences to be bought out by better financed industries that are supported by their Governments in a way that ours is not.

4.6 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives): I congratulate the Minister on securing this debate.

I associate myself with the sympathies that the Minister extended to the families of the nine fishermen who have died in the industry this year. As he knows, I have pursued this issue inside and outside the Chamber, because it is unacceptable that the fishing industry appears to accept far higher fatality levels than any other industry. Further measures are certainly needed. The training and training grants that he mentioned are very welcome.

The debate focuses on the Green Paper on the reform of the common fisheries policy in a climate in which, as the Minister knows only too well, difficult negotiations are due to take place on 17 and 18 December. Therefore, it is inevitable that the debate will concentrate on how we can carve out a long-term future for the industry through the renegotiation of the CFP while dealing with the short-term issues relating to the stock numbers and species that the Minister highlighted in his speech.

Despite the doom-and-gloom merchants, who are mainly on the Conservative Benches—all one of them at present—it is encouraging that we now have the best opportunity in a generation for sensible reform of the CFP. All sensible political parties are concerned about the future of the CFP, and we now have an opportunity to renegotiate it.

We welcome many elements of the Commission's Green Paper. The fact that it recognises that the CFP

acknowledges the policy's fundamental failure. Since 1986, the Liberal Democrats have published our policy on the matter and we were the first political party to argue

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for devolved powers within the CFP through a reformed mechanism. The Green Paper also clearly recommends devolving serious powers to regional coastal fisheries committees. We must encourage that, and I was pleased to hear the Minister again welcome it. We must push for that in the reform of the common fisheries policy.

We welcome the recognition of the need to introduce technical measures to achieve more selective catches. The Minister welcomed multi-annual quotas, for which, as he knows, I have pushed for some time. We need to break out of the annual eleventh-hour brinkmanship that takes place when we carve up quota. The ability to plan is important. The continuation of the six and 12-mile zones and the retention of relative stability, which are recognised in the Green Paper, should be welcomed. I hope that with the Minister's support we have reason to be optimistic that we will achieve that in negotiations by the end of next year.

Having said that, we need a clearer statement of effective and stronger devolution. That needs to be spelled out in policy so that we know how it will be achieved. If we give fishermen in the regions power, we also give them responsibility. As it would be down to them if they got things wrong, it is important that they are genuine stakeholders in the regional management committees. It is essential that they work with representatives of Departments from all nation states that have an interest in that area and with fisheries scientists so that it is possible to focus on a natural fishing region and to plan for its future with clarity.

I welcome the Green Paper. It is important that we move away from the doom-and-gloom view expressed mainly by Conservative Members. The industry needs a long-term policy. History shows that fishermen and politicians do not always go together well, and it seems inevitable that there is a process of short-term reactive and piecemeal policy making for the fishing industry. That is why the Agriculture Select Committee, of which I was a member, was right to recommend in July 1999 that the Government establish a clear long-term strategy for the United Kingdom's fishing industry. That recommendation received an enthusiastic response from the Minister and the Government two and a half years ago and was welcomed in a written answer on 4 December 2001, just two days ago. However, little progress has been made.

I hope that the Minister will ensure not only that we get strong and effective renegotiation of the CFP, but that we have a clear UK strategy on where the industry is going and how it will get there. There is a general consensus in all parties on the need to have a sustainable industry, and it is encouraging that environmental bodies and fishing industry representatives are coming together to achieve a common accord, which was not the case some years ago.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who has left the Chamber, referred to a recent Commission report that followed requests to all member states to provide information on the success or otherwise of their enforcement measures and on what infringements were committed and what fines imposed. She was right: the report does not make good reading. Of the 15 member states, only Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria met the March deadline to submit information. The Dutch and the Spanish supplied sections that were

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illegible; there were serious omissions in the reports of several states, including the Italians and the Spanish; and the French refused to send a report.

The Conservatives criticise the fact that the system is failing, but go no further. We differ from them in that they do not propose a constructive solution. We have argued for some time, as the Minister knows, that there is a choice. Either we can have central European policing, which we oppose, or we devolve the matter and give nation states greater powers to make bilateral arrangements with other fishing nations so that we can carry out spot checks at any time of another nation's inspectorate and its enforcement regime. Rather than creating another centralist policy, with more centralised bureaucracy, we have a great opportunity to create common accord between nations if we are confident that the enforcement measures are transparent to everyone.

Mr. Steen: I agree entirely about the need to avoid more centralised bureaucracy, because we would end up with another layer in the Commission that would be involved in enforcement in all member states. However, we need cross-border enforcement: for example, British fishing inspectors going to Spain and vice versa. We have been talking about that for years, but nothing ever happens.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If he was listening, he would have heard me recommend bilateral agreements between nations such as the UK and Spain. I apologise if I did not use terminology that he could understand. We would like bilateral arrangements between the UK and other nations implemented. I understand from discussions with the Minister that arrangements are in place for reciprocal visits by enforcement officers, especially with the Spanish. That is welcome. We need to hear more about that. The visits should be unannounced so that spot checks can be made, and that will reinforce the confidence that people have in the inspection systems of other nations.

The end of year negotiations on TACs and quotas are based on science. The Minister was right to say that if the science is clear and robust, it is important that all decisions, including difficult ones, are stuck to so that we do not jeopardise the health of fish stocks. I associate myself with those remarks. However, as he said, the science is at best flimsy, and in some cases non-existent, on a number of stocks. Fishermen would clearly want to recommend responsible increases in quota. If there is disagreement between fishermen and scientists, there must be a method by which the veracity of their evidence can be tested, which is not the case at the moment. Although scientists report to fishermen and there is some discussion—I accept that the relationship between them has improved in some ways—there is still disagreement, which results in a dialogue of the deaf. Fishermen who should be involved in the process end up as bystanders, having to make appeals to MPs in order to be heard, and that is a matter for concern. We need structurally to reform the process; for example, by appointing fishing industry representatives to the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management and other bodies. The industry should be formally represented in the process of collating evidence and testing its veracity. It is essential that it is allowed to use its own evidence in negotiations.

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A great deal has been said about this year's quota allocations. The Minister knows that he will have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House if he robustly defends the science and pursues his arguments on nephrops, on the North sea cod quota and on matters where he believes that the European Commission recommendations do not reflect scientists' advice. He has our support for the agenda that he set out today.

I turn now to hake, which I mentioned in an intervention. The experience of fishermen in western waters does not match the scientific evidence. It is important that a proper recovery programme is introduced, but we must listen closely to the industry. I know that the UK industry will welcome the increased mesh sizes in area 8, in the bay of Biscay, because of deep and proper concern about the catching of juvenile fish, but that does not go far enough. Catching juvenile fish is unacceptable, and a minimum mesh size of 100 mm is not good enough. It will not protect the species, and a great deal more needs to be done. The UK industry in area 7 accepts and welcomes an increased landing size of 40 cm, and that should apply to area 8 as well.

On cod, also in area 7, once again the experience of the industry over the past year does not match the scientific advice. There is concern that the shape of monkfish, or angler fish, means that it is inevitable that large numbers will be caught as a by-catch and will need to be discarded dead, which is clearly an absurd waste. I recommend that the Minister reconsiders that issue.

I welcome the comments made by the hon. Member for Congleton, who has still not returned to her place, about the industrial fishing quota on sand eels. The UK must take a robust attitude to industrial fishing, which is the scourge of the industry as a whole and needs to be kept properly in check. I wish he well in his negotiations on 17 and 18 December.

Earlier this year, the Minister introduced welcome consultation on shellfish licensing, which has not yet been mentioned. I want to put it on record that, in a written answer to me last week, he indicated his intention to introduce measures on shellfish licensing by the end of the year. I know that almost the entire industry, and particularly the inshore sector, will welcome that. If he introduces those measures as soon as possible, he will find that he has a very supportive audience.

The Minister knows that mackerel hand liners, particularly in Cornwall and the south-west, were concerned when, only a couple of months ago, 300 tonnes of their quota were removed without any apparent negotiation. At that time, the industry was particularly buoyant, and there had been significant increases in the catch. I understand that the Minister has had further negotiations on that point.

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