Total Allowable Catches and Quotas 2002

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Mr. Alan Reid: Based on the scientific evidence available, does the Under-Secretary share the Commission's view that the 10 per cent. cut in the nephrops quota in the west of Scotland is still justified? Is it necessary for that cut to be imposed on all sectors of the nephrops fishery?

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Mr. Morley: I have always argued in the Council that the 10 per cent. cut was unjustified, but we should bear in mind that the nephrop quota has been increased and is now quite good. We should also consider the uptake figures before we start making a great case about the 10 per cent. cut.

Mrs. Winterton: It will come as no surprise to the Under-Secretary that many of us have seen a copy of the Commission's draft proposals. In fact, he has one in front of him. If my memory serves me right, there was no mention of the six-mile limit. Will he tell us what the Government position will be if that was omitted from the final document, as it would have serious implications?

Mr. Morley: It would have implications, but we would need to clarify what the Commission meant by that. I, too, have seen the leaked proposals, but I do not know whether they will be the final ones. According to the proposals, the Commission is proposing an enormous autonomy for member states for up to 12 miles. That might well mean that the autonomy is increased to up to 12 miles instead of up to six miles, but I may be interpreting that wrongly; we will have to resolve those issues in the Council. We shall certainly argue to retain autonomy for up to six miles, but I would be keen to pursue an increased autonomy of up to 12 miles, if that is proposed.

Andrew George: I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would address the issue of access beyond the 12-mile zone. I would like to know whether the issue of relative stability, which will be carried forward into the common fisheries policy, will be in any way undermined by the Commission's proposals to extend access beyond the 12-mile zone, as stated in the leaked draft.

From discussions that the Under-Secretary has had, can he clarify the Commission's intention on proposals to establish multi-annual quotas? I understand that member states will be able to discuss the proposals for the first year, but thereafter the Commission will more or less manage multi-annual quotas as it has done.

Mr. Morley: Again, we will have to see how the details are explained when we consider the Commission's final proposals. There is no sign either in the Commission proposals or in the attitude of other member states that the principle of relative stability will be undermined. I do not doubt that one or two countries will want to explore the possibility of increasing their share of the quota and altering the stability keys. However, if there is any suggestion that we will explore the opening-up of the stability keys, we will have our say, too, along with every other country. I do not believe that it is in anyone's interests to reconsider relative stability. The idea that someone would gain from doing so is mistaken, and all countries recognise that. Anyway, I do not think that that is the mood, or that the Commission will propose doing so.

I am a strong advocate of multi-annual quotas, which I think are the way forward. The only concern is whether stocks are able to take multi-annual management, but we will have to explore that issue using expert scientific advice. We are applying multi-

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annual quotas to several stocks. The detail about the Commission's proposals for its own role will have to be explored in discussion with the Council of Ministers.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): It is nice to see another Scot in a position of power in this House, Miss Begg.

My question is about food hygiene regulations, which are an important part of the process. Where are we on that issue in terms of legislation?

Mr. Morley: I am not certain which aspects of food hygiene regulations my hon. Friend refers to. Food hygiene regulations have changed over many years. They have had implications for fish markets and, to a certain extent, onboard handling, and, as far as fish markets are concerned, it is right that the regulations should have changed. I recently visited several fish markets. I was at the opening of Fishgate, the brand new fish market in Hull, which is a superb facility with temperature control and automatic grading. I have also had the opportunity to discuss the new Peterhead market when I was at Fishing 2002. Those markets are being designed to deal with the latest hygiene regulations and to ensure that fish is handled in conditions of the highest possible quality. Fish is a quality product and fishermen can obtain a quality price, but it must be handled properly. Attention must be given to ensuring quality control from catcher to consumer, and I am pleased to see the investment that has taken place in our ports for that type of hygiene control.

Mrs. Winterton: Many British vessels, as has already been said, have moved to the deep water fishery because of difficulties with the demersal sector on the continental shelf. Perhaps the increase in fish farming is for the same reason. Has the Under-Secretary any indication of the tonnage of feed used by United Kingdom fish farms and where that feed is sourced from?

Mr. Morley: I am sure that we have that information. I do not have the figures to hand, but I will be happy to let the hon. Lady have them. It is inevitable that, as the aquaculture sector has increased, fish food production and consumption have also increased. The aquaculture sector has been successful in the United Kingdom. It is an important source of employment in remote rural areas. We should acknowledge that much of the material for fish meal comes from the industrial fishery. As she will know, for many years I have advocated changes in the North sea industrial fishery. My views have not changed on that issue.

Andrew George: The Under-Secretary will be aware that the Commission has been developing proposals for a European Union-based, centralised inspection and enforcement proposal. What is his response to that, bearing in mind the general concern, in the fishing industry and across all parties in the UK, that we should not further centralise the common fisheries policy? Rather, we should seek every opportunity to establish effective or even mandatory bilateral

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arrangements between fishing countries to enable them to inspect each other and report back to the Commission on any misdemeanours that are identified.

Mr. Morley: That is a reasonable point. All indications that I have received from the Commission suggest that that is also its thinking. The Commission is not in a position to put in place an EU enforcement programme. It does not have the facilities or resources. In fact, I do not think that it particularly wants to do such a thing. Quite properly, enforcement is a member state responsibility and I think that it will remain so. I do not see the Commission recommending change.

I agree that there is a role for the Commission, precisely along the lines outlined by the hon. Gentleman; to ensure consistency of enforcement. It should ensure that each member state meets its obligations in relation to enforcement. That is not a new role, because the Commission already has that responsibility. It oversees enforcement and draws up an annual report on member state enforcement. It can look around ports and companies, with the co-operation of individual member states, to see what they are doing. That is right and proper. The UK has nothing to fear, and there is a role for the Commission in ensuring consistency of enforcement.

Mrs. Winterton: People will be reassured to learn that the Commission's proposals are now due out at the end of May, with 28 May being the date bandied around. There have been rumours, including one on the web today, that the Commission has delayed publication because of the sensitive political situation in France. I do not know what credence we should give that. Alex Smith, president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said at a meeting earlier today that he believed that the proposals had been put on hold indefinitely. I do not believe that that is true, as the Under-Secretary outlined.

If there are more delays, there will obviously be tremendous pressure towards the end of the year. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that if no new management system is agreed by 1 January 2003, there will be equal access to a common resource, as in 1983 in the so-called Kent Kirk case?

Mr. Morley: My interpretation is that if there is no agreement in 2002, the present CFP mechanism will be automatically rolled over. The only thing that will not be rolled over is the six and 12-mile limits. I am pleased that a discreet nod from my advisers confirms that point of view.

In such circumstances, there would be no change to the so-called principle of access to a common resource, as it is governed by relative stability. The only thing that would change would be that if the six and 12-mile limits were not renewed, theoretically, people who have no historical right of access between six and 12 miles could fish in those zones.

Those were the circumstances in the case of the famous Captain Kirk, who set off in his fishing boat to boldly go where no one had gone before; he went to fish within the coast limits, as there was a gap on renewal at the time. I do not expect that to happen. As

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I said, I believe that there is a consensus among member states for coastal limits to be renewed and, indeed, our intention is for them to be renewed permanently.

Andrew George: Will the Under-Secretary comment on proposals that I understand to be in the Commission's forthcoming document on strengthening technical measures to conserve stock and avoid unnecessary by-catch and discard? As he will know, the fishing industry in this country has been arguing for such measures for a long time. I understand that the Commission is considering proposals for improvements, including the use of more selective gear, larger mesh size, square mesh panels and separator grids, changes in design and rigging, greater use of closed areas, mini quotas for by-catches and discard ban trials. What involvement has this country had in the discussion and development of those proposals?

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