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Fisheries Council

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 15 May 2003

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If she will make a statement on the Government's aims at the next Fisheries Council meeting. [113312]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

Agendas vary. Our aim at the May Council will be to support the development of effective measures for the future management of fishing effort in western waters.

With regard to the cod recovery programme, which I presume would be an essential part of that, does the Minister agree that it will be meaningless as long as we allow the industrial fishing fleet to remove an important part of the food chain? Will he use the next Fisheries Council to instil some urgency in the EU Commission with regard to the setting up of regional advisory councils?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are strong supporters of regional advisory councils. There is a great deal of activity going on in fishermen's organisations in relation to existing structures. We believe that for those councils to be effective, they should be driven from the bottom, rather than being imposed from the top. They must genuinely engage and involve the fishing industry. On industrial fishing, the hon. Gentleman knows my views. We are speaking to the Danes and to the Commission about the potential impact of industrial fishing. We have made £1 million available for scientific involvement with the English fishing industry. One of the topics that we are discussing with the industry is how we can use some of that money to fund proper examination of the by-catch and the ecological impact of industrial fishing, to strengthen the argument about its impact and to consider taking action on it.

Accepting that my hon. Friend always puts up a good fight, and a very cunning fight, on behalf of the British fishing industry, and does his best to voice the demands of the industry in the Council, I hope that he will attempt at the next Council and succeeding Councils to put more muscle into the regional advisory councils. National management of the waters has been a longstanding demand of the industry, and the present framework is purely advisory and has no real influence and role. It needs to have a defined role in management of the waters that it covers, so that they can be removed from the general considerations of management from Brussels.

I understand my hon. Friend's point. He has been entirely consistent and made a powerful argument on these issues. We had to fight hard for the regional advisory councils to be part of the reformed common fisheries policy. There were people in this country who said that we would never succeed and never get that. We did get it, and as far as we concerned, we see it as a framework for development. It is inevitable that we will have to progress step by step in the beginning to build up confidence and establish the influence of the councils. In the UK, we want them to have real power and a proper decision-making process, and to give fishermen a voice and an involvement in the management of their own fisheries.