Ministers and officials meet fishermen’s representatives regularly to discuss quota levels. The Prime Minister recently met a delegation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) to discuss the quota allocation between the fleet sectors.
Is there any unused sole quota in the over-10 m sector? If so, could that quota be transferred to help the small boat inshore sector, which could use it without damaging the stocks? Do we need a little more flexibility in the way in which we manage our national fish quotas?
We do use that flexibility and my officials work hard to organise the swaps that the hon. Gentleman advocates. I shall certainly consider his suggestion. My understanding is that there is a possibility that this year the quota may be under-fished in the over-10 m sector, in which case that might allow for some swapping. However, in previous years the allocation has been over-fished in both the under-10 m and over-10 m sectors. It is difficult to devise a system that could be made permanent without upsetting either sector. However, we try to be as flexible and helpful as we can be in instances when quota is not fully fished to benefit those who want to fish a little more.
What discussions has my hon. Friend had with representatives of the fishermen of Young’s prawns who this week chose to harvest their quota of prawns, ship them to Thailand to be peeled by cheap labour only for them to be shipped back again to be sold as Scottish prawns in the UK market? What pressure does he think could be brought to bear on companies that choose such environmentally unsustainable business models?
The pressure is being brought to bear on such companies not least by my hon. Friend in making that point in the Chamber. The case he refers to involves, I think, a Scottish company. If my recollection is correct, I am pretty sure that my Scottish colleague, Ross Finnie, expressed similar concerns about the sustainability of that activity when it first arose in the latter part of last year, as did the First Minister in Scotland, Jack McConnell.
Like the Minister, it is entertaining to observe, as it dawns on some political parties, that although fish may not be that bright, at least we know that they are just about intelligent enough not to have hang-ups about their nationality.
What are the Government doing to make a strong case for extending the work of the sea fisheries committees to 12 miles? We have discussed this before and I know that the Government are keen to achieve that. It would be useful to have an update.
As I have told the hon. Gentleman during our discussions, we are keen to explore the issue in the context of the general review of the common fisheries policy, which I believe is due in 2012. That does not mean that we cannot in the meantime make applications to the Commission for the extension of certain competences in agreement with the sea fisheries committees, but the arrangement would obviously have to be agreed at Commission level. Where there is potential for interference in the activity of other member states’ vessels fishing legitimately between 6 and 12 miles offshore, difficulties could be caused, but, as I have said, we are keen to explore the issue.
Is it the case that the Department has miscalculated the under-10 m quota, and that the Minister does not have the flexibility that he mentioned owing to the Government’s implementation of fixed-quota allocations for the over-10 m vessels? While he is apologising for those mistakes, will he also apologise for failing to encourage more English, Irish and Welsh representation on the board of Seafish?