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Cross-Border Fishing

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2008

2. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in the Government of the Republic of Ireland on cross-border fishing issues. (204416)

Irrespective of that, can the Minister confirm whether there will be a cod swap next year to provide restitution to the Northern Ireland fishing industry of the Irish sea cod that was lost to it owing to the unfair application of the Hague preference?

I know that the hon. Lady is very well informed about these matters, perhaps far better informed than I am. I will certainly be happy to convey her comments and concerns to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew, who I am sure will be interested to know about them. I can assure the hon. Lady that, particularly in relation to north-south co-operation on these issues, which is very important, there is regular contact between the Minister and her counterpart in the Republic, not least in terms of the preparations for the annual European Fisheries Council in December in Brussels, which is also very important. I am sure that that co-operation will continue, and I will happily ensure that the hon. Lady’s remarks are given to the Minister.

Does the Minister know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reports to the European Union in the context of fishing? Along with the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), I ask the Minister to agree that the fishing industry in Northern Ireland has experienced unparalleled decline in recent years, that all measures within the power of this Government must be taken to ensure that the industry remains viable, and that the UK Government should follow the lead of the French and Spanish Governments and take advantage of measures such as those provided for through de minimis arrangements to assist UK fishing fleets as a whole, but particularly in Northern Ireland, where the industry is on its knees.

Again, the hon. Lady is very well informed on these issues and cares passionately about them. One of the things that I have discovered in recent days is the complexity of the responsibilities in relation to marine matters. I know, for example, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible for the sea bed, but what swims around in the sea above it is a devolved matter. We are absolutely at one—this was evident in the very successful investment conference that took place last week—as to the need to have a thriving and vibrant economy in Northern Ireland. That includes the fishing industry, and we will continue to lend what support we can.