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UK Fishing Industry

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

9. What steps he plans to take in negotiations in the Council of Ministers to safeguard the interests of the UK fishing industry; and if he will make a statement. (296308)

My approach to the current negotiations will reflect agreements reached with ministerial colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and with the UK industry and other key stakeholders on a balance of appropriate priorities. Those will seek to ensure the long-term sustainability of the stocks in question, while maintaining the future viability of the UK fleet.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but I am sure that he will agree that haggling into the early hours of the morning at the December Council is not desirable. What will he do to ensure that the common fisheries policy is changed to the benefit of Scottish fishermen and UK fishermen as a whole?

My hon. Friend raises a vital point. We need to get away from this haggling until three in the morning in late December. We need to change the CFP, as we made clear in the May and June Councils, where we led from the front. We need to reform the CFP on the basis of good, long-term science, sustainable fish stocks, regionalisation and the long-term viability of all parts of the UK fleet, and away from micro-management, bringing the marine environment and fisheries together. I am pleased to say that we in this Labour Government are right at the forefront of driving that radical change.

Is the Minister aware of how disconnected inshore fishermen feel from discussions with his Department? Now that he is, what does he intend to do about putting that right?

I would counter that. I am aware of a perception in certain parts of the fleet and in certain harbours, where it is widely reported that there is a perception of being disconnected. The reality is that we have set up the sustainable access to inshore fisheries—SAIF—project, and we have a ministerial quadrilateral group on quota reform, in which we are engaged and reaching out to others. In all aspects of our work—including CFP reform, the recent launch of which by the Secretary of State was attended by under-10 metre and over-10 metre producer organisations—we will always reach out to the under-10 metre sector. It is a vital part of our communities and our economy.

The fishing industry in Northern Ireland is almost wholly reliant on prawn, and there is a proposal for a 30 per cent. cut in prawn fishing. Coming on top of further cuts in days at sea and cod quotas, that will have a devastating effect on the Northern Ireland fishing industry, which is already in a perilous state. Can the Minister assure us that he will take on board the very difficult situation in Northern Ireland in his discussions in Brussels?

Yes, I can indeed. I give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance that we are continuing to have close discussions with Northern Ireland stakeholders, Ministers and colleagues. Northern Ireland Ministers play a vital part in our negotiating team as well. I was also pleased recently to meet skippers in Portavogie. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, as we determine the package of UK priorities, Northern Ireland will feature strongly in it.