§ 3. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)
What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the European Union on the reform of the common fisheries policy. 
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)
I have regular discussions with my counterparts in the European Union about reform of the CFP and other fisheries matters. This week, for example, I visited the Netherlands for cordial and constructive discussions with my Dutch opposite number.
§ Mr. George
Does the Minister agree that, if devolved regional management of fishing effort is to succeed, as we want it to, it must proceed on the basis of trust, particularly between the Ministry and the industry? How can he explain the situation whereby the Belgians have been given 200 tonnes of UK plaice and sole quota to persuade them to stay out of the Irish sea closed area? Had not he assured the industry that there was a gentlemen's agreement?
§ Mr. Morley
The hon. Gentleman's point about relations between member states is important. It is not unusual for member states to help each other with quota management. It is certainly true that we made an allocation to Belgium, in response to the good will and support that we have received from Belgium, which removed its beam trawlers from the closed area—which it did not have to do—and thereby influenced the Dutch and the Irish Republic. Our own beam trawlers were the first to volunteer to come out.
The Belgian Government have assisted us with quota in the past. They helped us to keep the channel cod fishery open for our inshore fleet in 1998 and they helped us to clear some end-of-year overfishes that would otherwise have meant that our quota would have been deducted. That is what European co-operation is all about. The Belgians have removed their vessels from the area and no British fisherman will suffer as a consequence, because we had an undershoot in our quota. I can guarantee that no one in Britain will lose quota as a result of the deal.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
There is not a cat in hell's chance of the French and Spanish Governments agreeing to the comprehensive reform of the common fisheries policy. If I were a French or Spanish Member of Parliament, I would argue against any reform of the CFP. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend must continue to argue the case for both regional management and the abolition of industrial fishing. Both subjects should be on the agenda of the next meeting of the British-Irish Council, notwithstanding the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.
§ Mr. Morley
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Our fishing associations have had talks with the French and Spanish on regional management. Unfortunately, some in our industry and in the Conservative party give the impression that when we talk about regional management we are talking about renationalising the common fisheries policy. That is not possible without withdrawing from the European Union. If that is Conservative Members' policy, they should say so. I believe that, through negotiation and co-operation, we can move towards a less centralised CFP, more regional management and more involvement of local fishing industries in managing local fisheries.
§ Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)
We have heard about the 200 tonnes that were allowed to Belgium. Is there a similar arrangement with the Dutch and the Irish and, if so, for what tonnage?
§ Mr. Morley
No, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been no arrangement with the Dutch and the Irish. This is an issue of member states assisting each other. It is a two-way process, and we have benefited from assistance from other countries, including Belgium. We have shown good will in recognition of the good will that has been shown to us.
§ Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)
My hon. Friend is well aware that the Fleetwood inshore fleet is very concerned about the closure of the Irish sea and the allocation of quota to the Belgians. The fishermen feel especially angry because they were not properly consulted. In his debates with his colleagues about the reform of the CFP, will he ensure that the fishermen's voice is heard and that their sensible suggestions about fish management are taken into account? Simply relying on quotas has clearly not worked.
§ Mr. Morley
My hon. Friend has campaigned strongly on behalf of her fishermen and I recognise the problems. That is why we are allowing the inshore fishermen to fish with our scientists on board so that they can examine the case for continuing to fish without impacting on cod. On quotas, we have got the beam trawlers out of the cod closed area, which her fishermen were keen to see. When it comes to the allocation of quotas, it would be helpful if the industry could speak with one voice, because that is not the case at present.
§ Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)
Following the question from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George), in a recent written answer to me the Minister confirmed that a voluntary agreement had been reached with the Belgians to withdraw their flat fish beam trawlers from the cod protection zone in the north Irish sea. It has now come to light that that was no ordinary voluntary agreement but involved a "bung"—as Fishing News described it—of extra quota of 190 tonnes of North sea plaice and 10 tonnes of valuable Dover sole from the English channel. What authority does the Minister have for dishing out extra quota in that way, without consultation and in secret? Will he reiterate his guarantee that no UK fishermen will lose out as a result of that bribe to the Belgians? How does he reconcile those actions with his shameful treatment of the Fleetwood inshore fishermen who have had no income for two months because of his failure to pay them rightful compensation?
§ Mr. Morley
When the Belgians helped us to keep the channel cod fishery open, we did not describe that as a bung or a bribe. I repeat that we have a voluntary agreement with them. We have recognised the good will that has been shown to us by Belgium and other countries. The fish come from an undershoot. The allocation of both plaice and sole in the North sea for this year is more than was caught by our fishermen last year. I give a guarantee in relation to plaice that no British fisherman will suffer as a result of that arrangement.