HC Deb 16 December 1998 vol 322 c962
Q3. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

If he will visit Brixham in order to take a sea voyage on a beam trawler.

The Prime Minister

I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Steen

Is the Prime Minister saying that he would prefer not to witness the disastrous effect and the failure of his conservation policy? Once caught, 45 per cent. of the catch is taken on board, sorted and thrown back into the sea. Millions of prime fish are thrown back every day, dead. Does the Prime Minister feel that that policy is sensible, or is it abhorrent, environmentally damaging and a policy from which he would like to dissociate himself?

The Prime Minister

Unequivocally, I think that the present policy needs changing. Of course it does. However, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that it cannot seriously be thought that what he said has begun only now. It has been building up over a long period as a result of commitments entered into by the previous Government rather than the current one. Having said that, I agree that the current level of discarding is far too high and a terrible waste. We are working to reduce it with a range of measures, including reducing levels of fishing and making changes to technical rules on fishing gear. We shall argue against excessively large cuts in quota, although some cuts are necessary to conserve stocks for the future. We are committed to improving the common fisheries policy, but I do not believe that the alternative of leaving the policy altogether is seriously sustainable. We must be honest: changes are necessary, but we shall have to achieve them within the CFP.

Forward to