HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1083-4
5. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab)

What plans the Government have to allow fishery owners and angling clubs to protect inland waterways from the effects of cormorant predation. [174403]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Following representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), I am actively considering extra measures that could help fishery owners and angling clubs to deal with the increasing problem of predation by cormorants.

Mr. Salter

I thank the Minister for his reply, which will be welcomed by the 3.5 million anglers in this country. He is well aware of the serious environmental damage being caused to many inland fisheries in Britain as a result of the massive increase in cormorant numbers in the past 10 years. He is also aware that many European countries are relaxing their rules and granting themselves derogation from the EU birds directive. Is it not about time that Britain followed suit?

Mr. Bradshaw

I am not sure that we would be prepared to go that far. If my hon. Friend studies the experience of France, which has granted such derogation and has killed many cormorants, he will see that the evidence of a beneficial effect is at best patchy. I accept the concern that he expresses on anglers' behalf that serious localised problems exist, particularly in some of our inland fisheries, and I will re-examine this issue to see whether more can be done.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con)

The Government have a declared policy of equal rights, yet the hon. Gentleman's Department is here defending and promoting the interests of those who like dragging fish around in the water and pulling them out by sharp hooks before putting them back, while at the same time wishing to ban hunting with dogs. What are the Government and his Department doing to stamp out hypocrisy on these issues, both inside and outside this House?

Mr. Bradshaw

I am not sure what that has to do with cormorants, but the right hon. Gentleman is right: any Government have to strike a balance between the rights of fish and the rights of cormorants, and we are indeed trying to strike that balance.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab)

Why has there been such a large increase in the cormorant population?

Mr. Bradshaw

As with many of these very interesting questions, there is no conclusive scientific evidence, but one reason might well be that because our streams and rivers are cleaner than they have been for generations— thanks to the environmental improvements undertaken by this Government—fish populations in inland waterways are much higher, and cormorants that used not to live inland have migrated there in recent years.

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