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Thursday, 24 July 2014

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Morecambe Bay cockling safety pledge on eve of anniversary

MINISTERS have pledged to increase safety measures on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster.

During a debate in parliament, MPs were told the body set up to issue cockling and musseling licences in the wake of the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers on February 5, 2004, was secure.

George Eustice, under secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, told MPs that regulations would be tightened further.

Mr Eustice said: “Safety measures will be more stringent than those that are in place now.”

Since the disaster the number of licences granted by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has been reduced from 2,000 in 2004 to just 120 at present.

During the debate organised by David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, the minister said further safety measures would be put out to consultation this year but there was no firm timescale.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said during the debate: “The GLA was recommended for abolition in the Beecroft review. I understand there is a firm commitment from the government not to enact that recommendation, but it is important that the minister puts that on record and shows that he understands and hears the calls.

“The rush to abolish regulations and strip away so-called burdens on business can sometimes target the essential element of safety, and we could also end up with people who want to observe safety standards, as many of our local cockle pickers did and do, finding themselves undercut by these horrible, unscrupulous practices.

“On that night 10 years ago, the cockle pickers could just as easily have set off from the Furness end of Morecambe Bay, had the tides been different.

“Those gangs were a regular sight going on to the sands from the coast road between Aldingham and Rampside.”

Mr Eustice said: “When in place, the order will allow for more long-term and adaptive management of the entire mollusc fishery, including the cockle beds.”

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