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Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

As UK Fisheries Minister, I have had discussions with a range of people about common fisheries policy reform. These include the EU Commission, Members of the European Parliament and other member states. I continue to encourage fellow Ministers to support radical reform, most recently during this week’s Fisheries Council. I will continue to press our case for reform as negotiations develop over the next year.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I am aware that the mackerel quota was discussed at the meeting earlier this week. Is the Minister aware of the widespread exasperation at the fact that in her comments afterwards, the Commissioner confirmed that no action would even begin to be taken until at least October—a full 18 months after the arbitrary action that caused the problem in the first place? There is now very real concern that this will have an impact not just on the sustainability of stocks but on the livelihood of fishing fleets. Will the hon. Gentleman urge his European partners to take action more quickly?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this matter; it is our most pressing problem, and our most valuable stock is at risk of crashing—probably within 18 months to two years—if the gross overfishing announced by the Faroes and Iceland goes ahead. I moved the issue forward at this week’s meeting by seeking to raise it to a political level. It has been dealt with by the Commission and by officials, but I believe it will take Ministers from the countries concerned to look each other in the eye and sit round a table, perhaps with an independent chairman, to negotiate. I do not care where we meet, but we have got to move this forward quickly. That is the proposal I made at the meeting, and I have followed it up with a letter. We made a number of other suggestions that highlight the urgency of this problem.

I would be grateful if the Minister were prepared to meet a delegation of fishermen from my constituency who are concerned about the Government’s proposals for the inshore fishery, as the consultation on that closes today. They are particularly concerned about what I suspect will be the unintended consequences that will be detrimental to this low-impact and sustainable sector.

I would be delighted to meet representatives of the hon. Gentleman’s local fishing community. The consultation on the under-10-metre sector, which, as he says, closes today, sought to find a solution to the level of perceived unfairness—I acknowledge it—that applies to this sector. I want to find a way forward that gives this sector more fishing opportunities and allows the local communities to invest in their local fleets, because we understand the social implications of the decline of the fishing industry in many places. I am not in the business of making life more difficult for any particular sector, and I want to ensure that this consultation feeds on the many enthusiasms we have encountered, while also setting to rest many of the fears expressed.

The European Commission is due to publish next month the new legislative text on the reform of the common fisheries policy. The best thing, of course, would be to abolish that dreadful policy altogether, but short of that, what specific actions have the Government urged on the Commission on regionalisation of the policy?

The right hon. Gentleman is right; we expect the paper to be published on 13 July and we will debate it at the next Council meeting on 19 July. We pushed very hard for regionalisation. He is absolutely right to say that the system is ludicrous. One of the many failures of the common fisheries policy is that factors such as net sizes are decided in Brussels, whereas they should be decided at least on a sea basin basis, if not at member state level. We are still pushing hard for regionalisation. There are counter-arguments about the legality and what other countries want, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are really pushing for this, as we believe it to be an important way forward.