I beg to move,
That this House considers that the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to achieve its key objective of producing a sustainable European fishery; welcomes the review of the policy by the European Commission; and urges Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that a revised Common Fisheries Policy makes particular provision for—
(a) a move away from a centralised management system to a system of regional management of fisheries involving all stakeholders and strengthening of the local management of the 12-mile limit;
(b) a manageable and practical scheme to eliminate the problem of discarded fish; and
(c) the replacement of the current system of annual quotas with a multi-annual system of management focused on conserving fish stocks within a sustainable fishing industry, in particular to protect the viability of low impact fishing.
Before I address the issues in the motion, I want the House to remember the bravery of our fishermen, and the incredibly difficult and dangerous work that they do. Fishing remains the most dangerous occupation in this country, and we remember them for their brave work and send our condolences to the families of those who have died. I remember in particular the tragic circumstances in which the husband of the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) died in a shocking accident recently. We send our condolences to her in particular.
The common fisheries policy was established in 1970, before Britain joined the then European Community. Many people believe that the industry was traded as part of wider negotiations on access to the community. That is certainly the view of many in the fishing industry today, and it has coloured their opinion of the CFP ever since. Whatever the circumstances, the British fishing industry changed for ever when this country acceded to the common market in 1973.
Experience tells us that the CFP has failed in its objectives. Its primary objective was the
“rational and sustainable exploitation of fish stocks”,
but, over the life of the CFP, fish stocks have deteriorated considerably, as has our fishing fleet. The system is broken in several places. Decision making is centralised in Brussels, and it is far too complicated. The management style is far too top-down. Decision making is short term, and there is a one-size-fits-all culture. There are also serious issues with the science, but the science determines at least the direction of Council decisions on quotas. We have a system that operates on the basis that management measures and plans for EU stocks can all be created centrally by the Commission, that member states will enforce those rules, and that fishermen will obey them. To put it mildly, that does not reflect the reality of the fishing industry in Europe.
I should like to focus on two issues. The first is the problem of discards, which is high on the agenda. We are all opposed to the principle of good, saleable fish being thrown back into the sea. Television programmes, celebrities and many others outside and inside the fishing industry tell us that that is a bad thing, and of course it is a very bad thing. It is offensive to most of us, it is wasteful, it affects the viability and sustainability of fish stocks, and it distorts the science and scientific advice. It also deeply affects our fishermen, who are forced to throw perfectly good fish back into the sea to rot. The discard of fish is a direct consequence of the one-size-fits-all management approach by the European Commission and its strict adherence to a system of quotas applied to single species over the past 28 years.
The principle of the total allowable catch—TAC—system is questionable in itself, but the refusal to recognise that many fisheries are multi-species and require a much more sophisticated response is a significant sign of the inability of the present system to meet the needs of the fishing industry. Despite the huge improvements made by fishermen, particularly in Scotland, to use more sophisticated gear and other methods to avoid by-catch, it is still a major problem that the Commission has failed to address.
Then there is the even more difficult subject of black fish. From the earliest days of the UK’s membership of the CFP, that has been a problem, not just in the UK but across Europe. Until relatively recently, the subject was ignored by successive Governments. In the1970s, it was estimated that over 20% of the haddock caught in the North sea was illegally caught. Recent inquiries set up by Grampian police, Northern police and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have resulted in a number of convictions of fishermen and fish-processing companies.
One statistic from a report published in July by KPMG gives a good idea of the scale of the fraud that has been uncovered. The report looked at crime in the corporate world in the first six months of this year, and it showed that, in Scotland, company fraud rose from £2.8 million last year to £94.1 million this year, of which £91 million related to prosecutions for illegal fishing. The sums involved are huge. Everyone in the fishing industry knew that it was going on, and that goes right up to Ministers and their officials.
The fraud has had a number of consequences. One has been a serious distortion of the science, much of which is based on the recording of the details of individual landings. It is clear that, for many years, the recorded landings have been wrong. There have also been serious consequences for many of the businesses that refused to become involved in the black fish trade. Most of them lost trade, and many went bust because their customers could get cheaper fish on the black market. I wish to discuss the related issues in more detail with the Minister, and I will contact him later with a view to arranging a meeting.
It is extremely important to stress that illegal fishing is not unique to the UK, and that it happens in many other countries. Following new regulations introduced in Scotland in 2004 requiring the registration of fish sales companies, the problem of black fish seems to have been almost eradicated. However, black fish and discards are two areas in which the Fisheries Commission has been blind to the impact of its policies. The policies in both areas have been immensely damaging to the fishing industry, not just here in the UK but across Europe, and of course both practices distort the science on which the whole quota system is based.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and on the motion. Having identified some of the crucial failings of the common fisheries policy, the motion also identifies one of the key solutions—namely, regional management. That would involve those with a stake in the fishing having a say in the policy. In that way, they would know what was going on and have a vested interest in ensuring that the policy was successful.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the key needs of the fishing industry is to remove the top-down system of management and to involve the whole industry, right down to the level of the fisherman on the fishing boat. I will address that issue in a minute.
We are now promised a radical review. The Fisheries Council seems to recognise some of the issues on management. For example—picking up on the hon. Gentleman’s point—the possibility of devolved decision making is explored in the consideration of the transfer of responsibility away from the centre to the regional seas level and of the inclusion of the fishing industry. There is a strong view in the industry that decentralisation is essential for the future of the UK fishing industry, but it must be decentralisation that is meaningful and that works.
Industry leaders are worried about the lack of detail in the proposals and also about the model put forward by the Commission, as it will require member states with an interest in the various regional seas to co-operate. This has led to fears that regionalisation will simply result in a further layer of bureaucracy and cost. There is concern that the European Parliament, having recently been given new powers, might be reluctant to give them up. There is a history of that happening.
The industry would like to see member states with an interest in regional seas co-operating with regional advisory councils at regional sea basin level to prepare comprehensive management multi-annual plans. The regional advisory councils have been incredibly successful, particularly here in the UK and in other European countries. They must play a vital part in any proposals.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend and his colleagues on tabling this motion. It has broad support across the House, not just across the parties but among those who sometimes have differing points of view on EU-related issues. Does knowing that the House is united not give the Government strength going into the negotiations to take the opportunity of what appears to be some movement with the Fisheries Commissioner to get the solution that has been demanded by our constituents and communities for so long?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have a habit in fisheries debates in sending the Minister off to Brussels with all our support and help. This is not a party political issue; there might be many issues we disagree on, but this is certainly not one of them. The hopefully full support of the House expressed in this motion today is important.
The consultation also proposes a complete ban on discards. Commissioner Damanaki suggests a gradual approach, starting with a limited number of fish species in the ban. The starting point will be in the pelagic fisheries, moving on later to the demersal fisheries. Of course we all want to see a ban on discards, but any proposal to ban them must take account of the reality of fishing. The proposal suggests that the Commission will not budge from its current policy of a species-by-species approach, which ignores the reality of mixed fisheries. Our current science is inadequate and is unable to deal under the current rules with mixed fisheries. A large amount of discards come from those fisheries; what is needed is an ecosystem approach that recognises that many different species of fish—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that much of the problem of discards comes from the EU rules themselves, particularly the catch composition rules, which mean that the seven target species are not caught to a certain degree, but so many other kinds have to be dumped as a result that it amounts to absolute madness from the EU?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are many reasons for the high level of discards, and what he suggests is certainly a major one.
What we need is much greater emphasis on the science and particularly on making the science fit the management purpose. We have had more than two centuries of fisheries science, but in the present condition I understand that there is no analytical assessment of around 60% of the stocks in our waters. The science needs to improve, it needs to consider the specific problems associated with mixed fisheries and it needs to inform a sustainable policy. Of course, the Fisheries Commissioner’s proposals will work with some fish stocks, but it will fail—and fail miserably—if the same rules are applied to mixed fisheries.
In that case, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the practice of taking scientists on fishing vessels should be extended throughout the industry, because it will help to provide the best possible data for the future management of fisheries, especially in circumstances where we cannot distinguish between the intentional and unintentional over-catching of certain species, particularly in the mixed fisheries?
One major problem with the science is that there is not a close enough relationship between the science and the fishermen. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Other countries such as Ireland do that, and I do not see why we cannot have scientists on our boats and secure much more co-ordination with them. As I say, the science needs to improve, it needs to consider the specific problems associated with mixed fisheries and it needs to inform a sustainable policy. Of course the Fisheries Commissioner’s proposals will work, but not in the mixed fisheries.
Let me say a brief word about the December Fisheries Council meeting. I know that other colleagues will enter the debate on various aspects of the Commission’s proposals, but this is the only opportunity we will have to say something to the Minister about the Fisheries Council in December. As usual, there are many issues on the agenda; let me run through them very quickly. As far as the industry is concerned, the major problems are the pre-programmed effort and total allowable catch reductions required by the cod recovery plan, the mismatch between the science and the Commission’s proposals for 2012 TACs, and the continuing saga surrounding Iceland, the Faroes and the pelagic stocks. I hope that the Minister will deal with all those issues in the meeting.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the success of this debate and the House’s attitude will be measured largely in December at the Council meeting? If the Council is allowed to ram through another 25% reduction in our total allowable catch, it will effectively put more fishermen out of business and completely ignore the wishes of this place?
I have two quick points for the hon. Gentleman. The Commission says that it will follow the ethos and philosophy of the recommendations in the consultation document. Yes, there is a mismatch between the science and what the Commission is proposing.
I was about to say that, in the 20 years of my attendance at fisheries debates in this place, I cannot remember a single good word being said about the common fisheries policy. I think that that reflects the views of most of my colleagues here. For a number of years the former Prime Minister, Ted Heath, attended these debates—not to support the fishing industry in Bexley or even to defend the CFP, but to defend his decision as Prime Minister to sign up to the CFP when the UK joined the then European Community. He put up with a lot of abuse and many attacks over the issue, particularly from his own side, but he stood his ground and maintained that the decision he made was in the best interests of the country. The current CFP review gives us an opportunity to argue for a much more radical change to the CFP—one that recognises the past failures of the system and puts in place a CFP that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.
The three issues set out in the motion—regional management, a practicable scheme to end discards and a multi-annual system of management—are a good starting point and we look forward to a positive outcome from the negotiations. In the meantime, there is work to be done at the December Council, and I wish the Minister well.
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), on securing this timely debate? The Select Committee, which I have the honour to chair, hopes that we might return to debate the work it is currently undertaking on this very subject. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will follow the direction of travel of the current EU negotiations, which seems very positive indeed. These are ground breaking and should command the support of all member states. The challenge to the Minister who will be leading these negotiations for the whole of the United Kingdom is to ensure that it is not just the northern member states that support these ground-breaking proposals from the Commission, as it is important for the southern member states to do so as well.
At the outset, I draw the House’s attention to the Select Committee’s initial report, “Implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy: Domestic Fisheries Management”, which was adopted on 18 May. We urge the Government to continue the work to find a market for less popular fish. I am delighted to see that that is part of Commissioner Damanaki’s current thinking. It is also important to implement the excellent work done under the previous and the present Government on “Project 50%”. Fantastic work was done in a short period of time to reduce discards by employing more selective gear. We would like to see that project pushed out widely across English fisheries.
We press for a reduction in discards as a key element in the current common fisheries policy negotiations and we want to ensure that the interests of the under 10 metre fleet are represented in them. There is common ground in what the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said about the eye-watering lack of scientific evidence. We must have the means to improve the scientific evidence before we agree any further round of reform.
I would like to sound a note of caution to the Minister—in a personal capacity, if I may. I think it is misleading for the UK to talk about under 10 metre boats when the European Union talks about under 12 metre boats. Will the Minister address the issue of whether we are disadvantaging our own fishermen in that regard?
In representing the six families who fish out of Filey Coble Landing and all who fish the Yorkshire coast from Scarborough, Whitby and Bridlington, I urge the Minister to reflect very carefully indeed before contemplating for the UK any introduction of a quota for lobster, crab and shellfish. I believe that the Minister is going forward in absolutely the right way by looking at pilot schemes. It has been put to me by the local fishermen that they are excluded at the moment from the cod and other quotas and that they are doing very nicely on a sustainable basis from lobster, crab and shellfish, so they do not wish to see their incomes penalised or jeopardised in any way.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen North that we have not seen enough flesh on the bones of the Commission’s proposals. That is causing great anxiety. We need to know how the European fisheries fund will be replaced, and in particular how it will apply to active fishermen and coastal communities. I should like to know how the Minister thinks that we will navigate around the legal base, and how regionalisation will work.
This is the first occasion on which co-decision will rule the operation of these ground-breaking negotiations, so let me end my speech on a positive note. I hope for a maximum sustainable yield, an end to discards, and regionalisation of the industry.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I shall do so mainly on the basis of representations made to me by constituents, especially those who have been actively involved in marine conservation. My constituency contains a very active community-based organisation called COAST, which has campaigned successfully for Scotland’s first no-take zone in Lamlash bay on the isle of Arran. Many of those involved in the campaign come from a fisheries background, or have been involved in marine conservation issues as divers or scientists.
One of the main points that I shall make today is that sustainability—and, indeed, the approach taken by both the Scottish and the United Kingdom Governments to the creation of ecosystem-based marine conservation areas and zones—should be at the heart of our policies. Unless we start to address more seriously and effectively the significant conservation problems that exist in our seas, we will not have a fishing industry in this country. I believe that Members on both sides of the House, and both the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments, want a policy that is more effective in terms of sustainability than the common fisheries policy, which, as is well documented, has not been successful in its own terms.
There has been much talk of quotas, and specific species have been cited. Unless we take an ecosystem-based approach and recognise the inter-relationship of different species, we will not solve our problems. The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), mentioned the lack of scientific evidence, but another problem is the lack of transparency. We need much more information about, for instance, who holds the UK’s fishing quota.
The fishing rights that we have as a country belong to the general public, not to individuals, but I fear that unless we are careful, the proposed individual transferable quotas may lead to the effective privatisation of our fishing rights. I remind the Government that although transferable quotas have worked well in some ways in other countries, particularly the United States, they have also had a devastating impact on many communities.
I represent a part of the world where there used to be massive fishing fleets. Now only six vessels operate from my constituency. The seas have been fished out. We need to state clearly that we have a fishing crisis and a conservation crisis. I hope that the British Government will enter the negotiations on the CFP with an ecosystem-based approach at the top of their agenda, because that is the only way in which we shall be able to create the space that will enable our ecosystem to redevelop. Although we have had a no-take zone for only two or three years in Lamlash bay, we are already seeing an increase in the number of scallops and some species of marine life that have not existed in that part of the world for many years.
I urge the Government to look closely at the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and to bring together policies not just to defend those whose livelihoods depend on the fishing industry, but to ensure that we have a fishing industry in the future, and plentiful supplies in our seas.
I want to speak about the local inshore fishing industry in the Redcar area. One of my constituents in particular, Peter Rolph, has drawn the issue to my attention. He lives in Redcar but fishes out of Hartlepool, which a recent Sunday Times article cited to illustrate the problem. Another Hartlepool fisherman, Phil Walsh, told the newspaper that he was allowed to go fishing, but was not allowed to land most of his catch. He said:
“We’re discarding perfectly good cod by the basketful…We’re dumping plaice—we’re allowed only 100 kg of those a month—and haddocks, they’re getting dumped, too. The job’s a mess. The way the quotas are, we’re in a terrible situation. We’re on the verge of bankruptcy.”
I want to talk about inshore fisheries partly because of local interest and partly because the 75% of fishing boats under 10 metres long work inshore, but also because I think that the solution to some of our problems lies in such fisheries. We should bear it in mind that most inshore fishermen have a vested interest in sustainability. They want to go out day after day, and they want their sons and brothers to go out as well. They want a sustainable industry. The problem is the boats that do not care about sustainability: the Spanish trawlers that arrive once a year and take everything in sight. Whatever policies we favour should take account of the inshore industry.
My constituent has explained in great detail techniques that he has developed for targeted fishing—catching particular species—and very clever they are too. That is the way to reduce the number of discards. Because the time spent in nets is so short inshore, the number of dead discards is much lower.
Seasonality is another issue. Both the Sunday Times article and an earlier speaker said that the quotas should take account of the variation that takes place during the year. Specific quotas for the whole year would cause fishermen’s incomes to fluctuate in a way that they could not possibly manage. There should also be more flexibility in regard to the cost of licences. Fishermen need to be able to make a return, and, as we know, many with small boats are finding it extremely difficult to make a living.
I support the plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh). We certainly do not need quotas for lobsters, crab and shellfish. Those who put lobster pots out each day do not want to kill off the lobster communities in their areas: they have a clear interest in sustainability.
Localisation is vital. Fishermen in my area tell me that cod are abundant there, but they are simply not allowed to catch them. We all recognise the need to rebuild the cod stocks in the North sea, but that has now been achieved in many areas, and the quotas have not caught up.
I welcome some of the Minister’s recent comments, particularly his comments on inshore fisheries. The solution seems to me to be more and more local management. Local areas know their own ecosystems and have an interest in preserving them as they have a long-term interest in there being viable fisheries for their children and future generations. I hope the Minister will take that into account in any policies he develops.
I welcome this timely debate. It is important that we set out some red lines before the December Council meeting so that the Minister is emboldened to make representations there on behalf of our industry, which is very important to coastal towns and villages around the entire United Kingdom.
In October there was a significant displacement of the scallop fishing effort from the Irish sea on to the north Antrim coast because British scallop dredgers had exhausted their area VII effort pot of 2011. That effort pot was agreed in the late 1990s under what was called the western waters regime. Uptake of it has accelerated because a growing number of vessels have diversified into the scallop fishery to escape restrictions introduced in other fisheries, such as the long-term cod recovery plan and the western channel sole recovery plan. Also, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering recommendations for a chain of marine-protected areas, which would have to be mirrored by the Minister’s colleagues in the devolved Administrations. That could create further displacement.
It is easy to become confused by all these issues, and I do not envy the Minister’s responsibilities in having to deal with what is a huge range of very complex and interconnected areas. Yet, as I heard when I was chairman of our agriculture Committee in Northern Ireland, and as I regularly hear from my colleagues in Parliament and fishermen across the country, there is concern about how the common fisheries policy operates, and people are saying, “Enough is enough.”
The Minister’s website carries a colourful photograph of a fishing boat he saw on his travels. On the vessel’s side there is a picture of a Tasmanian devil, which is represented as a trawler skipper who is being questioned by a fisheries officer. He asks the skipper, “What are you landing today?” The skipper replies, “One box of whiting and six boxes of paperwork.” [Laughter.] We laugh, but we know that our fishing fleet is hampered by red tape and paperwork, and that that paperwork comes from one place and one place only: Brussels. We need to recognise that enough is enough; this has got to stop. We hope the Minister will be emboldened to stand up against the weight of EU bureaucracy that has been created.
I am carefully following the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and I welcome much of what he says. Does he not accept that if we were to introduce a UK register, which I believe the Minister is minded to do, that would cut through a lot of the bureaucracy and we would find out who is fishing in UK waters?
That is an interesting proposal, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response; I see that he is writing a note as he wishes to respond to it.
Do we really believe that a solution to the problems of paperwork or discards will be delivered by a commissioner who, in my view, is led by media hype, and by a Commission that, together with the other EU institutions, clearly wishes to exert even more influence over member states?
My right hon. Friend’s point hits home with great force given what has been going on recently in the eurozone—or the “euro crisis zone” as it should be called.
There will be support from across this Chamber if the Department goes to Brussels in December and says that the 25% cuts in total allowable catches in the Irish sea alone are no longer acceptable. I hope the Minister succeeds in pausing the implementation of any further cuts in the so-called cod recovery plan and days-at-sea provisions, and the reduction in the Irish sea prawn quota. I hope the Commission will listen to those representations, and that our Minister will be able to bring home from Europe a catch that means our fishermen will be able to fish successfully.
It will not have escaped your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, that Broxbourne does not have a rich maritime history. However, I enjoy our seas very much. I have a 16-foot Orkney made by Gus Newman of StormCats on the island of Islay, and a beautiful boat it is, too. I am proud to give him a plug in the Chamber this afternoon.
The common fisheries policy has been an absolute disaster for this country. It has been a failure of politics. Commercial fishing in this country is now almost a minority pastime. In saying that, I do not intend any disrespect to those brave men and women who fish commercially, but the fact of the matter is that over the past 40 years our commercial fishing fleet has been laid low.
Too often, scientific advice about the state of our commercial fishery stocks has been ignored. I know there are concerns about the merits of certain scientific advice. However, legend has it that 100 years ago in the North sea it was possible to stand an axe up on the backs of herring, and, as we know, the North sea was stocked to the gunwales with cod, pollock and other commercial fish. That is no longer the case. Too often, we are removing fish from our oceans and seas before they have had a chance to spawn even once, and that is not sustainable.
In the last Parliament, I and the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), served together on numerous Joint Committees considering marine conservation zones. I know Members hold different views about the merits of marine conservation zones, but they do provide a safe place for fish to breed—for fish to restock not only the conservation zone itself, but the seas around those zones.
I know that the Minister faces an enormously challenging job in reconciling the various interests of fishermen, conservationists and recreational fishermen, but, having served with him on those Committees for the best part of two years, I also know that his heart is in the right place. If anyone is capable of doing the right thing and making the right argument and putting the interests of this country first, it is my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. I doubt anyone in this Chamber could meet a finer man. [Interruption.] Yes, or would wish to meet a finer man.
We must give our seas the opportunity to restock themselves by providing a mechanism for them to do so. If in 100 years or 50 years—nay, in 20 years—we are to continue to have a commercial fishing fleet, then sustainability is essential.
Besides owning a small Orkney fishing boat, I am also chairman of the all-party group on angling. There are many hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers, who spend many millions—indeed, hundreds of millions —of pounds each year in our seaside communities.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling argument, but does he not agree that recreational sea angling is far more than just a hobby? Rather, it is an industry that brings £1 billion into the UK economy, and it supports many of the 37,000 jobs that angling creates in this country. Does he therefore agree that our Ministers should work hard to try to protect that industry for the benefit of future generations?
My hon. Friend makes a fine point. It is estimated that recreational sea fishers spend about £1 billion a year on fishing tackle and staying in the many wonderful seaside resorts and communities around our coastline. Their interests cannot be separated from this debate, because they did not create the problem but they are now living with it. So this debate goes beyond our commercial fishermen and stretches into almost every community in this country, because the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy our coastline live in every community in this country.
So sustainability must be the key to this debate, but we do need a certain robustness in our dealings with the European Union. Forty years ago, we brought to the party the richest fishing grounds in the world—that is no exaggeration. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark)—I call her my hon. Friend—too many parts of our seas are now the equivalent of ocean deserts, and that is simply not acceptable. However, we do still have the opportunity to restore our once proud fishing industry to the position that it once occupied. We can do this—it is within our powers—but we must be robust in our dealings with the European Union. Things cannot continue as they have done for the past 40 years. We need to get our act together and we need to sort this problem out while we still can recover the position.
I have always thought that the best possible way to reform the common fisheries policy was to come out altogether. Before the previous election that was Conservative party policy and I was sorry to see it changed, although it is still a policy to which the Government are attached. They wish to repatriate powers from Europe, and if ever there was a case for doing so it is in respect of fishing, because the blanket command-and-control policy operated from Brussels, with centrally decided political decisions, is not working, cannot be made to work and has to be ended. That means that we have to transfer power down to the regional advisory councils, which have been very successful, having been established only in 2002. They have been a major success but they need powers to allocate quotas, to impose conservation and technical measures, and to enforce those quotas. That means that they must have not only some fast-track powers of implementation, so that the whole thing does not get held up in the Brussels bottleneck, but the finance and staffing to do the job properly.
Therefore, we must, first, fulfil the rather vague aspiration in the Commission’s own document of transferring powers down to the RACs to give them the control of management. They need to work with the producer organisations; they need to involve the industry in deciding and managing its own fate. That is best done through the producer organisations, by giving them power. They have been very good at managing their quotas in their own areas and that power needs to be extended. If we are to have transferable quotas, as the Commission specifies, there have to be transfers within the producer organisations, rather than sales to foreign owners, as happened so much in respect of Spanish vessels. There needs to be a transfer of quotas within the individual POs so that we keep quotas locally. The producer organisations have to play a part, with the industry taking the lead.
We have to point out to the Minister—I am sure that he is aware of this—that the last vestiges of this command-and-control economy are the Commission’s proposals to cut the quotas, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). They are the last vestige of the ancien régime that the Commission is trying for, and they have to be imposed at the December Council. That is because the cuts in the quota that the Commission is proposing do not follow the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. ICES says that there should be no increase in quota, but the Commission has translated that into a 25% reduction, which is ludicrous. So, too, is the other proposal, for which ICES does not provide an analytical assessment of what has to be done, that there should be a 15% cut. If that is passed by the December Council and comes into the process of co-determination with the European Parliament, we could be stuck with that decision until 2014, which would be ludicrous. It would be damaging to the industry and it would leave us with a huge cut in domestic fleets.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation—the hon. Member for North Antrim has just concurred with this point—calculates that if the proposed cuts are enforced on the white fish and the prawn fleets in Scotland, they will be able to fish for only four days a fortnight. They will not be able to make a profit and they will be forced to lay up. This will decimate our fleet for a goal that is mistaken and has no scientific basis, so it is vital that the Minister overturns those cuts and opposes further cuts as part of the cod recovery plans. Cuts in quota will mean more discards.
I have two other points to make. One is that we have to accept that all fish should be landed, not discarded. The fishermen can be paid a management fee—the cost of landing and marketing, and no more—but that will allow us to record all the catches actually made. Secondly, we need to end the system of buying quota from poor African countries, which is a kind of fishing imperialism, where huge Spanish vessels are going in, damaging the local industry, crushing the local boats, in many cases, and stopping the recovery. There can be management arrangements to assist people in managing their stocks and to help them, but there should be no buying of quota, at our expense, to crush the local industry. The times are better than how they have been portrayed and the stocks are recovering, but now is the time to take a firm stand and get the powers transferred back down to the regional advisory councils to save our industry.
I am going to reduce the time limit to four minutes. I want to get everybody in, so I ask for brevity, where possible, and fewer interventions. Where people intervene and then expect to speak, I am going to drop them down the list. Please, let us see if we can get everybody in.
I strongly support the motion and I congratulate our fisheries Minister on his continued and dogged determination to reform the common fisheries policy—it has not gone unnoticed by everyone who cares about this issue.
I never miss an opportunity to be rude about the CFP, but I am going to restrict my comments to one point. On 12 May, this House unanimously passed a motion calling, among other things, on the Government to restore our control over the 12 territorial miles that surround this country. That was a key part of the motion, but since the EU Commission published its proposals it has curiously slipped off the agenda and out of the debate. I asked the Minister about this matter in a recent letter and his response implied that I, and by extension the House, wanted to achieve this control by removing the historical rights of other countries. I want to make it very clear that that is not at all what I voted for and it is not what the House voted for. Those rights should absolutely be retained, but they must also come with responsibility.
The responsibility on other countries is to adhere to the rules that we set for those 12 miles. So whatever rules we apply to our fishermen must be applied to others. I repeat that we have to avoid the situation, which has been well documented, where we impose laws to protect dolphins and porpoises, and restrict the trawling for bass. Our fisherman, naturally, had to adhere to the rules imposed by our Government, but within days Spanish and French fleets were continuing with the same practices and the effect on porpoises and dolphins was recorded and was depressing.
We have a one-off opportunity, given the huge public demand for reform on an issue that does not normally capture the public imagination, to fight for real change. I simply ask the Minister to remember that the unanimous vote—the unanimous passing of the very radical motion on 12 May—gives him a mandate to be tougher than any of his predecessors have been able to be. So I urge him to take that message with him to Europe and to give the people there a very hard time, as he will almost certainly have to do so.
I should like to put forward briefly the perspective of our local fishing industry. I was born in the former county borough of Tynemouth, which is now part of the Tynemouth and North Tyneside constituencies. The motto on the coat of arms of the former county borough was,
“Our harvest is from the deep”,
and the coat of arms proudly displayed the figures of a coal miner and a fisherman. Sadly, we no longer have any coal mines and our fishing fleet is very much diminished, but this diminished industry is still important to the local economy and local culture.
The recently formed Northumberland inshore fisheries and conservation authority, or IFCA, has put forward its views on the reform of the common fisheries policy to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, after extensive consultation with officers from the Marine Management Organisation and representatives from the commercial and recreational fisheries and the marine science and councillor sectors.
IFCA’s vision is to
“lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry”.
That vision has parallels with the aims of the EU Commission to reform the common fisheries policy. But Northumberland’s IFCA knows from local experience that achieving the vision and reform of the common fisheries policy is subject to practical limitations and it is clear that local factors need to be taken into account.
The area covered by the Northumberland IFCA stretches along the north-east coast from the Scottish borders to, and including, the Tyne. It is a mixed fisheries area, so the aim of achieving a maximum sustainable yield by 2015 would be unrealistic in that area. A more flexible date for that target would therefore be of great help to our fishing industry. Northumberland IFCA also feels that achieving maximum sustainable yield will be crucial to determining multi-annual plans, which, with an ambitious target date of 2015, could create the danger of unnecessary fisheries closures. The emphasis should be on local measures that will ensure sustainable and viable fisheries, such as the lobster V-notching permit scheme and pot limitation, with buy-in from the local industry, which currently operate in Northumberland. The idea of regionalisation cannot be stressed strongly enough, and not only in relation to large areas such as the North sea. Within regions, the specific needs of districts such as the IFCA areas must be taken into account to strike the right balance and involve stakeholders.
I am pleased that the Northumberland IFCA is continuing the interest shown by the former sea fisheries committee in the EU’s commitment to reform the discards policy. However, our fishermen feel that the Government must stress to the Commission that there must be investment in appropriate infrastructure to enable local fleets to dispose of unwanted catch. Technical advances must also be taken into account. The Government should play a role in consumer education to ensure that extra catches that are landed can be marketed more effectively.
My hon. Friend’s point about consumer education is very important, because this issue is relevant to others as well as to fishing communities. I think that the number of fishermen left in my constituency can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but this issue concerns the wider community, and that is precisely what is behind this idea—the motivation of communities as a whole to stop the scandal of fish discards.
Yes; the Fish Fight campaign has demonstrated that nationally.
Consumer education would, one hopes, help with marketing the catch that is currently discarded. Ultimately, however, our local fishermen believe that the prospect of a complete end to discards has not yet been set out in sufficient detail to be a viable prospect, and that further debate with the industry is needed.
Livelihoods have been diminished in our fisheries, with resulting economic and social downturns across communities. As the Government are committed to localism, that should be extended to DEFRA’s approach to the common fisheries policy on behalf of our fishing communities. I firmly believe that our prosperity does not depend simply on creating new industries and businesses but on sustaining those that already exist, which are trying hard to survive. It is in the hands of the Government to negotiate a fair deal for the reform of the common fisheries policy, to ensure the future of our fishing communities in a way that meets the vision of IFCA.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and other hon. Members on securing the debate. I strongly support the motion, which highlights the key points in the broad-brush approach of responding to the failure of the common fisheries policy, addressing in particular the problem of centralised management, the need for a more regionally controlled method of eliminating the problem of discarded fish and the need for a multi-annual basis for the future management of the common fisheries policy. Those who, like the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and I, have engaged in these debates over many years will reflect on the degree of consensus that has emerged in the past decade. That will not only strengthen the position but will provide a greater sense of purpose and direction for the Minister. I agree with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) that not only is the Minister up to the task, but he will have the full support of the House in his work.
I am disappointed that we will not have a further opportunity to discuss this issue, other than today’s inevitably truncated debate. I hope therefore that the Minister will make himself available to the all-party parliamentary group and other groups around the House so that we can discuss the impact of the European Commission’s proposals regarding the future of total allowable catches and quotas around the UK coast.
I want briefly to address two issues, the first of which concerns the Government’s consultation on domestic fisheries and management reform for the under 10 metre sector, which clearly needs to be tidied up and regularised. I have taken a delegation from my constituency to see the Minister about this and he knows that there is significant alarm and concern about the impact that the reforms might have on the under 10 metre sector, not least in relation to the reference period that has been used by the Government for the possible future allocation of quota in forthcoming years.
In the Government’s response to the consultation, which came out a fortnight ago, the Minister announced the intention to try alternative management approaches before introducing far-reaching changes to the current system. The intention is to launch three pilot schemes next year. Having discussed this with fishermen around the coast of my constituency, I know that there is enthusiasm for putting forward the west of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as a potential area in which a pilot scheme might be advanced. That could be a means by which the area has some influence over the future development of that policy.
The second issue I want to address is the need to make sure not only that scientists work with fishermen but that fishermen work with scientists. My constituent Shaun Edwards and his crew saved 47 passengers in heavy seas from the dismantled Fryderyk Chopin vessel 100 miles south-west of the Isles of Scilly on 28 October last year. He spent more than 60 hours taking them back to harbour at Falmouth, but sadly lost his job as a result of doing so. He was working for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science as an accomplice fisherman—I think the Minister knows about this case—and that is a great loss to science, as he was assisting CEFAS in its work.
I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I want to make two points about the west coast of Scotland: about mesh sizes in the Minch for prawns and about catch composition, particularly for haddock. There seems to be an abundance of haddock on the west coast of the Hebrides inside the area known as the French line, which is about 100 fathoms or 200 metres deep, and it seems that the haddock are migrating into the Minch and around the prawn fishery. It should be good news that there is an abundance of haddock, but that abundance is becoming very bad news indeed, because EU catch composition rules mean that no more than 30% of catches can consist of haddock, cod or whiting. If a trip catches quite a lot of haddock, what should have been good news is not good news if there are not enough prawns to get that haddock landed, because it is not allowed to make up more than 30% of the catch. In that case, only a fraction of the haddock caught can be landed.
Haddock is abundant and tasty, and many people in Scotland prefer it to cod, but if they cannot get haddock they will eat cod, and that makes the situation worse. The basis of the problem is the cod recovery plan. Surely we should take haddock out of the catch composition rules, particularly for the west coast of Scotland, where many fishermen’s leaders and merchants tell me there is an abundance of haddock. That underlines the silliness, folly and lunacy of the common fisheries policy. The cod recovery plan prevents haddock from being landed, which will probably mean that more cod is eaten. That is almost a comedy, but, as we all know, it quickly ends up in the usual common fisheries policy tragedy.
Fishermen’s leaders on the west coast have expressed concern to me about a potential increase in mesh size in the Minch from 80 mm to 95 mm for prawns, especially as the size increased from 70 mm to 80 mm two years ago. The change would, of course, have catch implications for the smaller community boats, on which many local islanders work. The change should not be made now, just when Scottish Government scientists are undertaking technical trials, and in particular it should not apply to boats with an engine of under 300 hp, due to the disproportionate cost of gear change for them.
The prawn area in the west coast fishery seems to be in balance at the moment; people seem reasonably happy, although they are worried about some of the measures on the horizon, such as the mesh size proposals. However, they feel that there is a major problem with haddock. Ironically, the problem is caused not by a lack of haddock but by an abundance of it. I would be particularly grateful to the Minister if he looked at ways of removing haddock from the catch composition rules on the west coast.
I have participated in many debates on the common fisheries policy and fishing, and I feel that not a blind bit of notice is ever taken of them in Europe. Earlier this year I was in the Faroe Islands for the “Seas the Future” conference with people from Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Scotland. At the end, officials from the EU talked about the CFP. They asked why I was complaining about the CFP in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands; would I not come to talk to them in Brussels? It occurred to me that surely there are places besides this Parliament—democratically elected places—where the common fisheries policy is discussed, but are we talking into a vacuum? Surely we should have people in this Chamber listening, at least, to the complaints that Members of all parties express about the common fisheries policy. What actually happens is that one person leaves this Chamber, meets people from other chambers, and ends up having to horse-trade on the common fisheries policy. Ultimately, as we have seen over the years, fishing has been the loser.
Thank you for inviting me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate hon. Friends from across the political divide on this truly excellent motion. My constituency hosts one of the principal fishing ports in the south-west. Plymouth is a global leader in marine science and engineering research. Our fishing industry is very much part of that, and part of our maritime heritage. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), is working so hard to protect the industry’s interests in Europe.
Last month I received an extensive briefing from the Plymouth marine laboratory. People there explained to me how plankton—the staple diet of our fish—is being lost from our seas. When my hon. Friend is next in the south-west, I would be delighted if he came with me to meet people at that laboratory, and to see that excellent research facility.
My local commercial fishermen face real challenges. They are concerned about the marine protected areas, and the quality of evidence being offered to my hon. Friend by his statutory advisers at Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation. Two weeks ago, in an Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), I raised my concerns about the lack of transparency in the evidence-gathering process. All MPAs should be based on sound evidence, and the research should be of the highest quality.
I thank the Minister for commissioning from Dr Graham-Bryce an independent review of the process used to gather the evidence. Dr Graham-Bryce confirmed in his July report that
“the process used…fell short of best practice in many respects.”
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what progress the Department has made in ensuring transparent, robust processes? Will he confirm that any effects of displacement from MPAs will be covered fully, and that the work will be conducted by professional personnel?
Another incredibly important issue is scallop fishing. The scallop-fishing industry is an important export market that brings much-needed revenue and jobs to the Plymouth travel-to-work area. I am told that it is worth about £20 million. Recently, for the first time, western waters area VII was closed to UK vessels for scallop fishing. The area has recently been reopened, but problems and challenges remain. I hear that the UK has been at risk of reaching the kilowatt-days limit since 2009, which is before my hon. Friend took up his post. Will he explain why local fishermen were only recently alerted to that? Will we make sure that they are looked after much better, and have much more notice, in future? They can certainly be flexible, but they cannot quite turn on a sixpence immediately.
I have never missed an opportunity to call on my hon. Friend to press for the UK’s fishing waters to come back under the UK’s control. I urge him to carry on pressing for that, and for reform of the EU fisheries policy. That is the only way to make sure that we conserve and protect our fishing stocks and our industry.
For my constituents in the fishing ports of Ardglass and Kilkeel, the reform of the common fisheries policy is a somewhat distant process. That is not to say that they do not recognise the importance of the subject, but in what has become for many a struggle to survive, the common fisheries policy and the accompanying rules and regulations are matters for policy development in Brussels. What is vital to those in the industry, their families and the wider community in both fishing towns are issues to do with quota allocations, limits on days at sea and fuel bills. Those are the immediate priority, and they require resolution.
We have heard from the Commission that decisions made now should fit in with the spirit of what the new common fisheries policy will deliver. Given the current proposals for fishing opportunities in 2012, it is easy to conclude that that does not bode well for the future. The Commission’s failure to address the flaws in the long-term cod recovery plan, and the intention of imposing more of the failed medicine prescribed in that plan, which involves ill-thought-out discard policies and an inability to recognise the significant contributions made by many of my constituents to ensuring sustainable fisheries in the Irish sea, do not appear to reflect a Commission willing to surrender its centralised decision-making powers and make provision for the devolution or transfer of power to the regions.
On the other hand, the European Commission argues that it is precisely its light touch with regard to the detail of the Green Paper that signals its intention to allow the regions to decide their own management regime, within the broad framework of rules in the new common fisheries policy. In that context, who are we to believe? Is it the individuals, including some in the Commission, who offer up European Union treaties as the reason why any meaningful decentralisation is illegal? Or it is those who yearn to be regarded as the voices of reason within the Commission, and ask for our trust? For me, so far the evidence suggests that it is the former, although I want it to be the latter. I welcome the fact that the Minister is to respond to the debate, and I suggest to him that it would be helpful for the House to learn the Government’s legal opinion regarding the degree of decentralisation of the common fisheries policy that is possible after the Lisbon treaty.
I say to the House, and the Minister in particular, that for my constituents involved in the fishing industry—onshore and offshore—in Ardglass and Kilkeel in South Down, the industry is vital to their livelihood and their families, and to the wider community. It is a multi-million-pound industry that has to survive. I ask the Minister, in the negotiations, to do all he can to ensure that the fishing industry in the Irish sea is sustained for this generation—and, hopefully, for future generations.
I congratulate hon. Members from all parts of the House who helped to secure this debate, especially my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who takes a particular interest in fishing.
May I tell the Minister to be careful of the European Commission bearing gifts? He must look that gift horse in the mouth, as he will find that the proposals on devolving powers to regional advisory councils and others are short on detail. When the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took evidence on this issue, the producer organisations for the south-west were convinced that there were no real powers coming from Brussels, and that things were going the other way. I know that the Minister fights hard for British interests, and I commend him for doing so, but we have to introduce much more local control over fishing so that the fishing industry and people going out to fish have the ownership of conservation measures and are keen to see them work. At the moment that is done far away in Brussels, and if fish are saved in one member state the fishermen there will be convinced that someone else from another member state will come along and take them away. However, there is no proposal to devolve those powers at present.
My hon. Friend is making a good point. Does he agree that it is important to include in the balance the needs of recreational fishermen? In my constituency, for generations, people, including me, have enjoyed going out with their fathers and their grandfathers to catch fish to eat at home?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. A year or two ago I went to Falmouth, where we were trying to secure more help for sea anglers, who play an important part in the fishing industry, not only by catching fish but by bringing people down to Falmouth, the west country and other parts of the United Kingdom, where they stay in hotels and so on. The value of a fish caught by an angler can be a great deal more than that of a fish caught by a professional fisherman. I know that the Minister takes that dimension very seriously.
I want to discuss the change in fishing gear and the 50:50 process in Devon, where discards have been reduced by 50%, which is good news. Until we ban discards and land everything that we catch, how do we know what there is in the seas? Up to 2 million tonnes of fish throughout the European Union are discarded every year, which is a huge waste of resources, and means that we never quite know what the stocks are.
I welcome the Commission’s proposal on landing fish that is not fit for human consumption, suggesting that it should be made into fishmeal to be fed to farmed fish. However, I question its proposal on the landing of fresh fish, which would be kept and distributed to poor people throughout Europe—not that I am against poor people throughout Europe and the UK having fish, but the idea that the Commission will organise that in every port in the EU, especially in the UK, fills me with horror. Some of those proposals need to be considered carefully.
Of course we should ban discards—I know that the Minister has done a great deal of work on this, as have celebrity chefs—but about 70% of the fish landed in Newlyn harbour goes straight in a lorry to Spain, because we do not eat that type of fish. The more fish we can eat in this country, the more we can keep the fish that we land.
We all feel strongly about the issue of the under 10 metre fleet, and the Minister is looking at ways of getting a better share for that fleet, which is essential to the south-west community, including Devon. It is key that those family-run boats have more fish to catch because, in the end, there is a limited amount of fish in the sea, and we must make sure that there are options for that fleet. I look forward to what the Minister can offer us, because in the end, the sea and fish resources have to be shared out between all the fishermen.
I do not think that we could make this debate more timely if we tried. Negotiations to reform the CFP are under way, and it is vital that the voices of the fishing communities that we represent are heard in this debate.
The challenges that we face need to be seen in the context of a common fisheries policy that has systematically damaged our marine ecosystem for 30 years. It has eroded the livelihoods of fishing communities and fishermen, and it has been applied inconsistently in different EU states. There is a growing consensus, even in the House, that a decentralised approach offers a better way forward than the one-size-fits-nobody approach that we have at the moment, as it would allow coastal states to develop workable solutions and, crucially, it would allow the expertise of fishing industry leaders and other local stakeholders to come to the fore.
In my view the reform process will stand or fall on the strength of the regionalisation proposals, but it is not clear how regionalisation will work in practice, given the treaty constraints raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). I hope that the Minister will spell out the mechanisms and processes that are under consideration and how they might be made fit for purpose, because there is a great deal at stake for our fishing communities.
There is a great deal to be learned from the experience of regional advisory councils on the value of long-term planning and the need to bring fishing industry representatives into the decision-making process. There is a great deal, too, that we can learn from the efforts of our fishermen in recent years to put the industry on an environmentally sustainable footing. The Scottish fleet has been at the forefront of efforts to push alternatives to discarding, but when we discuss discards it is crucial to remember that they are a direct consequence of the impositions put on fishermen by the failed CFP. No one gains from discards.
In that respect, the catch quota pilot schemes in Scotland and England have shown real potential. They were trialled to see how good they were at cutting discards and improving the economic viability of vessels, and they have been extremely effective. So far, however, only a relatively small number of vessels have been able to benefit from them. More boats could benefit, and I urge the Minister to prioritise the issue with our international partners, particularly the Norwegians and the European Commission, and drive it forward so that we can expand the catch quota system and build on the success of the model across the EU.
The Scottish fleet has been more successful than any other European fleet in ending discards. Catch quotas are only one factor in that success: the conservation credit scheme, using selective gear and real-time closures, is the thing that has really made a difference by improving the sustainability of our fisheries, as has longer-term planning and sound science. Too often, science has been used to justify policy making of dubious quality, and it has sometimes been used as a blunt instrument. It has been made to say what policy makers want it to say. There is now widespread recognition that good science and sound scientific data are beneficial to everyone, but if we want to build trust in scientific data we have to use them consistently. When the scientific data show that stocks are healthy and fish are plentiful, we need commensurate increases in total allowable catches. The forthcoming Council meeting could not be more timely, as we should not have more quota cuts if the science says that that is not necessary.
Consistency is required. I have concerns about transferable fishing concessions, as the Commission is now calling them.
Order. I urge the hon. Gentleman to think before intervening. He has already made a speech, and we are running out of time. More Members have indicated that they wish to speak. It is up to the Member in charge but, to be honest. I would be disappointed if the hon. Gentleman intervened.
I shall move on, Mr Hoyle.
Exaggerated claims have been made about the benefits of transferable quota schemes. Some are more successful than others. The proponents tend to ignore the unintended consequences, especially for fishing communities—a point that was made earlier—but the key factor is improved governance. I therefore urge the Minister to look carefully at that. I welcomed his comments last week on this, and I urge him to—
I have cut my speech from about eight minutes to three or four, but I cannot fail to pay tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard and the Fishermen’s Mission, as well as all the families of fishermen who have been lost or injured at sea this year.
I am on record saying that my ultimate goal for fisheries is to restore national control, but that debate is for another time, and for another Minister. Turning to the motion that we are debating, I shall deal first with regional management. There is no scope in the treaty to achieve the transfer of decision making to regional level. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has suggested that member states co-operating with regional advisory councils at sea area level to prepare multi-annual management plans could result in de facto regional management. Will the Minister please explore these alternative routes with the NFFO?
On the 12-mile limit, there is a case for ending the 40-year-old access rights. We see from the regulations that France has access to 15 areas within our territorial waters, Ireland to two areas, Germany to six, the Netherlands to three and Belgium to five for a variety of species, whereas the UK gains access to two areas within German waters and one area within French waters. This is not fair. I have even heard that some Belgian vessels working in the Bristol channel have changed from beam trawling to demersal twin rigging to work inside the 12-mile limit. Some of these could be Netherlands- owned Belgian-registered flag of convenience vessels. Exclusive access to the 12-mile limit could help the under-10 metre fleet.
I welcome the move to ban discards, but that is not as simple as it may seem. May I have an assurance from the Minister that he will work with the industry so that a proper solution can be found? Banning discards must not destabilise the market.
I shall briefly mention transferable fishing concessions. The UK, the Netherlands and Denmark already operate a similar system, which has been shown to control effort, but this was always preceded by decommissioning. Does the Minister agree that for a system of transferrable fishing concessions to work, there needs to be substantial decommissioning beforehand?
This is the only chance that we have to raise the 2012 quotas. I welcome the move by the Commission to abandon the 25% compulsory reduction in stock, but I must point out that this could exacerbate the annual horse trading that takes place.
Let me make one last point about the waters off my own constituency. Any reduction in cod effort in the Irish sea, the west of Scotland or the North sea could serve to displace effort into area VII e and g, and disadvantage Cornish fishermen.
Finally, in 1991 I was widely quoted as telling a previous fisheries Minister that British fishermen were brave, honourable, hard-working men who deserve respect. My words are as true today as they were when they were first spoken. I am pleased that we have a Minister who has already shown that he shares my sentiments. I wish him well in the negotiations, and I hope the whole House will support the motion today and give him our full backing for the important and difficult task that he will be engaged in over the coming months and years.
One good thing that the CFP managed to do was to unite all the fishermen, fishing bodies and elected representatives in opposition to a policy that has reduced the ability to make a living on the sea and continues to squeeze life out of the fishing sector. There will be no mourning its loss by anyone I know or have come into contact with.
Much has been made of the issue of decentralising or regionalising fisheries management, which I agree would be a positive step forward. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and others have mentioned that, but there are those in the European Commission who suggest that post-Lisbon it is illegal to decentralise any meaningful responsibilities to the regions. Therefore, although I fully support the motion and join in the call for the Government to ensure that particular provision is made for regional management, I too would like to hear what the Minister believes is legally possible and how we can achieve that collectively. What discussions are being held with the legal experts to ensure that what is tantalising uncertainty will become cold, hard reality?
Last Saturday I held an advice surgery in Portavogie. The fishermen come to meet me with their list of things that they want me to do every month. They are concerned about the increase in bureaucracy, the changes in the net mesh size, more paperwork, more cost, more policing, more monitoring and less fish catch. All those are key issues for the fishing industry.
Northern Ireland’s fishing industry has instituted measures that have been introduced voluntarily which have cut discards of haddock and whiting by over 60%, yet go unrecognised by the European Commission—nobody in the European Commission seems to have any idea what is going on. As with most other good points concerning the fishermen, if the scientists have not marked it in their book, it could not possibly be happening. If the 25% cuts go ahead, the white fish sector in Northern Ireland is finished for ever. I know the Minister will be batting for us in the meetings in December.
Locally, to address the issue of discards, our fisherman have had to incorporate various EU-legislated panels in their nets, which did little, if anything, for discard reduction, before they could deploy the gear designed specifically for use in the Irish sea. So it was true—the net designed by our fishermen, which would have reduced discards, was effectively outlawed by Europe. That concerns me.
On 10 November there was a meeting to impose emergency technical conservation measures in western waters. I am told that national Administrations will have little input into the process, which is politically driven by the EU’s Greek Fisheries Commissioner. Let us be honest: if we pair the word “Greek” with the words “Fisheries Commissioner”, we can understand why fishermen’s knees are knocking.
The industry, like fisheries managers, has as a goal the reduction of unwanted catches to a minimum, but the fishing industry will not be made greener by driving it into the red. We must be honest about what we are doing. In a little over four weeks the Minister will be leading the UK team at the EU’s annual December Fisheries Council. I urge him to support the industry at home.
Finally, the three-point plan for the Irish sea is clear. There should be a pause in further implementation of the long-term cod recovery plan. We should secure a rollover on the area VII nephrop TAC, which has been successfully managed for more than 40 years and remains stable, and we should seek an increase in the Irish sea herring quota, a stock which is at its largest for 18 years. It is time our fishermen saw some reward for the sacrifices they have made in the face of the EU’s ever-moving goalposts. I support the motion and urge the Minister to do his best for the fishermen in Northern Ireland, as I know he will.
I had intended to talk about discards and the local management of fisheries, but as the points that I would have raised have been well made by other Members, I shall move quickly to my final point—securing a fair deal for the under-10s.
At present the under-10 metre fleet is treated poorly—as a second-class citizen comprising 85% of the national fleet, but with access to only 4% of the UK quota. The fleet needs to be enfranchised and we must move away from the current system of quota control that lacks flexibility and transparency. The Minister has commendably put forward proposals for the future management of English fisheries. He is right to attempt to do what most of his predecessors have put in the “too difficult to tackle” category. I commend him for introducing the pilot scheme that will operate from January.
However, there is a real concern that a rights-based method of control is not in the best interests of the under-10s. The problem is that there is no easily defined starting reference point on which to base a fair allocation for them. There is also the worry that globally there is evidence that rights-based systems do not work and quickly result in the loss of quota for the inshore sector. The evidence from Denmark is contradictory at best.
I commend Jerry Percy, now fishing in Wales but originally from Lowestoft in my constituency, for responding constructively to the consultation and coming forward with NUTFA’s—the New Under Tens Fishermen’s Association—proposals, which provide a way forward for the under-10s. The phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them” springs to mind, but he is right to propose a dedicated inshore producer organisation.
I conclude by saying that there are three considerations on which the future management of domestic fisheries should be built. First, there must be recognition that quota is public property. Secondly, we must replace the current system whereby no one appears to know who holds quota with a transparent system—a register of holdings. Finally, quota should be only in the hands of working fishermen.
I shall be brief. Hon. Members will have seen the Library’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology note 357, citing a European Commission report that stated that 88% of European fish stocks were being fished beyond sustainable levels and 30% of stocks were close to collapse. I have been quoted before as saying that this is an unmitigated disaster and these figures prove it. The only effective solution is to seek the abolition of the common fisheries policy and return fisheries to member states. All talk of reform at this stage is mere tinkering at the margins.
I welcome the motion, but it does not go far enough. The UK already has opt-outs in a number of EU areas, such as the euro and Schengen, so surely we could negotiate a simple opt-out for the CFP. If we cannot, we should tell our European partners that we will withdraw unilaterally from it in, say, three years’ time. We have much more to gain than they have to lose, because our fisheries are among the largest in the EU and the restoration of a 200-mile limit, or a 50% limit where there are adjacent countries, would solve the problems for us, certainly for our fishermen and for our fish stocks.
I had wanted to say much more but realise that time is short. I urge the Minister to mention in his negotiations that Members of this House are calling for the abolition of the common fisheries policy and will do so until we get it.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on securing the debate and all Members on both sides of the House who have spoken. I realise that many did not speak for as long as they had hoped to, but they all did the right thing by speaking up for their fishing communities. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). Anyone who knows her even a little will not have been surprised by the courage and passion she has shown in the debate.
There is clearly significant cross-party support for a debate on fisheries before the EU Council meeting in December, and I welcome the opportunity to speak about it today. It is widely accepted that the current CFP has failed to achieve its objective of ensuring that the fishing industry is environmentally sustainable and economically viable for the benefit of society now and for future generations, as the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) said.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) spoke about marine conservation zones and referred to a conservation crisis. I hope that the Minister will apologise to the House and to all the stakeholders who took part in the consultations to identify marine conservation zones for yet another target that DEFRA has not been met. It really is not good enough. On the day when we are appealing to stakeholders to take part and contribute—[Interruption.] The Minister asks me whether I really want to go there. It would perhaps have been easier to go there if the scientific advice that he claims supports the decision had been available at the time. I hope that he will at least give us an explanation when he comes to the Dispatch Box. I also thank the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for its contribution to the debate and look forward to its report.
Getting it right also requires political leadership, which has been sadly lacking from the Minister on this matter. What we have instead is more uncertainty and delay for the fishing sector, which is not welcome.
Food security has not featured heavily in the debate, so I want to take the opportunity to mention it. In Europe we are eating more fish than ever before. We have hit an historic peak and the projections for the next 30 years show that consumption will continue to rise. With the EU already importing two thirds of its fish and growing demand in big markets such as the US and China, the reforms must address the issue. I hope that the Minister will address that when he comes to the Dispatch Box.
Reform is long overdue, as all Members have said—it is one concern that unites the House. That is the hope, but as ever the devil will be in the detail and in how strongly the Government argue and negotiate for UK fisheries and use regionalisation to respond to the needs of fishing communities. We support the reform process and stress the need for a strong voice for the interests of UK fisheries and a clear move away from the top-down management and control that pervades the current CFP.
I have no hesitation in acknowledging the hard work and commitment of the Minister in engaging with the devolved Governments and with stakeholders. It is essential that the UK has the strongest possible voice in these negotiations. I read yesterday that the Secretary of State is bending over backwards in representing the interests of the UK in reform of the common agricultural policy, but where is she on CFP reform? Can the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State is fully engaged and will perform similar political contortions to get the best possible deal for the UK on fisheries reform? It would also be helpful if he put more flesh on the bones of his negotiating position. Four months on from the publication of the Commission’s proposals, does he have a clear view of what he wants to come out of CFP reform, which of the proposals he agrees with, and which he wants to strengthen? I am aware that the impact assessment closed only last Thursday, but can he update us on its progress? Any information would be welcome.
I would like to turn to some of the key areas of the reforms set out by the Commission. Regionalisation is a key element of the new CFP, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned. The current top-down approach has failed to achieve its objectives. Radical reform is necessary. The new CFP must ensure that fisheries management is dealt with at the most appropriate level. Without genuine decentralisation of fisheries management, it is difficult to imagine that sustainable management will be achieved. To that end, I welcome the proposals for multi-annual plans devised by member states, which the Commission intends as a central tool for ensuring that fish stocks are kept at sustainable levels and achieve maximum sustainable yields. It is vital that the Minister works closely with stakeholders in that process.
The collaborative approach will be particularly important in the plans to eliminate discards under the basic regulation within the multi-annual plans. In some EU fisheries 60% of catches are discarded. Discarding is a symptom of the poor management and practice of the current CFP. Much of the focus of the current proposals is on landing all catches of the main commercial species, but there is a real danger that discards overboard will become discards ashore.
I am sure that the Minister will be glad to answer that question, but I will say that what we are seeing now is a phased-in approach on three levels, which gives us a real opportunity. I share concerns that Members have voiced in the debate on how we can achieve that, but that is not an excuse for a lack of political leadership in achieving the aim.
The Commission’s proposals place a legal duty on the UK to implement a tradeable system of quotas, known as transferrable fishing concessions, which some Members have touched on. They have raised concerns in other debates and argued that we should not end up with a situation in which a vast share of our concessions is in the hands of a few and multinational organisations can buy up the rights to our national resource. There is a proposal that member states should maintain an accurate register of holders of transferrable fishing concessions. Does the Minister support and welcome those plans for transparency, and what preparatory plans and assessments have been undertaken by his Department? Has he come to a view on the transfer of concessions to other member states?
My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) spoke about reaching maximum sustainable yield, and like her I have concerns about how we achieve that, given the nature of our mixed fisheries. The scale of the challenge must not again be an excuse for a lack of political will from the Government in driving forward to achieve maximum sustainable yields wherever possible by 2015. Ensuring that decisions are based on the best possible data and scientific advice requires Government agencies and the Government to work with fishermen, and as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) mentioned, there is good practice in the pilots in Scotland to build on.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned external waters. It is proposed that fishing partnership agreements will be replaced with sustainable fisheries agreements, which will put more emphasis on achieving the aims of the CFP outside EU waters. I welcome the new legal framework introduced by the Commission to ensure that European fishermen fish responsibly, but there is another concern relating to employment rights—perhaps not the Government’s strongest cause—which I would like to raise with the Minister. We know that on EU vessels there are many workers from developing countries and there is concern about their employment rights.
I am afraid that I must press on, as I have little time remaining.
I want also to mention—last but by no means least—the under 10 metre fleet and how pleased I am that so many Members have made the case for it today. We wait to see how the pilots work, but I hope that the Minister will draw on the experience and skills of the co-operative and mutual movements in making them a success.
Fish are not territorial; they move across borders and seas, as do fishing fleets. As the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), recently remarked, “Fish do not wear Union Jacks”; and nor do they wear Scottish saltires, and that is why we need a common fisheries policy and a single strong voice speaking up for UK fisheries.
The measures under discussion look set to form the biggest shake-up of the CFP in its history, and the Commission’s proposal shows a welcome shift from annual decision making to longer-term management plans and ecosystem-based decisions, with policies that pledge to raise all fish stocks to a sustainable level by 2015, to stop discarding, to offer improved consumer information on the sustainability of seafood and to impose rules that offer financial support to environmentally sustainable fisheries.
I wish the Minister and the Secretary of State well in their negotiations, and I commend the motion to the House.
I commend the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and his colleagues on the all-party fisheries group for bringing this issue to the House, and the Backbench Business Committee for supporting it. This debate leads on well from our debate in May, which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) brought to the House, and if Members support the motion they will give me and the Government a mandate to continue our work to introduce some common-sense reform to a failed policy, and to take forward proposals that will greatly advantage the industry and our marine environment.
I should like to take this opportunity, however, to recall the six fishermen who have lost their lives this year in the line of their work at sea and in the harbour. We must remember the courage and sacrifice of individual fishermen, who put their lives in danger to bring food to our tables. Today is especially poignant, given our memory of Neil Murray, the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), to whom many Members have referred, and I know that the House will wish to join me in sending sincere condolences to all those families and friends who have suffered losses.
I shall try to cover as many points as I possibly can. I shall not be able to cover them all, but at this vital time, as we move toward the December round and, of course, through the wider CFP reform negotiations, I remain absolutely willing to meet the all-party group of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and any other groups of hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the manifest failing of the common fisheries policy and found a ready audience in the House and, certainly, with me. He spoke about discards, as did several hon. Members, and it is important that our reforms on discards—I think that these were his words—reflect the reality of fishing. It is absolutely vital that we do so on a stock-by-stock, sea-basin and species-by-species basis and secure a workable result that delivers not just what the 700,000 people who signed up to the Fish Fight campaign want, but a sustainable solution for the fishing industry.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the landing of black fish, and let the House be absolutely clear: those who land fish illegally are stealing fish from their fellow fishermen, so it is absolutely vital that we do all we can to crack down on that practice. He spoke also about regionalisation, as did a great many other Members, and about the welcome addition of the regional advisory councils in the 2002 reforms, and I absolutely agree that that is the basis on which we should talk, using a sea-basin approach to the management of our fisheries.
I want to see regionalisation work, but I concede the concerns, raised by hon. Members from all parties, that regionalisation in its current form could lead perversely to an increase in the Commission’s powers. That is not what we want, and we will push very hard to ensure that regionalisation is effectively that.
The hon. Gentleman and several others raised another point, about the proposed cuts in the December round to those stocks where there is data-deficiency. We won a very important argument in the Baltic round of negotiations last month, noting that the arbitrary 25% or 15% cuts on the basis of a lack of evidence was completely illogical. It results in more discards, in poverty and in people going out of business, and we won that point. It remains on the table for the December round, but the principle has been won and we will drive it home, because it is really important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, made a very important point when she spoke about her Committee’s desire to see more work on marketing less popular fish. DEFRA is doing that. We set up the “Fishing for the Markets” project, and among other things we are undertaking a land-all scheme in North Shields. Indeed, we have been doing so for a long time—for well over a year—and it is paying dividends. As Members have pointed out, 54% of discards are nothing to do with quotas; they are species that are not eaten in this country.
If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I will not, because I have only five minutes and a lot to get through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned the lobsters and brown crabs off the coast of her constituency, and I assure her that we are thinking again about that issue, because we want to ensure that we carry people with us and our measures work.
The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall, for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and others spoke about the under 10 metre plan, as did the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell), who spoke for the Opposition.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I really do not have time.
The important thing is that those reforms really work. A lot of work has gone into the issue, not just by this Government, I am first to concede, and the three pilots will be taken forward. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said that there is enthusiasm in his constituency, as there is around the coast, to ensure that they work, and we are recruiting coastal liaison officers, who will assist people not only with managing their fishing opportunity or quota, but with marketing their catch and getting a better price for what they land.
I am sorry, but I shall not give way.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran asked about marine conservation zones, and that represented the one note of discord in the debate, but I think that I can address it precisely. The hon. Member for East Lothian, who leads for the Opposition, asked me to take forward proposals on which there is no scientific basis or not enough of one to sustain them, but that position was not taken during the lengthy hours of debate, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, about provisions that became the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Neither the Wildlife Trust nor anyone else took that position. What we will do—[Interruption]—and the hon. Lady would do well to listen to this—is obtain the evidence so that we can take forward an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones. I assure her that it will be something of which she can be proud—and so can we.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke with concern about the displacement effect of scallops, and he is absolutely right: our management of one area of the seas will impact on another. I assure him that I take that issue very seriously.
We secured a review of the cod recovery plan a year ago, and I—naively perhaps—thought that it might have manifested itself by now, but unfortunately there will be dramatic cuts in days at sea unless we can improve it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for his praise. There is a terrifying hidden threat when Members are nice to Ministers, because they are saying, “If you fail, boy do you fail” but I take his comments at face value and absolutely assure him that recreational sea angling is key to what we want to do—not just because of the enjoyment that it provides, but because of its social and environmental benefits and what it does for coastal communities.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned the 25% and 15% cut, but I hope he is reassured that we are going to fight it. On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park made, I intend to get more management control out to 200 miles. With the marine conservation zones, it is vital that we get buy-in from the European Union, otherwise we might have the perverse case of conservation zones that are just for fishermen from the United Kingdom, not for those on vessels that fish from other parts of the EU.
Member states must be able to work regionally to develop management plans and to implement measures that are appropriate to their fisheries, but currently the proposals lack crucial detail on how regionalisation will work. I understand that there are legal constraints to devolving power, particularly to the regional level, but proposals must enable nations fishing in the same areas—often for the same fish, as Members have said—to come together and agree on how to manage their fisheries.
This debate is, of course, also important for allowing us to set out clearly that our partnership with fishermen, both in terms of science and how government works, is vital. This is a critical time for fisheries management and I am sure that the House shares my commitment and enthusiasm to take this once in a decade opportunity to overcome the structural failings of the CFP. It is a long and challenging road ahead, but the UK has a major role to play in influencing the new policy and, with negotiations under way, progress is being made.
However, there is a lot more we can and must do to deliver the reformed CFP that we want. We need continued engagement with the European Commission, other members states and the European Parliament to exert maximum influence throughout the negotiations. We also need to continue working closely with NGOs, fisherman, retailers, processors and others with an interest in fisheries and the marine environment to secure a policy that will deliver a real change for the future of fisheries and the marine environment. I hope that hon. Members will continue to support the Government’s view that fundamental reform of the CFP is required. I fully support the motion.
With the leave of the House, may I say that we have had an excellent debate? I am deeply sorry to those who were not able to contribute. We seem to have had half an hour taken off our debate because of the urgent question. In the 20 years or so I have been attending fisheries debates, this is the one in which there have been the most speakers, which clearly underlines the importance of the issue we have been discussing.
The message to the Minister is loud and clear: we support radical reform. That has come from all hon. Members’ contributions. The Minister can go to the negotiations in December and in 2012 in the full knowledge of that support. He can afford to be brave. The Commission has put very little meat on the bones, but that could be an opportunity. He can be brave and bring the radical reform that we all want to see.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Last year, this debate took place in Westminster Hall and lasted for three hours. The request was made to have the debate here in the House, to which everybody could contribute. Will the Deputy Speaker consider the process and the time scale, because we thought we were going to have a three-hour debate here as well?
I understand the feeling running through the House today. A lot of Members wanted to contribute and the debate has had to be cut short. I am sure that that will be taken on board for future debates.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House considers that the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to achieve its key objective of producing a sustainable European fishery; welcomes the review of the policy by the European Commission; and urges Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that a revised Common Fisheries Policy makes particular provision for—
(a) a move away from a centralised management system to a system of regional management of fisheries involving all stakeholders and strengthening of the local management of the 12 mile limit;
(b) a manageable and practical scheme to eliminate the problem of discarded fish; and
(c) the replacement of the current system of annual quotas with a multi-annual system of management focussed on conserving fish stocks within a sustainable fishing industry, in particular to protect the viability of low impact fishing.