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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

[Relevant document: the Twelfth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, EU Proposals for Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, HC 1563.]

I beg to move,

That this House considers that the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to conserve fish stocks and failed fishermen and consumers; welcomes the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report, EU proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy; and calls on the Government to use the current round of Common Fisheries Policy reform to argue for a reduction in micro-management from Brussels, greater devolution of fishing policy to Member States, the introduction of greater regional ecosystem-based management and more scientific research to underpin decision-making in order to secure the future of coastal communities and the health of the marine ecosystem.

It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to move this motion. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to debate the issue, and I thank my fellow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee members—from all parties—for the excellent work they did in drafting the report on this topic. I also thank the witnesses, both those who appeared before us and gave so generously of their time and those who submitted written evidence.

In my local area, I visited the coble fishermen in Filey, who are some of the heroes of the smaller—under-10 metre—fishing fleet in this country. The Committee visited Hastings, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), and we were very warmly received. It was a highly productive visit—once we had negotiated the London tube network—and I thank everyone who shared that day with us for the warm welcome we received and the evidence they shared with us.

It was a particular pleasure for me to take the Committee to Denmark and to meet the Danish President of the Council of Ministers, the Danish Minister for fisheries, farming and food. We also met the local fishermen in Gilleleje. I have to confess that I had not visited that little fishing port for some 15 or 20 years, but we were impressed by the work and co-operation of its fishermen, and persuaded by the science we saw there. We were allowed to partake in a non-live auction mart, buying and selling some of the fish, which expanded our knowledge of the live internet auction mart that they use. We were interested to see the selective gear those Danish fishermen use, a detail that is particularly relevant to the motion.

This debate is timely. The Danish presidency is expected to reach a political decision in the European Council in June—in the well-known coastal resort of Luxembourg! Seriously however, Luxembourg does have a genuine interest in freshwater fish and aquaculture—the Minister can correct that term, if it is wrong. We are expecting a political decision in the EC in June. For the first time, it will be a co-decision. The European Parliament is seeking to reach an agreement on the financial regulation in January 2013, and we will have co-decision on all the fisheries reforms. A final agreement is not expected until June 2013.

I commend the motion. I think we can all confirm that the common fisheries policy—particularly the last round of reform—has failed everybody. It has failed to conserve fish stocks, and to help fishermen or consumers. I want to dwell for a moment on what I believe is the most exciting part of the motion and of our report, and I am grateful to the very senior lawyers in this place and elsewhere who have advised us on the report. We have a once-in-a-decade opportunity. We have a one-off opportunity to end the centralised micro-management by Brussels, which I think we can all agree has failed to deliver. We want to support the commissioner, who agrees that, as an essential first step, we must look at the possibility of handing power back to member states to enable them to work together to find a local solution.

I applaud the openness of the commissioner, and the immediate past chairman of the Brussels Committee on fisheries, Carmen Fraga, who is a personal friend of mine and who is affectionately known in the European Parliament as “madam fish.” The commissioner was especially open in the meeting we had in Brussels, during our evidence session of some 18 months ago, and more especially when the commissioner gave evidence on the record. I am delighted that there is now a picture on the commissioner’s website of the commissioner and me handing over the report we are debating this afternoon.

I believe we have given the Department, the Commission and the European Union the opportunity—which we were all looking for—to drive decision making down to the most local and regional level. Our proposals are truly groundbreaking. I believe the fault has been that there has been too much micro-management from Brussels and a lack of overarching objectives, which we would like the Commission to remain in charge of.

The Commission should have a strategic high-reaching overview, but the day-to-day decisions on how fisheries are managed in local waters should be decided among the various coastal states on the basis of scientific evidence, which is missing at present, and through working much more closely with the fishermen. We will talk shortly about giving the advisory councils more power.

I support the motion, but will my hon. Friend make this point clear to me: presumably, she would want the British Government to be able to get rid of the much-hated and stupid discards policy and be free to decide ourselves how to conserve stock?

I am going to be very methodical and discuss discards later, as we have some interesting things to say about them and I hope that hon. Members from all parts of the House will elaborate on the matter.

On the treaty base, I hope that the Minister has now had the opportunity to analyse what we are proposing. This is the first time anyone has identified what is staring us in the face—that all we have to do is amend the regulations, which form the whole context of this round of the common fisheries policy reform. The feedback we have had from the fishermen we have consulted, as well as from the Danes and others, has been very positive.

It is important to recognise that the little fish do not swim around with a Union Jack on them. Much as I would like to say that the fish outside Filey have a Yorkshire flag on them and the fish in the Scottish waters have the saltire on them, they do not; they swim across the various waters. So it is absolutely right that the Commission should retain some competence in this area, and I, for one, do not wish to reopen the treaty base that gives exclusive competence on the resources to the Commission. By allowing the coastal states that neighbour the individual fisheries to take the day-to-day management decisions, we will save a lot of the Minister’s time every December, as things will be managed on a more regular basis. The approach will be much more local, it will be based on science and it will be about working more closely with the fishermen.

Nor do the fish swim around with an EU flag on them. We should accept that it is our fishing resource if it is in our wider waters—we have to pay the bills, so we should be responsible for it.

My right hon. Friend has put his finger, possibly inadvertently, on the nub of the issue. This is a shared resource and we need to conserve it. The Committee has gone through things and we have identified many ways in which we believe we can do that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best outcome for our country’s relationship with the common fisheries policy would be what was described to us as a “toolbox”? We would operate our own toolbox, given our certain allocation, and that would perhaps give us the best option in terms of the European balance and the UK fishing balance.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it so eloquently and so well. This approach would, indeed, be part of the toolbox, and it would give the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, negotiating for the UK, a much greater say and devolve decision making right down to the regional level, with a tremendous positive impact on fishermen and on coastal communities.

The hon. Lady has outlined the need for regionalisation, and that is the approach I would seek for Northern Ireland on this issue. Does she feel that regionalisation would mean that the days at sea, which have been reduced, would be increased to reflect the number of fish in the sea? Would the cod in the Irish sea be included in such an arrangement? Would the quotas also reflect that? What would happen with the discards? Does she agree that the approach to discards should be following the direction of the fisherman’s initiative? Does she agree that it should not be about bureaucrats in Europe, but about local people making decisions?

Yes, and I will discuss discards momentarily. Our approach has to be taken on the basis of science, and that is what is missing at the moment. We need to set clear boundaries and give direction to the role of the Commission, and we have to give member states the power to act not only independently, but together in each of the individual fisheries. We will, thus, give them genuine freedom and responsibility.

Does my hon. Friend agree that extending the limit to 12 miles is crucial? People in Brixham, in the area I represent, have done a great deal to conserve stocks, but they see Dutch vessels coming in to fish inside the 12-mile limit and that causes great resentment.

I am sure that the Minister will be more knowledgeable than I am on matters relating to the high water mark and the 12-mile limit. What I hope we can achieve, in principle, is agreement on each fishery—those in the Baltic sea and the North sea, as well as the Irish fisheries. These are a shared resource, and I hope that they can genuinely be determined by those coastal member states.

Will my hon. Friend explain how, under a system of qualified majority voting, and given that the basic regulation contains the principle of equal access to a common resource, she is going to be able to achieve what she wants? A lot of member states, albeit that they have a blocking minority, will oppose her proposals, so how will she get them through the Council of Ministers?

Happily for me, I will not be arguing the case, and I hope that today’s debate will convince the Minister. I am pleased that the European Parliament has reached out to the national Parliaments and I hope that ours is the first leading report in that regard. We should amend the regulations—we should not accept them. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) looks baffled, but it is blindingly obvious that that is where we have gone wrong in the past. We should grasp the bull by its horns and amend the regulations for the duration of the piece, recognising them as a shared resource. That is key.

The television campaign against discards by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall captured the public imagination last year. Discards are deeply unpopular and unsustainable and they are failing to conserve our fish. The conclusion we reached was that we agree there should be a discard ban, but it is very clear that there is no scientific evidence on the survival rates for each species for which the ban is proposed. We believe that we should proceed with caution on the basis of the scientific evidence. Rather than having an end date of 2014 or 2015, we should start gradually. We do not want a discard at sea being substituted by a discard on land, with the fish going to landfill. That would not meet the wishes of the great British public.

First, let me apologise profusely to the hon. Lady for not being in my seat when she began her speech. Does she agree that part of the problem with discards is that in mixed fisheries fishermen do not have a quota for catch that they cannot avoid catching, which they then have no alternative but to discard at sea?

I shall share the comments I made earlier with the hon. Lady, but we do have a recommendation along those lines on mixed fisheries. There is simply insufficient information. When we launched our report, The Guardian had a website that entirely distorted our proposals so, for the sake of clarity, we are saying that there should be a ban on discards but we need to proceed on the basis of scientific evidence. If that is available in 2014, we will be the first to welcome it and to proceed on that basis. I believe that it would put my hon. Friend the Minister, who would be negotiating such a ban, in a very difficult position if we were just to substitute a discard ban. We believe that it should switch to catch, but it should do so gradually. Let us have an end date of 2020 but proceed with caution on the basis of scientific evidence.

The Minister is aware of this issue, because we spoke about it last November and he has followed through on it. Scientific evidence for the Irish sea shows that the stocks of cod and whitefish are increasing. The hon. Lady is saying, I think, that we need to have time for the scientific evidence to be in place. If that is the case, it will be too late for our whitefish fleet in Northern Ireland, as the crews have already been cut dramatically. Does she not feel that there are perhaps occasions—this is one of them—when urgency is of the utmost importance and that we must respond immediately to the scientific evidence that shows that there are more cod and more whitefish in the Irish sea than there have ever been before? That would sustain the cod and whitefish industry in Northern Ireland.

I hope that if we can amend the regulations on how we will proceed, the reformed common fisheries policy will go forward. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s sense of urgency and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister, who takes part in the annual negotiations, will see this as welcome relief, but it will happen after the regulations are amended.

The Committee was persuaded that there are other means of conserving fish stocks—the tools in the box, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye said. We were hugely impressed by the work on selective gear being done by the Danish fishermen and by the agreement that the Danish and Swedish fishermen and their Governments had reached about fishing in their waters. We believe that that model could be used.

We applaud the work done under successive Governments off the Devon coast to reduce discards. We want to hear more of it and to see such schemes rolled out. As we said in our earlier domestic fisheries report, we believe there is a role for celebrity chefs and supermarkets to persuade the public to eat species that are not widely eaten at the moment. That would also help to conserve fish stocks going forward.

The Commission mandated member states to introduce a system of long-term fishing rights; it is looking to introduce transferable fishing concessions. In our earlier report on domestic fisheries, which we reported to the House on 3 June 2011, we highlighted the problem of slipper skippers and those who trade fishing quotas who are not actively involved in fishing. My local fishermen are absolutely convinced that there are football clubs trading in this way. We have not established that as a fact, but equally no one has denied it, which makes me believe that it is probably happening. May I challenge the Minister on this? We asked for a register to be introduced and I would like him to report where we are with that when he sums up. Local fishermen in Filey and across the Yorkshire area would warmly welcome that.

Did my hon. Friend establish that a fishing quota can be attached only to a vessel that is held by a fish producer organisation? So either a dummy vessel that has been invented in a producer organisation or a real vessel has to be owned by a football club before a quota can be attached to it.

We have not always established whether football clubs or others are involved, but my hon. Friend raises a very telling point. We believe that transferable fishing concessions would make the situation worse and would not necessarily reduce over-capacity. What we propose is a siphon mechanism to reallocate fishing rights away from potential slipper skippers. I hope this addresses her point. Under our proposal, if an operator chooses to lease his fishing rights, a percentage of that allocation would be returned to the national envelope. That could then be reallocated to active fishermen so as to maintain traditional fishing activities in coastal communities. We urge the Minister to recognise the role of active fishermen, who are the lifeblood of coastal communities such as those in Filey, Hastings and elsewhere. We also emphasise the need to protect small-scale fishermen, such as those in our under-10 metre fleets, by keeping them outside any market-based system of fishing rights.

The hon. Lady makes a very interesting suggestion. Does she agree that that envelope could be used to incentivise sustainable fishing?

The whole thrust of the motion is very much about sustainable fishing. We mention in particular

“the introduction of greater regional ecosystem-based management and more scientific research to underpin decision-making”.

The whole thrust is about how we define what is sustainable; we clearly do not have sustainable fishing at the moment. I hope the Minister will go down the path of avoiding excessive fleet consolidation and I make a personal plea that we could give more quota to our inshore fishermen. I ask the Minister please not to go near a quota for shellfish for inshore fishermen.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a great discrepancy in the way that the EU and the UK define these vessels, with the EU using the under-12 metre definition and the UK using the under-10 metre definition? Would we not be better using a definition based on the extent to which vessels are high catching? There is sometimes an assumption that all under-10 metre vessels have to be low-catching, sustainable vessels, whereas some of them catch large amounts of fish.

My hon. Friend reminds me of the evidence we took in Hastings. I thought we should perhaps pursue an amendment along the under-10 metre/under-12 metre line, but this is more about the fact that such vessels do not have access to the quota under the current system and that they could be disadvantaged if there is over-consolidation—a point that was raised earlier. We were not persuaded that the under-10/under-12 issue was so significant.

I urge the Minister and his Department, when negotiating for the whole of the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts, which are well represented in the Chamber this afternoon, to press for an additional general objective for the common fisheries policy: contributing to the socio-economic development of coastal communities. By all means let us look at the new European maritime and fisheries fund to see how that can be done, particularly to help fishermen purchase and use more selective gear. I reiterate our desire to see more scientific research underpin decision making. I underline the fact that the Commission proposes a general objective of restoring stocks to levels above those that can produce maximum sustainable yield by 2015, which we believe will be extremely difficult to achieve. We suggest that the marine strategy framework directive, which aims to restore commercial stocks to within safe biological limits by 2020, is a more realistic and achievable aim.

In conclusion, we greatly welcome this opportunity and urge the Minister to grasp it and to get to Brussels or Luxemburg to make friends and use his charm to persuade our allies to introduce this groundbreaking change. We applaud his efforts and are 100% behind him in that regard.

Order. I am going to have to introduce a time limit of 11 minutes, due to the number of Members who wish to speak.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on securing the debate and on the good work the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has done. I managed to secure a debate in November through the good offices of the Backbench Business Committee in November and in my capacity as secretary of the all-party group on fisheries. The message we tried to get across in that debate, which came across strongly, was that we are all in this together—it is one area where we are—and pushing in the same direction, and I think that the Committee’s report is an extremely valuable addition to the material we have at our disposal. Like the hon. Lady, I want the Minister to go to the Fisheries Council and make sure that these points are hammered home after he has built alliances and got the votes needed to make Britain’s position secure.

It would be foolish of me to try to mention all the points covered in the Committee’s report. I think that it comprehensively covers my concerns and those of the fishing industry and makes a number of useful comments. We need to continue to make the point about discards. We are all opposed to discards, but there are no easy solutions to the problem. It is a very complex issue, particularly in our mixed fisheries. I know from people in the industry that they felt that in publishing its proposals the Commission handled the problem of discards in a way that was more like issuing a press release to get them out of a spot than it was about providing a strategy. The problem needs an awful lot of careful consideration, clear rules, technical improvements, which are being made all the time, a process of consultation and, crucially, a buy-in from the industry.

The Committee highlighted the weakness of the science. That area needs to be worked on, but that cannot be done by the UK alone. Around 60% of our fish species are not properly recorded, and other nations with an interest in fishing are in an even worse position, so effort is needed at Government level and at Commission level. Overcapacity is an important problem, and there have been many attempts to deal with it over the years, most of which have failed. I was interested in the concept of transferable fishing concessions. The hon. Lady rightly pointed to what we have at the moment, which strikes me as a transferable fishing concession system, because quotas are freely available, which I think causes a number of problems for the industry. I was interested to hear the hon. Lady talk about the impact of transferrable concessions on our coastal communities, because they are being damaged already. When the quota system was introduced, following the Commission’s introduction of total allowable catches, or TACs, a market in transferrable fishing concessions was effectively created in our country.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the problem with transferrable quotas was exacerbated from 1 January 1999, when his—Labour—Minister agreed to introduce fixed-quota allocations? Before that we had a rolling track record, but in 1999 his Minister agreed to fix the track record of every vessel to the historical average between 1993 and 1996. That is where we had the problem.

We have always had a problem with quotas. I agree with the hon. Lady to a certain extent, but all Governments since 1973 have had problems and made mistakes in that area.

We have a system in which quotas are bought and sold, and many are held by individuals and companies that once operated fishing vessels which have since been decommissioned. Quotas are often leased out, and sometimes at eye-watering prices. I shall not cite any because I have not seen the details, but the figures that I have been given are staggering, and that has a perverse effect on the industry, because the lower the TAC in any one year, the higher the quota price, distorting the industry quite seriously.

When we have ever-more expensive fishing vessels, fuel, insurance, labour and other costs as we do now, we have a market in quotas which distorts the industry. I strongly support the point, made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, that the register of who owns quotas should be published. That area is in complete darkness, and the system should be looked at seriously.

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that any transferrable quotas should go to those registered boats that are active fishing boats only, not to football clubs or to whoever else seems to have control over quotas?

There are many ways in which we could resolve the problem, but the starting point is to shed a little light on the system and to see what is happening. That is extremely important.

One area that the report does not cover, but which I should like to say a word or two about, is black fishing. I have had brief conservations with the Minister about it, and I have mentioned to him twice now, once on the Floor of the House and once in private, that I want to have a meeting with him and will write to him, and I am in the process of gathering material for our discussion.

We are working on the assumption that the whole issue of black fish is not a problem any more, but I am not sure that that is correct. Everyone in the Chamber will be aware that there have been some serious criminal cases—they were not trials, because everyone pleaded guilty—in the Scottish courts in which a number of fishermen and fish processors have been found guilty of serious offences.

We are talking about tens of millions of pounds, and everyone I know in the fishing industry, no matter at what level they are, knows that the figures that have been quoted, and which were prominent in the individual trials, are just the tip of the iceberg. It was a much more serious issue. I shall not say much more than that, because, although a number of cases been dealt with, one more has still to be dealt with and will be in court later this month.

From the information that we have so far on the way in which the system operated, it is apparent that a very sophisticated process was under way. Skippers falsified their log books as they landed their catches, lying about how much fish was on board. Weighing scales at the factory were rigged. I am told that at a factory at the centre of one case there were two computer systems—one computer, recording a false weight, was visible to the regulators, and the other one was in the loft recording the true weight. There was separate pumping equipment on the quay, with the legitimate fish to be declared sent through one system and the black fish sent through another. I am talking about pelagic fish; I should have emphasised that. Exactly the same thing has been happening in the white fish industry.

The situation has not yet been dealt with, and it might not be, because the trials may have been just for effect, to try to focus on the problem and make sure that it was properly killed. A police officer who made a statement at one of the trials said that there is an assumption that nobody is a victim in these cases except our fish stocks. In fact, there have been a large number of victims, most of whom are in the fish processing industry.

I do not know much about what the hon. Gentleman is talking about as regards white fish, but could there be a difference in the case of the pelagic stocks, given that any black fish in a white fish area could be non-discarded fish that people are planning to land rather than dump?

No. The operation was much more systematic and organised, and on a much bigger scale, than that. This did not happen by accident; it was not by-catch.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the view that there are no victims in these cases. The sustainable mackerel hand-line fishery in Cornwall has one hundredth of the catch of the pelagic quota that is available to the purse seine industry in Scotland, and as a result of over-fishing in Scotland, people are losing quota in Cornwall.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are victims everywhere, and that is just another example.

Over the past few years, I have been involved in taking a large number of statements from people involved in the industry, and I will read out a selection of their comments. There are no police inquiries relating to this material. One fish processor with many years of experience told me:

“The system would work on a basis that a skipper would telephone the agent and declare his real catch, whilst at sea. If it was 1,000 boxes, the agent may find a buyer for 500 boxes and tell the skipper to fill in the log for 500 boxes after he had landed at the market. Before the market the 500 boxes would be unloaded from the vessel and transported to the buyer’s premises.”

In other words, the boxes would not go through the system. He continued:

“The agent would record the sale at the true value and alter the species if required to show the ‘black’ fish as non-pressurised stock. At the end of the quota year he would advise the skipper on which species to show in his catch records to ensure he retains his quota.”

So it is not just about volume but species. If coley were being landed, it might, in order to retain the quota, be recorded as some other fish—haddock was the most popular—and haddock might be shown as whiting. A fish merchant said:

“The situation with black fish started to get silly and I am aware that on one occasion a local fish merchant had 4000 boxes of fish in his yard—all black fish which had been transported from the boats to his yard. Meanwhile there were only 1900 boxes of fish in the market at Peterhead and about 1400 boxes in the market at Aberdeen.”

This wide-scale corruption of the system is a direct product of the introduction of the CFP and total allowable catch—and, I have to say, of the failure of Government and Government agencies properly to monitor the system. I want to discuss that with the Minister at length when we manage to get our evidence together.

To finish, I repeat that the Select Committee report is extremely important. I hope that the Minister will take note of the points that were made in the debate in November, which I know will be made again today, and the points that have been made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton and her Committee, and take the argument to Brussels.

In just over a week’s time, it will be a year since the best husband and father in the world was snatched from me in a sudden and cruel manner. I would like to make one final tribute to Neil. I have been able to steer a relatively straight course, navigating the various hitches on the chart, such as anniversaries, birthdays, the accident report and the inquest, because of the kindness and support that this House has given me. I would just like to convey a simple message: thank you.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing this important debate. The opportunity to get some sort of reform of the disgraceful common fisheries policy comes once a decade. This time, we have to secure positive results for the fish stocks and for British fishermen.

Last Thursday I secured an Adjournment debate on the external arm of the CFP, which I am aware that the report does not cover. That arm of the CFP is often forgotten, but it, too, has been a disaster. As I said, that was highlighted clearly in the report by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) following his visit to Mauritania last year.

However, it does not follow that third-country agreements are always completely wrong. Pieter Tesch, now of the fishing company, Industrie de Peche & Representation, who joined and funded the Mauritanian delegation of four, confirmed that the agreement with Mauritania has the potential to provide alternative opportunities for responsible pelagic vessels, which are currently struggling to stay viable in the north-east Atlantic fishery. He also confirmed that it could assist with the development of processing facilities in Mauritania. I am pleased that the Minister will raise those issues in the Council of Ministers.

The CFP is very complicated. I consider it to be the greatest maritime disaster of the past four decades. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report raises many issues. I will look at three that concern my constituency of South East Cornwall.

The first issue relates to under-10 metre vessels and the quota available to them. As I have mentioned in the past, under-10 metre vessels were done an injustice by the inaction of the previous Government. It is wrong that about 76% of the UK fleet is allocated about 3% of the available quota for white fish.

On 6 March the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell), the shadow Minister, visited Plymouth and told the Plymouth Herald:

“The inshore fleet plays an important role in the local economy and provides sustainable local products for customers in Plymouth and the surrounding areas”.

She continued:

“It is clear that the current management system for the small scale fleet—under ten metres—is not working.”

Finally, she said:

“I want to see a more profitable, sustainable fishing industry in the South West. Politicians need to listen to the voice of the industry.”

Does the hon. Lady realise that her Government’s inaction over 13 years and the introduction of fixed quota allocations from 1 January 1999 worsened the problem considerably? Given her words to the local press in Plymouth, perhaps when she speaks she would like to apologise and acknowledge that fact. I was the chairman of a fish producers’ organisation when those allocations were introduced, so I know exactly what happened.

The hon. Lady’s poignant remarks will have touched the heart-strings of everyone here.

In Northern Ireland we have come to an interesting and amicable way of resolving the issue of the under-10 metre fleet. The Minister saw that when he came to Portavogie. I wonder whether he has shared that experience, so that English fleets will not have to face the pariah status that has been placed upon them.

One problem is that when fixed quota allocations were introduced there was no quota restriction for under-10 metre vessels. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food secured an agreement with the European Commission to estimate the catches of the under-10 metre fleet, and, sadly, they were grossly underestimated. A few years later, the registration of buyers and sellers was introduced. Sales notes had to be submitted to the European Commission for every fish landed, so the flaw in the estimates of the under-10 metre vessel catch was there for everybody to see.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it seems extraordinary that when the register of buyers and sellers was assessed and it became evident to everybody that there had been a huge mismatch in the numbers, something was not done to address it? Instead, our fishing industries were left with the damaging consequences.

I was at a meeting in Plymouth at the time, with DEFRA officials at the highest level. The Department was thrown into disarray and had no idea how to address the problem. On top of that, when the fixed quota allocations were introduced, a figure was put in place to underpin the catch of under-10 metre vessels. If the quota available to them in December fell below a certain level, those vessels were guaranteed to be able to catch that set amount. Again, however, it was set far too low. That was how the problem arose.

Because of the last Government’s inaction, our current Minister has been left in a complicated situation. I know that he is doing his best to sort things out. Evidence given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee by the South West Fish Producers Organisation described the absence of a separate management system for small vessels as “lamentable”. I thank the Minister for at least looking for a solution to the under-10 metre quota, and I ask him to consider the economic implication of leasing quota for those small vessels. We do not want economic strain to compromise safety.

The second matter that I wish to raise is the 12-mile limit. Article 6, paragraph 2 of the new proposal states that the current access, which includes equal access to common resource as well as access to the area between the six and 12-mile limits, will continue. In a previous speech I have told the House how the UK is disadvantaged, with other member states having 28 rights of access to UK waters compared with just three for the UK in reciprocation. Members need only to have watched “The Fisherman’s Apprentice”, with Monty Halls, last night on BBC 2 to have seen the evidence.

The hon. Lady is making a very strong case. She will be aware that the historic entitlements between the six and 12-mile limits are often used by boats from France and other places that are not the ones that originally had those entitlements.

That is my point precisely. That agreement was made based on historic rights 40 years ago, and none of the boats that were fishing then are now accessing the six to 12-mile limit area. There is a strong case for our Minister to go and argue that those entitlements should end. I know that some of the member states that have acceded in subsequent years do not have other member states’ vessels accessing their 12-mile limit, so I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to go and make that case very strongly.

Marine protected areas are different from the special areas of conservation introduced under the Natura 2000 programme. The latter cannot take account of socio-economic aspects to protect our coastal communities, but the former can, and indeed must, do so. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider providing lifetime rights if a fishing method is excluded from a marine protected area? Those rights would be for the duration that the vessel was fishing or the skipper was operating, but it would allow fishermen to continue to earn a living using the very expensive gear in which they have invested.

I know my hon. Friend fully understands my closeness to the industry, which I have worked with for more than 20 years, and that he has fishermen’s interests in mind. Fishermen work hard in the most dangerous conditions, and I am sure the House will agree that they deserve the utmost respect for earning a living in such a precarious way. They keep Britain eating fish.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), with whom I agree almost totally. We should express our gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, and to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for its excellent report. It is the best report on fishing since the report of the old Agriculture Committee, which I chaired. That was 20 years ago, and that long space goes to show how much importance such Committees attach to fishing.

I was sorry that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, eschewed the use of the slogan “Yorkshire Fish for Yorkshire Chip Oils”, because it would be a winning slogan in any campaign in Yorkshire. I shall certainly use it—not in Grimsby, but in Yorkshire—come the election.

The report is good, but the one quarrel I have with it is a substantial one. It says that the principle of relative stability should be looked at, which is a dangerous precedent. Just because fish that normally swim off the coast of Spain migrate north because of global warming does not mean that we should allow Spanish fishermen to disturb the principle of relative stability, which excludes them from our waters.

The debate is important because crunch time for the common fisheries policy is approaching. It is a very centralised policy—it is Gosplan, Soviet Union-style planning for fishing. It applies one-size-fits-all regulations for varied waters and fleets, and dictates to fishermen instead of working with them. It is also very political. There are increases in quota for political reasons, and when that leads to over-fishing, cuts are made by stopping fishermen fishing, either by limiting the number of days at sea or by reducing the catch. That is an insane way to carry on.

The common fisheries policy remains a folly that will not work, cannot be made to work and should be ended. The one thing I cheered when the Conservatives won the election—there was only one thing—was that they promised to repatriate powers from Europe. That, presumably, has been diluted by the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who will probably smuggle those powers back across the channel in the boots of their cars. That promise was a good sign, because this is the time to repatriate powers, and power over fisheries is the power we should repatriate.

I do not want to get into Liberal by-paths on this issue. Just because I get up and speak the European truth does not allow the Liberal party to interfere with my speech in the way that it interferes with the Government’s policy.

Having asserted the position and said what I would like to see, I will put my “moderate but non-new Labour” suit on. To deal with the situation as it is, we must take the approach of accepting the Committee’s recommendations. The preliminary proposals from the Commission, which are expanded in the so-called non-papers—a good European term—telling us what the Commission’s decision means, are unacceptable. They are particularly unacceptable on handing powers down to the regions, because we want regionalised decision making in fishing. That is essential, but the Commission proposes the bare minimum it could get away with—

I am not a Liberal, so the hon. Gentleman is allowing me to say a few words. Does he agree that the potential for a genuine regional approach is immense, as it would involve the community and the fishing industry? Regionalisation would make the fishing industry sustainable for the future, and it is the way forward.

It is certainly the way forward, as I shall argue. We need the 10-year approach and the regional basis that the hon. Gentleman suggests. We probably have to accept that the Commission will set the standards and objectives up there in the stratosphere in Brussels, but we must hand management—including the technical measures, the timetables and implementation of the decisions taken in Brussels, and what kind of quotas are used—to the regional advisory councils, which are far better at handling it and can do so in consultation with fishermen—the stakeholders in the industry. The regional advisory councils can also work with the scientists, bringing them together with the fishermen. That is the basis of management, and that is what the Minister has to fight for. Bringing all the stakeholders in is effectively what the Committee recommends.

Decision making on these matters should be brought down from Brussels. Unfortunately, the Commission is proposing not only to maintain the old control system, but that it should have co-decision-making powers with the Parliament, which is potentially disastrous.

Is not one of the problems that the template of the common fisheries policy will continue? Rather than the fishermen feeling contempt towards Europe, they will feel contempt towards the regional bodies. What we need to do is look at other jurisdictions, such as the Faroe Islands, that have days at sea and area closures, accompanied by a zero discard policy because fishing has been moved out of an area. The template needs to change.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman—that is what we have to do and what we could operate regionally if we got the powers to do so. That is the way that we have to go, but if co-decision making is handed to the European Parliament, politics will be involved again. I can imagine the Spanish MEPs will fight vigorously for their industry in a way that the English MEPs are not conditioned to do.

I imagine, too, that the conservationists will have a much louder voice than the fishermen, because there are no fishermen in the European Parliament but there are lots of conservationists. Although some of my best friends are conservationists, their interests are not necessarily those of the commercial fishing industry. Conservationists are also over-alarmist about stocks, and on the basis of panic about stocks, they propose measures that will never work. It is vital that we separate policy and implementation. Implementation should go down to the RACs and policy stay in Brussels.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about discards and conservationists—as a parliamentarian, he will be interested in the nuances of this—the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) yesterday introduced a very useful ten-minute rule Bill on food waste. She said that surplus should be donated and redistributed in preference to disposal. We can apply the same food waste policy to fish. We should not be throwing it back in the sea: we should be landing it and redistributing it.

The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make his own speech—or discard it, as the case may be—and I shall come to that point in a moment.

The second failure in the Commission’s proposals is the failure to deal with over-capacity. They say that decommissioning has failed to reduce capacity, which is just not true. It has certainly reduced the impact of fishing on North sea stocks, especially cod, plaice, sole and round fish. Instead of proposing a European decommissioning system, financed by Europe and not by the national Governments, the proposals would throw the problem back to the nations through the transferable fishing concessions. They are an improvement on football clubs owning quotas, which was very odd, and, as the Committee suggested, they could give preference to coastal fishing communities, which certainly should be done. However, we have to phase them in much more slowly than the Commission envisages. The Danish transferable fishing concessions were successful only because they followed several rounds of decommissioning of Danish vessels. It is wrong, therefore, to impose this as mandatory on all states.

On discards, the Commission has jumped on the populist bandwagon and passed the odium back to the member states. Its proposal is that discarding should be stopped between 2014 and 2016. That ignores the fact that most discards are due to CFP measures. If we set quotas and total allowable catches in mixed fisheries, we inevitably get discards because fishermen cannot land anything outside their quota. The proposal also takes no account of the fact that the Commission’s cod plan led to more discards—the cod catch did not increase as the cod stocks grew, so cod was being caught and chucked back. That was a failure to adjust the policy quickly enough.

These proposals also ignore the fact that the industry has already reduced discards by 50% over 10 years. That is the way we have to go. The industry has to do it by technical measures. Square-mesh panels, for example, were a great innovation and helped to reduce discards. Let us work from that path and to a longer timetable, as the report suggests, and not to the too-intense, too-tight timetable in the Commission’s proposals.

The same goes for the maximum sustainable yields. It is a good idea to identify the mortality level that will maintain high yields, but it is crazy to propose that the most vulnerable stock should determine the limits of exploitation for all other species in that area. That is folly. It will place limits on all catches in areas where one stock is threatened. Once again, that decision needs leaving to the regions to develop an approach that is suitable to their areas.

I will briefly mention common fisheries efforts to buy quotas and fishing rights in foreign jurisdictions at our expense—we pay for it. They are usually taken by the Spanish. They have about 400 vessels doing that, whereas we have about nine—so there is nothing in it for us. If the industry wants to buy quotas overseas—it has taken a fairly aggressive approach towards the small fishing fleets of poor nations—it must buy them itself and not use money from our contributions.

I shall wind my speech to a conclusion. These proposals in the so-called non-papers are not what we envisaged. The Minister has to fight against them along the lines recommended by the Committee. I shall conclude with one interesting fact in the representations from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. The approach to resource management is on YouTube, so I refer all Members to YouTube for the rest of my speech. It has a presentation by Elinor Ostrom pointing out that when we manage resources, we need the involvement of stakeholders, polycentric governance, which is what we are suggesting on the regional advisory council, and solutions tailored to the specific needs of the area, and the centre should provide oversight only. I recommend that everybody now exit the Chamber and turn to YouTube.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and to hear his support for our report.

The common fisheries policy is friendless—I think we will hear more about that from hon. Members this afternoon. However, it is not just we who say that: it is the fishermen, the environmentalists, to whom it has not been the solution they expected, and—let us face it—now the population at large, to whose attention the issue of discards has been brought. Discards are the very manifestation of the failure of the CFP. However, we have to be careful, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) said in opening the debate, to ensure that we do not wish for the end of discards without explaining how to get there. We all want to see the end of discards, but the current system, with the mixed quota and a mixed fishery, does not allow for it. We therefore have to proceed in a measured, step-by-step way that will allow for what we all ultimately want: the end of discards.

I cannot overstate the mess and confusion that the industry faces. If Mephistopheles himself had tried to design a system intended to confuse and inhibit people, and to get the worst possible outcome for all the stakeholders, he just might have come up with the current system.

Just to step back to the issue of discards for one second, the hon. Lady will be aware of the progressive steps that local fishing organisations have taken to try to address it—through net sizes and so on. Does she feel that those steps—put forward by fishing organisations and coming straight from the industry itself—should be taken on board as a way of addressing the issue of discards directly?

I agree entirely. Local organisations and local communities are coming up with their own solutions, which is absolutely to be recommended. It also points the way even more to what we have been hearing this afternoon, which is that we should have regional solutions, so that although we will allow a common fisheries policy to exercise overall control, we want regional solutions, selected within Governments.

I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that there is a zero-discard fishery quite close to UK waters, off the Faroe Islands. The boats go and fish, the area is closed, and they move on. The common fisheries policy is a manifestation of the obtuseness of European policy. Europe cannot move quickly to a working solution that is already being used off the north-west of the UK. A discard is only a bureaucratic label for a fish that cannot be landed, owing to other problems created by that very mechanism. The way out is already in existence. However, I have been in this place for seven years and I have attended many of these debates, and we face the same problem all the time. We cannot move the obtuse juggernaut that is the common fisheries policy—end of story. We are stuck.

I am not really familiar with the context of fishing off the Faroe Islands, but I am sure that the Minister is and that he will throw some light on the issue.

I return, however, to the main issue I have with discards, which is that that they are, I believe, down to the quota system being allocated for particular fish stocks, rather than for what we actually have, which is mixed fisheries. In part, that is an indication that we have a major problem with the fishing industry. I am entirely sympathetic—I know that many other Members here are too, as are those on our Committee—when it comes to the difficult pass that the Minister has been given. He has to find a difficult balance between the different interests in the fishing industry.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with a mixed fishery is that different sized nets are needed for different species of fish? Some fish, such as cephalopods—squid or octopus—grow a lot more quickly than other species. That is why we have such a big problem, and there is no simple solution.

My hon. Friend is well known for being incredibly knowledgeable about these issues, and she refers to one tool of the trade—changing the mesh size—that could be used to limit the quota and the type of fish stocks landed. She is also absolutely right in her final point. This is indeed a complicated issue, and there is no simple solution. Indeed, looking back on it, it seems that every time a Government or a Minister has tried to make a change for the better, the law of unintended consequences applies—we move a little bit this way and something happens on the other side. At the moment, the Minister is caught between trying to manage the divergent interests of the larger fishermen, in the POs, and those of the smaller fishing communities, in the under-10-metre fleet.

The hon. Lady says that there is no simple solution. As the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) suggested, either the quota system, which is a blunt instrument, could carry on in its present form, or we could get rid of it and base fishing policy on effort control. The problem with getting rid of it is that quota is marketable and has great value, and I do not think that any Government would want to compensate all those people who have valuable fishing—

Order. Can we have shorter interventions? A lot of Members still want to speak, and I would say to anyone who tries to make a speech by means of an intervention that it is not going to happen.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and quite radical suggestion, which brings me to my next point. Perhaps the Minister should consider an independent review of some sort. There are so many different interests involved, and so many ways of trying to move the goalposts and achieve one outcome or another, that I am not sure it is possible for one Minister to act as referee. Perhaps he should consider appointing an arbitrator to conduct an independent review, in order to achieve an outcome on which all the stakeholders could agree.

One proposal on common fisheries policy reform that our report has looked at involves transferrable fishing concessions. My concern, and that of other Members, is reflected in the report. It is that such concessions would not be good for the under-10 metre community. The evidence from other countries is that they have worked against smaller communities, and that the under-10s tend to suffer under them. Those communities tend to lose out in the initial allocation of quota, there is no route for new entrants, and the environmental and social performance is not taken into consideration. Under the present proposals, there is 5% of potential quota allocation for environmental and social performance. I would propose—this is not in the report—that, if we had such a system, there should be a far greater amount allocated to social and environmental performance, which is incredibly important. That would also help to stimulate the under-10 metre communities, which tend to do a lot of social and environmental work locally

The nub of the matter is the question why can we not have a fisheries policy that supports fishing communities? Our current policy has failed—the evidence of that is in our report. Communities find themselves diminished, and the discards continue. We need a new impetus, a new effort and new ideas. Under the new Government, we definitely got the new effort. We began well, by introducing a measure that the smaller, under-10-metre communities had been seeking for a while—namely, a one-off re-allocation of the quota. Obviously, as someone who comes from such a community, I would say that that was not enough, and that it was too conservative, but the Minister will have found, when he embarked on the re-allocation, that he had entered a swamp of divisiveness and infighting between the different interests. The previous Government tried to work with the under-10-metre communities, but they ended up suffering from fishing reform fatigue and gave up on their effort to help. Another great advantage of having a Conservative coalition Government is that we have a new impetus and a new effort. I say to the Minister: keep up the energy and the enthusiasm, so that we can get the reforms that this country so badly needs.

I want to reiterate my concerns about the transferrable fishing concessions. We must not allow them to cement what should be a public resource as a private commodity. When the Committee went down to Hastings and held discussions with both sectors, they acknowledged the need for decommissioning. As hon. Members have said, however, there have been problems with that in the past, even though it was supported by Government money. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) mentioned that the process had had limited success.

In Hastings, we also welcome the support for alternative initiatives. We have been lucky enough to receive £1 million of the £8.7 million put aside under a European initiative involving Fisheries Local Action Groups—FLAGs—to help to support fishermen into new initiatives. I urge fellow Members to come and look at the exciting, adventurous work being done on the Stade in Hastings, where our fishing fleet is, to find alternative methods of employing fishermen and to upgrade their kit and provide new tractors. That is a positive way of trying to help our fishermen into the future.

Above all, when we consider how we can help our fishermen, we need to try carefully to find the balance between satisfying the environmentalists, which we all are, the fishermen who need to continue their lives and the needs of the population who will not accept a system that has so many discards. I am fortunate to come from Hastings, where fishing is so important. It is crucial that my residents in Hastings and Rye know that this issue is taken very seriously. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply and the remaining comments from other Members.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on securing the debate and particularly on the work she and her Select Committee have done on the reform process for the common fisheries policy. It is very important for this to get the scrutiny it needs. The CFP is of huge significance for the fishing communities in Banff and Buchan, but coastal communities all around the coastline have a real stake in the outcome of these negotiations.

The successful reform of the common fisheries policy is going to stand or fall on whether or not measures can be put in place to decentralise decision making. That is very much at the heart of the debate, and I welcome the focus that the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee placed on that issue in her remarks. I am concerned that, if we do not achieve that decentralisation, we will preside over the further demise of our fishing communities and the destruction of our marine environment.

I suspect that the commitment to decentralisation is shared across this House, and it is widely shared in many other fishing nations in the European Community. The problem is that the Commission’s proposals to date do not set out any workable mechanism for that to happen. There is no framework for regional co-operation among member states. Until we have that framework and that mechanism, I am afraid that our ambitions for decentralising the CFP will remain aspirational.

The part of the Committee’s report that was rightly the focus of its Chair’s remarks—and it has rightly attracted considerable attention outside this Chamber, too—is, of course, the suggestion that the exclusive competence of the Lisbon treaty could be interpreted to allow aspects of fisheries management to be devolved to member states. It goes without saying that I would like that to be the case and I hope that the treaty can be interpreted in that way. I am sure that many lawyers are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a process of legal debate on the wording of the treaty to see whether it can be interpreted in that way.

It would be fair to say that, to date, the Commission has taken quite a restrictive view on how the treaty can be interpreted. In that sense, I do not want to be the party pooper, but I think we need to temper our expectations. I would love to be optimistic, but I want to hear from the Minister whether the Government have taken legal advice on this aspect of the Committee’s report. I would be very keen to know what progress we might be able to make at the European level from the proposals in the report. I look forward to hearing his remarks; I hope his legal advice will give us some cause for optimism. We also need to know from him what progress has been made in building support for decentralisation across the other member states, which will, of course, be crucial.

Decentralisation is also crucial to the sustainable management of our fish stocks and the sustainability of fishing communities and our fishing industry. If we look at the progress made since the introduction of the regional advisory councils and the industry’s involvement in fishing management, we can see that it is much better for the people affected by the decisions to be involved in the decision making. In those circumstances, we get much better outcomes.

What we have seen in Scotland with the conservation credit scheme—with increased use of selective gears, catch quotas and real-time closures—is that all its measures have contributed to significant improvements in sustainability. We have seen dramatic reductions in discards and dramatic increases in the number of stocks certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as being from sustainable sources. Crucially—this is the key point on the issue of discards—it prevented the need to discard fish by avoiding unwanted catches in the first place. That has to be the top priority.

If we are serious about tackling the causes of discarding, we need to do it fishery by fishery, and we need to take on board the challenges of our mixed fisheries. I will not repeat the remarks of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), but they were extremely salient. We must look in a practical way at how we do this, and be very clear that one size simply will not fit all.

The hon. Lady said that conservation measures had resulted in a drop in discards. A seasonal closure of the Trevose ground off the north Cornish coast has led to an abundance of cod, and as a consequence most fishermen are using their monthly cod quota on the first day of every month. There is a now great deal of discarding.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about what is happening in his constituency, and clearly there are similar stories all along our coastline. That is a prime illustration of the fact that—as I think Members in all parts of the House agree—the present system does not work, and is not fit for purpose.

A deep-seated and long-standing problem is the issue of compliance across the European Union. It is very frustrating for our fishermen to see the rules applied so inconsistently. The fact that quota restrictions are being flouted with impunity in other parts of the EU not only causes great resentment, but undermines confidence in the system and people’s sense of ownership of the system of fisheries management. We know from the experience of recent years that conservation measures that have been developed in co-operation with the fishermen have been the most effective in conserving fish stocks. The current problems are symptomatic of a top-down CFP, and of that lack of a sense of ownership.

Having pointed the finger elsewhere in Europe, would the hon. Lady care to comment on a recent case in the United Kingdom—indeed, in Scotland? There was a parallel landing industry, and the Government were taking levies from it.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to take up the comments made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran). I know that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) was not present to hear that speech, but it dealt extensively with such problems.

Obviously I cannot discuss the situation while criminal proceedings are taking place, but the fact that the police launched such a successful investigation into the criminality that was taking place has taught us the lesson that we cannot take our eye off the ball in terms of our own compliance. However, we must ensure that criminality is not also symptomatic of people’s loss of confidence in the system. We should bear in mind that otherwise law-abiding people resort to it because they do not believe that the system is working.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton referred to aquaculture. Because of the crisis in the sea fisheries sector, it is often not given the attention that it deserves. I am concerned about by the Commission’s proposal for multiannual national strategic plans, and, buried in there somewhere, the rather bizarre suggestion that there should be a regional advisory council for aquaculture.

I believe that Scotland is the largest producer of Atlantic salmon in the EU, and the third largest producer in the world. In 2010 we produced 154,000 tonnes of salmon, worth more than half a billion pounds at farm gate prices, which represents more than a third of Scotland’s food exports. We also export substantial amounts of shellfish including mussels, oysters and scallops, and other species such as trout and halibut. The rapid growth of the sector at a time when the rest of the economy has been stagnant has been very encouraging. It is a success story for job creation and for economic growth, including growth in remote rural communities that do not have much else going for them. I see no benefit whatsoever in imposing a new layer of European regulation and bureaucracy on that sector, and I expect a great many risks to be posed to it if we go down that road.

I have a particular constituency interest. Although Banff and Buchan is often thought of as being at the heart of the fishing industry, it is also a major centre for fish processing. The factories in the north-east process large amounts of farmed fish, and at a time when the sea fisheries are so unstable and uncertain and can fluctuate so much, the farmed fish sector has a hugely stabilising effect on the viability of the processing sector. An increase in political interference in the aquaculture sector from Brussels—or from anywhere else—would not be in anyone’s interests. We must not try to mend successful businesses that are not broken.

There is no consensus across the UK about transferable quotas—or individual transferable concessions as they are now being called. I welcome the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s remarks about the problems the ITCs cause for the under-10 metre fleet. Those problems are not confined to that fleet, however. Other communities will also be affected, including some in my constituency.

The real issue is that most of the fishing industry in Scotland still involves family-owned vessels that maintain a strong link to a local port. They are at the heart of communities, and I do not want those communities to be bought out by large multinational fishing conglomerates.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the ITCs are a gift for speculators and that we would be bemoaning them in five or 10 years’ time?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

My real fear is that any safeguards we put in place to protect the economic link between the quota and the community or the member state will not be robust enough to withstand the law. I suspect that they will be open to legal challenge, and that we will quickly find that our fishing communities become tradeable commodities. That would be a death blow to communities that are heavily dependent on fishing, and where there have historically been strong family and community ties at the heart of the industry.

I make this plea to the Minister, therefore: any system of quotas must not be mandatory. I would like an assurance from him on that. We must introduce a workable system that does not make such quotas mandatory.

I want to conclude by talking about the objective of social and economic sustainability. Stating that in the legislation would mark a huge step forward; it would make it clear that we want the sustainable development of our coastal communities. That recommendation in the Committee report is important, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton for putting it there. That move would change the whole terms of how we discuss fisheries in Europe. It would make it clear that the subject is about not only the fish in the sea, but the people who live in harmony with the ecosystem in our coastal communities, and who have done so for centuries. I urge the Minister to push for that at the European level, and, as always, I wish him well in the ongoing negotiations.

I welcome this debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing it. It provides an opportunity to review the progress and speed of CFP reform, a subject in which many people across the country, and not just in coastal constituencies, are extremely interested.

My initial thought was to start with an apology for being parochial, as my main objective is to promote the interests of the under-10 metre fleet and local fishermen fishing out of Lowestoft in my constituency. I then thought again, however, and concluded that there is no need for an apology because local fishermen, fishing sustainably, are a very important part of the solution. They are best placed to help manage fisheries sensibly and responsibly and to promote what is an important part of the economy in coastal communities.

CFP reform is long overdue, and it is right that this issue is now centre stage and that there have been a number of debates on it during the first two years of this Parliament. A number of groups and people are responsible for raising the profile of the issue, but I shall single out four. The first is the Minister, who may represent a constituency as far from the coast as one can get, but who has approached his task with determination, sincerity and understanding. The second is Maria Damanaki, whose approach has, in many respects, been a welcome breath of fresh air in the corridors of Brussels. She understands the problems and has come up with proposals, which, although they may need some amendment, provide a foundation stone on which reform can take place. The third is the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh)—

The exemplary chairmanship, indeed. The Committee has now carried out two inquiries and has published two detailed reports setting out the challenges that need to be tackled. My fourth mention goes to the fourth estate, in the form of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He has brought the scandals and obscenities of the CFP into the nation’s living rooms. He has reached the parts that politicians today cannot reach on their own.

The stage has now been set. It is accepted that the system is broken and that it has failed both fish and fishermen alike. We now need to press ahead with putting a new system in place. That will not be easy, as there are those with vested interests, such as other countries in the EU and those who hold quotas and do not fish, who will resist reform.

As the motion sets out, there is a need to move from a centralised, bureaucratic decision-making system to decentralised arrangements that respond to the needs of local fisheries and local communities. If we go on as we are now, fishing communities around the country, such as the community in my constituency, which is in any case a very pale shadow of its former self—

Does my hon. Friend agree that the port of Lowestoft has probably lost more vessels than any other? I am particularly thinking of the Colne fleet and a lot of the inshore vessels, too.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I am conscious of the fact that Samuel Richards, who built a lot of the trawlers over the past century or so, was originally a Cornishman who moved up to Lowestoft where he set up his shipyard. In Lowestoft, people used to be able to walk across the trawl basin, from one trawler to the next, but now we have no more than 15 under-10 metre boats and we cannot do that. It is not just trawlers and the fishermen who go; the whole supply chain is affected, too. Remarkably, despite that utter devastation, the infrastructure is still in place in Lowestoft, and that is what we now need to save.

I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. My constituency is miles from the coast, but it does seem that the CFP is a disaster and that things are going to be really dreadful. A little fisherman—one in the under-10 metre fleet—will have to be illegal or will go out of business, as is clear in Lowestoft. Does he agree with that perception?

Order. Before the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) starts speaking again, may I remind hon. Members that we have an 11-minute time limit? We are going to overshoot because of interventions, so either the interventions will have to decrease or the time limit will go down. Time has not been docked from the hon. Gentleman, but we will not conclude this debate on time if we do not follow that approach.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has just said.

We also need to have regard to our fish stocks. Three quarters of the EU fish stocks are over-fished, and only eight of 47 fish stocks in UK waters are in a healthy state. There is a need to protect spawning grounds and to manage fisheries responsibly.

Fisheries from the Mediterranean to the sub-Arctic are so varied that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot continue. There is a need for a range of tailored measures designed to suit the needs of individual fisheries. Maria Damanaki’s vision of the EU as a lighthouse, with member states steering the ship, is the course that we should look to pursue. There is a need to involve local fishermen, such as those in Lowestoft, to make full use of their expertise and knowledge, which has been built up over generations. They should be working alongside scientists, such as those at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which is also in Lowestoft.

The European Commission has stated that it wants a scientifically set maximum sustainable yield for all fisheries to be in operation by 2015, while the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee has questioned whether that is realistic and whether we should instead be aiming for 2020. I am aware that in reaching that conclusion the Committee has carried out much research and its approach is underpinned by pragmatism, but I am worried about whether the recommendation sends out the right message. Commercial fishing in many of Britain’s coastal communities is in the last-chance saloon and some fish stocks are severely depleted. There is no time to waste. We need to be tackling the problems that we face now, putting in place a more sustainable management regime as quickly as possible.

The campaign to eliminate discards should be stepped up as soon as practically possible. That is what the nation wants and as their representatives we must do all that we can to deliver. There is no single solution; there is a need for a range of measures. We should develop new markets for less valued species. Consumers and retailers have responded positively in this regard in the last year and the Government need to work with them to go a step further. For example, we should be considering clearer labelling so that shoppers can make informed purchasing choices. An extension of the catch quota system that the Minister has piloted should be considered, alongside the adoption of more selective fishing practices as trialled in CEFAS’s Project 50%. Fishermen should also be making full use of modern technology, using the equipment that organisations such as CEFAS are developing.

There is a need to win over the hearts and minds of groups and countries that might see things differently. MEPs have a role to play and, indeed, in the east of England, Geoffrey Van Orden is doing that work in Brussels, while through the media Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is taking his campaign on to the international stage in France, Germany and Poland and, some might say, going into the lion’s den in Spain.

An issue about which I feel strongly is quotas, the system through which the domestic industry is managed. The current arrangements are discredited and do not work in a fair and equitable way. The fish in our seas are a public resource yet they seem to have acquired proprietorial rights with companies and organisations, often with no connection to fishing, leasing them out for substantial profit. The under-10 metre boats that make 76% of the domestic fleet have access to only 3% of quota.

Does my hon. Friend accept that Marine Management Organisation statistics reveal that only 33 English vessels caught more than 80% of the monthly catch limits for quotas for more than six months in each of the past four years?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was going to come on to the fact that when the under-10 metre boats in my area have used up their quota they have been reduced to going to these slipper skippers with a begging bowl to rent quota, so that they can continue to go to sea to earn a living. It is not reasonable to expect people to run a business and invest in it while such a bizarre scenario prevails.

We also have the bizarre situation whereby we do not have a register of who holds quota and do not know what proportion of it is used each year. In the 21st century, no industry should be regulated in such a lazy way with such a lack of transparency. The CFP reforms envisage quota being traded at a national level, and although I can question whether such a rights-based approach is appropriate, I believe that if we are to go down that road, we must wipe the slate clean and start again. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), I urge the Minister to give full consideration to commissioning a full independent inquiry on the quota system, providing the inquiry team with a brief to make recommendations as to the future form and use of the system which takes account of the needs of the whole national fleet, not just a small part of it. We should not just tinker with a system that was originally devised in the 1970s, when conditions were completely different and the under-10-metre fleet were not as prominent as it is today.

In the past two years, the Minister has achieved a great deal. The proposals coming forward offer the prospect of a new deal for fish and fishermen, although an awful lot of work is still required on the detail of new schemes, both at European and domestic levels. I am concerned about the pace of reform and that vested interests could delay progress. My concern is that we cannot afford to wait. Fishing has been part and parcel of Lowestoft for centuries; if we delay reform, there will not be an industry left.

First, I apologise to the House because I was introducing a debate in Westminster Hall at the beginning of the debate and was therefore unable to listen to the remarks of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), who chairs the Select Committee. I pay tribute to her for the report. I also pay tribute to the Minister, who has worked assiduously on these matters. I know that he is trying to get a very reasonable voice heard in Europe, where Commissioner Damanaki is doing a wonderful job, but is meeting rather large obstacles along the way.

Decades of intensive fishing in European waters have led to dramatic declines in once-abundant fish populations. It is estimated that 88% of all the assessed fish stocks are over-exploited and that almost a third of all assessed stocks are being fished beyond safe biological limits, threatening their very future. Of the stocks for which a scientific assessment is available, 60% of north Atlantic stocks and 40% of Mediterranean stocks are currently outside safe biological limits. Continuous over-fishing has resulted in less productive fisheries and a gradual loss of jobs and livelihoods. Words such as overfishing, discarding, habitat destruction, unemployment and subsidy dependence characterise EU fisheries. However, we have a unique opportunity, with the reform of the common fisheries policy, to rectify some of those failures.

At the heart of the motion is the demand that CFP reforms should adopt greater regional ecosystem-based management, but if such management is to succeed, it must recognise and respect the commercial interests of fishing communities. Ecological sustainability must go hand in hand with economic sustainability. The New Economics Foundation recently published a report that concluded that more than €3 billion is lost every year due to over-fishing. That money could support an extra 100,000 jobs in the industry. When fish stocks are mismanaged, fishers, their communities and the whole economy suffer.

Some people misinterpret ecosystem-management as putting the benefit of fish before that of fishers, but without sustainable fish stocks there is no fishing industry. The history of our coastal areas sadly bears witness to that, as fishing communities from Stonehaven to Newcastle and from Grimsby to Cornwall have declined over the past century and a half. It is always comfortable for Members of Parliament to support small fishing communities, particularly those in their constituency, but we should also have the courage to point out that the demise of fishing communities is the result of their parents and grandparents’ over-fishing.

The ecosystem-based approach is fundamental to sustainable environmental management. It establishes a strategy for the management and sustainable use of natural resources by considering them in the context of their role in the entire ecosystem. The current CFP and the EU marine strategy framework directive already commit the EU in principle to that approach. Indeed, the CFP was significantly reformed in 2002 with a view to implementing the principles of ecosystem-based management. The tragedy is that that has not been reflected in practice. True ecosystem-based fisheries management would require systemic reform through the introduction of a regionalised management framework. A regionalised management system within Europe would divide EU fisheries into management regions according to ecosystems rather than nations. Unfortunately, fish do not carry passports and do not know when they are travelling from one nation’s waters into another’s, so we must look at ecosystems and not simply national boundaries.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about ecosystems, is he talking about migratory stocks, non-migratory stocks or straddling stocks? What sorts of stocks does he mean?

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a good example: the Baltic ecosystem and the surrounding countries engaged in its regional management structure. He will know that in recent years east Baltic cod had gone into sharp decline. As a result of the regionally based management structure in the Baltic, those countries agreed, on the advice of the regional fisheries management organisation, to halt the catching of east Baltic cod. After putting that moratorium in place, they then allowed an increase each year of only 15%, which was actually below the fishing maximum sustainable yield; if they had had FMSY the biomass of the stock would actually have recovered less quickly. They put that moratorium in place on a regional basis and in accordance with the ecosystem, and those stocks have now recovered to a level that has far surpassed what they were and what they would have been had those countries opted for FMSY: the stocks have actually achieved biomass MSY.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again and allowing the debate to continue. Does he not see that one stock’s ecosystem is not the same as another’s? When he moved to ecosystem management he would start to have a geographical impact and to impose geographical limits on that, and very quickly he would go down the slippery slope with the common fisheries policy, which at the moment is an utter mess.

Order. Would the hon. Gentleman ensure that he faces the Chair when replying to that intervention? I could not catch everything he said when he responded to the previous one.

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Of course ecosystems interact with each other, and in so far as the hon. Gentleman makes that point it is absolutely unexceptional. None the less, scientists and fishermen look at those ecosystems. Of course there are migratory stocks, straddling stocks, nurseries where fish spawn and spawning grounds that need to be protected, but the point is to look at this as part of the ecosystem and not simply to divide it up into national countries’ interests. We need a regionalised framework based around significant ecosystems so that we can manage those stocks more effectively.

At present, even detailed technical decisions are taken centrally in Europe. The Lisbon treaty provides that the EU has exclusive competence under the CFP. However, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report makes an interesting case for a lawful way of qualifying the EU’s exclusive competence over the conservation of marine resources, thereby creating a framework for genuine regionalisation. It argues that exclusive competence does not apply where the CFP does not apply. Therefore, if the CFP regulations were amended to exclude certain marine conservation policies, the scope of the exclusive competence would be limited to the amended CFP.

The establishment of regional advisory councils is cited as a key success of the 2002 CFP reform because they have served as forums for stakeholders to inform policy implementation at a regional level. The trouble is that they have no decision-making powers. Although the draft basic regulation that sets out the main rules for the CFP would address centralised decision making through a combination of multi-annual plans and regionalisation of decision making, I think that a fully regionalised management system should include the following features: quotas allocated on the basis of ecosystem regions in order to manage fishing pressures according to the necessities of those different ecosystems; regular scientific assessment of all marine species, not just fish stocks, within a given eco-region in order to establish the impact of fishing on the ecosystem as a whole; and quota allocation on the basis of eco-regions with different licences used in different ecosystem regions and with no transfers between those regions.

Certain decision-making powers need to be devolved to regional management bodies in order to tailor the application of central policy objectives for EU fisheries to the specifics of each ecosystem. The main tool for fisheries management is the annual setting of total allowable catches. Currently, the European Commission requests scientific advice for the establishment of fisheries management plans on the basis of sustainability. However, the European Council is under no obligation to adhere to that advice when agreeing total annual quotas for stocks.

The result is that the European Fisheries Council sets total allowable catch limits that are on average 34% higher than scientifically recommended sustainable limits. In the period 1987 to 2011, European Fisheries Ministers set fishing quotas above scientific recommendations in 68% of their decisions. In the case of one hake stock, quotas were set 1,100% higher than scientists advised.

Over-fishing has made the fishing industry economically vulnerable, but over-fishing does not have just economic costs; it has social and environmental ones as well. At the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development in 2002, the EU committed to achieving MSY—maximum sustainable yield—for all fish stocks by 2015 at the latest, but in 2010 it estimated that 72% of its fisheries remained over-fished, with 20% fished beyond safe biological limits, risking the wholesale collapse of those fisheries.

The zero draft for the forthcoming United Nations sustainable development conference in Rio calls on states to maintain or restore depleted fish stocks to sustainable levels, and further to commit to implementing science-based management plans to rebuild stocks by 2015.

The EU marine strategy framework directive requires that all EU fisheries achieve good environmental status by 2020, including the attainment of sustainable fishing levels for all stocks.

On the primary thesis that the hon. Gentleman seeks to advance, he claims that fishing communities are in decline because of over-fishing, but might it not also be because of inept policy, whereby fishermen have to catch far more fish but most are thrown back dead?

Discards have been widely debated in this Chamber, and I shall try to come on to that issue, but time is limited, so I must press on. I acknowledge the force of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, however.

MSY is the largest catch that can be sustained over the long term, but there is FMSY and BSMY, fishing maximum sustainable yield and biomass maximum sustainable yield. The argument that I made to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who speaks for the Scottish National party, was precisely to that point, because we can go on getting FMSY out of a small stock, but if we want to achieve the largest possible catch we need to build the biomass MSY to ensure that we then get a sustainable yield out of that much larger biomass.

That is why I absolutely urge the Minister to support Commissioner Damanaki in saying that we have to achieve FMSY by 2015, albeit that biomass MSY might not be achieved until sometime after that—I hope as soon as possible, but no later than 2020, as the stocks demand.

Achieving that aim by 2015 will necessitate the following key measures: first, rendering scientific advice binding, thus preventing quotas from exceeding biologically sustainable limits; and, secondly, introducing stock assessments and management plans for all fish and shellfish, including non-commercial species that are currently unmanaged, in order to establish sustainable limits for harvesting. Ensuring that all fish and shellfish are harvested at sustainable levels is an absolute prerequisite of the future profitability and survival of EU fisheries.

But we also need to think about the issue in terms of biomass—something that the Committee’s report does not address. A biomass MSY is the biomass that can support the harvest of that maximum sustainable yield. Achieving MSY as set out in the draft CFP means rebuilding fish populations to a level of biomass maximum sustainable yield in order to support the level of annual catches—and viable fishing communities, their economies and their social needs.

In an effort to limit fishing to sustainable levels, EU regulations under the common fisheries policy prohibit the landing of commercial species above a given annual quota. In practice, however, that often results in the discarding of thousands of tonnes of saleable fish—but just at the point when I am about to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), I fear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you are going to tell me that I have run out of time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for the report and for the way in which she introduced the debate, and I thank the Minister for his support in the past.

I am in a somewhat different situation from other hon. Members in this regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) talked about the cuts in Lowestoft. In Fleetwood, we already have hardly any boats left as over time there has been virtually a complete destruction of the fishing fleet. I remember as a child on holiday in Blackpool, because my father would only take us to Blackpool— [Interruption.] Well, he always used to say that Blackpool has got everything you want—it has got the sand, it has got the sea, and there is always something to do when it rains. On some days, we used to go to Fleetwood to see the fishing boats coming in. For 100 years, that was the core of Fleetwood’s very existence. It has been sad to see, now as its Member of Parliament, the heart almost ripped out of it over the years.

To be fair, that was not just due to the common fisheries policy: it began with the cod war. I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), who is in his place, for giving me an induction lesson in cod war compensation schemes when I first entered the House, as well as teaching me how to deal with fishermen. I thought that dealing with farmers was complex, but dealing with fishermen is certainly so—and, one hopes, rewarding. I have certainly learned a lot.

Every hon. Member has referred to the failure of the CFP. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) talked about mismanagement of fish stocks by coastal communities, but the mismanagement of this policy has been much worse. Anyone can go to Fleetwood and listen to people’s stories about seeing boat after boat disappear and trying to deal with the quota system, and then the disgrace of the discard system, which has finally come to the fore publicly. The CFP has been an absolute and utter failure that could have resulted in the destruction of the town were it not for the resilience of Mr and Mrs Fleetwood in getting on and doing other things, although they still feel the loss when they see the harbour. I think that we have 27 licensed under-10-metre boats that go out part time. The number of boats that fish full time is probably fewer than the fingers on my hand, and they are usually fishing for shellfish, particularly Dublin Bay prawns. I thank the Minister for ensuring that there were no cuts to the quota for Dublin Bay prawns in the Irish sea in 2012. That was extremely welcome.

Unless there is some chance of bringing home these powers, and therefore some possibility that we might get new Fleetwood people going into fishing, this is, for them, an intellectual debate that they have heard many times before. Perhaps understandably, their distrust of politicians of all persuasions is massive. As the Minister secured the quotas, it would be fantastic if he could come home with some other measures showing that there might be a possibility of British ships and British seamen fishing in British seas. That is what people are after.

We have discussed the worry about regionalisation, which has been mentioned by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), who is not in her seat at the moment. Are we going to end up in a similar situation to that under the cod management plan, with the appearance of regionalisation but still with all the rules set centrally so that all that is left for the region is to try to deal with that while seeing more people go out of business? As a north-west MP, I have to ask what will happen in the north-west if we get proper regionalisation? What will that mean on the ground? Presumably we will still have to deal with the situation in the Irish sea. Perhaps there could be an Irish sea forum between us in the north-west, the devolved Scottish Parliament, the devolved Welsh Assembly, the Isle of Man Government, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I am sure that common sense could prevail in terms of what the fishermen of all those countries know and do.

Again, I take issue with the hon. Member for Brent North. Conservation is the sole interest of all the fishermen I have met, because they see it as vital to their future business. They want to do it, but they distrust all the scientific evidence because it has often come from Europe and resulted in scientists telling them to follow the policy of discard and throw back healthy fish that they could have landed. That is what has taken away their belief in any so-called scientific analysis of what is going on.

I do not want to take up time, but does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that it is the scientists who have been pressing for the discards to be landed so that they can make a proper assessment of the biomass and look at the ecology as a whole?

I do acknowledge that. However, I am trying to explain how a Fleetwood fisherman who now has to fish part time sees a wealth of different evidence and wonders who pulls the strings on the evidence.

I want to introduce another matter—one which I know will delight the Minister. Once he has dealt with the problems of the common fisheries policy, another issue that we face is that of wind farms and wind farm applications in the Irish sea, and the compensation for fisherman resulting from those developments. We have to deal with the Department of Energy and Climate Change on that matter and on new transmission lines, with the Department for Transport on ferry links, and with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the so-called common fisheries policy. This might sound revolutionary, but perhaps we need a Secretary of State for the Seas to bring those issues together so that fishermen can go to one door and find out what is going on.

I do not want to detain the House any longer. As I have said, I feel as though I am in a different position from other Members. To people in Fleetwood and beyond, this is a test case of whether the coalition Government can deliver. They are enthusiastic about much that the Minister has done. I am grateful to him for the extent to which he goes out to meet fishermen. However, this remains a test case of what is possible. People in Fleetwood hope to see the day when one or two more people can at last take up fishing in what they regard as their waters.

I commend the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) and the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating this debate. I recently became a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and I commend it for its report and for the motion.

I pay tribute to the Minister, who visited my constituency some weeks ago. In particular, he visited the fishing port of Kilkeel and saw at first hand the good work that is being undertaken by the fishermen, the fish producers’ organisations and those involved in fish processing. He will also have witnessed and heard about the problems faced by the fishermen and the fish producers’ organisations, such as the cabling in the Irish sea and the potential for wind farms, to which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) referred. The fish producers’ organisations are actually working with the Crown Estate to ensure that there is no interference in the fishing effort and that there is a future livelihood for the fishermen of the County Down ports.

Other issues confront the County Down fishermen, such as reduced fishing effort, the closure of the Irish sea at certain times and quota restrictions. Those issues all impact on their livelihood and on the onshore fish processing industries. However, I assure hon. Members that those fishermen and the local fish producers’ organisations possess an indomitable spirit, despite all the problems that they face.

There is a consensus among environmental campaigners, politicians and those who work in our fishing industries that the common fisheries policy is in need of serious and drastic reform. We have an opportunity to make that reform and it is vital that we create a viable, economically productive and sustainable fishing industry in our waters. Nobody disagrees with that, although people’s emphasis may differ. It is clear that the existing Brussels-based regime has severely damaged the industry and has not delivered a sustainable and environmentally sound fisheries market.

At the root of the problems with the common fisheries policy are the single species fishing quotas, which are often rigidly enforced, but are supported by the flimsiest scientific data. It is more than likely that we will find ourselves having the same argument, and probably the same problems, with the concept of the maximum sustainable yield. Fish species do not exist in a vacuum. They inhabit an ecosystem, and surely they should be managed on that basis. We must take into account the fact that most fisheries are mixed, and an approach must be taken of close co-operation with those who work on our waterways and throughout the industry on a daily basis.

It is sometimes suggested or implied that fishermen do not have much regard for sustainability, but of course they do. Nobody has more knowledge of, or as much at stake in, the sustainable management of our waters. Indeed, the Minister was fortunate enough to see that during his recent visit to Kilkeel.

As we have heard, the rigid and inflexible single species quotas that are set on dry land are unresponsive to the requirements of the marine environment and those who earn their living from it. That is most strikingly problematic in the case of Irish sea cod, and I urge the Minister to focus his attention on it. We must seek solutions to the problems that the fishing industry faces with that stock. The current measures rely heavily on the single easily obtainable metric of fish mortality, which has not proved a realistic indicator of overall species levels and mortality. It is essential that the Minister work with the fishing industry, his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to ensure that we navigate our way out of that problem in the Irish sea.

Many of the problems are said to be related to an over-reliance on particular stock such as cod, but we must realise that the fishing industry partly responds to demand rather than simply creating it. Thankfully, there have been encouraging trends suggesting that consumers and retailers are beginning to respond to sustainability measures, with certified retailers stocking 41% more certified products last year and a corresponding sales increase, according to the Marine Stewardship Council. However, there clearly remains much work to be done to create a broader base of fish species that underpin and drive the market.

I turn to the vexatious issue of discards. Nobody disagrees that we need to reduce and, I suppose, eliminate them, but the question is how we do that. When we do it is also important. A high proportion of discards are what I would call legislative discards—those that are brought about by an inefficient policy regime and inflexible quotas. When the Minister visited Kilkeel, he saw at first hand the progress that the local fish producers’ organisation had made in its attempt to deal with the issue of discards. My constituents have been particularly innovative in trying to address the problem.

I imagine that before there was a common fisheries policy, there were in effect no discards at all. That underlines the hon. Lady’s argument that the problem of discards is a creation of the CFP.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I agree that the problems of sustainable yield, discards and the need for regionalisation all derive from the problems presented by the common fisheries policy. All the Members who have spoken have mentioned those problems. Any effective measure must respond to those who fish in our waters, because for a fisherman nothing goes against the grain more than wasting perfectly good fish. We must acknowledge the good work that has already been done.

Although of course I agree with the thrust of the hon. Lady’s argument about quotas and discards, does she accept that it is not possible to distinguish between intended and unintended by-catch?

I suppose I could agree to a certain extent with that assertion. There is no doubt that our fishing industries in Britain and Northern Ireland face many similar problems, one of which is discards. To go back, however, that is one of the problems that is derived directly from the common fisheries policy.

On the need for decentralisation, at a broader level the common fisheries policy needs to be more regionally sensitive. There needs to be more regional input and representation in respect of the reforms and throughout EU fisheries negotiations. We also need meaningful and impactful regionalisation that delivers real change rather than talks about it. At the same time, we should recognise that such regionalisation needs to be enacted in a coherent, not disjointed, manner.

I urge the Minister to work closely with his ministerial counterparts in Dublin and the Northern Ireland Executive to develop an approach that makes the fishing industry economically productive and sustainable across these islands, and one that is operational for us on a north/south basis in Ireland. Measures enacted in the Irish sea have a clear impact on the movement of fish shoals to other areas. Fish do not recognise national identities. We must remember that fish shoals are not static and management of them can be successful only if it is done in a joined-up manner with clear regional input.

In summary and in conclusion, the reform of the common fisheries policy provides the British Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with an opportunity to work with the EU to provide a framework whereby the fishing industry and the coastal communities that are pivotal to it are safeguarded, and whereby a clear, positive path is provided for the sustainability of the industry, both onshore and offshore. We in Northern Ireland—I represent a constituency that has the two fishing ports of Ardglass and Kilkeel—believe that one of the best approaches is through decentralisation from the common fisheries policy and some degree of control being devolved to the local area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on securing the debate, and add my tribute to her. I have known her for 30 years since she worked for the European Democratic group in the European Parliament. She has retained her interest, vision and energy in a very big way.

As many hon. Members will be aware, I represent a constituency that has one of the principal fishing ports in the south-west—it is second only to Brixham, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). The port has been significantly affected by the former and late Prime Minister Edward Heath’s disastrous decision to hand over fishing waters to the Common Market as part of those 1972 negotiations. The arguments at that time were that European fishing waters should not be owned by one country, but be considered as a common European resource. That approach has been far too isolationist and protectionist, and has failed to take fully into account the impact that other parts of the world, and specifically the Antarctic, have on the Atlantic ocean’s fishing grounds.

In just a few days’ time, on 29 March—coincidentally the birthday of the former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. John Major—we will commemorate at St Paul’s cathedral the centenary of the deaths of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his companions on the ice during the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Just days earlier, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal will come to Plymouth, around the corner from where Scott himself lived, to rededicate a memorial that represents courage supported by devotion and crowned by immortality, with fear, death and despair trampled underfoot. That is a very good approach. At the base of the memorial is an inscription from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Those are very fine words.

I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was able to pay a private visit to the Scott memorial when he recently came to Plymouth to meet 3 Commando Brigade. I am very grateful that he has taken such a keen interest in this son of Plymouth.

While until recently Scott was considered by some as a failed British hero who lost a race to the south pole to Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, he is now recognised by many as the father of maritime and scientific research, and 29 March will be a very proud day for all of us who revere this great British hero. The legacy of his research and that of the British Antarctic Survey, based in Cambridge, shows us very clearly the impact that climate change is having on the world’s seas and fishing stocks.

During a recent visit to the British Antarctic Survey, I learned how it is extracting 800,000 years of ice. Its analysis of the captured air bubbles allows it to estimate the atmospheric composition and the temperature of the planet over those 800,000 years. While for much of this time there has not been much change in the global climate, there has been significant change since industrialisation began some 300 years ago. The BAS explained how plankton—a staple diet for many of our fish and which can be found in the Antarctic—are in much shorter supply and, combined with over-fishing, could have a significant impact on our fishing stocks.

Just last month, my hon. Friend the Minister and I visited Plymouth marine laboratories on the Hoe. Staff there confirmed that climate change is responsible for changes in our fisheries. They noted that European anchovy and sardine—southern, warm-water species—can now be seen in the North and Baltic seas after about 40 years of absence. They believe that the dynamics of the Atlantic’s fishing stocks are strongly affected by the atmospheric conditions of all the seas throughout the world. They confirmed that half of European fishing stocks are in trouble and that there has to be better international co-operation, especially where UK waters overlap with France, Holland and Ireland.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I personally continue to be a strong advocate for bringing the 200-mile UK fishing waters back under UK control, and I would be grateful if he could indicate where this suggestion has got to in his discussions with other European Fisheries Ministers.

The hon. Gentleman need feel no trepidation. It has been acknowledged in common fisheries policy documents that the successful area for a fishery under national control is up to 12 miles. In the event of a possible failure by the Minister to bring back a 200-mile limit as the hon. Gentleman wants, perhaps we should look to extend the 12 miles to 199 miles, thereby leaving the area of the common fisheries policy between 199 miles and 200 miles.

I have total confidence in my hon. Friend to make sure that he negotiates to bring UK fishing waters back under UK control, and I shall carry on reminding him of the need to do so.

In preparing for this debate, I also spoke to Terri Portman who runs Scott Trawlers—coincidentally—which is based in my constituency. She is in the Public Gallery today. She talked to me about some practical measures that the fishing industry is thinking about. She pointed out that since the last time we debated this subject more fisherman have lost their lives. I am reminded of this on a daily basis as I share an office with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who lost her husband just a year ago under very tragic circumstances. Terri argued that our fishermen come under a great deal of pressure and are more inclined to take risks when they find the economic climate so challenging—especially with the rising cost of fuel and the lack of help from banks.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the fisheries Minister for all his work in representing my local fishing industry’s views in Europe and for how often he has come down to Plymouth. I would be most grateful if he could tell the House how much discussion his fellow European fisheries Ministers are having on the impact of climate change on our fishing waters and about what work we are doing to ensure that we do not fall behind the United States of America, Canada and Japan, which are researching this matter in a very big way indeed.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) and to hear about the historical links to modern fishing. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee and the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), for securing this debate. It is a pleasure to serve under a Chair with so much knowledge of EFRA issues and the huge enthusiasm to match it. It rubs off on all Committee members.

It was extremely useful and informative to take part in the Committee’s visits to Hastings and Denmark, particularly to speak with the fishermen at the heart of the industry. I was truly amazed by their patience, perseverance and resilience in working with the common fisheries policy as it is now. It was a humbling experience to meet those people. My one regret was visiting the fish-gutting factory. As one of the queasiest people on this planet and despite having a heavily perfumed handkerchief, I can smell it in my nostrils to this day.

I hear the hon. Lady’s criticism of the work she had to undertake, but perhaps I could make a suggestion and possibly a criticism. In researching the report, it might have been worth visiting areas and jurisdictions outside the EU perhaps running more successful fisheries policy. Perhaps the Committee could do that if another report is required. It could do some useful work visiting Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway, for instance, and produce another report for us next year perhaps.

Discussion of that might fall within the jurisdiction of the Committee at a later date.

I spoke when the House debated the CFP last November. The fish quay at the port of North Shields had a thriving industry when I was a child. Like the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), I, too, have seen the industry diminish slowly over the years, and it is now a shadow of what it once was. In that debate, I raised issues from the point of view of the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. I will now relate those observations to some of the conclusions and recommendations in the Committee’s report.

NIFCA knows, from local experience, that achieving the vision and reform of the CFP has practical limitations, and it is clear that local factors need to be taken into account. The area covered by NIFCA stretches from the Scottish borders down to the Tyne, and is a mixed-fishery area, so achieving maximum sustainable yield by 2015 would be unrealistic. Having a more flexible date would therefore be a great help to our fishing industry. The recommendation in the Committee’s report to adopt the less rigid time scale of 2020 is therefore welcome and supports NIFCA’s view.

NIFCA also feels that achieving maximum sustainable yield would be crucial to determining multi-annual plans, but that the ambitious target date of 2015 could create the danger of unnecessary fishery closures. The emphasis should be on local measures to ensure sustainable and viable fisheries. Some such measures are deployed in our area now.

Like many colleagues in the Chamber today, NIFCA has stressed the need for regionalisation, down to the district level—indeed, as far as IFCAs—to strike the right balance and fully involve stakeholders. The Committee’s identification of a means to interpret the EU’s exclusive competence over certain aspects of fisheries policy—so as to allow member states to act independently to amend the common fisheries policy, albeit without requiring treaty change—gives hope for achieving NIFCA’s vision of regionalisation. DEFRA and the Government should seize on that recommendation and work with other member states to bring it to fruition.

NIFCA is continuing the commitment shown by the former sea fisheries committee to reforming the EU’s policy on discards, but believes that the Government should stress to the Commission both that there must be investment in appropriate infrastructure to enable local fleets to dispose of unwanted catch and that technical advances must also be taken into account. The authority thinks that the Government should play a bigger role in consumer education, to ensure that the extra catch landed can be marketed more effectively, as part of the overall discard reduction strategy. Ultimately, our local fishermen believe that the prospect of a complete end to discards has not been set out in sufficient detail to be viable, and that there needs to be a further debate with the industry on the issue. The recommendation to delay the discard ban until 2020 is therefore justified by those observations.

It is in the Government’s hands to negotiate a fair deal in reforming the common fisheries policy and ensure a sustainable marine environment and a viable future for our fishing communities. To that end, the Government should heed today’s motion and the Committee’s report on the proposals to reform the common fisheries policy.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), who sits with me on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

As I think most of the House knows, I have a healthy disregard for anything to do with the EU, and the CFP—which I would describe as a disaster—is no exception. To use “Dad’s Army” lingo, hopefully both the EU as it stands and the CFP are doomed. I entirely concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile). I will not rest until our waters are back under national control and those who want to fish in them are given licences by our country, so that we can control which stocks are taken from our waters. Sadly, however, that is a dream, and I have to deal with reality.

I congratulate the Minister—my good and honourable Friend on the Front Bench—on his valiant and continued efforts to ensure that the CFP is reformed, and reformed it desperately needs to be. He is right that the CFP has failed to maintain healthy fish stocks and deliver a sustainable living for our fishing industry. His demand for genuine reform of what is a broken policy must be supported. Fishing is vital to our coastal communities. I represent the coastal community of South Dorset. Fishermen there are part of our DNA, providing the lifeblood of the coastal settlements, and probably their very origins. Today, like the fish they catch, those fishermen are hopelessly enmeshed—in a net of bureaucracy, struggling against the ever-tightening rules and regulations imposed on them by a distant and unresponsive EU. Designations, quotas, fuel costs, environmental concerns, discard policies, types of tackle to be used—it all adds up to one huge snarl-up, from which they despair of escaping.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as this issue affects the whole of the British isles, including Ireland—as well as the Isle of Man and Scotland, and, of course, the rest of England and Wales—it should therefore be considered by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly? I am a member, and I am very willing to take the issue back and encourage the assembly to consider it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would welcome any means whereby the people of this great United Kingdom could sit down and discuss how we should control our waters—so, yes!

The endless red tape is particularly difficult for fishermen working in the smaller inshore fleet, of whom we have a preponderance in South Dorset. In fact, it is impossible for some of our small fishermen to make a living. The result is a healthy scepticism, and compliance among those with the greatest stake in the process—that is, the fishermen—is perhaps not full as it should be. In constituencies such as mine, we operate small boats, as we have done for generations. Such communities have nurtured, loved and cared for their fishing areas, because to do otherwise would be to destroy their very livelihoods. There is no doubt that there is a high level of distrust between fishermen and those who we in the press used to call the suits.

Does my hon. Friend believe that that is because a lot of the people representing the industry in the past have in fact represented the larger boat owners, and because the small boat owners have always felt that they did not have a voice?

I entirely concur with my hon. Friend. Let us hope that, through people like us and others, the small fishermen will have a bigger voice in future. It will be important for them to do so.

Among the fishermen I speak to, the environmental lobby—of all kinds and colours—appears to hold sway. That is the perception. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of that, as I have written to him about this on many occasions. Indeed, he has visited my constituency on more than one occasion, for which we are all grateful. We all know that we should not plunder our seas, but we must go forward working on the basis of fact, not fiction. I am encouraged that the motion mentions the need for

“more scientific research to underpin decision-making”.

Hurrah! I welcome that.

I am not allowed to; I have given way twice. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I struggle on, although I can assure him that I am not going to go on for another eight minutes and 44 seconds.

Scientific research is in the interests of all fishermen, whether from the warm Mediterranean or the icy sub-Arctic. If we do not protect our fisheries now, we will not have a fishing industry. That is a fact. Much attention has been paid to the campaign to end the practice of fish discards, in which perfectly good but dead fish are thrown back into the sea in order to meet arbitrary quotas. The rules are endlessly bent, however, because the targets are so unrealistic. I applaud the Minister’s efforts to tackle that problem on a local basis.

I acknowledge, just for once, that the European Commission has recognised the failure of the CFP and set out a series of proposals. However, the Select Committee has pointed out that the Commission is embarking on the journey without a clear plan—nothing new there! I know that the Minister has already fought off proposals that would have damaged our national interests, and I am confident, as are my fishermen, that he will continue to do that. I am also confident that our fishermen respect his work, and it is a tough job to gain the respect of fishermen, but the Minister is operating with his hands tied behind his back. Once again, our national interests are threatened by those of a much bigger entity, which purports to act for us but fails to do so. None of this comes as any surprise to those of us who are familiar with the workings of the European project.

The motion invites us to call on the Government

“to use the current round of Common Fisheries Policy reform to argue for a reduction in micro-management from Brussels”,

and, of course, I agree with that. It must be no secret by now that I would like the Government to extend that goal far, far beyond fishing. I know that the Minister will pass on that message to all the relevant people. I urge him to continue to stand up for our downtrodden fishermen around the country and, of course, those in South Dorset in particular.

I shall not detain the House for long, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) speaks for the same fishing community as I do. His constituency takes in about 90% of Grimsby docks, and I am left with the 10% that is now called Grimsby fish dock east. I want to make a few general points but focus, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), on the impact on the livelihoods of fishing communities. When my hon. Friend spoke about his childhood visits to Blackpool and Fleetwood, it brought back my memories of my childhood, as both my father and my grandfather worked on Grimsby docks, and I can recall visits to famous trawlers such as the Northern Sceptre, the Northern Jewel, the Northern Sun and the famous consolidated fisheries boats that bore the names of Arsenal, Aston Villa and other football teams—most famous of all, of course, the Grimsby Town.

I shall make a couple of comments. The first thing that struck me when I read the Select Committee report was the part of the executive summary that stated:

“They are embarking down a path of reform without a clear plan”.

Well, I am not sure that the EU has ever had a clear plan for anything, but it has still embarked along that road.

On the main issue of the impact on communities, an interesting parallel can be drawn. I was part of the all-party delegation that visited Cairo and Gaza last weekend. Without venturing into broader debates about that part of the world, let me say that one of the most interesting visits we made was at dawn last Monday morning when we went down to the Gaza fish market. We had an opportunity to speak to the fish salesmen and, more notably, the fishermen.

Did my hon. Friend see any similarity between the small boats working out of Cleethorpes and Grimsby and the vessels he saw in Gaza, or were they more like the vessels we see displaced through the European third-country agreement such as the artisanal-type open canoe or open-boat vessels that are described as pirogues?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. There was a great similarity between the boats of the communities. Their boats were similar to the ones that sail out of Grimsby nowadays, which are unlike the deep-sea trawlers of 20 or 30 years ago.

I was accompanied on the Gaza visit by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). Sadly, the former fisheries Minister, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) had to leave a day early, so he missed this part of it. What we heard from the fishermen there was the sad tale of their inability to earn a living. There was a further similarity inasmuch as if they venture out beyond the 3-mile limit, they find themselves entering Israeli waters. Needless to say, they receive some hostile treatment. The point is that they cannot venture the normal fishing grounds because of what they see as the intervention of a foreign power. Whether we like it or not, the fishing community I represent regards the EU as a foreign power.

Does my hon. Friend know whether the Israelis have fish quotas? Are there any restrictions on the amount of fish that can be caught from the seas off Israel? How do the Israelis manage their stock? I know that it is not a vast amount of water, but how is it managed?

If I attempted to reply to that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would be entering into very deep waters! I have not brushed up on my knowledge of the Israeli fishing fleet over the last two or three days, so I will leave my reply for another occasion.

As has been said many times, what we want is the repatriation of powers. Whether it be in Gaza or in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, there is a deep sense of grievance about the restrictions. The report states that

“a more effective system of European fisheries governance could be achieved if high-level objectives only are set centrally by the European institutions”.

As has been pointed out by many other speakers, that would mean leaving the day-to-day management of stocks at regional and local levels, which would be a welcome development.

I am being urged to speak slowly in order to take up the time, but I know that at least one other Member wishes to speak, so I shall make only one more point. We must recognise that we are dealing with communities, and with the livelihoods of people in those communities.

Some European Union countries have a say on the common fisheries policy, but have absolutely no coastline. I am thinking particularly of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

That is a very good point. It stands to reason that those who are involved in the fishing industry and who know how to manage stocks should manage those stocks.

It is interesting to note that all three Members whose constituencies are bounded by the River Humber—the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and me—oppose our membership of the EU. The Grimsby-Cleethorpes community has never really recovered from the decline of the fishing industry, which was sacrificed in the original negotiations for entry to what was then the Common Market. The scars run very deep, and I would be failing in my duty if I did not represent those feelings in the House.

Is not the use of the expression “common resource” disingenuous and misleading? I do not see how the fish in our waters can possibly be a common resource for others to tuck into whenever they want.

In 1976, in response to Iceland’s declaration of a 200-mile limit, other member states did the same, but exclusive competence was handed over to the European Community. That is the origin of the concept of common resource and equal access to that common resource, which is enshrined in article 2 of the current proposal.

My hon. Friend has made her point very concisely. I could not have put it better myself.

Let me emphasise again that this is about communities and their livelihoods. Whether in Cairo or Cleethorpes, Gaza or Grimsby, the livelihoods of those local communities is what matters. I do not envy the Minister his role in the Brussels negotiations, but I know that he will perform his duties very well, and that he will go armed with statistics from his officials. Above all, I urge him to consider the livelihoods of the communities that we in the House represent. They have been let down badly by the common fisheries policy, and they urgently need change.

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this debate on fisheries and the common fisheries policy. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing it and for chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We have heard from several Committee members, including my hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), as well as the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon)—I was going to say “North Teesside”, but I know that it is somewhere up north—who has great expertise in this topic.

May I also pay tribute to my great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray)? She has huge knowledge of fishing and the fishing industry—indeed, her knowledge of those areas is probably second to none in this House. She endured a terrible tragedy last year, and all our hearts go out to her. In the circumstances, it is very brave of her to speak about fishing issues as she does.

I also wish to join many other Members in commending the Minister on the very good job he has done battling away in Brussels. We certainly do need to battle away. It is difficult enough trying to manage and organise fishing policy for the seas off the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and the north of England—and even Scotland, if I may dare say so—from here in Westminster.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation we are in now is similar to what happened a decade ago? We heard similar promises then, but the end result was not what we anticipated. We should bear that in mind when we send the Minister to Brussels to negotiate.

We have, of course, a new Minister and a new—coalition—Government, and I have every faith in both this Minister and this Government to deliver what we want.

It is essential that we fight our corner. The European Commission offers great gifts of devolving powers. It offers the tools to achieve that, but when we look into the toolbox we find that it contains very few tools. In the end, the instinct of Brussels is not to give powers away but to grab powers. It has done that for decades. That is why the CFP is in such a mess. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) that we should not have just six-mile and 12-mile limits, but should extend that and have a 200-mile limit.

Let us consider what the Norwegians can do. If an area of the Norwegian sea is being over-fished they can shut it down within hours. In the European Union, however, it would take months—if an agreement is ever, in fact, reached. In the EU we have Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all arguing about fishing. They have a few lakes, but they have no coast. The European Commission plays that situation, of course.

Does my hon. Friend agree that such countries can use their CFP votes as leverage to negotiate on other matters that have nothing whatever to do with fisheries? That is wrong.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Austria receives probably the largest amount of rural development money of any EU country. I suspect it has traded many times with the Commission to achieve that situation, by agreeing to go along with what the Commission wants on fishing. We must sort that out.

Not only should we manage our waters in a way that enables us to act quickly from a conservation point of view, but we also need the fishermen to sign up to the regulations. The CFP is a little like communism: there is a lovely warm feeling that we are all going to work together for the greater good, but in reality nobody does that. Our fishermen try to conserve fish by doing all the right things such as reducing the size of their nets and reducing the number of discards, but then they are terrified that the Spanish or others will come in and hoover up the fish whose stocks they have conserved through their actions. That highlights a key problem with the CFP.

Does my hon. Friend think the Europeans would care one jot if local fishermen such as mine in Dorset disappeared entirely?

No, I do not think they would. They offer great platitudes to those who go out of fishing, but all they are interested in is having a centralised policy whereby the total amount of fish caught within the EU meets their targets. They are not actually worried how many fishermen there are to do the fishing, even though they will tell people otherwise. This, again, comes back to the problem of managing things from Brussels, so we have to deal with the principles of the CFP.

I suspect that the Minister may well not be able to come back with a 200-mile limit yet, but we have great confidence that over a period of years he will achieve that. I say that because of what we are doing now with this limited resource: we are throwing it into the sea, dead. A lot of those fish actually putrefy on the sea bed. Local fishermen tell me that a lot of sea lice attack the dead fish and that when they catch fresh fish that are alive they often bring up in their nets some of those dead fish, which contaminate the healthy fish. Is this situation logical? Is it right? No, it is absolutely wrong.

Does my hon. Friend agree that rotten fish on the sea bed not only contaminate the catch, but prevent other fish from coming into these areas to swim? This is like having a graveyard on the bed of the sea, and we would not go into a room full of dead bodies, would we?

We would hope that we would not. As my hon. Friend says, the last thing we would want to do would be to go into a room full of dead bodies. She summed up the situation well, because all those dead fish are being put back into the sea and they are contaminating the other fish that we catch. The dead fish are a health hazard and that needs to be dealt with. We talk a lot about sustainability, but we need to talk about how we manage that particular side of things.

I have spoken directly to the Minister about the particular concerns of a fishing company in my constituency. It has a lot of vessels, it fishes around the whole of the United Kingdom and it has 140 tonnes of cod quota, but of course it is allowed to fish only 35 tonnes of that. This is a mixed fishery; we have been talking about whether fish understand what flags they have on them, but they certainly do not understand that they should conveniently swim along species by species, so that one fisherman can catch cod, another can catch hake and so on. That does not happen, so all those healthy cod are being caught, and because the fishermen do not have the necessary quota, they are then discarding this excellent fish, which people in this country love to eat. The fishermen have every right to go out to sea because they have quota for other species and they are not fishing directly for cod. We have to find some flexibility and a way of ensuring that the fish that are caught are landed.

Another argument is that if we are to know what is being caught in the sea, and what the stocks are, we have to land much more of a given fish to be able to analyse exactly what is being caught and what those stocks are.

The other point I made was that we are finding that anchovies and sardines are coming into our waters now. How easy will it be for the fishing industry to adapt to catching that sort of fish, which have not traditionally been found around the British isles?

It might well be difficult for our fishermen to catch some of the types of fish that are now coming into our waters, for the simple reason that the type of nets being used may not catch them. Alternatively, those fish, too, may be caught in the nets being put out in a mixed fishery, so we may have an even greater loss, as I suspect that our fishermen will not have quota for those particular species. So the whole situation gets worse and worse, and we want our fishermen to be able to earn a living. That is why our Minister has such a nightmare to sort out.

The next matter is very difficult to deal with, because fishermen and the fishing industry have made big investments in quota and are keen to see it maintained, but our 10-metre fleet and the under 10-metre fleet want to catch more fish sustainably, which has a huge impact on our coastal communities. Even that is complicated, because of the super 10-metre fleet, which has large engines and can catch as much fish as the large boats. It all becomes very complicated—and that is why we have such a marvellous Minister to sort it out.

Not only do some of those 10-metre boats have large engines, but some tow two nets at the same time. I have heard that they are now considering towing three nets, so they are fishing at the same intensity as some of the larger vessels with which we are all familiar.

My hon. Friend is right, because fishing boats’ engines, the type of satellite, the equipment used for navigation and to see exactly where the fish are, and all the other equipment on those boats, are getting so much more sophisticated that it is almost impossible for the fish to escape. It is not a case of putting one’s finger up and seeing which way the wind is blowing: the fish can be found. We need to find the balance in how we share a limited resource. We must get rid of the discards one way or another, and we need to ensure that fish are shared out between the different fishermen in our waters. We need to manage our waters not just in the six and 12-mile limits but out to the 200-mile limit.

As has been mentioned, what has happened has been a travesty of justice. When we joined the Common Market in 1973 we presented a low figure for the number of fish we caught, whereas other countries, especially France, Belgium and others, inflated their figures. We have suffered from that ever since, and it needs to be put right.

I want to raise one last point, and that is the problem of the slipper skippers—people who, year after year, do not have the boats to catch their fish and are leasing out their quota. I feel that the Minister should impose a siphon—perhaps 10% or 20%—every time they lease out their quota, so that over five or 10 years they will lose their quota. That quota could then go to the smaller fleets and the under 10-metre boats. That would send out the message that when someone is sitting on a sofa and not fishing, it is not right for them to hold quota.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). Let me begin by apologising to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the House and especially to the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh). I am sincerely sorry that I was not in my place when she rose to speak. My mother always said that saying sorry is good for the soul—and, for the benefit of Hansard, that is soul spelled S O U L. If the rest of the hon. Lady’s speech was as informed and clear as the comments I heard, I certainly look forward to reading the transcript in Hansard.

We have had a very good natured debate today and the Minister will be pleased to hear that I am not going to spoil it. I think we have even had some humour. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) spoke about how squeamish she felt on her visit to the fish gut processing plant. I have no problem with the smell of fish, but when I returned from Plymouth I found some days later that I had left a handkerchief that I had used to wipe my hands in my jacket pocket and the jacket had been near to a radiator, so I may have to revisit the question of whether I have an aversion to the smell of fish at some point in the future. I have also been informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) that Hansard has been in touch to clarify whether he said “sub-sea” or “subsidy”, so there we are. It has been an afternoon with some serious, thoughtful and well-informed contributions.

I say to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) that no one in the debate should apologise for being parochial or speaking up for their own communities. If there is one thing I have learned in my short time in this shadow role, as I have travelled from the Western Isles of Scotland to Fraserburgh and Peterhead all the way down to Plymouth, it is that there are very distinctive concerns, issues and voices when it comes to fishermen—and at times, they are in direct competition. I know that we should always want to be in government, but I feel that we are placing a lot of pressure on the Minister today and we wish him well in the forthcoming negotiations.

As I have said, I want to be constructive in my remarks. Labour supports reform of the common fisheries policy and the time has come for a radical rethink. In government, Labour Ministers fought for fisheries reform in Europe and I say to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who asked about our record in government, that the common fisheries policy has failed everyone under every Government. I pay tribute to one of my predecessors, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who encouraged the under-10-metre fleets to come together in one association so that they would have a voice that could be heard at the heart of Government and so that there would be a stronger profile for their members’ needs.

I accept what the hon. Lady says, but Europe did not force the previous Government to introduce fixed quota allocations. Until 1998, the quota to which each vessel was entitled was based on a rolling track record of the previous three years. It was not until 1 January 1999 that her predecessors, when they were Ministers, agreed to fix the track record for the period between 1993 and 1996.

I think that if the hon. Lady speaks to the under-10-metre fishermen now she will find that they do not necessarily feel that the situation is getting any better under this Government. We should all have the humility to admit that when we leave government we often leave thinking that more could have been done. I expect that Government Members will have that feeling sooner than they think.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the EU negotiations are progressing. First, I want to examine some of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s key recommendations. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton on her work and that of her Committee and on making sure that we have been able to debate this important issue in the House. I will then go on to outline Labour’s main priorities for reform.

As many Members have said, the genuine decentralisation of powers from Brussels towards a system of regionalised management will be key to the success of the reforms. Labour supports greater regionalisation. We think it is important that countries should work together in regional groups to ensure that fisheries are managed more sustainably. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House which European member states he is working with to ensure that meaningful regionalisation is delivered. Who are our allies on this issue and what progress is he making? Will he also update us on any discussions he has had about regionalisation with the devolved Administrations?

In the run-up to the EU’s draft proposals published last summer, Commissioner Damanaki spoke of her desire to overhaul the CFP to get away from the micro-management of Brussels and install a bottom-up approach. Concerns have been expressed, however, that the Commission’s proposals are falling short of the mark. The commissioner insists that that is not due to a lack of political will but is the result of the limitations of the Lisbon treaty to devolve powers and says that she has gone as far as she can go. The Committee has put forward an alternative legal framework and asked the Minister to explore that option. That issue was also raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford).

Last year, in a Back-Bench debate on the reform of the CFP in the House, the Minister said that

“currently the proposals lack crucial detail on how regionalisation will work.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 741.]

What discussions has the Minister had with the commissioner on the regionalisation of powers to member states, and has he sought any legal advice on the devolution of powers from Brussels to regional advisory councils?

The Committee gave considerable thought to the implications of introducing maximum sustainable yield deadlines by 2015 and concluded that a target of 2020 is more appropriate. I think that it has benefited the House to have on the record a more reasoned explanation of the targets the Committee recommended than those we have seen in the media lately. With 75% of European stocks now exploited beyond safe levels, compared with 25% for stocks worldwide, it is clear that we need to take urgent action now. MSY has already been achieved for some stocks, but Europe is lagging behind. Labour believes that achieving MSY by 2015 should still be the goal. Does the Minister share that view? The Government must play their part in ensuring that we move towards that goal in line with our international commitments. Will he update the House on what progress is being made to achieve MSY for all commercial UK stocks by 2015?

There has been much to say on discards, which is something the public certainly care deeply about. Members from both sides of the House agree that Europe must get to grips with the problem, because throwing perfectly good fish back into the sea is utterly unacceptable. Labour is clear that we need a specific timeline. I am concerned by reports in The Guardian today that a group of member states, led by France and Spain, are attempting to pass a declaration that includes a clause dismissing the ban as unrealistic and too prescriptive, which could effectively lead to the indefinite continuation of discards. That is simply unacceptable. What discussions has the Minister had with France and Germany on that, and will he reaffirm his commitment to ending discards? Furthermore, will he tell us when and how that should be achieved? We are not asking much of him. The industry, north and south of the border, has demonstrated that using more selective fishing methods is part of the solution. Catch quota trials and Project 50% have been very successful in reducing discards. Does he agree that the scheme should be expanded in the period leading up to a ban on discards?

I would like to set out Labour’s main priorities for reform of the CFP. Overcapacity has led to the destruction of Europe’s fish stocks. The problem is simple: we are over-fishing our seas. I think that the most remarkable comment we heard today was from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who harked back to a time when there were no quotas or discards and people simply went out and fished. The reality is that technology has moved on and countries can now fish in areas far from home. The idea that we could pull out of a common framework for managing our fisheries is simply unrealistic. The European fleet has grown too large and is catching too many fish. The current system favours the short-term interests of large-scale, often unsustainable, industrial operators. That has led to the lion’s share of resources and profits becoming concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of fishing enterprises in Europe.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Scottish fleet, which has halved in size in the past 10 years, should not have to pay again for the overall European reduction in fleet sizes that is required and that the people who have done more than anyone else to promote sustainability and change the way they work should get the credit for what they have achieved?

I think that Members everywhere in the Chamber, apart from where the hon. Lady sits, have the interest of the whole UK fishing industry at heart; that is certainly the case for me. What is certain, however, is that if Scotland became an independent nation, our fishermen would face a very uncertain future.

We have not heard much mention of fishing in external waters. One Member raised the issue, but I certainly do not want to disappoint her by returning to it today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall on the Westminster Hall debate that she secured and for exposing the actions of trawlers in the waters off Mauritania. European waters have been over-fished, and now we are shipping our problems overseas. The EU fleet takes 25% of its annual catch from outside European waters, and EU taxpayers are subsidising the expansion of some of the biggest and most powerful trawlers in Europe into the waters off the western coast of Africa.

Neither EU member states nor fragile coastal fishing communities in western Africa can afford the reform of the CFP to become a missed opportunity. Reform is a real chance for change in Europe, and it could tackle over-fishing by EU fleets in external waters, so will the Minister update the House on his discussions with other member states about the exploitation of fish stocks in external waters?

Secondly, on the inshore fleet, Labour wants a reformed CFP that rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively and with less impact on the environment. The UK’s inshore fleet represents more than three quarters of the entire UK fleet and employs 65% of its work force, yet it receives just 4% of the quota allocated to the UK under the CFP.

Labour believes that that imbalance must be addressed, and we want a fairer distribution of quota among the fleet. The draft CFP regulations contain a proposal whereby member states may withhold up to 5% of their national quota to encourage and reward operators that reduce discards and improve environmental performance. Labour thinks that should be increased to 20% to reward fishermen, including small-scale fishermen, who operate in a more environmentally sustainable way and who contribute positively to coastal communities.

Fisheries are a Government-held public resource, so we think it right that Government decide who should be able to access them, but, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has pointed out, astonishingly the Government do not even know who owns the quota that they hand out. We want to see an entirely transparent register of quotas, and I join the hon. Lady in asking the Minister to update the House on progress in that area.

The New Under Ten Fishermens Association, NUTFA, the organisation that represents the domestic under-10-metre fleet, is calling for root-and-branch reform to create an inshore fleet that is fit for purpose. The Minister has responded with six community quota group pilots, so will he update the House on their progress and on the response to them from the under-10s? May I suggest to him that a crucial part of reform could be the creation of an inshore producer organisation? I have heard the proposal when meeting fishermen from the under-10-metre fleet. Is the Minister willing to consider it?

The rules that govern our fisheries are broken. Ahead of Rio+20, where food security and our oceans will be high on the agenda, it is vital that we put our own house in order. It is not too late to turn the tide. Now is the time for the Government to show renewed determination and leadership, and to pursue truly ambitious reform.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for securing this important debate in the House, and I commend the excellent report that her Committee has produced. This debate has benefited from some very interesting interventions and speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I hope to refer to as many of them as possible.

My hon. Friend launched the debate with real knowledge and enthusiasm. Her enthusiasm for and interest in the subject are apparent from how she speaks about it, and they are very welcome. I enjoyed taking part in one of her Committee’s sittings on this subject, and I was impressed by the level of knowledge and interest across the Committee.

In answer to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) and others, I am happy to report on how we are progressing with our discussions in the European Union. On Monday I am going to Brussels, where I will be discussing, not least, regionalisation, as well as the external dimension, on which we are making some progress, although it has not yet got to where I want it to be. I entirely share the position taken by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) in abhorring the dreadful practices that we have learned about in recent years regarding the external footprint of fishing vessels that are subsidised by our constituents’ taxes so that they can fish unsustainably in the waters of some of the poorest countries in the world. I am looking forward to putting forward a very robust line on that, and I am impressed by the progress that my officials are making on it.

We will also be talking about discards, which I will discuss later. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) will be interested to know that we will deal with the thorny issue of mackerel and the perhaps not-very-sustainable activities of the Government of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who extolled the virtues of the Faroe Islands, might like to reflect on the fact that that country is not behaving at all properly in this matter.

I know as well as anyone how complex the issues are surrounding the whole area of the common fisheries policy and how difficult it is to unpick the diverse and interlinked problems that we face in reforming this failed policy. The Committee’s inquiry gets to the heart of these issues with a remarkable degree of perspicuity, and it has, as I said, delivered a very impressive report. The Committee’s thinking also reflects the stance that we are taking across a range of important priorities for reform of the CFP. It is crucial that we get past the “one size fits all” mindset that has served European fisheries so badly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) hosted my visit to the wonderful Plymouth marine laboratory, where we saw the impact of climate change. We saw how the fronts that change the temperatures of our seas in different places are moving, and how fish populations are moving. It is clearly ridiculous to have one constraining system for managing our fisheries that goes from the sub-Arctic waters of the north to the waters of the south Mediterranean. We must have a system that is much more fleet of foot, and we can do that only if it is more locally managed. I will come on to talk about how we are going to try to achieve that.

We are facing a critical stage in the negotiations in the coming months, and I will continue to press for radical reform; as I said, I will do that at the Fisheries Council in Brussels next week. In addition to those discussions on reform, we will have further discussions in April, May and June. The European Parliament is also considering the proposals in its committee stages, and we expect a plenary vote there on the whole package by the autumn.

The Committee’s report rightly highlights the importance of regionalisation. We must find ways to allow member states to work together regionally on the detail of fisheries management—in discussion, of course, with stakeholders—and I agree that we can do that within the bounds of the current treaty. Technical and legal constraints should not overshadow our aims in this regard, and that has been our message to others. I hope that I will discover that the issues of competence are as clear as the Committee suggests. We have been exploring with other member states the types of provision that it has identified in order to build support for potential solutions. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton that members of her Committee are not the only ones with access to legal opinions. In my experience, there are many and varied legal opinions on the subject, and it is important that they should be robust and able to stand up to the rigours of challenge.

The Commission’s proposals reflect that same concept of empowering member states to take some of their own decisions. However, we are concerned that conferring more delegated powers on the Commission, as the proposals have the potential to do, might end up centralising decisions again.

I made an interesting visit to the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). I quite understand why she is not in her place, because she informed me that she would have to depart. I was shown a net in which an eliminator panel had been put in precisely the right place to allow cod to escape, but the net was deemed illegal by people who manage fisheries about 1,000 miles away from the fishermen who use it. They insisted that the eliminator panel should be further towards the cod end, even though the fishermen knew that by that stage the fish would be too tired to swim up through it. How crazy is that? What lunacy it is to have a system that does not allow the fishery in a particular area to develop the means to do virtuous things such as excluding discards.

I recognise that what I can achieve will probably never be quite what my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and others would like, but I will do my best to achieve as much as I can.

The genuine regionalisation that the Government and the Select Committee are calling for will need the robust co-operation of member states on shared fisheries for it to be credible and to win support from others. Empowering member states to take some decisions may form part of the process, but it might not solve the whole problem. As many hon. Members have said, many of our fish stocks are shared with other countries and can best be managed on a regional basis. I believe that a properly devolved system, with close co-operation between member states, operating with an ecosystem-based approach, as the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) mentioned, is the right way forward.

The hon. Member for East Lothian asked if we have friends in Europe on this matter. We do. There are many like-minded states that share my sense of exhaustion over and rhetoric on how appalling this system is, and we are working closely with them. It is mainly, but not exclusively, the northern European states that have a like-minded view. I hope that we will find plenty of allies in the coming weeks.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me of the very good point that she made. I share her view entirely that this is an area where the European Union does not need to tread. We have a successful aquaculture industry in the United Kingdom. We are all aware of the agenda here. Some of the more land-locked countries, which are seeking to access some of the European fisheries money, are interested in developing a competence over aquaculture. I assure her that I am robust in trying to exclude that possibility. How successful I will be remains to be seen.

We remain hopeful that the reformed CFP can build in a robust process to regionalise decision making. That will require agreement not only on issues of legal competence, but on practical processes for co-operation on management decisions with other member states which are transparent and enforceable. We will continue to press for that and will build support with the member states that share our fisheries.

The hon. Member for East Lothian asked when I last met the commissioner. It was just a few weeks ago. I meet her regularly and count her as an ally and a friend. I think she needs friends at the moment. I will be robust in giving our support for what she is trying to do. She needs legal advice as well. There are legal opinions coming from all directions on these matters and we are keen to provide her with ours.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), who made a thoughtful speech. He addressed a serious problem that goes to the heart of the credibility of an industry for which I have the highest regard. We should not minimise in any way the fact that when black fish are sold on the scale that he described, those fish have been stolen from legitimate fishermen. That is a crime of multi-million-pound proportions, and he was both brave and right to state that.

To achieve what we want to, we will require improvements in how we collect data and develop scientific evidence. A number of Members have referred to that. At the moment, the process can often lack robust data or be too narrowly focused on the short term to be credible with fishermen or to help policy makers. A more grown-up relationship is needed between scientists, fishermen and policy makers so that we can gather more effective data on the impact of fishing on the whole marine environment, and build trust. The fisheries science partnership that we have in the UK will help to pave the way to achieving that.

Nearly every Member who spoke referred to discards. I say to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar—[Interruption.] That pronunciation is the best I can do at this stage of the week, I am afraid. I remind him that more than half the tonnage of discarded fish has absolutely nothing to do with the European Union but is because it is made up of species that we do not eat and for which there is no market. There is a supply chain solution to that if we are imaginative. I am not diminishing the blame that must be apportioned to the system of management that creates the remainder of the discards, and we must not stop trying to deal with that, but more than 50% of discards are because there is no market. Great progress is being made on that, not least by DEFRA, through good projects such as Fishing for the Markets.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned my evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, in which I said how wrong it would be if we created a system that transferred a problem over the horizon at sea to one of landfill. Through a discard ban or an elimination of discards, we need to progress a supply chain solution to creating new markets for fish.

Does the Minister also support fishermen in identifying markets overseas? For instance, there is not much of an appetite for cuttlefish at home, but there is in other parts of the world.

Those who watched Monty Halls’s programme last night will have seen the export of fantastic-quality spider crabs, which we should be eating in this country. We have to develop more eclectic tastes, but that is a debate in itself and I want to press on.

I agree with the Select Committee that we need to get our measures right and proceed carefully in setting targets. However, that has to be done on a fishery-by-fishery basis. I am also mindful that if we equivocate, we could find a thousand reasons why we should not do anything about discards. I believe that the Commission is right, and there should be an absolutely clear determination to move as near to an elimination of discards as we possibly can. That is why we will not sign up to the French declaration next week and why we must go into the next stage of negotiations on discards as robustly as possible to achieve a solution.

The debate on the CFP objectives raises similar challenges in a variety of areas. On the achievement of maximum sustainable yield, for example, I agree that we have to be guided by the best available scientific advice, particularly about complex mixed fisheries, and do so in a credible way. That is why we want clear objectives that are linked to existing commitments and enable us to get the specifics right for each fishery through multi-annual plans. That requires an intelligent approach to getting scientific data and advice. We have some good examples in the UK of partnership working with the industry, and I agree that member states must be more accountable for delivering the data needed to manage fisheries effectively. I appreciate the words of the hon. Member for Brent North about the need to define what we mean by MSY. FMSY is a different target from others, so we must get that right.

The Select Committee is right to sound caution about the Commission’s proposal for transferrable fishing concessions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) raised that matter with passion. Although I recognise the benefits that a market approach can bring, I want our fishing rights to be managed in an economically rational way, by decisions on the allocation of rights being left to member states. If it were run and organised at that level, we could achieve real results. In certain circumstances, groups of fishermen might invest in an increasing biomass and see the attraction of a transferable fishery concession, which would in turn benefit the marine environment. It is important to look at that, but we should do so with caution, as advised by the Committee’s report.

A number of hon. Members asked who owns quota. I do not want to break with the cross-party consensus of the debate, but I suggest that the hon. Member for East Lothian has a bit of a nerve criticising the Government. We must get a grip on this problem. My Department intends to produce a register of who owns quota. To do that, we are working with producer organisations, which hold much of that information. I am constantly told of celebrities and football clubs that are alleged to own quota, but I have never found evidence of it. As the fishing opportunity should sit with vessels, the situation becomes complicated.

As I pointed out, people who have quota must have a vessel, or a dummy vessel that is held in a producer organisation. Quota can transfer between different producer organisations, but it is impossible for somebody to go out and buy fish quota without having a vessel.

The argument centres on who owns various companies, which makes things complicated, but my hon. Friend is, as always, absolutely right. The work we are doing to reform domestic management of English fisheries reflects those principles, but a lot has been said today on what we are trying to achieve. She knows more than anybody how important that is, but many hon. Members represent constituencies where there is a small inshore fleet.

A measure that has been raised in the debate—it is essentially independent from our reform measures—is my decision to give an opportunity to others to catch stocks that have been left unutilised for four consecutive years. I hope all hon. Members agree that where valuable fish quotas have been left unfished for four consecutive years, it is reasonable to look to give others the opportunity to catch them, so that we make the best of our national quota.

The Government’s reform measures are a response to our consultation in 2011. Many fishermen were uneasy at the prospect of the rapid introduction of an allocation system based on fixed quota allocations to the under-10 metre fleet. Therefore, we have since explored other ways in which we can give fishermen in that sector more control over their future fishing activity, and are seeking to establish voluntary pilots to set out the benefits and challenges of a more local approach to management.

To align those pilots as closely as practicable with the measures on which we consulted, in particular the proposed foundation quota, we are temporarily taking from producer organisations a percentage of quota allocations if they were increased at the December Council. That will apply only where vessels in the prospective pilots hold a track record of catching the increased quotas. Producer organisations will still benefit from having greater amounts of quota than last year, but they will have slightly less of an increase than they would otherwise have enjoyed.

There have been rumours regarding the suspension of all leasing and swapping by certain POs to the under-10 metre fleet in reaction to those proposals. I would be very disappointed if any PO looks to penalise other fishermen for circumstances that are not within their control and hurt their members financially. Should such attitudes and behaviours take place, it would not bode well for our wish to impart greater management and responsibility for fisheries to those who fish them. DEFRA officials are in close touch with colleagues at the Marine Management Organisation, who are monitoring the position and will be assessing likely impacts on the profitability of our fishing sectors should those rumours develop.

As I have said, I will be discussing the external dimension of the CFP at the Council meeting next week. I believe that the principles of the sustainable use of marine resources must apply in the same way outside EU waters as within. Proposals for agreements with third countries should be strengthened to ensure better value for money; integration on fisheries development projects; clauses on human rights; greater transparency to ensure appropriate spend of money and science to improve sustainability; and improved fisheries governance to ensure that the benefits of the agreements are delivered in reality. I think we are making progress on this, but there is more work to do.

The Committee questioned the links between Government advice on healthy eating and the sustainability of fish stocks. Current Department of Health advice suggests consuming two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily. This level of consumption can readily be sustained if we manage our stocks effectively.

I fully support the motion. The failures of the CFP cannot be allowed to continue eroding the livelihoods of our fishermen and blighting the marine environment. This is why the current reform process is so important, and why I am committed to making sure we get the right policy during the discussions this year. That means a policy that allows member states to work together regionally to manage their fisheries more effectively, and a policy underpinned by better scientific knowledge of what is happening in our marine ecosystems.

On a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), I am proud to be the UK fisheries Minister. It is important that I represent a noble industry, one that I wish to see revived, but if I restricted my actions to the management of fisheries, in a myopic, silo way, I would be letting down fishermen and all who care about the marine environment. So my hon. Friend is right: we should take a holistic view in our policies on fisheries, our marine policies and the reform of the common fisheries policy.

We have had an excellent debate, summed up brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Minister. I thank everyone for their kind words and warm welcome, both for the motion and the actual report. I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that he has a suite of opportunities and a menu on which to draw. It is indeed our first call that he should seek to devolve decision making to the regions, but if that attempt were to fail, it would not be the wish of the Select Committee—or indeed the House—to allow the Commission more discretion in taking delegated powers.

The way is open for DEFRA to persuade the Commission to pursue our recommendation or press it to produce a clear road map for regionalisation—or, at the very least, legally binding regional agreements. We cannot proceed with a situation in which we have reliable scientific advice for only 30% of all EU fish stocks—for just 21 out of 60 in the Mediterranean.

The Committee would love to travel to Iceland, as I am sure would others, so perhaps that is a bid that may be looked on favourably. In any case, it gives me great pleasure to ask the House to support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House considers that the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to conserve fish stocks and failed fishermen and consumers; welcomes the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report, EU proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy; and calls on the Government to use the current round of Common Fisheries Policy reform to argue for a reduction in micro-management from Brussels, greater devolution of fishing policy to Member States, the introduction of greater regional ecosystem-based management and more scientific research to underpin decision-making in order to secure the future of coastal communities and the health of the marine ecosystem.