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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 574: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2014

The UK has recently secured important reforms to the common fisheries policy. We have banned the wasteful practice of discarding edible fish, decentralised key decisions on managing fisheries from Brussels to groups of national Governments, and introduced legally binding measures to end overfishing. This is tangible progress towards a more competitive and flexible EU.

It is right that we move to end the scandal of discarding healthy fish. It shows how renegotiation within the EU is possible. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in paying tribute to the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) in his success in those renegotiations, and perhaps even set out for the House what further negotiations a Conservative Government plan?

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to our hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). This is an important negotiating success. It shows that decision making can be decentralised away from Brussels, producing at the same time a more sustainable and successful policy overall. That decentralisation and the greater accountability to national Parliaments are important aspects of the changes we want to see in the European Union, as the Prime Minister set out in his speech a year ago.

The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that fish swim around and are no respecters of national boundaries, which means that any effective policy to conserve stocks has to be agreed with our neighbours, so why do some in his party still seem to hanker after a return to a chaotic series of multilateral and bilateral agreements, which would be devastating for our marine environment, rather than the sensible reforms that he and our Government before him achieved?

The observation that fish swim around is not among the most devastating revelations to be heard in the House of Commons recently, but we know the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. The point I would make in return is that the common fisheries policy has been one of the European Union’s greatest catastrophes, and we are much more likely to encourage good conservation and a prosperous future for fisheries across the European Union if this is done on a more decentralised basis. It is not about not co-operating with our neighbours; it is about co-operating with them on a meaningful scale and at a regional level so that sensible decisions can be taken, unlike the absolutely disastrous policy that preceded it.

Is the Foreign Secretary, like me, a fan of “The Bridge”, the Danish/Swedish drama currently on BBC Four on Saturday evening? The Danish/Swedish model lies at the heart of the common fisheries policy reforms. If that is the new way forward for decentralisation, which other models might he alight on in that regard?

Well, so many Danish/Swedish models on a Saturday evening must be very enjoyable, but I cannot say that I have been watching that programme. Of course, the decentralised model of decision making is the one that will work, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach for 28 countries. Such an approach is not right for fisheries, or for so many other areas. Again, that is the point of seeking real reform in the European Union.

The Foreign Secretary is right to describe the common fisheries policy as a disaster, but in fairness he should probably acknowledge that it was a Conservative Government who signed us up to it in the first place. He is also aware that Cabinet documents have shown that the Scottish fishing fleet in a European context has been described as “expendable”. Is it the UK Government’s current position that they prefer land-locked European Union member states such as Slovakia having a more direct say over the Scottish fishing industry than the Scottish Government?

No, the Government have stood up for fisheries in Scotland, and we have done so very energetically in recent decisions. Indeed, it is intended that a great deal of the benefit of the changes in the common fisheries policy will be felt by Scotland. The United Kingdom can always be counted on to do that, and I think that we will do so more successfully than would a separate Scotland, which would in any case be outside the European Union.