Question for Short Debate
My Lords, at this stage I am tempted to somewhat curtail the dinner hour debate and say that this is a pretty good report, that the Commission has by and large followed it and that I hope that the Government will support the Commission and our report, and to sit down. However, that might be something of an anticlimax, if ever there can be an anticlimax during the dinner break.
Let us go through some of the history. Our report was published in July 2008 and was basically a mid-term review of the reforms introduced in 2002, which, I am afraid, were a complete and utter failure. In April this year, the Commission published its Green Paper on reform of the common fisheries policy, which followed an absolutely devastating report from the Court of Auditors. Perhaps I may quote three elements of that report. The court said, first:
“Catch data are neither complete nor reliable, due mainly to weaknesses in the Member States”.
Secondly, it said:
“The inspection systems do not provide assurance that infringements are effectively prevented and detected”.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it said:
“Overcapacity detracts from the profitability of the industry and incites non-compliance”.
That, in a way, is the nub of the problem.
I know that there are Members of your Lordships’ House who somewhat decry the activities of your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee and say that it has little or no influence. However, in this area I think we have demonstrated that we have significant influence in that our report predates the Commission’s Green Paper and that Green Paper follows very closely the line of argument that we advanced in our report.
I want to begin with two propositions, and the use of the definite and indefinite article is important here. First, “a” common fisheries policy is part of our treaty obligations as a member of the EU, and we cannot maintain that membership without acceptance of such a policy. I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will endorse that position. Even non-membership of the EU would, under international law, require us to put in place something at least closely similar to the common fisheries policy. The second proposition is that “the” common fisheries policy as we know it is broken, busted and an unqualified failure. It has totally failed to deliver the objectives of a sustainable fisheries policy. It is top-down, it rests on regulation upon regulation, and it is a system that alienates the fishermen, the scientists and the processors. It is bound to fail.
In line with what we discovered through evidence, there are a number of reasons why we maintain that the dismal reputation of the common fisheries policy, as it is now, is totally justified. Let us look at the outputs. Despite the extensive nature of the regulatory regime for fisheries in EU waters, around 88 per cent of stocks in Community waters are overfished compared with the global average of 25 per cent. At the same time, many segments of the EU fishing fleets achieve poor profitability and, as a result, are vulnerable to increases in operating costs.
Experience since reform of the common fisheries policy in 2002 has been characterised by the following: overcapacity in the fishing fleets of the member states, with a balance not being achieved between the number of fish in the sea and the fishing effort put in; poor compliance; uneven enforcement; a legislative process that continues to be stiflingly prescriptive; and ongoing depletion of fish stocks. That is a very severe indictment of the common fisheries policy as it stands today. Why is that? At the kernel we have to recognise that some member states—I emphasise “some”—have been reluctant to bring the size of their fishing fleets into line with available fishing opportunities. We identified this reluctance as the root cause of the poor performance on biological and economic indicators. That mismatch between, on the one hand, the size and effort of the fishing fleets of the member states and, on the other, the actual safe take from the seas is the root cause of the problem. The response has been an overcentralised legislative process that has been doubly flawed: alienating stakeholders and stretching the Commission’s resources to the limit.
We were pleased to see that analysis of the failure of the 2002 reforms and the cause of that failure largely echoed in the recent Green Paper from the European Commission. Therefore, there is a degree of commonality between our analysis and that of the Commission. In large part, the steps that we recommended in our report for improving and reforming the common fisheries policy are now being advocated by the Commission itself, and we hope that the Government will be able to come into line behind that in very large measure. I think that that shows the influence of your Lordships’ House.
I should like to summarise our recommendations but I also want to make it clear that in our report we explicitly stated that the prospect of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy was not a credible policy option with the restrictions of the EC treaty and European law. We should simply not waste our energies in arguing over options that, frankly, cannot be seriously contemplated. Instead, we should work for a better policy framework and put in place a new and more appropriate common fisheries policy that secures sustainable fisheries for the future.
Perhaps I may go into detail on a particular point. It is rightly asked how we can improve matters. There are a number of issues here. One is that we received overwhelming evidence from our witnesses that the compulsory registration of buyers and sellers of first-sale fish had almost eliminated the demand for black fish—a problem that has bedevilled the fishing industry for many years. We therefore urge all member states to ensure that they have transposed the relevant EU legislation and that they are enforcing it rigorously. It is beyond belief that, faced with the challenge of sustainable fisheries, we do not have that degree of enforceability in relation to registered buyers and sellers of first sales. That would bring about a considerable improvement.
If you get the balance right between the exploitation of fish numbers and the catching ability of the fleets, you can at last establish a common identity among fishermen that they have a real stake in the future of their fisheries and you can develop a culture of compliance. At the end of the day, if the stakeholders—the primary stakeholders are the fishermen—do not sign up to that culture of compliance, you are left with a process of evasion and avoidance, which has been the problem with the common fisheries policy as it has developed.
In that context, I give genuine credit to the Scottish conservation credits scheme, which is a means of providing carrots rather than sanctions, and a means by which fishermen are rewarded by recognising real-time closures and adopting conservation measures, such as more selective fishing gear. In return they receive the same number of days at sea as they received in 2007, 2008 and 2009, thereby avoiding cuts. If there is that sort of genuine interaction between the various elements at the centre and the periphery of the industry—I do not use those terms disparagingly—there is a chance of establishing sustainable fishing.
I have two final points. We have a problem in terms of enforcement and compliance in member states. I wish that we could enhance the role of the Community Fisheries Control Agency. It is important that it is the inspector of the inspectors, making sure that the member states do their job in enforcement. There is sufficient evidence showing—I shall use a somewhat diplomatic term—a degree of difference in the rigour with which enforcement is carried out across member states, which must be put right quickly.
I know that I have spoken longer than I should, and I shall come to my conclusion. Our review left us in no doubt that the main cause of the 2002 reforms’ failure has been member states’ reluctance to cut national fishing fleets to match the fishing opportunities available. Some have and some have not. I live in the north-east of Scotland and am aware of what has happened to the Scottish fishing fleet. On a European level, subsidies can assist that process but too often they have been used to offset rising costs. We need to move towards a much greater degree of decentralised fisheries management. We must use the experience of the regional advisory committees and involve the stakeholders. The big issues of the strategic levels of depletion of stocks should be set centrally at Brussels, and the implementation and management should be a regional question with regional enforcement. Let the fishermen have greater control of their own futures. That is how to head towards a sustainable fisheries policy.
My Lords, I, too, served on Sub-Committee D during this investigation. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen the film “The End of the Line”, based on the book by Charles Clover, but, whatever one might think of each and every claim made therein, there is no denying the underlying message that we have too many fishing boats in the world, which with ever improving technology are gradually destroying our planet’s supply of fish in the most irresponsible manner. There is simply too much capacity, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has just said. Indeed, the film claims that a mere 25 per cent of the current world fleet could catch the sustainable quantity of fish that we need.
Unfortunately, it appears to be hard for fishermen to consider the long-term future of making it possible for their children to have a career in the fishing industry. This so-called tragedy of the common fisheries policy is well described in paragraph 6 of our report, which states:
“Prudent harvesting by one fisherman, with a view to protecting the stock, will most likely only yield larger catches for other, less restrained, fishermen. Hence the incentive is to grab one’s share as quickly as possible while the resource is still available”.
That is the piscatorial equivalent of “Shop now while stocks last”—and it is quite possible that they will not. As a result of this phenomenon, more than 80 per cent of the stocks evaluated by ICES are overexploited. As a result, fishermen now use two to four times the fuel that they did 30 years ago per tonne of fish caught. Over 90 per cent of cod is caught before the fish have the chance to breed once, and so it goes on.
While one might sympathise with the fishermen who are trying to protect their immediate livelihood, I have less sympathy with politicians who protect their short-term electoral interests by siding with their fishermen, even though they must know that they are behaving irresponsibly. We had a good example of this last year when fuel costs went up. That was an ideal opportunity to up the rewards for decommissioning vessels, but did this happen? Not on your Nelly. Under pressure from politicians in member states, and perhaps because of everyone being fazed by blockading fishermen, the Commission actually had to give €600 million to help fisheries to adapt to rising fuel prices.
Our report covers a whole range of recommendations to improve the situation, not least of which is the giving of more responsibility and resources to the regional advisory councils, which I very much support. In this short intervention, however, I just want to deal with the question of overcapacity, which to me is the key issue and perhaps the most controversial.
The Swedish representative told us that the Swedes had a 30 per cent overcapacity in their pelagic fleet and a 50 per cent overcapacity in the rest. This situation is not unique to Sweden, but the Swedes are perhaps special in that they actually admit it. Having said that, I must give credit to UK fishermen, particularly Scottish fishermen, who have done much to reduce their capacity. The Scots succeeded in decommissioning about 65 per cent of their white fish fleet in the early years of this century. As a result, as we were told and saw with our own eyes in Peterhead, there is a new degree of optimism and confidence in the remaining fleet. It is a pity that more member states seem unable to endure the pain in order to gain.
Commissioner Borg told us that only 20 to 25 per cent of member state aid currently goes towards decommissioning, which must be a good example of sticking one’s head in the sand and ignoring the very real needs of the next generation. I am tempted to comment that maybe people are looking for the fast vanishing sand eels. As well as a ban on all subsidies, apart from for decommissioning, I believe that other actions could also help to reduce capacity.
The first is to have a degree of individual transferability of quota on a more permanent basis than just the in-year leasing that currently exists. The Swedes say that their aim is to turn over the resource to the fishermen and allow them to decide whether they want to try to stay in the market or to sell it for a reasonable price. That way, the market controls the capacity. It would also mean that a tighter quota would not be all pain for fishermen, because a tighter quota might actually raise the value of the remaining quota. Furthermore, the fishermen themselves would become their own policemen because they would not want their colleagues to take for free what they themselves had paid for.
It is worth saying that, in the interests of relative stability, I do not believe that permanent transfers of quota should be allowed between member states. However, within a member state, a region or a producing organisation, if you prefer, I see no reason why they should not be permitted. It is of course essential in such a system that member states should not issue any new fishing licences where no quota exists and that they should be active in the marketplace, buying in quota where necessary, to take it out of circulation. It might be possible for the Commission, when it wishes to reduce quota, just to buy some of it in and thus not put all the cost of reduced catch on to the fishermen.
The final essential piece of the jigsaw is to work towards the total banning of discards. I realise that this is controversial, but discards at a rate as high as 50 per cent in some species in some waters are a PR and scientific disgrace for the fishing industry. I was quite taken by the Norwegian enforcement of a total discard ban. It requires greater enforcement costs, but then more rigorous policing is needed anyway for the current policy. At sea, it is possible to see for some time afterwards whether a boat has been discarding fish. Equally in Norway it is an imprisonable offence not to submit an accurate landing note. While the Government there are happy to pay for the landing costs of over-quota fish, which is a small percentage of the real value, they then deduct the quantity of excess fish from the overall national quota in that species. So again catches of excess quota become pretty unpopular among other fishermen.
To summarise, if the tragedy of the Commons prevents the fishermen from taking a cautious long-term view, it should not prevent politicians from focusing on how to feed their nation in 20 or 30 years’ time—I speak in this House frequently on the problem of agricultural produce in terms of what the situation will be like in 20 or 30 years’ time—as opposed to worrying about their electoral popularity in two or three years’ time. There should be a total ban on any aid to the fishing industry apart from for decommissioning. A system of individual transferable quotas on a permanent basis, within member states, should be introduced as soon as possible. It should be noted that this has worked effectively in New Zealand. Finally, we need to move as soon as possible to a total ban on discards to make the fishermen think hard about how they can avoid this profligate and irresponsible waste.
While our report on the common fisheries policy was comprehensive and thorough—as our chairman has reported, it was thoroughly respected by the Commission—and nothing that I have mentioned tonight is not discussed therein, I have a feeling in retrospect that we were not quite bold enough in setting out a new and better way forward. In the end, of course, it will be the consumers and the voters who influence change. I hope that, as a result of recent publicity, they are now becoming sufficiently aware to do just that.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important, if belated, debate. It is a sad fact that, when I reread our report, it became clear that its recommendations are still relevant today. In other words, progress as ever with reform of the common fisheries policy remains painfully slow. I, too, thank our chairman, my noble friend Lord Sewel, who guided us towards our conclusions with an enviable balance of intelligence, common sense and wit.
I would like to concentrate my comments this evening on the issue at the heart of our report: how can the EU move away from its legacy of decades of overfishing and move to a sustainable fishing regime? Overall, the picture across the EU remains dire, with short-term economic considerations consistently taking priority over stock recovery. As we have heard, the Commission itself has warned that 88 per cent of stocks are overfished as a result of total allowable catches being set too far above scientific advice on sustainable levels.
The fact is that the EU fishing fleet is still too big, so there is huge overcapacity. Despite encouragements to decommission, the fishing fleet capacity is diminishing by only 2 to 3 per cent a year. Meanwhile, the Commission estimates that technological improvements have increased catching power by similar rates. However, these figures hide wide variations in the approach of member states. As part of our inquiry, we visited Peterhead, which is one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. It was instructive on a number of counts.
First, we learnt that the UK has successfully cut back its fleet by 11 per cent. This had made the remaining fleet more profitable and, as a result, the Scottish fishermen were, as we have heard, making enough money to begin renewing their fleet and were seeing a positive future for their industry. Secondly, the Scottish fishermen to whom we spoke were persuasive in their commitment to sustainability. They were already taking voluntary steps to control overfishing through closing sea areas, particularly spawning and nursery areas. They were clearly committed to taking a long-term approach to the availability of stock. Thirdly, they were taking a proactive approach to working with stakeholders and building up credible regional fishing strategies through their involvement with regional advisory councils.
Unfortunately—I do not wish to sound too partisan—many of the representatives from other member states whom we interviewed were less keen to address the problem of overfishing. For some, the preservation of their fishing fleet has taken on a symbolic national importance. This is despite the fact that fishing represents less than 1 per cent of the gross national product of EU member states and less than 1 per cent of employment.
One of the totemic features of the failed fisheries policy—it is the one that causes consumers the most disquiet—is the number of discards taking place across the EU, including the UK. Our report suggests that between 10 and 60 per cent of fish and marine organisms are thrown back in the sea, usually dead. Commissioner Borg confirmed that discards of flat fish can reach up to 60 or 70 per cent.
While there are many reasons for discarding fish, including the catch being unmarketable or not included in the trawler’s quota, the Commission acknowledged that large amounts of discarded dead fish were the undersized juvenile fish, which should have been left undisturbed to breed the next generation of fish. Instead, the overexploitation of the stocks means that there are few large fish left in the sea and the fish stocks are dominated by the small fish that are banned from being landed but are nevertheless caught and therefore dumped before they have time to breed. Therefore, sustainability becomes increasingly unachievable.
Our report recommends a number of measures to address this problem, but ultimately I concur with my noble friend that a discard ban has to be the way forward. We heard how this had operated successfully in Norway. As Dr Horwood, the CEFAS chief scientific adviser, argued, such a ban would be extremely helpful, as it would scare people into deciding that they really must do something about the issue.
Although the EU has, as yet, failed to address this problem effectively or to deliver the much needed radical overhaul of the common fisheries policy, other commercial and consumer changes are taking place that could yet force Governments and the EU to face up to their responsibilities. We took some interesting evidence from Mr Cliff Morrison, chair of the Food and Drink Federation’s seafood group. He described how consumers were increasingly changing their eating habits to support sustainable fishing. He also described how investors, fish processors and retailers were intervening directly in the market to ensure that any purchases came from sustainable sources. They understood that, apart from the ethical issues, there was a commercial interest in having longer-term sustainability. Consumer power could therefore play a role in changing markets and changing policy.
However, as with all these things, it turns out that nothing is that simple. The sustainability of the EU stock is only one part of a complex global picture. Mr Morrison described a fascinating picture of fish and fish products crossing continents. In essence, the UK exports what it catches and imports what we eat. Ninety per cent of the mackerel and herring that we catch goes eastwards towards Japan. Much of the Scottish white fish and shellfish goes to the Mediterranean, particularly Spain. Those holidaymakers tucking into langoustine in a pretty coastal resort might be surprised to discover that it has been driven there on a lorry from Scotland.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the British shoppers tend to buy their fish in chilled supermarket pre-packs. In order for this to happen, for example, Icelandic cod is caught, frozen on the vessels, shipped on container boats to China to be filleted and then returned to the UK to be processed or packed. That may be sustainable, but it has added up a good few food miles. Worse, the UK’s penchant for tuna means that the tuna loins are flown in from the Indian Ocean, adding even more to our carbon footprint.
Food labelling has some way to go before it can enable consumers to make intelligent decisions about the fish that they eat, although clearly the Marine Stewardship Council is playing an important role in this regard. It may ultimately fall to the markets, the environmental lobby and consumers to deliver the pressure necessary to achieve a sustainable fishing stock, as so far the EU and its member states have not shown the appetite for radical reform in this sector. In fact, one of the more depressing aspects of our inquiry was that many of the senior people whom we interviewed understood the scale of the problem but lacked the political will to act.
In conclusion, I commend our report. I hope that the Minister will feel able to endorse our recommendations and give a commitment that the UK will challenge the collective inaction of the EU and fight for a truly sustainable fishing policy before it is too late.
My Lords, like other members of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has become an expert on this subject, and we thank her for her insights into the literal insanity of the worldwide transport movement of fish that she so graphically described. In that context, there is a London configuration here. I am thinking of last week's initiative by the Fisheries Minister in another place and sections of the London press to promote knowledge of the “true price of fish”—that is the new phrase—in shops, including supermarkets as well as smaller shops, and restaurants and the future of certain stocks which are overfished. Without doubt the general public, who are anxious to eat more fish in the future rather than too much meat, are cottoning on to the fate of rapidly threatened stocks. The Minister quite rightly called on supermarkets and restaurants to stop offering vulnerable species until the overfishing had stopped and stocks had recovered. He said that there is a government commitment that by 2012 we bring forward proposals on an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones and that it is our duty to replenish our stocks.
This has been a good but short debate on an immensely complex subject based on a densely packed report from the committee. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the other committee members for what they are suggesting. There is a bound to be a meeting of minds on this matter because of the quality of the report and because it is pragmatic common sense for people to come together on these collective solutions.
The EU has been struggling for quite a while to try and get rational solutions for a viable long-term future, so I welcome most of what is said in the report. I shall not repeat some of the detailed matters, but I shall refer to some of the broad themes as time allows. The substantial, erudite and sometimes passionate body of evidence was impressive indeed.
Years ago in Hollywood, Cecil B DeMille was credited with defining the ideal film as one that starts with an earthquake and builds up to a real climax. Unfortunately, that cannot be done with this subject as it just goes on and on. The trouble with the CFP is that you cannot single out a particular moment. It is hugely complicated and long drawn out, even for the experts. Furthermore, it is politically supercharged in a way that is perilous for politicians, as we know, in this country and elsewhere.
In the years up to 1997, successive Governments avoided the ecological aspects in favour of nationalistic schmoozing of the sector, but that eventually had to be replaced by a more realistic analysis for which the EU Commission should take some credit. It has got better at this business in recent times.
There are not good guys and bad guys in the common fisheries policy. The entire industry has overfished for years because livelihood was understandably the priority. Fishermen were regarded as heroic figures in most country’s newspapers and overlarge catches were meant to bring lower prices for customers. Now, at last, we can come to a more sensible position, partly thanks to the high-quality suggestions in this outstanding report and the Government’s response. I hope that the Minister will have time today to refer to page 4 of the Government’s response to the report. The Government did not say what their attitude is towards the committee’s recommendation that the WTO should be involved in outlawing subsidies or harmonising a system of subsidies that are acceptable to everybody under international trade rules. I assume they agree, but I would like that confirmed, if possible.
The threat to species and the depletion of certain stocks need dramatic action on a collective basis. This is even more the case as the 2002 reforms were not up to the much more fundamental task now on the composite agenda of the European Union. Persistent overcapacity of the main fleets, poor records of compliance and excessive centralisation have all highlighted the growing malaise. Despite tabloid frenzy, no one in his right mind, even in this country, is suggesting repatriation on the lines of the fisher folk—our wonderful fisher folk as we always say, but other people’s fisher folk are not like ours. All these foolish themes have now been superseded by the need for collective action on a serious basis. With a single market in fish, in which all member states’ interests are taken into account, including those of the states furthest from the sea, drastic losses of fish stocks are the urgent priority, and I welcome the Government's commitment to getting common sense by the end of the current target year. The sub-committee rightly insists on an end to the spiral of negligence. Here, state aid should also be eschewed, especially on fuel costs, and should focus on decommissioning incentives.
On these Benches, we welcome the almost universal enthusiasm for the broadly based regional advisory mechanism, which started in 2002 and is gradually reaching a much more impressive position in co-ordinating work, which gets away from the Stalinist overcentralisation of previous policy formation and gives a good spread of chances and fair play to the various fleets in the new zones. The crucial element in this new system will of course be the successful interplay of the stakeholders, partly, of course, with long-term sustainability in mind. This started following the 2002 reforms, but much more experience and development of this system will be needed.
Quite rightly, sub-committee D is blunt about the need for a new approach partly to rescue fishing stocks from the overfishing disaster. A range of policy instruments are spelled out, including the quota approach, science-based technical conservation action decisions, effort controls, continuing with the central TAC configuration, but on a lower basis, as the noble Baroness and other noble Lords said, and, if necessary, a ban on certain species, as the Canadians had to do many years ago. We must all hope that the micromanagement mistakes of the past will yield to a new era of regional differentialisation running smoothly by 2012, which would also be an education for the Council of Fisheries Ministers and the Commission itself.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and his committee for their industry in producing such a thorough and, as we have learnt to expect from the noble Lord, well thought-out report. Indeed, the European committees set an authoritative base for debates in this House, and it is a pleasure to see their chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his place. It is regrettable that it has taken so long for the report to be presented for debate. It is now more or less a year since it was published, and it does nothing to address the urgency of the subject matter that we have not been able to debate it earlier.
My Lords, I understand the reason for the delay. However, delay seems to be built in to the process and a sense of urgency is important in trying to move this subject on. I was going to say that on the plus side we have had a comprehensive response from the Government that indicates that they are broadly in support of the report, its analysis and its recommendations. The affirmation by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, that the committee’s report has been listened to in Brussels is good news. Would that their views on CAP health check were similarly powerful, but that is another story. I expect the Government are not alone in depending on Commissioner Borg. When he announced his review in September last year, he commented:
“There is no alternative to the common fisheries policy when it comes to managing the mobile international resource that our fishing industry depends on. But, in its current form, the CFP does not encourage responsible behaviour by either fishermen or politicians”.
The problems and issues with the CFP identified by the Commission, clearly in tune with the committee’s sentiment, include overcapacity in the EU fleet, which has been mentioned already by noble Lords. The fleet is capable of catching between two and three times the maximum sustainable yield. I will return to this later.
Fishermen must be made responsible and accountable for the sustainable use of a public resource. The goal of ecological sustainability must be placed before economic and social sustainability, because it is the precondition that makes economic and social sustainability possible. There has to be a clear hierarchy in the decision-making process between principles and implementation, in order to simplify regulation at EU level and encourage regional management solutions wherever possible. The CFP will have to be aligned with the marine strategy framework directive that has recently come into force, which obliges member states to ensure, by 2020, the good environmental status of the seas under their jurisdiction. Having recently been involved with the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, I can vouch for the significance to the United Kingdom of that legislation.
Europe needs a joined-up approach to fisheries management that will include the onshore and market dimensions of the industry, as well as the capture sector and aquaculture, in line with the EU’s new integrated maritime policy and its focus on sustainable growth in coastal regions. The role of the below-10-metre fleet in sustainable fishing communities is vital. The Commission has since launched a consultation phase that will provide the basis for future reform of the CFP, and it is expected that these reforms will be outlined by 2012 at the latest. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the committee’s report has the support of the Government and is being used in this consultative phase.
One recurring theme of the committee’s report is the complaint that the CFP is overcentralised and unwieldy. Will the Government assure us that their future efforts in influencing reform will focus on improvement in this important area? The report spoke favourably of the regional advisory councils, and the Government set great store by them for their role in improving stakeholder consultation. However, the report pointed out that they could be improved by being given a more flexible and independent role. Have the few that have been set up progressed in this direction, and will the Government ensure that British fishermen get the best deal in this respect when they come to influence reform?
I said recently that the CFP appears neither to conserve fish stocks nor preserve the livelihood of fishing communities. This is more than a neat turn of phrase. It sums up the full tragedy of a policy that is failing. I hope that the Government will confirm that their policy on forcing reform is underpinned to a significant extent by the need to ensure the survival of our fish stocks for future generations. The report points to “alarming” declines in fish stocks and landings over the past 25 years and issues the stark warning that,
“if these trends were to continue, many Community fish stocks would collapse”.
Given that overcapacity appears to be a key element—the Community’s fleet size was identified as a problem in the 2002 reforms, and has again been identified as a problem by Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg—what assessment has been made of fleet size changes, and what is the Government’s attitude to the below-10-metre fleet? After all, they have only 3 per cent of the UK quota. This is an important element of Community fishing around our shores.
I close with a few comments on the question of control and enforcement. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, euphemised this by talking about a “degree of deficiency of rigour”. Nothing angers our fishermen more, when they are tied up, than to see others fishing what they consider to be their native grounds, seemingly heedless not just of the consequences to existing stocks, but of the need to re-establish stocks to a sustainable level. We rightly operate a highly effective and disciplined regime. The quid pro quo must be to ensure that others exercise similar control. If they fail to do so, there should be sanctions. They should be subject to dual policing if the Community Fisheries Control Agency cannot guarantee compliance. In the end, our duty is to Britain’s fishing communities, and to the fish stocks that we ask them to ensure that we conserve.
My Lords, it is a tall order to analyse the problems of the common fisheries policy, produce the Government’s response to the problems, reflect the nature of this excellent report and respond to speeches that have been very precise with reference to the report, but have also raised issues beyond it. I have less than 15 minutes, so the House will forgive me if I produce somewhat more abbreviated comments than otherwise I would have done on a number of issues.
First, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sewel both on his introduction to the report today and on the enormous amount of work that went into the report, which analyses the situation in such a way that the Government are in a position to endorse a great deal of it. As my noble friend made clear, it was important that we should have this debate against the background of the Commission’s Green Paper, so that we have a context in which to work as we seek to produce changes on these matters in Europe.
I turn to one or two extraneous points. My noble friend Lady Jones indicated that we should take more interest in the carbon footprint of the food stocks that we use, particularly fish. She gave us a very interesting analysis of how fish arrive in the shopping basket. We now have clear food labelling that helps us to identify where food has come from. It gives us the chance of some long-term sustainability of the European Union’s fish stocks through improvements in traceability and a full audit trail of fish products. I want to reassure my noble friend that we have in mind the issue that she raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, asked me to consider where the World Trade Organisation’s principles might fit into the common fisheries policy. The UK agrees that subsidies which give rise to distortion of commercial activity and place some fleets at a competitive advantage over others should be prohibited. We are, however, prepared to consider targeted decommissioning on any funding to help to attain sustainable fisheries, a point which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. He was quite forthright in his condemnation of subsidies and we agree. We do not think that we should subsidise fuel costs, including fuel costs for commercial fishing vessels. Such subsidies can lead to overcapacity, can distort business conditions and can act against the long-term interests of the industry. However, the noble Lord recognised that there might be a case for some support for decommissioning of vessels. I accept the point that he made.
On the more general issues raised by the report and in the speech made by my noble friend Lord Sewel, we endorse the committee’s main statement that the common fisheries policy has failed to deliver sustainable fisheries. My noble friend, I think, referred to it as broken and busted. The Government might not go quite so far in their language, but we accept certainly the trenchant criticism of the CFP, which is why we are concerned to effect changes. Reform of the CFP must be radical and we intend to make progress as far as we are able. This report is timely in these terms, as is the Green Paper. The House will recognise that changes in Europe are such that we have a timetable whereby we can now influence the emergence of the new CFP. Of course, we have a great deal of work to do on that. The main principles behind the debate, my noble friend’s speech in introducing the report and the Government’s position are largely coincidental on what needs to be done.
Certainly, I would want to emphasise that a reformed CFP cannot exist in isolation from other policies. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and others who served many long hours on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill are all too well aware that that Bill raises issues which interrelate with the fisheries policy. We need to ensure that our marine environment is analysed, exploited and conserved as a whole, rather than in terms of partial individual polices.
A reformed CFP must be an appropriate and effective policy for managing not only fish stocks but also managing the impacts of fishing activity on marine resources and the marine environment more widely. The UK and other member states need effective measures at their disposal by which to limit the impact of all fishing activity where we have clear conservation objectives, while at the same time ensuring that fishing is able to develop in a much more successful way than in the past. We all know the problems which the common fisheries policy has failed to solve.
It is early days in the debate on CFP reform, but Commissioner Borg has acknowledged the importance of integrating better fisheries policy with others elements, such as marine environment policy. I hope that his successor recognises that importance also. We will certainly be pressing along those lines.
A reformed CFP also needs to be based on economically rational principles. It should enable a more prosperous, economically resilient and efficient fishing industry and promote vibrant fishing communities. Again, that important matter was expressed by the committee. It is distilled from the evidence that it received from fishing communities which emphasised just how important the industry was to the social and economic lives of their areas. We therefore recognise the case for a reformed CFP having some kind of social element, but this must be consistent with the need for the industry overall to become more prosperous and efficient, and must be based on a sound understanding of the full social, economic and environmental aspects.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to discards in very emphatic terms, as did my noble friends Lady Jones and Lord Sewel. We clearly need to reduce discards. The report makes clear that action is needed to drive down discard levels incrementally. Changes could be made now to the current system to reduce discards. Ultimately, we need to see a fundamental change in the way in which the CFP influences decisions taken by fishermen on a daily basis. After all, a discarded fish is in the main a dead fish. No one derives any benefit from it—not the fishermen or the consumer and certainly not the fish stocks on which the fishermen and the consumer depend. A reformed CFP must provide the incentives and regulatory framework to enable us to catch less, but land more. Those are the principles we wish to see taken forward in our pressure for reform.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Sewel on his point about the registration of buyers and sellers and how that has improved the position on enforcement. There is no doubt at all that our implementation of registration has made a difference to the level of unreported landings, and the UK takes every opportunity to urge the European Commission to ensure that every effort is made to implement that regulation and all enforcement issues equally across the EU. As the report indicates, however, and as noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have emphasised, the issue of enforcement is of very great significance. For that, we need agreement on the principles of what needs to be enforced, and it is a drive towards that which is the Government’s goal in building on this report.
Of course, we agree with the report that the current CFP is overcentralised and that greater emphasis should be placed on the regional advisory councils. We can see progress from these councils in terms of a more intelligent strategy for fishermen and the acquisition of their consent regarding the objectives laid out at a more local level. We certainly need to end the overcentralised CFP which now exists and develop the regional advisory councils, which will help toward achieving the objectives indicated in the report. We also cannot escape one of the themes of the report: effective control and enforcement. One of the contributing factors to poor compliance is overcapacity. After all, that is what puts more fishing vessels at sea than have the right to take the catches. The European Commission’s Green Paper on CFP reform suggests that overcapacity may be tackled by a combination of rights-based management and targeted decommissioning. We agree with both those strategies.
We therefore have a report that has been extremely well worked through and well thought out, based on evidence taken from a wide group of well-informed sources—a report which, this evening, has had the benefit of very careful interpretation, not only from my noble friend who is chairman of the committee, but from all those who contributed to the debate. There was very little in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, with which I did not concur in relation to the Government’s strategy on this issue. There are very significant British interests at stake in respect of the common fisheries policy. That is why it is so important to win the support of the European Union, which is larger than the body that set up the original CFP.
It is a major task ahead—a battle for which the Government are girding their loins. We have encouragement from Commissioner Borg in his analysis of the position, we have the Green Paper from the European Commission, and we have this report to help guide us. On that basis, I have no doubt we will make progress in seeing a radical reform to the common fisheries policy, which all who spoke in the debate agree needs very radical reform.