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EU: Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 723: debated on Wednesday 22 December 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote reform of the European Union’s common fisheries policy.

The Commission’s Green Paper, issued last year, provides a compelling case for radical reform of the common fisheries policy. We are calling for fundamental changes that simplify and decentralise fisheries management, enabling those closest to fisheries to plan for the long term and giving fishermen greater incentive to fish sustainably. We are working with other member states, EU institutions and stakeholders to build support for major reform ahead of negotiations next year.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. I also congratulate his colleague in the other place, Mr Richard Benyon, for his energetic work in this sector. However, can the Minister explain why, when the facts have been known for decades to all EU Governments, the appallingly wasteful and utterly indefensible practice of discards continues? Did not the European Commission itself many years ago estimate that in some species in some locations as much as 70 per cent of fish mortality was due to discards? How much longer must we wait? Why do we have to go on beyond perhaps 2012 before any effective action is taken to stop this reprehensible plunder of our oceans’ resources?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is a disgrace. However, we are where we are. The common fisheries policy was last reformed in 2002 and I imagine that there are noble Lords opposite who remember with some feeling taking part in that process. We are determined to try and get the policy properly reformed on this occasion—it happens on a 10-year cycle. We are grateful that the Commission now seems to recognise the problems that we face. As for discards, we, and I think the Commission, are determined to reduce this wasteful and horrendous practice. There must be a focus on catches—what is taken from the sea—rather than on landings. By that means we hope we can get rid of discards in their entirety.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that your Lordships’ European Union Committee has been a strong advocate of the reform of the common fisheries policy and, as part of that reform, the move to local management of fisheries, whereby you get stakeholder involvement. Does he consider that the reform in that direction has suffered a huge and possibly fatal blow, because of the reported and successfully prosecuted illegal landings of huge value—many millions of pounds—that have come to light through the Scottish courts over this summer, as a result of the activities of the Shetland pelagic fleet?

My Lords, no I do not think that it has suffered a blow. The important thing is that your Lordships’ committee, this House, the Government, many member states and the Commission all now believe that reform of the CFP is necessary and desirable. As part of that process, we will push for greater regionalisation in decision-making, as we think that that will lead in the end to a much better process. We are fortunate to have reached a stage where there is slightly more agreement than there has been in the past. We want to build on that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the data about the state of fishing that were referred to in the supplementary question are much less complete than they should be? The only data on the decline of fisheries available to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee on the marine Bill came from an official of the EU. I am afraid that our colleagues in Defra were extremely reluctant to give us any substantive figures, and even now many of its documents are very weak in this area. Can we be given the facts both from the UK's and the EU’s point of view, because that should be an important part of revising this policy?

My Lords, we would always like more data on these matters. I will take up the noble Lord’s point with officials to see whether we can provide better data for future debates.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the previous Government admitted that only eight other countries support us in the reform of the CFP and the common agricultural policy? Did not 70 per cent of all the fish that swim in the EU waters used to swim in British waters? Is not the obvious answer to repatriate the common fisheries policy, practise our own discard-free conservation and lease out the surplus to foreigners?

My Lords, as my children say to me, I will say to the noble Lord, “Get real”. If we simply try to tear up the common fisheries policy, we are not going to get anywhere. We are in the business of negotiating with others in the EU. We are in a happy state of affairs where we have agreement from a lot of other countries as well as from the Commission that reform is necessary and desirable. Therefore, we will go ahead and see what we can achieve.

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, believes that fish know where the international boundaries are in the sea? Does the Minister agree with the words of Commissioner Maria Damanaki at the Fisheries Council last week that reform of the policy in future must lie with science-based management?

What is the Government's position on the selling of fishing quotas? Does the Minister agree that a substantial number of quotas have been sold to foreign fisheries by British fishermen? In the review of the common policy, will the Government take any steps to try to stop this?

My Lords, it is entirely legal and a matter for those selling their rights to fish. We will develop our views on this as the negotiations continue.