Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Mrs. Winterton: With regard to that, time will tell: the Minister has only a few more months to sleep through before we discover which side is right.

Mr. Morley: I cannot disagree with that. Time will tell, and I am reasonably confident that we will be able to ensure that we keep the main aspects of the common fisheries policy that are important to us. We also want to see some changes. It is inevitable that we will have to argue hard, particularly on the regional management issue, because there are different interpretations with regard to that. However, I believe that we can make progress.

Andrew George: I wonder if the Minister recollects that, three or four years ago, the same doom and gloom merchants were anticipating that, by the time we got to the Green Paper, it would be impossible to retain relative stability and the coastal limits, and we were assured that there was no chance of them being retained beyond 2002?

Mr. Morley: That is absolutely right. I read a report about a candidate for the European Parliament—in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I think—who represented the UK Independence Party, and who was going around saying, ''The Spanish are coming up to your doorsteps; they will be fishing right up to the beaches, and they will be in your fridge to steal your fish fingers as soon as 2002 is over.'' I do not believe that that will happen. It is not our intention that it should happen, and I do not believe that it is the intention of the majority of member states.

The hon. Member for St. Ives broadly welcomed the Green Paper—as did the Government. We thought that it reflected many of the arguments that were proposed by the United Kingdom Government—and by the UK fishing industry, which was proactive. It did not sit back and wait for the end of the world as we know it; it produced a well-argued document that explained the kind of things that they wanted to see, with regard to reform of the common fisheries policy. It has influenced the Commission, and it is one of our challenges to effectively support some of its proposals.

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I recognise that many producer organisations are trying to develop that element of regionalisation. The Cornish PO is one of them, and has had discussions with the Spanish fishing industry, as they have joint interests in hake fishery among other things. The Cornish PO is being proactive and deserves to be congratulated.

I repeat my support for low-impact fisheries. I have always been a strong supporter of mackerel hand lines and, indeed, of our inshore sector. I am keen for us to bring the shellfish licence forward. The bulk of the UK fishing fleet is coastal and operates at under 10 m. Much of it works in shellfish fisheries and is doing well; returns have been quite good in the shellfish sector, which is fairly stable. I want to ensure that that stability remains. One way to do that is through a shellfish licensing scheme, because that way we can manage the present effort. If the present effort can be maintained against the present catch—they are roughly in line, but there is always a little movement—we will have a nice steady sustainable fishery with good economic returns. I am keen for that to happen, and recognise that those fisheries have a low impact on the environment.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for St. Ives thought that I did not support multi-annual quotas. I am very keen on them. Perhaps he is referring to the fact that there are problems implementing them when stocks are low. Stocks need to be fairly robust as the idea behind the multi-annual quota is that we even out natural fluctuations in the stock over, say, three years. If stock is at rock bottom, it is difficult to apply a three-year quota. That is my reservation, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, as an objective, we want multi-annual quotas. The sooner we can implement them, the better. The Commission support that view.

There are issues that we must tackle to ensure that there is a more uniform standard of enforcement and control. Like the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to have an EU inspectorate. Enforcement is a member-state responsibility. However, I believe that the EU has a role in inspecting member states and making sure that they are meeting their enforcement and control obligations. I do not object to that. The Commission has a role to play in that respect, and does so.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about third-country agreements. They have a role to play in the fishing industry. I do not want to be hypocritical; we have an interest in some third-country agreements. The Greenland agreement, for example, is of particular interest to our distant-water fleets. Nevertheless, there are legitimate concerns about the impact such agreements have on developing countries, their value for money and sustainability, and whether they are being managed properly. Those are perfectly reasonable concerns, and we shall raise them in the Council. We expect to have a discussion on third-country agreements this year, and will raise some of those points then.

I welcome the comments made by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) about the economics of

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fishing and the destructive effect that subsidies for capacity can have. The history of the subsidies is even worse. In the 1980s, grants were given to the fishing industry for modernisation, and for building and lengthening vessels. That had the effect identified by the hon. Gentleman. It caused unsustainable fishing, increasing capacity and reducing profits. Having spent much public money on modernisation in the 1980s, in the 1990s we spent public money on decommissioning those vessels. That is not rational and does not make sense. There are more meaningful ways to use our limited public funds to assist the fishing industry than through modernisation and new build. I am not alone in that view in the Council of Ministers, although it is not universally shared.

Having made such an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Fareham spoiled it a bit by criticising the EU approach in fisheries management. There must be an overall EU approach, because, as the hon. Member for St. Ives says, fish do not recognise national boundaries. If one member state carries out unsustainable activities in one half of the North sea or of the English channel, that will inevitably impact on us, too. We must, therefore, have a pan-European management system for fish stocks. Even if we acknowledge, as I freely do, the failings and weaknesses of the CFP, we must have some kind of European fisheries management scheme. We must recognise the weaknesses of the CFP and, in the 2002 review, support the principles in the Green Paper, which we believe are right, and implement a new, revised CFP—although that is in itself unlikely to deliver in one go all the changes that we might want.

The other challenge is to create a dynamic management regime that changes over time and reflects, for example, the need for input from the fishing industry, a more regional dimension and flexibility. I believe that that is possible and that we can progress. We are not without supporters of the UK view in the Council of Ministers, and we are not far from the Commission's view—not an uncomfortable position in which to be in relation to having its support.

I do not underestimate the difficulties involved in the changes, and I do not believe that each member state will take the same view. That is the nature of democracy and national priorities, and we shall have to argue our corner. I appreciate the Committee's views, which help me as a Minister in dealing with the House's views, and I appreciate that generally speaking there is a broad consensus about the direction in which we want to go. That helps me in negotiating and progressing our national objectives through the Council of Ministers.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 7262/01, the Commission Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 7263/01, the Commission Report on the state of the resources and their expected development, 7377/01, the Commission Report on the economic and social situation of coastal regions, and 7378/01, the Commission Report on the implementation of the Community system for fisheries and aquaculture over the period 1993–2000; recognises that the review of the CFP offers an important opportunity with considerable

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    implications for the future of fisheries management; supports the Government's view that current positive aspects, notably the access regime, relative stability (including Hague Preference) and the Shetland Box, must continue to operate; agrees that current weaknesses, including the continued use by some Member States of counter-productive subsidies, uneven enforcement, a lack of environmental integration, unsustainable agreements with third countries and the mismatch between fleet capacity and available

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    resources, must be addressed; anticipates with the Government the forthcoming publication by the Commission of its legislative proposals for the review; and supports the Government's efforts to secure the best outcome for the whole of the UK fisheries sector throughout the negotiations.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Seven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Widdecombe, Miss Ann (Chairman)
Dean, Mrs
Dobbin, Jim
Foster, Mr. Michael Jabez
Green, Matthew
Hoban, Mr.
Lamb, Norman
Quinn, Lawrie
Vis, Dr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Caplin, Mr. Ivor (Hove)
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Congleton)

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Prepared 27 February 2002