Total Allowable Catches and Quotas 2002

[back to previous text]

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman does not recall the question that he asked last week. He did not refer to the Conservative's policy of national control, which will be spelled out at an appropriate time. He and his party have pushed for regional management being a large part of the answer to the absolute environmental, economic and social disaster that is the common fisheries policy. Its rigid system of management means that fish stocks will never recover and regenerate until it is drastically altered or got rid of. His party's proposal cannot be introduced. He must be disappointed that the regional advisory councils are talking shops because of the terms of the Amsterdam treaty, which expressly forbids the return of the powers that his party seeks. He is stymied before he starts. Perhaps he can tell us how he proposes to bring his policy about.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me an opportunity to clarify the matter. It is clear that if we are going to engage with the debate regarding the future development of the common fisheries policy it is appropriate that I should make

Column Number: 022

light of the nonsense that is the Conservatives as yet unworked-out policy.

If we are to develop regionalisation of the common fisheries policy, which is a policy for which Liberal Democrats have argued longer than any other party, we have to engage robustly in the debate. I am disappointed by the drafts that I have seen and the indications that I have had that the regional advisory councils would not have all the powers that I would seek for them. Indeed, the Minister indicated in his response last week that he would be disappointed if they were to end up simply as talking shops. The hon. Lady has to accept that the only way in which we can seek an improvement to the common fisheries policy is by engaging in that debate rather than believing that we can step aside and not take part in it.

The drafts that I have seen clearly indicate that the regional advisory councils will be given certain consultation rights, particularly in relation to the drawing up of plans, the monitoring of those plans and other powers. It is only by engaging in the debate that we can argue with other nation states and seek a solution that gives the regional advisory councils the kind of powers that the Minister and I believe that they should have. I assume that the hon. Lady would also like them to have those powers.

Mrs. Winterton: I am sure that Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all his friends would like the regional advisory councils to have those powers, but the Commission will not actually need to take any notice of any plans, reports or recommendations from them.

Mr. Connarty: On a point of order, Miss Begg. I have come to hear a discussion about the Government's position on a European document sent to the Committee, and I appear to be listening to a squabble between two other political parties about a policy that is not relevant to the document sent to the Committee.

The Chairman: It is up to the Member who has given way whether he accepts the intervention or not.

Andrew George: The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) is right to draw attention to the fact that the debate must relate to the management of total allowable catches. I want be sure that that does happen, but the fact is that the framework in which total allowable catches are managed—this is fundamental to the consideration of the documents before the Committee—is the common fisheries policy itself.

As I understand the functions of the proposed regional councils, each fishery in the region where the councils operate must prepare and submit to the Commission fishery management plans, on their own initiative or at the request of the Commission. To give an opinion on the Commission—or on member states' proposals on conservation and management dealing with the fishery relevant to the region concerned—it must monitor the implementation of Community legislation and conduct any other activities as required. If that is what is proposed in the route map document published by the European Commission, regional bodies will not have the sort of powers that I and many other people who are

Column Number: 023

concerned about the future of the fishing industry believe that they should be given to engage properly in the effective management of stock for the sustainable maintenance of the fishing industry.

The hon. Member for Congleton has sought to score petty political points when we should be robustly engaged in debate in the real world, not fighting past battles. All those battles do is identify where the Conservatives have failed the country in the past. We have yet to see what the Conservatives say—we have been waiting many years—about how their policy can be brought forward, after 18 years when they failed to implement any of the hyperbole that we have heard in recent years. The fact is that we need to consider serious alternatives. If they exist, they deserve proper scrutiny.

The issue for debate today is the future management of total allowable catches. As the Under-Secretary said in his opening remarks, those must be based on science, where it is available. For many stocks, accurate scientific assessment is not properly available. In those circumstances, I would be grateful if he clarified where he believes the Commission and scientists should be going in advising Ministers and nation states about the use of the precautionary principle where the scientific advice is still rather ill-founded, and the margins in which the assessments are made are still rather wide.

I welcome the proposals coming forward for multi-annual quotas, as the Under-Secretary does, and I think that they need further debate. He is right in seeking to ensure how those plans can be brought forward in detail. I am reassured by his response to my earlier question about joint inspection and enforcement. If, as far as possible, that can be established by making full use of nation state resources and assuring the nation state's fishermen that they are being monitored and inspected by their own state's inspectorate, that would be reassuring. Of course, we do need to establish bilateral arrangements.

The Commission's document—and a lot of debate—indicated greater and extensive use of satellite monitoring. I understand that vessel monitoring by satellite might be proposed under the common fisheries policy for vessels up to 10 m by 1 January 2004, which would be welcome, and that electronic logbooks may be introduced in pilot areas by 1 January 2003. If that is the case, we are only months away from implementation of the proposals. I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary indicated what efforts his Department has made to ensure that, if UK vessels are to be engaged in the pilot schemes, they will be capable of doing so. The initiative is very exciting and represents the way forward for the long term.

On the greater use of technical measures, rather than simply quotas and tax to manage stock, proposals that made better use of the developing science and of technical measures would be most welcome. I was reassured by the Under-Secretary's response that efforts are being made but, clearly, a great deal more still needs to be done.

Column Number: 024

One of the most contentious issues in the debate over the future of the common fisheries policy is the use of public subsidy for modernisation and increased capacity. The Under-Secretary is right to take the position that he has taken on grants for modernisation and capacity and effort increase. However, I want to ensure that he keeps the door open to the possibility of grants for improving crew comfort and fishing safety, particularly in fishing regions where the economy is in a failing or threatened state and where regional aid might be made available. I would welcome some reassurance on that.

On the management of stock, I understand that the Commission is seriously considering proposals suggested earlier for the funded tie-up of certain vessels. I know that that caused great contention in the Scottish Executive, and I am well aware of the Under-Secretary's view on it. However, if there were an opportunity to examine how the rather unplanned scheme in Scotland operated and to reflect on whether, under short or long-term measures, stock recovery might be enabled through tie-ups, it might be possible to improve the state of stocks in British and wider European waters.

As has been noted, the hon. Member for Congleton and I had a debate earlier about the role of regional advisory councils. Without expanding that further, my clear view is that those councils or committees should be given real teeth. Simply giving them a role to monitor and draw up plans that then have to be rubber-stamped by the European Commission only ensures that they do not do their job as seriously or as effectively as I believe that they should. If they are given real powers, we will see real improvements, particularly in the nitty-gritty in terms of the way in which stock is managed in those regions.

Mrs. Winterton: Would the hon. Gentleman like to explain how he proposes that such powers should be given to regional advisory councils?

Andrew George: As I understand the proposals at present, the councils should establish management plans and give opinions to the Commission. It is essential that the Commission take a lighter-touch control on the role of those councils. Clearly, there must be much more debate and agreement at European level on the matter but, when the opportunities are properly understood by nation states, I am sure that we shall see improvements in the powers available to the councils.

The only way to achieve such improvement is by engaging in debate, not simply crying wolf and saying that it will never happen. The fact is that we were told that it would never happen and that we would retain our six-mile and 12-mile limits. We were told that that would never happen by the same flat earth society that said that relative stability tenets would not be conveyed beyond 2002. We must recognise that, despite the scaremongering, such aspects of policy should be carried forward.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 April 2002