Total Allowable Catches and Quotas 2002

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Mrs. Winterton: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew George: I am coming to the end of my comments. I should be very happy to discuss the

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matter more fully when we debate the common fisheries policy.

I am sorry to detain the Committee for so long, but I have two further points to put to the Under-Secretary. The first is on the management of deep sea stocks. We have touched on that, and he knows well that, especially in international waters beyond the continental shelf, many of those stocks have long lives, but many of them do not reach sexual maturity for many years, although I cannot recall all of the species now. To be plundering those stocks at this stage without a proper scientific assessment of their state raises serious questions about the future of international fishing.

Although the document deals with that, and some of the stocks in international waters are given quotas, it is important that they are properly monitored. We do not have opportunities for full debates on the way in which those stocks are managed, but we know that at present both UK vessels and, more especially, those from other countries, are targeting those species and plundering those stocks. We do not know very clearly what impact that is having.

Finally, on total allowable catches, we have debated bass and the cetacean by-catch related to that, especially in the pair trawling industry. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary and his Department have come up with what I believe is robust research, which clearly identifies the pair trawling industry as one part of the industry that is causing concern, in particular over the by-catch of dolphins. I should tell him that I have a meeting with the French ambassador tomorrow morning and shall be taking representatives of my local industry to discuss with him what impact he believes the French pair trawling industry has on dolphins in the English channel. I know that the Under-Secretary has engaged in dialogue with the French authorities and has written to Franz Fischler on the issue, so I should be grateful if he would comment on progress in that regard when he replies.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Hon. Members have raised several important points, which is the advantage of an opportunity for scrutiny of this kind. I appreciate the opportunity that the Committee gives Members to question Government policy and to give their views on the development of negotiation and policy in the EU as they unfold.

I shall deal first with Greenland halibut and redfish. Generally speaking, those species are part of agreements that we have, with Iceland on redfish and with Greenland on Greenland halibut, which is a third country agreement with the EU. Those species are quota-controlled; we do not have a free-for-all fishery, and our distant water fleet find that that is important. There are opportunities on the Icelandic fishery through a ballot, which has become established.

The European fisheries permits have not appeared, and they do not seem to feature in the Commission's proposals. The idea that we will all be operating under an EU permit by 2003 is not borne out by reality, and

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it is an example of some of the wilder claims that have been made during the debate.

Deep water stocks and olympic fisheries are important issues. The risk of olympic fisheries remains, which is well understood by the Commission and the Council. Whatever the discussions about deep water stocks, and about whether there will be TACs or effort control, there is a cut-off, which would certainly have applied since last year. I assure the hon. Member for Congleton that people who have piled into fisheries over the past year will not necessarily have their landings taken into account.

Before hon. Members write off regional advisory committees, let us see the proposal and give them a chance. The committees' framework and the Commission's proposals are right. Involvement in the committees and how they will operate are issues that are up for negotiation. The industry will be very much be engaged with that process and we will take notice of their views. I say to the hon. Member for Congleton that it is not unreasonable to take other stakeholders' views on fisheries management into account. One stakeholder is the recreational sector; sea anglers, for example. Many commercial fishermen earn part of their living by taking sea anglers out to sea, so they have a legitimate voice on the matter. I know that the sea anglers were pleased that the UK Government took their views into account in our submission to the Green Paper.

Mrs. Winterton: I agree with the Under-Secretary's comments about people having a voice, but he did use the word ''voice.'' Does he accept that the document—I am sure that he has seen it although he earlier indicated that he might not have done—specifically states that the Commission is not bound by recommendation reports? Will he also comment on the Amsterdam treaty, which forbids power from being devolved from the centre? That seems quite a hurdle to overcome. How does the Under-Secretary or the Commission propose to change the Amsterdam treaty?

Mr. Morley: We do not have to change the Amsterdam treaty because the documents relate to the way in which the committees will operate. I can only speculate because discussions have yet to be held and we do not yet know the Commission's view, but let us take the example of a regional advisory committee. It is allowed to make recommendations and to have views on quota and conservation management within zones of interest, which the UK Government will encourage. However, recommendations may have to return to full Council for ratification. That model is not unique, but it is well understood, gives people a great deal of freedom and autonomy and can be further developed.

The idea of regional management is a new concept that has been greatly pushed by the UK and UK industry. I am glad to say that our industry has been engaging with industry groups from other countries to explain what we mean by it. We are not talking about back-door nationalism through regional advisory committees, but about a more logical and evolved management system for the CFP. It is a question of

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confidence-building, and of implementing a framework. Once the framework is in place, it can be developed, which should be a priority.

Mrs. Winterton: Let me press the Minister on that. Will the committees have power?

Mr. Morley: I would hope so, but that is an issue to be developed. I gave the hon. Lady a clear example of how they can work and have power, but in the framework of the Council of Ministers. It can be done. In reality, it is an evolving process, and we must accept that to a certain extent. The important thing is to get the framework in place and the principle established. That is what we will be arguing for, and I am confident that we will make some progress.

Andrew George: Would the Under-Secretary be prepared to comment on the argument of the same doom merchants that we will not retain national control of our six and 12-mile limits, that we will not retain relative stability and that there will be no regional management committees in any form whatever, let alone as talking shops?

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman must not misquote people.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Member for Congleton had a few comments about what the hon. Gentleman said. She may not have made those claims, but she knows very well that they have been consistently made by elements within and without the fishing industry. Those elements have said that the industry would not survive relative stability or coastal limits, and they will be proved wrong.

Mrs. Winterton: I should point out to the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for St. Ives that I have not made any such claims. I know that the 12-mile limit will be made permanent. That is obvious; it is in the paper. However, the six-mile limit is not. The hon. Gentleman should not misquote me, or accuse me of saying things that I have not said. I have been careful in what I have accused him of, through checking.

Andrew George: It was the hon. Lady's predecessor.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Member for St. Ives is right about that. The hon. Lady's predecessor was not as careful in his choice of phrase as she has been today.

Relative stability has become an accepted part of the CFP. The Commission accepts it, the Commission's legal services accept it and the Council of Ministers accepts it. We can argue about the exact wording of the treaty, but in the end what matters is the decision of the Council of Ministers. It is clear to me that the principle of relative stability is well established in the Council of Ministers.

On the point about the deep water fleet vessels displaced from Morocco, I have actually been to one of the worst-affected fishing ports in Spain, which has lost access due to the closure of Moroccan waters. I assure the hon. Lady that those are not deep water vessels, in the main. They are not vessels that can prosecute other fisheries, apart from the coastal waters, in relation to Morocco where they were

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operating. There may be the odd large vessel involved in that fishery, but they can re-deploy.

Unlike the United Kingdom, when we lost access to Iceland, Spain has a very generous share of the third-country fishing agreements from the EU. One of the points that the Spanish Minister made in relation to the renegotiation of some of those agreements was to reflect the loss to the Spanish industry of Morocco. That is where the Spanish have been concentrating, not arguing for redistribution of EU quota. Its fishing fleet could not make use of it in any case, due to that fleet's nature. I think that I can reassure the hon. Lady on that point.

In terms of the comments that the hon. Lady quoted back to me, I am glad to say that my position has not changed by one iota. It is certainly true that my language might be more diplomatic since I have become a Minister, in relation to what I can and cannot say. Let me look through what I said in 1996. I said that the CFP needed to change, that we needed more autonomy in member states and that there needed to be more national control and management in our coastal limits within the criteria of the CFP. That was what I argued for in 1996.

I said that there should be much greater devolution and flexibility within the framework of the common fisheries policy. I have not changed my views. Indeed, I am glad to say that the case that I argued in 1996 is reflected in the Commission's proposal in 2002. It is nice to have been involved in a debate, seen some changes and witnessed the emergence of a consensus with member states that share similar views. I believe in flexibility and management within the framework of a common fisheries policy and I see no contradiction in that. There is no difference between what I am saying now and what I said then.

My views on common resource have not changed either. In 1996, I said that the concept of common resource was not credible because, although it was established in the treaty and is an important concept to other member states, in reality it has been overshadowed by relative stability. In that respect, it is misleading when common resource is thrown around as a doom and gloom prediction by the flat earth society, referred to by the hon. Member for St. Ives. We have moved on from that position. I made the point in 1996, and it is entirely relevant today.

I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East. I can confirm that the Scottish Fisheries Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations have been constructive in their comments about the changes. I also understand his point about stocks that are not currently quota controlled, such as red mullet. There is a growing red mullet fishery in the North sea, which is all to the good, and I am pleased to see our fisherman taking advantage of it.

We may wish to discuss with the Commission whether small, unallocated quotas should be wrapped up within the North sea quota. However, it is not viable for a vessel with no quota in the North sea to go there on the offchance of catching a few boxes of mullet. It is not sound economic sense. If there is

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interest from other member states, licences could be bought. It was much easier to do that before the loophole was closed with economic links, for example, although there was little interest in doing that, apart from on the part of the Dutch in relation to the beam trawler fleet.

I recognise the importance of the Shetland box, and we will be arguing for it. I also agree that grading at sea is environmentally damaging. We have introduced restrictions to limit grading at sea because it is so wasteful, and we recognise the need to control such procedures. In relation to the viability of the Scottish fleet, the most recent decommissioning round is estimated to have taken some 20 per cent. out of the whitefish fleet. That is a large reduction that will help viability.

The hon. Member for St. Ives is correct in the approach that he has been taking. I do not underestimate the fact that negotiations on the common fisheries policy review will be tough. There are differences of opinion, as is right and proper in a democratic framework. We in the UK are quite clear about the way forward, and we are pleased to have common ground with the UK fishing industry about the type of changes for which we will argue.

I look forward to the hon. Member for Congleton spelling out Conservative policy on nationalisation. Conservatives support nationalisation—

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