European Standing Committee A

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Mr. Paterson: What is the Minister’s estimate of the current level of discards?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is high, but we have no way of measuring discards because they are not reported. They will vary from fishery to fishery. Several measures are being taken to tackle the problem of discards. In the south-west, the region that I represent, the discard problem is significantly smaller than it was, thanks to our achievements in the past two Councils.

Mr. Francois: I have had a flip through some of the annual reports. Some of them make interesting reading, but, as I have already said, there were some
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that I could not grasp. What is the Minister’s summary of the Greek perspective, from the country’s annual report?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not an expert on the Greek annual report; I do not think that most reasonable men would expect me to be.

Angus Robertson: The Minister mentioned in his opening speech the regional advisory councils and the significant role that they might play. There is a debate about whether the RACs should have executive power, and the new commissioner has said that that would take a treaty change. Does the Minister agree with that, and if not, are the Government prepared to pursue that to give the RACs real teeth?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, I am not sure that that is right. I will clarify our legal view on whether giving the RACs executive powers would require a treaty change. We certainly share with the commissioner a desire to see the RACs work, as well as the belief that if the RACs prove themselves, there is no reason why they should not be developed in the long term towards meaningful management structures. We share a desire to see a less centralised CFP that is more responsive to regional and stakeholder views.

Andrew George: The Minister referred obliquely to the benefits of the science and fishing industry partnership, which, among other things, because of joint work, resulted in a very significant increase in the recommended TAC for Dover sole in western waters. On which species and which areas of work is the Minister aware that scientists and fishermen, working in partnership, will be concentrating in the coming 12 months?

Mr. Bradshaw: That is very much something on which the industry must come forward with proposals. One of the areas that I am keen to look at is the west of Scotland nephrops. We are open to proposals from anyone for fisheries science partnerships; they were an excellent initiative started by this Government and have really changed the tone of the debate within the fishing industry about science. When I was appointed just under two years ago, I spent most of my time trying to arbitrate in arguments between the fishermen and the scientists about the true level of stocks. That debate has pretty much petered out, except on some of the more extreme and most maverick wings of the industry. There is a new collaborative spirit, and one of the reasons for that is that we have succeeded through those partnerships in getting outcomes for the fishing industry that it has very warmly welcomed.

Mr. Paterson: The Minister has just admitted that he does not know what the level of discards is, which must cast huge doubt on all the data in the bundle. On page 12, it states that

    “the Government supports the principle of effort control applied to stocks whose long-term sustainability is under threat”.

Which stocks do the Government consider are under long-term threat?

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Mr. Bradshaw: Cod is the classic example, and we already have an effort control regime. Effort control was extended into the Western channel this year to protect sole in return for a significant increase in the TAC. We accept that, when there is justification, effort control can play a positive role in stock management. I differ from the hon. Gentleman, however, in his desire to see the United Kingdom adopt a wholly effort control approach to fisheries management, along the lines followed by the Faroes. As he knows, that would cause devastation in our fishing industry, particularly in Scotland.

Angus Robertson: Shortly before the Council met, the prospect of decriminalising fishery offences and instituting a Europe-wide common tariff for certain infringements was being considered. However, that fell off the table. Where is that now? Are we likely to see it reappear in the near future, and what is the Government’s approach to what has been suggested up to now?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are still very keen to examine the potential for administrative penalties. We think that the current legal framework is very cumbersome. In other countries where administrative penalties apply, they have found that system helpful in terms of enforcement and management. We, and the Commission, are also keen to ensure a level playing field in enforcement throughout the EU. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of past debates in Committee on the issue. As part of the CFP reforms, given the state of some of the stocks, the Commission is determined to ensure that countries that have not had such robust enforcement regimes as others should adopt them. The United Kingdom is helping some of those countries to build their capacity for better enforcement.

Mr. Francois: In the addendum, there is a summary of correspondence between the Minister and the European Scrutiny Committee on the issue. I refer the Minister to the concluding paragraph of page 2 of the addendum, which states in paragraph 1.7:

    “Whilst we note what the Minister has said, we find it unconvincing, since the fact remains that he did originally provide two different sets of figures for a number of these species, without indicating why, or which ones were correct. Our view that his whole approach to this issue has been unacceptably slipshod is reinforced by the fact that the final sentence of his most recent explanation is not only incomplete, but refers to a TAC of 1,342 tonnes for Greenland halibut, whereas the table attached to his letter gives the (correct it seems to us) TAC of 1,042 tonnes.”

Can he explain that discrepancy?

Mr. Bradshaw: I have already tried to do so. I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman—he does not have much experience on the European Scrutiny Committee and has clearly never been faced with such a bundle of papers—that we are talking about thousands, if not tens of thousands, of different figures. I apologised for the fact that an administrative error was made in one of the figures; it was subsequently corrected. I challenge him to point to a
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single previous year in which there has not been at least one dodgy figure in a bundle of hundreds of pages containing tens of thousands of figures.

Mr. Paterson: Are there any stocks that are not under threat, given the increasing efficiency of catching effort?

Mr. Bradshaw: The view of the international scientists about whom the hon. Gentleman is so sceptical, is that, yes, there are stocks that are currently being fished at sustainable levels—for example, pelagic stocks, shellfish and nephrops are in good shape—which is why we have secured such good increases in fishing opportunities for our fishermen. This is a good opportunity to remind the Committee that in spite of the doom and gloom about the fishing industry spread by the hon. Gentleman among others, much of our fishing industry is doing extremely well. That success is based on the health of the majority of stocks in which we have an interest.

Andrew George: I refer to a question I asked earlier about cetacean stocks. Although the Minister highlighted the health of the population of the common dolphin, those who consider the issue closely are concerned about the health of the population of the bottlenose dolphin, which is found much further offshore especially around the continental shelf in areas where gill netters set nets, especially in the summer months, and the harbour porpoise, which is found much closer to the shore than the common dolphin. Once again gill netters are active in areas that are close to the shore.

Anxiety has been expressed about the health of the populations of those two species and the levels of by-catch in several fisheries in respect of the future numbers of those species. Is any work being done on the matter, or any effort being made to address the issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, there is. We are aware of those concerns and are conducting research into the impact of gill netters on cetaceans that is similar to the ongoing research into pair trawling.

Angus Robertson: The December Council reached a political agreement on the, as far as I am aware, as yet unspecified increase of the northern shelf monkfish TAC. That was specifically intended to facilitate scientific research. What can the Minister tell us about France, which views the issue slightly differently? Is there any prospect of movement in the months ahead?

Mr. Bradshaw: I was made aware of possible French objections to such a big increase in the TAC and to the accompanying scientific research. However, returning to a point previously raised, one of the advantages of qualified majority voting is that when a country is in the majority—as the UK generally finds itself—it tends to get its own way. It may be informative for the hon. Gentleman to know that only one member state voted against the overall package. France went along with it, so I have no reason to suppose that it has a problem.

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It may also be helpful to inform Members that papers were sent to the Clerk of the Committee on the evening of 25 February.

Mr. Francois: Will the Minister summarise the responses and reactions that he has received from the UK fishing industry to what we are discussing this afternoon?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I will be happy to. Mike Weir, a representative of the Scottish industry, described the outcome as

    “the first good news from the Fisheries Council for a long time”.

Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association called it “an amazing turnaround.” Hamish Morrison—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman asked for a summary, and I have got a rather handy one. I expect that he is sorry that he asked the question; his Front Bench colleague certainly is.

Hamish Morrison, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said that it was “remarkable” and an

    “important step in rebuilding the sector”.

Jim Portus, the head of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, described it as “brilliant”. Paul Trebilcock, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, said that I was

    “by far the best fisheries Minister”—

this is rather embarrassing—

    “in standing up to the Commission and backing UK fishermen.”

Hansen Black—does the hon. Gentleman want me to go on—the chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, dismissed as

    “political posturing prior to the general election”

suggestions from some Opposition politicians that the Fisheries Council was confirmation of the status quo. That is enough on that.

Mr. Paterson: If the outcome was so good, at a time when we have 30-year high haddock stocks, why was the haddock quota only 69 per cent. of what it was in 1999?

Mr. Bradshaw: It was still a big increase compared with recent years.

Mr. Paterson: No, come on!

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Bradshaw: It was still a big increase for the very reason I referred to earlier: in the management of our fisheries, we are trying to avoid large annual fluctuations in the levels of TACs and quotas. Another reason for this year’s haddock quota level was that we succeeded in getting rid of the haddock permit scheme, which the hon. Gentleman and some in the industry had been so critical of. It would be nice for a change to get some level of congratulation from him, as I have received from throughout the fishing industry.

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Angus Robertson: On the issue of selective quotation, many quotes are positive and some are less so. The balanced reaction from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was:

    “The outcome of the Council was more favourable than was expected but less than is necessary to secure recovery in the sector.”

In concrete terms, many people in fishing communities are suffering economically from privation and growing poverty levels. Is the Minister optimistic about the recovery that the sector needs, or is he pessimistic or happy to rest on the laurels of selective quotation?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am never happy to rest on my laurels. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the overwhelming response to the Fisheries Council was positive, even in Scotland. It is too soon to say—and a foolish politician who claimed—that the fishing industry has turned a corner. However, the positive outcomes of the last two councils, the positive reforms that we are witnessing in the common fisheries policy and a new spirit of collaboration in the United Kingdom between the fishing industry, the Government, scientists and NGOs and the setting up of the RACs are indications of what could be a historic turnaround in our fishing industry.

If we can implement the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, which were all about looking at the future of the fishing industry for the long term and putting it on a profitable and sustainable setting, we have an historic opportunity to build on the achievements of the last two years. We could achieve what he and all members of the Committee want to see, which is a profitable and sustainable fishing industry that exploits fish stocks in a sustainable way and supports fisheries-dependent communities such as those in his constituency.

Andrew George: While plaudits are being handed around, would the Minister agree that some should go to the Liberal Democrat Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Executive, who handled some difficult decisions and negotiations extremely well? He acknowledges that he has made some very difficult decisions and that the Scottish Executive will have to face some difficult decisions on the future of the industry. Even so, the outcome of the cancelled meeting was better than was expected.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to applaud the work of Ross Finnie. I am happy to remind hon. Members that we work very closely together on these issues. While we are throwing plaudits at each other I am happy to commend the hon. Member for St. Ives who leads for the Liberal Democrats on these issues. I have always found his approach realistic, constructive and based on sound knowledge of the industry in his constituency and more broadly.

Mr. Paterson: May I break into this Lib-Lab love-in and ask the Minister to name a single instance when TACs and quotas have not led to discards and black fish?

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Mr. Bradshaw: Not off the top of my head. That would depend on the level of compliance by fishermen. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of reasons for discards. They are not just because fishermen exceed their TACs or quotas. Fish may be being discarded for economic or size reasons. He will know from his world tour of fisheries that not a single management in the world has resolved the problem of discards—not even the Faroes system that he is so keen on.

Angus Robertson: We heard a moment ago about the excellent working relationship between the Liberal Minister in the Scottish Executive and the Labour Government down in Westminster. How many times has Ross Finnie led in negotiations in the European Union at the Council of Ministers, bearing in mind that fishing is devolved and he represents the majority of the fishing industry in the UK?

Mr. Bradshaw: We work as a partnership. The constructive meetings that were held both in the run-up to and during the Council were held together. I made some of the points to the President and the Commission and Mr. Finnie made others. The outcome of the Council shows that we worked extremely well and effectively as a partnership.

Mr. Paterson: Tying in with the problem of discards and the limited stocks, particularly cod, that the Minister mentioned, what proposals did he make at the Council to use selective gear in the North sea?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are considering that and a pilot scheme in the North sea on discards. However, if the hon. Gentleman would like to make practical suggestions or if there is a collaborative scientific project that he would like to see, I would be keen to receive that information. I have given him a similar invitation before. I simply repeat to him that discards are a problem in fisheries throughout the world. They may be slightly less serious in regimes that depend wholly on effort control, but effort control as the only fisheries management system brings other challenges. Discards are a serious issue and we are serious about addressing it.

Angus Robertson: Will the Minister confirm that regularly at Council of Ministers meetings is the Flemish Fisheries Minister, who represents the Belgian state because Flanders has the biggest fisheries interest in the Belgian state? While the Minister is at it, can he confirm, in answer to my previous question, that the number of times that Ross Finnie has led for the UK and its fisheries is zero?

Mr. Bradshaw: I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I recall one instance last year when I had to leave for some reason and Mr. Finnie found himself in the chair for the main Council business. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Belgian devolutionary settlement is rather different from our own. UK Ministers lead on CFP negotiations, with the welcome and important support of Scottish colleagues, whereas Scotland is responsible for those areas of fisheries that are devolved, and rightly so.

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Mr. Paterson: The Minister has just admitted that, under effort control, there is a reduced tendency to discard. Does he agree that TACs and quotas are incompatible with running an effort-control or days-at-sea scheme in parallel; people have either one or the other?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman is right that if there is purely an effort-control system, it is easier to get to grips with discards, but then there are the problems of how to control capacity creep. Also, the question that I always ask the hon. Gentleman is how we set the effort at a level that allows fishermen to exploit stocks that are doing well. If we had an effort-control system in the North sea, like the one in the Faroes, which is the classic example, most of the Scottish fishing industry would be out of business. What the Conservatives want would be a disaster for Scotland because we would have to set the effort levels to protect the cod, which are in bad shape, but that would prevent fishermen from having opportunities to catch haddock and other species that are doing well. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go back and have another look at his recommendation for an effort-control system in the UK. Such a system may suit the Faroese well, but it would not suit our industry.

Mr. Paterson: That was a revealing reply. It shows the Minister’s tragic ignorance of the benefits of selective gear. Why did he not get in touch with the institute at Manomet in Massachusetts, which has reduced separation from some 80 per cent.—sometimes 91 per cent.—in relation to cod and haddock? A huge stock of haddock in the North sea is going to waste at the moment. We have an enormous year class, and we could fish that without damaging the cod if we used intelligent methods. I am delighted that the Minister has picked up on the fact that I have been to the Faroes, but I have been to other places where selective gear is used and it works. Why on earth is there no British Government study on that?

Mr. Bradshaw: We already use selective gear. That is why there are different rules for those fishermen who have a low level of cod by-catch. We have used selective gear in a number of fisheries around our coasts. I will happily look into the example that the hon. Gentleman cites of an institute in Massachusetts, because I share his desire as much as anyone to increase fishing opportunities in relation to healthy stocks while preserving those that are not. However, I return to my point that his policy of effort control as the only management system would not allow for the technical discrimination to which he refers, because the number of days that boats could fish would be limited and the limit would be based on the state of the most vulnerable stock, which in this case is cod. That would be devastating for those fishermen who would be prevented from fishing for other stocks, such as haddock, that were doing well.

Mr. Paterson: That was a bizarre caricature of our policy. Could the Minister get back to the question of serious studies into the use of selective gear? Will he
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confirm that no serious studies into the benefits of selective gear—particularly in the white fish sector—have been done by scientists in this country on the instruction of the UK Government?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, I cannot confirm that. Earlier, I said that we were working with the industry on pilots that will consider technical measures on selectivity—exactly what the hon. Gentleman refers to.

Mr. Francois: If that is the case, when does the Minister expect the results of the first of those pilots to become available?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not know, but as the results become available, I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with details of them.

Mr. Paterson: I am intrigued to hear about the pilots; that is very good news. Where are they taking place and which fish stocks are they working on?

Mr. Bradshaw: I believe that they are taking place in the North sea on the white fish stocks, to which we have already referred.

Mr. Paterson: Part of the Minister’s caricature is to say that our policy concentrates only on effort control. Effort control is only part of what we are saying; we also strongly recommend much tighter monitoring of effort, which would require the efficient use of vessel monitoring systems. In the bundle, there is a whole catalogue of criticisms of the current enforcement of VMS, and the UK is swept up in that. What efforts is the Minister making to ensure that our VMS, which has only recently been introduced, is used effectively?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are making strenuous efforts. We think this an extremely important area to get right. For the reasons that I gave earlier in response to a question from the hon. Member for St. Ives, effective satellite monitoring is the way of the future. We had a lot of catching up to do; we were seriously behind many other European countries in the use of VMS. However, we are catching up and I am satisfied that our system will be effective and very helpful in managing our stocks.

The Chairman: Order. I am advised that there could be a vote at 3 o’clock. Obviously, any time for that will be taken from the debate. If we move on to the debate now, we shall get the full one and a half hours.

Mr. Paterson: May I ask one more quick question? What co-ordination is there between the use of VMS in this country and the VMS systems in neighbouring fishing countries such as Belgium, France and Holland?

Mr. Bradshaw: We all have our own different systems because different countries have developed their systems under different time frames and in different ways. One of the reasons why the Commission is keen to set up a European enforcement
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agency is so that enforcement, including the use of VMS, can be monitored and that we can be sure that the systems are as effective in one country as another.

We will also share our information with other countries. Recently, I visited in Dartmouth one of the royal naval vessels responsible for fisheries enforcement. Its crew share information with neighbouring countries on a regular basis and work very effectively with them to ensure that boats crossing national boundaries does not impair the enforcement work that we all want to see throughout the common fisheries policy area.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 15390/04, draft Council Regulation fixing for 2005 and 2006 the fishing opportunities for Community fishing vessels for certain deep sea stocks, and No. 15237/04, draft Council Regulation fixing for 2005 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required; and supports the Government’s objective of achieving the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fishing resources in line with the precautionary principle whilst preserving a viable degree of activity for the industry. —[Mr. Bradshaw.]

2.59 pm

Mr. Paterson: I have to begin by saying that this whole process is most unsatisfactory. I was on the European Scrutiny Committee and had the pleasure of serving under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Clydesdale. Our record was getting through 78 documents in two minutes. To put it bluntly, that was not scrutinising legislation. However, this time I think we have set a new record.

I shall repeat my experience, as I should like to get it clearly on the record. Last Thursday, I asked my office to ask the Vote Office to send me the bundle, which at that time was relatively modest. It did not arrive, which was unfortunate. I went to the Vote Office yesterday and found that the bundle contained 887 pages, some in languages that I cannot speak. I found today that a further addendum had been added—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh said that it was 17 pages long—which I did not see until 2.36  pm. That is not the way to run a sweet shop; it is not the way to run a Parliament; and it is certainly not the way to run an industry that affects thousands of people in some of the most remote parts of these islands who are being treated very badly. It would be helpful if the Minister could pass on our strong concerns, which have been angrily expressed by my hon. Friend.

Some of the problems are not the Minister’s fault. As we know, the regulations were bounced on him only days before the Fisheries Council, and he was under pressure. However, it is a long time since those days before Christmas, and we could have got the papers a lot earlier. It is completely farcical that the hon. Member for St. Ives received his papers only this morning. I do not see how he can make a serious contribution because there is such a lot of detail to
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work through. I would be grateful if the Minister could pass on the complaints. The situation brings Parliament into disrepute.

On the deal itself, the Minister read out some helpful quotations to back his cause. To bring a bucket of ice water to the proceedings, I point out again that in the North sea the haddock TAC is only 69 per cent. of what it was in 1999. As I said, that is at a time when we have a 30-year high in haddock stocks, and it would not happen in the more successful fisheries that I have been to. Places such as Norway, the Faroes, Iceland, New England and even the Falklands can react to data and real-time information showing what is going on. It seems ludicrous to squander the haddock stocks, which must also be damaging the juvenile cod.

Further south, we heard the triumphalism of the south-west. The monkfish quota is only 87 per cent. of what it was in 1999, and the sole in VIIe is only 81 per cent. of the 1999 figure, so the deal is not quite as exciting as the Minister spun it. I give him full credit for doing a good job in selling the deal in December, but we are presented with a motion that asks us not just to note the bundle of documents but to vote our approval. It is the second week running that we have had a mixed motion, in which we are expected to note the documents, which, with 887 pages, we can pretend to have done, and to approve the Government’s policies. I am afraid that we cannot do that, as there is a huge difference between us and the Government on how to proceed in running fisheries.

There is not another fishery in the world that is run in such a way. Ours is a unique system in which Ministers get together at very short notice. The Minister’s letter on page 287 of the bundle includes the interesting comments that he had

    “insufficient time to prepare an Explanatory Memorandum for this week’s scrutiny Committee”,

that he received the draft regulation only on 10 December and that he regretted that

    “the Parliamentary Scrutiny process cannot be completed in time”.

As I said, the problems are not all of the Minister’s making; it is wrong for national Governments to be bounced into things at such short notice.

It is interesting that, in correspondence with the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Clydesdale twice gives her a sharp slap on the wrist when he is asking for replies to questions. In his letter of 23 February on page 887, he says that

    “we found it hard to see quite what increase the UK had secured at the Council. This point does not seem to have been addressed in your letter”,

and in a letter on page 860, he makes the same point. The Minister might like to go into that and explain why the deal was successful and why the Scrutiny Committee was not given the information that it asked for. The Committee also mentions the matter in its conclusion, which is on page 13, saying that

    “we must again voice our concern that the Commission’s proposals were deposited in the House such a short time before the start of the Council meeting at which decisions had to be taken. We are only now able to consider them on the basis of an Explanatory Memorandum.”

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What we are doing here is farcical. We are rubber-stamping something that has long been passed. The serious discussions happened late at night for three days, or whatever it was, with the industry shut away in its hotel and the Minister making an extraordinary number of decisions, as we see from the papers, in a great rush. Not surprisingly, he made some mistakes. I do not entirely blame him, because of the amount of detail here, but it is absolutely no way to run a fishery.

The absolute classic case concerns the North sea, where fishermen were told that, if they used 120 mm square mesh panels, they would get an extra three fishing days a month. Then, ludicrously, in January, having invested in new expensive gear and made their plans, they were suddenly told, “Sorry boys! We made a mistake. This isn’t for you, it’s for the Baltic.” It would be helpful if the Minister could explain where the evidence of that appeared in the bundle; I looked hard for it, but could not find it. What are the consequences now for those people who invested in gear, who are running very tight businesses? Will they be compensated? There are reports in the fishing press this week that the matter will be brought up at the April Council. Will the Minister push their case, allowing it to stand, or will the Commission slam the lid back down on them and tell them that they have wasted their money on the basis of public information—in other words, that a mistake was made and they have to lump it?

There is also the extraordinary case of Trevose, where there was popular demand for a closed area, which seemed a sensible gesture. Again, I can find nothing in the bundle on that case, which was particularly fraught. The Cornish fishermen wanted a closed area; they gave the Minister the details and made a proposal for a closed area to protect spawning stock for a limited time. All that is wholly admirable and sensible practice, followed in many fisheries. How on earth was it though that, instead of a closed area being created, the little inshore boats were shut out, so the fishermen have had, at some risk to themselves, to fish further from the shore in the winter months, in great danger and in unfamiliar waters, yet large Belgian beam trawlers have been allowed to come bashing in for a month during the ban? That seems very odd.

I understand that the negotiations are probably extremely difficult, and there is a huge amount of detail, but that was a British proposal. Can the Minister explain to the Committee what happened? There are also stories, which I have picked up in the south-west, that he had discussions with, I think, the hon. Member for St. Ives, in which he said that we could ignore the rule for inshore boats. Is that true, and is he proposing that fishermen should, on his advice, break European law? Where does that lead the Cornish fishery protection officers? Whose law are they supposed to enforce: the Minister’s informal law, after a private meeting with local MPs proposing that officers carry on regardless, or European law, as passed by the Council in haste, where a mistake has clearly been made?

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I have already referred to haddock. It is extraordinary that we have haddock stocks. That simply could not happen in the intelligent fisheries that I have been to. There are high haddock stocks that must be predating on juvenile cod, yet all that we get in the haddock TAC is a reduction of 14 per cent. Can the Minister say what specific discussions he had on that matter? It seems a criminal waste, and the subject was raised with me when I was in the Faroes and Iceland: the fishermen there thought that it incomprehensible that a fishing regime could let such stock go to waste.

We have touched on the cetacean question, but again I could find nothing in the bundle about bass or, interestingly, about those who have a huge interest in bass, which is the recreational sector. Some 1 million recreational fishermen spend over £1 billion a year on that activity; they value large bass, are desperately upset by the failure to protect bass stock, and particularly object to the damage done mainly by powerful French pair trawlers. That leads to the hideous cetacean by-catch, which is upsetting many people, particularly in the south-west. I could not find anything about that in the bundle—perhaps I read it too fast—but can the Minister comment on it? What is the latest state of play, and what he is doing, having been told to remove himself last year when he tried to raise pair trawling in the Council? Was the matter discussed, and which countries are on our side? What can be done to stop the by-catch? We want to keep the bass protected; many people are interested in them as a target species for recreational fishing, but many also find the unnecessary death of porpoises and dolphins disgusting. I raised the matter at the Manomet conference in Massachusetts; there is confidence that separation grades can be devised which could be used to encourage dolphins to escape from nets.

Another issue that is dear to me was highlighted by something that happened in the past year: the horror of the huge discard rate that I found when I went out in a trawler one night in the Irish sea. I estimated that 95 per cent. of baby plaice were discarded. I wrote to the Minister about it, and there was some publicity for the case. Was the issue raised? It is extraordinary that 80 mm nets are being imposed, when I saw with my own eyes that 110 mm would stop discards occurring at that rate.

These issues explain why, when I was in Reykjavik, I was told by the chairman of the largest bank in the world investing in fisheries businesses that his company’s policy is not to invest in any fisheries business in Russia or the European Union because of the arbitrary and political nature of the decision making. It is clear that the CFP management system is fundamentally flawed, as is recognised for the first time in the bundle of documents, and the Commission and the British Government are slowly waking up to the fact that the system is not working. On page 11 of the bundle, the Government recognise that TACs

    “do not deliver stock conservation, but simply lead to increased discarding or misreporting. They also have a knock-on effect of poor data leading to increased uncertainty in future assessments.”

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The Minister quoted several times what I said about my first trip to the Faroes, and he is absolutely right: the key lesson in the Faroes was that quotas do not work. They were brought in on the advice of ICES, and led to black fish, discarding and, above all, to the loss of control of what was happening. The real lesson of effort control is that we know what is going on, although we may not like it, but there are accurate, landed data. I agree with the Minister that it may not be perfect, but there is a dramatically lower incentive to discard under pure effort control. As soon as there is a TAC or a quota there is immediate pressure to cheat, either by throwing overboard, by high grading or by landing black fish. The first thing to do, which is fundamental, is to get accurate data; the whole bundle is based on false data. The Minister was very honest when he said that we do not know the level of discards. The royal commission’s report before Christmas estimated that there were 600,000 tonnes of discards in the North sea.

The figures are grotesque; they are environmentally and biologically obscene but scientifically idiotic, because we do not know what is going on. It is therefore encouraging that at last it is beginning to drip through to the Government and the Commission that TACs are not working and that they lead to poor data. I entirely agree with the statement on page 45 of the bundle that

    “the mixture of species caught when fishing could create an obligation to discard”.

If we move to an effort control system, the first benefit would be accurate data, which I am pleased to say are also coming through from ICES scientists. My evidence from fishermen around the country is that they do not agree with many of the scientists. There is a particularly fraught case involving two fishermen in the channel who have been put on trial; they are convinced that there is a substantial indigenous cod stock. I met fishermen in the Thames estuary last week who said that it was “boiling with bass”, and I have seen what is happening in the Irish sea.

I should like the Minister to say more about the credence he gives to other sources of data. Because the system gives rise to mutual loathing between scientists and fishermen, and there is not the co-operation that exists in the other fisheries I have visited, it is vital to have alternative sources of information. The advantage of days at sea is that there is far more collaboration between scientists and environmentalists in the other fisheries. There is a glimmer of hope, and the Commission and the Government are beginning to see it.

I was surprised by the Commission’s brutal criticism of the failure of the current enforcement regimes. It is a damning indictment of the national regimes across the board. On page 293 we read:

    “The Commission notes that all member states have introduced VMS, but that problems still remain in some cases where a considerable number of vessels have not been fitted with equipment, or do not transmit correctly. As a result of this, and poor follow-up by the authorities concerned, the Commission concludes that many national catch and effort registration systems cannot be considered satisfactory, and that satisfactory integration of monitoring systems permitting systematic cross-checking of information remains the exception.”

Column Number: 25

The document goes on to say that

    “overall the control effort by most of the Member States is not fully effective, with many problems, relating particularly to controlling both before and after sale, the transport of catches and the verification of the catch area.”

That is a real lesson for America, where there is strict control of the first purchaser and there is strict cross-checking of the landing and purchasing. It is interesting to see the Commission being so brutal in its criticism. On page 438 it states:

    “The lack of human resources remains a serious problem in several Member States, notably for carrying out landing inspections, which remains one of the most essential elements of control.”

Going back to the Faroes and Iceland, I point out that accurate data from accurate landing figures is the basis on which they built their success. On page 440 the Commission states:

    “Community wide deficiencies in landing controls and cross-checks between log books, landing declarations and sales data certainly allowed for under-declaration of catches or even non-declaration when the quota for the species concerned were exhausted.”

On page 442 it states pretty bluntly:

    “Therefore, many serious weaknesses previously identified still remain and have prevented the CFP from achieving its goals.”

There is a serious condemnation on page 573 of the bundle:

    “The Irish authorities have not succeeded in establishing a satisfactory database”.

Referring to the Dutch, the Commission states on page 603:

    “The Commission remains unconvinced of the reliability of the information received concerning catches”.

Referring to the Portuguese on page 619 the Commission says that

    “the results achieved in the enforcement of the common fisheries policy cannot be considered as satisfactory . . . This situation is mainly the result of a notable lack of resources in all administrations involved in fisheries monitoring and inspection, and particularly with regards to the DGPA and the fisheries inspectors now working under that authority. The number of inspectors is clearly insufficient in relation to the size and importance of the Portuguese fishing industry.”

Spain, which has been debated in this Committee before, has the agency in Vigo. The Commission points out that

    “the reliability of data concerning tonnage, engine power, characteristics of the vessels are doubtful since actual verification of this information . . . is not done by MAPA itself . . . The national inspectors do however not systematically follow up on port inspections by making additional crosschecks against landing declarations, sales notes, VMS information or the information entry and exit reports when vessels are operating in, for example, Western Waters.”

Last time we discussed Vigo in this Committee, one of the senior Commission officials in Brussels reckoned that 60 per cent. of hake landings were not reported in Spain. That is confirmed on page 637:

    “Against this background it appears to the Commission that the Spanish authorities still have some way to go before the proper enforcement of the CFP can be guaranteed.”

What about Sweden? The

    “relatively low level of control activity is coupled with a feeble number of serious infringements.”

Column Number: 26

We then come to the UK. I have made a lot of green marks in that part of my bundle. Will the Minister comment on the statement on page 672? It reads:

    “The possibility of illegal landings of quota stocks, whether un-recorded, under-recorded, mis-recorded as other species, or mis-reported as being caught . . . remains an issue of great concern. The quantification of such activity has proven impossible because of its clandestine nature.”

The Commission names a number of species that could be considerably under-declared and adds:

    “It is also likely that catches will have been landed and not declared at all in the absence of inspectors.”

It also states that a considerable part is

    “mis-recorded as spurious non-TAC species.”

3.19 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.48 pm

On resuming—

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