Previous Section Index Home Page

I welcome the Minister to his new role. We all know about the importance of science in fisheries, but in the next five years the Government will cut the minimum
6 Dec 2007 : Column 1037
budget for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science from £30.9 million in 2008-09 to £28.8 million in 2012-13.

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing those statistics. He will be aware that we have agreed 10 years of funding for CEFAS; that has never happened before. It is essential that science has long-term stability. We have worked with our scientists at CEFAS to ensure that there is long-term sustainability for all the important work that they will undertake—rather than things being decided year by year, as under the Tory Government.

Bill Wiggin: So the Minister does not dispute the fact that he is cutting the budget.

Despite the important role of the Marine Fisheries Agency for fisheries management, the Minister has not outlined what its funding will be for the 2008-09 to 2010-11 comprehensive spending review period. He has said warm and welcoming words about CEFAS, but the same has not been done for the Marine Fisheries Agency, which is already under pressure because the 90 per cent. target for entering information into the fisheries database within five days is only just being met.

The Minister also needs to confirm that the demands for the forthcoming electronic recording and reporting requirements are met. Like CEFAS, the MFA needs financial stability to function and meet its targets. If the Government cannot provide it, I suspect that our fisheries will suffer.

The questionable financial management of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs means that in forthcoming years the number of Royal Navy fisheries protection service patrol days has been slashed. Between 1997 and 2006 there was an annual average of 981 days provided by about 10 different vessels—Hunt class, Island class and River class. Under the new contract, which begins in April 2008, only three River class offshore patrol vessels have been contracted to provide 700 patrol days in 2008-09, potentially reducing to just 600 patrol days in two years’ time. By comparison, this year, the three River class vessels provided 620 days, complemented by the further 225 patrol days provided by the other five Hunt class vessels. Moreover, there were some 41 days when there were no River class vessels on task, and a davit fault resulted in all of them being recalled for five of those days—from 15 to 19 June. Should that happen again, no enforcement vessels will be available at all, and the House will understand that no fisheries policies are workable without adequate enforcement.

We should be proud of the officers of HMS Severn, who have had several successes, including bringing the Belgian trawler De Marie Louise to justice for under-recording catches of plaice and using blinders illegally to catch 4,000 undersized sole. They have also boarded the French stern trawler, Saint Jacques II, in the North sea, leading to a successful prosecution for misrecording cod as black sea bream. Of course, we need to work with the industry and our foreign counterparts to improve enforcement, but I warn the Minister about relying on just three vessels to patrol 80,000 square miles.

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1038

Most European Union countries will soon start to receive their European fisheries fund moneys for 2007 to 2013, because they are likely to have had their operational programmes approved by the Commission by the end of this year. Some £97 million of that money is available to the UK fishing sector to help our fishing industry to grow and become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. So how is DEFRA getting on with delivering it? The autumn 2006 edition of “Fishing Focus” declared that the operation programme would be developed by this time last year. In its most recent business plan, DEFRA promised to deliver the EFF by April 2008. However, instead of the fishing industry looking forward to receiving that money in the new year, like most of Europe, no one will be able to access it because DEFRA proved itself unable to develop an operation programme, consult on it and submit it to the Commission for approval by the end of the year.

Last week, the Minister announced that an agreement had finally been reached with the devolved Administrations on the budget split, which he had blamed for the delay. The headline on the DEFRA press release read: “£97 million boost for UK fishing and seafood industries.” The Scottish National party expressed its delight at having

Yet by the Minister’s own admission, the programme is unlikely to occur until late 2008. DEFRA has missed its own targets, will miss the Commission’s deadlines, and now faces the risk of being fined by the Commission. The UK could lose almost €19 million of EFF allocated for 2007. At this rate, its delivery might even compete for incompetence with the delivery of the single farm payment.

Without doubt, one of the most important innovations that we need in order to manage our seas in a sustainable manner is the marine Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for showing us the way with his private Member’s Bill. Time and again, the Government promised that it was a key part of DEFRA’s five-year strategy launched in 2004; time and again, they have failed to deliver. We were supposed to get a marine Bill in draft form two years ago. Then we were informed by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), the then Minister, that there would be a “real” marine Bill in the current Session. Now we know that there is only a draft Bill pencilled in for the coming spring. Can the Minister give us a commitment that that legislation will be on the statute book before the next general election? I did not think so. [ Interruption. ] The Minister wishes me to give way; I will gladly do so if he can tell us when the general election will be. [ Interruption. ] Oh, he does not want me to give way after all.

DEFRA, the self-proclaimed

is failing to live up to its name. What kind of policy custodian for the marine and aquatic environment fails to protect the pink sea fan of Lyme bay, which is supposed to be a protected species—protected by whom?—bans British vessels from pair trawling only to have foreign vessels lawfully come into our 12-mile limit and sweep up our bass while killing and wounding dolphins and porpoises, or plans marine protected
6 Dec 2007 : Column 1039
areas that will apply only to British vessels? The marine Bill must be introduced as soon as possible, and its measures must be sound and robust. The Minister must press his European counterparts into accepting provisions that impact on fisheries.

The marine Bill must also deliver real reform to sea fisheries committees, which will mean ensuring that the nation’s more than 1 million recreational sea anglers are involved in fisheries and marine management. In my party, we recognise the benefits that sea anglers bring to the UK. It is an industry worth £1 billion and 19,000 jobs, which is why I tabled early-day motion 468. We want to see bigger fish, and more of them. We want an end to discards, we want anglers to be given greater representation on sea fisheries committees, and most of all we want effective management that will deliver more and bigger fish.

In contrast, despite its spin, Labour has let sea anglers down. “Net Benefits” recommended that developing the inshore sector included the management of recreational sea angling interests. We were promised a recreational sea angling strategy by March last year, but it is being published only today, in December. Has the Minister realised that it will be difficult for Britain’s sea anglers to trust Labour and take the RSA seriously, when he has already let down anglers over bass, or when his plans to introduce sea angling licences, bag limits and no-take zones could reduce RSA participation by 60 per cent., as was seen when similar measures were introduced in Portugal? We have heard it all before, and now, I suspect, the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) will tell us it all again.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for plagiarising a large section of my speech on bass minimum landing size. Will he confirm whether the Conservatives now support the introduction of a minimum landing size for bass? Yes or no?

Bill Wiggin: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he is still Labour’s spokesman for angling?

Martin Salter: Yes.

Bill Wiggin: If he is, how come he has not been given a job, despite doing that for 10 years? Is it not the case that nobody believes what the Labour party says about fishing any more? Part of the hon. Gentleman’s problem is that he has been going up and down the country telling people that Labour cares about angling, when the reality is that it does not. I shall finish my bit on angling and tell him why he and his party have failed sea anglers so badly.

In the foreword to “Labour’s Charter for Angling”, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), paid

He went on to comment that the Labour Government would be committed to the bass management plan, saying:

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1040

In the introduction, the hon. Member for Reading, West wrote,

What rubbish.

What actions have the Labour Government delivered to sea anglers? The reforms proposed in “Net Benefits” to

were not developed. On bass specifically, Labour promised a minimum landing size, and it got the entire sea angling community’s hopes up, including those of the hon. Member for Reading, West, only to disappoint them by postponing their plans at the last minute, completing the U-turn a few weeks ago.

Labour was so focused on introducing a minimum landing size that it was blinded to the other measures, such as netting restrictions and bass nursery areas, which the Minister is now claiming to be reviewing. Had DEFRA taken a comprehensive approach from the start—I hope that this helps the Minister—then, despite backtracking on the minimum landing size, other measures may have been implemented by now to protect bass stocks. Instead, sea anglers continue to be let down by Labour.

“Net Benefits” offered sea anglers hope with sentiments such as:

Little progress was made on that and little is likely to be made with the new RSA strategy, which does little more than echo sentiments expressed previously about minimum landing sizes, protected areas and management plans. With its slowness to implement proposals and its discreditable handling of the bass minimum landing size, is it any wonder that DEFRA is the byword for incompetence?

Martin Salter: It is touching to hear a Conservative Front Bencher quoting from “Labour’s Charter for Angling”. If the hon. Gentleman had carried on reading it, he would have seen a section committing us to inshore netting restrictions and bass nursery areas. To give the Minister credit, he has committed himself to that aspect of the bass management plan. I could not have been more scathing in my comments about the decision to go back on a bass minimum landing size. However, I must press the hon. Gentleman again on where the Conservative party stands on that issue. It is all very well trying to make political capital out of it, but is his party in favour of it—yes or no?

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman had his answer—if he was paying attention. There are plenty of other things that he could have done with his job that the Minister could have done or that the Minister’s predecessors could have done. However, they did not. They focused on bass minimum landing sizes, and then failed. [Hon. Members: “What would you have done?”] It is no good asking me what I would have done, for I was not in government. I hope that the hon. Member
6 Dec 2007 : Column 1041
for Reading, West was not trying to make political points but wanting to save bass. If that was his genuine concern, he would know that the bass management plan contained far more than just minimum landing sizes, none of which has been done. That is the problem that he has to face up to. He went round the country telling people that his prime concern was saving bass, and the evidence shows that the Government have done none of it.

The Minister may now be content to talk about nursery areas, but it is 10 years too late. What a shame that all that time has been wasted. When it comes to scoring political points, I suspect that it is the hon. Member for Reading, West who is doing so, with his passion for such things rather than delivering proper policy that would have been more useful for people who want to fish for bass. If he wants to intervene again and repeat the question, he is most welcome.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) is one that my constituents in Hastings and Rye and under-10 m fishermen around the country will want to know the answer to. They will want to be sure that, should there be a Conservative Government, they will not go back on the Minister’s wise decision to hold off imposing a size of bass that is different from that in any other European country. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the greater size or not?

Bill Wiggin: There is a genuine problem that I shall not be able to solve. The hon. Gentleman is trying to get me to commit to policy, which I shall not do at this Dispatch Box today, no matter how much I might like to. However, because his question is valid, I shall give him the firm assurance that, like him and his fishermen, we want a sustainable future for fishing. That means bigger fish and more of them. That is exactly what we want to deliver. I think that the Government have got it wrong, because bass should be allowed to spawn. If they are killed before they reach the length of 42 cm, that will not happen. I do not believe that the minimum landing size alone would have delivered that future for bass, but if we are taking the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society’s plan for bass management, we should have included the minimum landing size. That is not a straight answer, and I can only say I am sorry for that. I would not have started from this point, and that is why it is difficult. However, the hon. Gentleman’s fishermen at home should be more than content with the knowledge that we want to deliver the future that they need, which they will get under a Conservative Government.

Does anyone else want to have a go on minimum landing sizes?

Andrew George: My point is not on minimum landing sizes, and I hesitate to intrude on the spat between the Conservative and Labour parties. However, the hon. Gentleman said that the issue had needed to be addressed for the past 10 years, and I agree with him. In order to reassure me that this is not merely political opportunism, because there is clearly a strong bandwagon campaigning in favour of sea anglers, will he reassure Members about what the Conservatives did to support sea anglers during their 18 years of custodianship—by giving them a seat at sea fisheries committees, for example?

6 Dec 2007 : Column 1042

Bill Wiggin: If the hon. Gentleman reads the early-day motion that I have tabled, he will find that very reassuring. We have called for strengthening of those sea fisheries committees.

Andrew George: What did you do?

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman asks what I did; I was not here 10 years ago. What a shame! Things might have been much better if that had been the case, but it was not—

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): We did quite well without you.

Bill Wiggin: My Whip is reminding me that things went pretty well without me; I think I shall have to stop at that point before we get drawn into the benefits of history.

All the interventions miss a serious point. Surely, what we all want is better, bigger and more fish in our seas. Tragically, the Government are not delivering that. It is a great shame.

Let me consider the Commission’s proposal for the December Fisheries Council meeting. The 11 per cent. increase in North sea cod is welcome. It means a welcome change for the fishing industry, especially after successive years of no-catch advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. If cod recovery continues, and new measures are taken to reduce mixed fishery by-catch, I hope that, next year, our fishermen can receive a greater reward for their sacrifices. However, it should also be noted that the ICES advice was for a 50 per cent. reduction on the 2006 catch.

Last year, I asked the then Minister whether he trusted the advice of the fishermen or that of the scientists. I am sure that hon. Members would like to know the Under-Secretary’s position—fishermen or scientists?

Jonathan Shaw: That is precisely the problem. It is no good saying, “One or the other.” It is essential to have the fish-science partnerships—people working together. Throughout my speech, I referred to people working together. Fishermen need that, and it ensures sustainability for the fishery fishermen and the conservation of stocks for tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to a word that I said. It is no good having a polarised debate. Fishermen know that and he should wake up and understand it.

Bill Wiggin: It is no good the Under-Secretary trying to give us lectures, because the evidence contradicts his comments. In the past 10 years, nothing has been done to heal the gap between what fishermen see and throw back and what scientists believe is there. That is a fundamental problem. [Interruption.] It is no good the Under-Secretary lecturing from a sedentary position, because he will ultimately have to make the choice. I look forward to his returning from the December meeting and announcing his successes or failures. If I were in his shoes, I would want the gap to close. I do not blame him for saying what he did, but I do not believe that he can support it with any evidence.

Next Section Index Home Page