Previous Section Index Home Page

20 Nov 2008 : Column 455

On the EU-Norway issues that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, I can assure him that we are fully engaged with them, both officially and ministerially. Our offer to the Commissioner and colleagues in other member states is active engagement; we are at their disposal. In the light of what we are talking about and as we head towards December, the EU-Norway discussions are critical. They sometimes get overlooked, but they are pivotal, not least in terms of what will happen to TAC adjustments.

The science suggests various approaches, and the presidency may take one view and other member states another. We certainly take the view that in order to incentivise the fleet to avoid discards and to adopt intelligent approaches to sustainable fishing, we need what we have termed a “substantial” increase in TAC. The incentives should favour landing more cod, but killing less. We do not want fish to be dumped over the side. We will continue to make progress on that, and I am glad to hear from many hon. Members that they too want to see that happen.I already mentioned science, so I shall simply say, on wider CFP reform, that a focus on regional input is absolutely right, and it is how we intend to drive the matter forward.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) represented the concerns of his constituents well, and talked about the shellfish fisheries in the Wash, which he described as historic and iconic. He referred to the Hanseatic League. It is not my strongest period of history, but I understand that it might have been a precursor of the European Union. He also talked about the impact of sub-marine work for offshore wind farms. A close eye needs to be kept on that, but I noted his balanced and commendable approach to the need for renewable energy.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the delicate Sabellaria reefs, which are constructed by the Sabellaria worm under the sea. They should be protected under the EU habitats directive. We are aware of them, and I appreciate his concern.

The hon. Gentleman and others mentioned their support for further, wider, radical reform of the CFP. The Commission is minded to do that, as we are, and we need to actively engage with it. He was sceptical whether we could deliver. I do not want to be the Obama of fisheries, but I will say this, “Can we do it? Yes we can.” That is a commitment.

I know that we are not supposed to use props, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will leave a copy of “Managing our marine resources: licensing under the Marine Bill”, which we have just published, on the Table. The document might help to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) mentioned discarding and the under-10 metre fleet, and sought an answer about work required as a result of flooding in his constituency. I have asked officials to ensure that he is written to promptly. He and others asked about the changes in the size, shape and geographic spread of sea fisheries committees. I will return to the matter. I said in my initial answer that we will seek local stakeholder involvement, including that of the existing sea fisheries authority, when we consider the matter to ensure that we get things right.

20 Nov 2008 : Column 456

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) talked about discards, oil prices and the need for the best, most up-to-date science. We are agreed on the latter, and the Government will work on obtaining it.

The hon. Gentleman spoke articulately about the under-10 metre fleet. NUTFA, which is going from strength to strength, and others have stressed to me that the focus should be on the working vessels, not the slipper kippers. That is where the focus should be, and where mine will be. A sustainable future means livelihoods for the fishermen who currently fish around our coasts, and taking tough decisions on how we avoid simply dragging back fishermen to sea who have been sitting on licences. We need to find an intelligent way forward. That could mean that I lose my sudden popularity for a short time, but I am committed to ensuring that when people look back in six and 12 months, and two years and five years, they feel that we made the right decisions for the long-term sustainability of the under-10 metre fleet.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the invitation to Whitby—it was the first invitation I had today. I am sure that I will take it up at some point, when we get past the negotiations in December.

The hon. Gentleman’s support for marine coastal zones was welcome. Recreational fishing will certainly have a part to play in that, because the essence of the marine conservation zones and marine planning will be local stakeholder engagement. That is how we see the project driving forward—it will not be a top-down approach. I join him in his tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for all its work.

I can tell the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) that I will indeed work with the Scottish Government—with Richard Lochhead and his officials—to work through the difficult issues in the Scottish fisheries, especially in the area that he represents, to get the best, most sustainable arrangements. I agree that we need to avoid what could be alarmist signals to the fleet. We actually need practical, rational discussion on the science and what we are observing, and on what we believe to be the solutions.

I do not want to engage the Commission in tabloidese negotiation. We actually need to get up there with our officials to see what is happening, and then talk through the matter with the Commission. Indeed, we have something of an undertaking with it to look at the matter. We will see what we can deliver. My officials are intimately engaged with Scottish Executive officials in trying to put the expert opinion and the views of stakeholders before the Commission. We have a long way to go, and I do not underestimate the challenge that we will face in the final stages of the negotiations, but we will try to win the very best deal available.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned dogfish, and issues of conservation in the southern Hebrides. We have noted those points and, if necessary, we will write to him with further information. I also thank him for his invitation to visit his constituency. It is a beautiful part of Scotland, both for work and for pleasure, and I look forward to taking him up on that, some time in the future.

20 Nov 2008 : Column 457

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) mentioned the Swedish grid, as did other Members. We are cognisant of his concerns on the matter, and we are looking into it. He also mentioned the “use it or lose it” approach. That is an approach that we will continue to argue vociferously against, as it is not the right way forward in the negotiations, or in the longer term.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) talked about the under-10 metre fleet in some detail. I have heard the concerns that he has expressed, and we will act. He also talked about the reform of the sea fisheries committees. I think that I have already dealt with that matter, but I thank him for raising it. However, to follow up on that point, the Bradley review proposed that the current 12 sea fisheries committee districts might be reduced to about six, but I have not suggested that that number is right. I will decide on the future number of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in England, following full consultation with the sea fisheries committees, with Members, and with other stakeholders, early in 2009. We will have an opportunity to look at that matter.

Andrew George: I am leaving the best until last: I should like to invite the Minister to visit my constituency. I hope that when he comes, he will have an opportunity to meet both the sea fisheries committees that govern that area.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I can see that I am going to be doing a lot of travelling in the next few months. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that invitation.

I have mentioned the quality and passion of the debate today. The contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) reminded us of his long-standing expertise and his contribution to these debates over many years. I welcome that, and I thank him for welcoming me to my new role. He made a very balanced and considered speech. He mentioned longer-term CFP reform, and rightly said that we needed to move away from pork barrel politics. We need to have much more to do with long-term sustainability, in relation to the profitability of the fisheries and to the conservation of the seas. I should like to repeat a point that is worth repeating, by clarifying that, in the current round of negotiations, our Government’s approach is to land more and to discard less. We shall continue to take that approach. The discussions between the EU and Norway will be important in that regard, and a figure of between 25 and 30 per cent. has been mentioned in relation to increases in total allowable catch, but we will have to see. We have to achieve the right incentives for the fleet.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the important issue of the immigrant work force and transit visas. He illustrated his point with the example of people who were working 20-hour days for €240 a month, with no health and safety provision and, in some cases, no accommodation. I am happy to continue to discuss that matter with Government colleagues here and in the Scottish Government, but it is an important issue that we have already recognised. The Border and Immigration Agency and the Department for Transport are leading on this issue, with input from others, including DEFRA.
20 Nov 2008 : Column 458
It is a serious issue, and we are acting on it. My hon. Friend also talked about training. I do not have time to go into that point now, but I will happily write to him with more details of the training arrangements in our fisheries.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) for his warm welcome. I should also like to thank him and other hon. Members for their kind words about my predecessors, who have put a lot of effort and passion into this role. I hope to continue in that vein. My hon. Friend’s advice to me was to stay close and to hug the industry, although I am sure that he did not mean it literally. I will be doing that, however; I have hugged many a fishermen already—not literally—and I am enjoying the experience. He called this the most important job in government and I know that he will relay what I say to my right hon. Friend in No. 10, but it certainly is a very important job. It is very exciting, because many elements of the agenda can make a real difference.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby made a passionate case for the reform of the CFP. Perhaps he wanted us to tear it up and start again: I am not sure about that, but we are committed to its fundamental reform. I welcome his encouragement and support for the role played by RACs in providing industry input into longer-term CFP reform.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) said that he was unashamedly parochial, but that is nothing to be ashamed of at all and, as always, he made a strong case for his constituents. He has lobbied effectively and hard for his under-10 metre fleet, and continues to do so. He urged me to make the necessary changes and I will do so, using his input and listening to his constituents and others. He rightly said that warm words will not be enough this time and that we need decisions, and I agree. Although my decisions may not always be popular, I will use input from people in this Chamber and elsewhere to make the right decisions for the long term. In this role, I might sometimes be more unpopular than popular, but this is not a popularity contest. I also thank him and others for the representations that they have made.

Turning briefly to quota allocation, I know that members of the under-10 metre fleet feel that the original decisions were very unfair, although they were based on the best information available at the time. However, things have moved on and the composition and fishing patterns of the inshore fleet have changed. The Marine and Fisheries Agency works hard to maximise the quota available to the inshore fleet, but the current system is not sustainable, which is why we have proposed a package of measures to address that.

The key message is that capping will have to be an essential part of any decommissioning scheme because it will help ensure that the benefits are not diluted. We have made no final decisions, but, to end the uncertainty, I will communicate them within the next couple of weeks. We are committed to supporting the inshore fleet so that it is economically and environmentally sustainable in the long term.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye also mentioned black market cod. On my charts showing the amount of cod gutted, the words “plenty on black market” are highlighted. The problem arose during the closure of the channel cod fishery, and I am grateful to
20 Nov 2008 : Column 459
my hon. Friend for bringing it to my attention. The MFA was alerted to it, and immediately contacted its opposite number in France to ensure that the necessary action against illegal activity was taken. We will continue to monitor the situation and to liaise across the channel. If there is any further evidence of such trading, I know that my hon. Friend will provide it so that we can take action as well.

I hope that I have dealt with most of the questions that were raised this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said that the debate comes around like Christmas for many hon. Members, and that everyone can go home happy afterwards. I know what he means, but I shall not be going home. With support from my officials and devolved Ministers, and with input from fishermen, non-governmental organisations, other stakeholders and hon. Members of this House, I shall be going back into negotiations.

We will keep an eye on the EU-Norway talks, but we will bear it in mind that decisions made in this Chamber—or in warm, air-conditioned offices in London, Brussels or elsewhere—have an impact on the livelihoods and lives of fishermen, their families and communities. I shall bear that in mind with every decision and step that I take along the way.

There is no better way to end my comments than by referring to the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac). She talked about the campaigning role played by Dolly Hardie. She was laid to rest only this week, and our condolences go out to her family, her son Billy Hardie and her daughter Jane Bacon. Dolly Hardie was a fastidious campaigner over many years for fishermen and for fisheries, and hers was truly a life lived in and for fisheries and their communities.

In her contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes also reminded us of the number of fishermen and mariners who have given their lives in times of both peace and war. We owe it to them, and to Dolly Hardie and her campaign, to deliver a sustainable future for the fisheries. That is a huge ask, and some tough decisions will have to be taken. However, I am committed to that task and, with the support of the House, I will try to ensure that it is achieved.

Question put and agreed to.


20 Nov 2008 : Column 460

Sittings OF THE House


Notices of Questions



Service Accommodation (Glamorgan)

5.45 pm

John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to present this petition on behalf of more than 200 young families in my constituency, who, through no fault of their own, have been billed many hundreds of pounds just before Christmas. The petition states:


20 Nov 2008 : Column 461

Bank of Credit and Commerce International

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Helen Jones.]

Next Section Index Home Page