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Session 2008 - 09
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European Standing Committee A Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Clive Betts
Atkins, Charlotte (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) (LD)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) (Lab)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
Spellar, Mr. John (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended (Standing Order No. 119(6)):
Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton, North) (Lab)

European Committee A

Tuesday 13 October 2009

[Mr. Clive Betts in the Chair]

Common Fisheries Policy
[Relevant Documents: Explanatory Memorandum, Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum and Impact Assessment from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 12th and 28th Reports from the European Scrutiny Committee Session 2008-09 HC 19-xi and HC 19-xxvi, and Ministerial Letters to Michael Connarty and Clive Betts from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.]
4.30 pm
The Chairman: Before we commence, let me tell the Committee what will happen if there is a Division on the Floor of the House. We will take 15 minutes if there is one Division and 25 minutes if there are two. I will suspend our proceedings straight away because our Clerk is on Division duty, and it is a bit of a sprint down to the other end of the House. If I cut people off in mid-stream, that will be why.
Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to this Committee?
Keith Hill (Streatham) (Lab): Yes, I do, Mr. Betts. It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship. I will take just a couple of minutes to explain the background to the documents before us and the reasons for the European Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations.
The Commission believes that effective control is crucial to the credibility of the common fisheries policy but that there are still many shortcomings. The aim of the documents before us is therefore to establish a new Community control system. Although document 15694/08 is a legislative proposal, the rationale behind it is spelled out in document 15869/08. This Commission communication notes the problems that have been identified and the extent to which they have been exacerbated by the concentration on quotas rather than fishing effort and by fleet overcapacity. It goes on to identify several reasons for non-compliance, such as the low risk of detection, inadequate penalties and weaknesses in the Commission’s powers.
The communication then advocates an approach that would apply to all stages of the supply chain, with a comprehensive traceability system using automatic data and systemic cross-checks, with controls extended to recreational fisheries. It emphasises the need to create a culture of compliance and the need for harmonised, proportionate sanctions. It also proposes minimum and maximum fines, as well as a penalty-points system akin to that used for traffic violations. Those steps would be underpinned by increased co-operation between member states and by extending the mandate of the Community Fisheries Control Agency, with a clearer definition of their respective roles and responsibilities.
The Government support the review, but they have described the proposals as extremely complex. In addition, they have highlighted the need for any new burdens to be proportionate and they have identified three areas of concern: the inclusion of recreational fisheries; a requirement for all regulated fish to be sold through auctions; and the powers of the CFCA.
Given that the Commission communication is clearly an important document, which raises several significant aspects of a long-standing and politically sensitive subject, the European Scrutiny Committee took the view on 18 March that it should be debated in the European Committee. Our report of 10 September draws to the attention of the House the Government’s impact assessment and gives an update on the current state of the negotiations on issues of concern to the UK.
Additionally and finally, I should point out that my hon. Friend the Minister has recently drawn the attention of the European Scrutiny Committee and European Committee A to the latest text. For that, we thank him, albeit with the slight barb that it would have been helpful to have had an explanation of the many amendments to this lengthy and highly technical document. I dare say, however, that that explanation will be forthcoming in due course.
The Chairman: I call the Minister to make the opening statement.
4.34 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): Let me reiterate what a pleasure it is to serve under your stewardship, Mr. Betts. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), who made some very good introductory remarks.
I am pleased to be discussing this important proposal, which has rightly been described as complex. None the less, it is very important for the future of our fisheries in the UK and the European Union. It is crucial because it is key to the success of the common fisheries policy, to our ability to deliver a sustainable fishing industry and to our wider conservation objectives within an integrated marine policy.
In March last year, this Committee, under my predecessor, debated a report by the European Court of Auditors, which was highly critical of what it saw as widespread failings in the Community fisheries control system. At that time, the Committee approved a motion supporting the Government’s aim of contributing positively to discussions for further improvements in fisheries management and control, thereby contributing to the long-term sustainability of fish stocks. I very much welcomed the deliberations of the Committee at that time on that subject.
Those discussions began with the publication in November 2008 of the document that is being debated today, which is the Commission proposal for a new control regulation. Mr. Betts, you and members of the Committee may ask why it has taken so long for this important issue to be debated; that would be a fair question. As members of the Committee can probably recall, the original Commission proposal was quite scant on detail. Following discussions at official level in Brussels, that document has now changed quite considerably, not least because of the overtures of member nations, including ourselves.
For a meaningful debate to take place, I thought that it was quite right that the Committee be given the opportunity—I welcome the fact that it is being given the opportunity—to consider a version of the proposal that was as close to possible to the text that Ministers will be asked to sign up to at Council later this month. In many ways, therefore, the timing of today’s debate could not be better. That is why members of the Committee have today been provided with the latest compromise text, which was published at the beginning of September after considerable discussion at official level in Brussels in the last six months.
The report by the European Court of Auditors made a number of specific criticisms. These included the criticism that catch data were incomplete and unreliable; that inspection systems did not guarantee that infringements were effectively prevented and detected, and that, when infringements were found, they were not penalised sufficiently to provide an effective deterrent. The report went on to recommend that the Commission should introduce electronic recording systems as soon as possible and that the Council should, first, specify in regulations the elements that are essential to an effective inspection and sanctions system and, secondly, reinforce the Commission’s ability to put pressure on defaulting member states.
I am glad to say that all those issues have been addressed in the current control regulation proposal from the Commission. We now have a system of electronic sales notes in place and electronic logbooks are currently being rolled out to vessels that are over 15 metres. This proposal goes further and will extend both vessel monitoring systems and e-logbooks to all vessels over 12 metres. It also includes provisions intended to harmonise sanctions across member states, including the introduction for the first time of a system of penalty points for fishing licences, similar to the system that we use for driving licences and with similar sanctions. There are also provisions that will allow the Commission to take more timely—that element is important—and effective action against those member states that do not live up to their obligations.
In general, therefore, we welcome these moves, which we think will deliver an improved control system that is more transparent, cost-effective and proportionate, which was the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham. In turn, that control system will allow us to have greater confidence in the reliability of catch data and so it will better underpin the reformed common fisheries policy and, I must say, the implementation of our own Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
That is not to say that we do not have any remaining concerns. We are very concerned about the proposal in article 82 that would require us to impose minimum penalties for serious infringements. In our view, that proposal goes beyond similar provisions establishing maximum penalties in the regulation on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In our view, it strays too far into an area that is rightly a matter of national competence.
We also need to ensure that any controls on anglers proposed by article 47 are balanced, so that they do not impose unnecessary bureaucracy or burdens on hobby fishermen. However, those controls need to take proper account of any angling activity where that activity may impact on stock recovery. I think that everybody would recognise the good sense in doing that, but the controls cannot be disproportionate and cannot impact on our hobby fishermen. The requirement for recreational catches to count against quota where extra management measures are introduced is particularly worrying. We also remain concerned at the proposed compulsory requirements in articles 10 and 11 for competent authorities to use automatic identification systems and vessel detection systems, in the absence of a proper cost-benefit analysis. Finally, we are not in favour of the proposals in article 14 to reduce the threshold for recording catches in the logbook and to have separate margins of tolerance for recovery stocks.
We are pushing hard and will continue to push hard to address those issues in the remaining discussions before the proposal is finally adopted. It is worth reiterating, however, that we broadly support the majority of the proposals. I therefore look forward to hearing Committee members’ views.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that those should be brief. It is open to Members, subject to my discretion, to ask related supplementary questions together.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Betts. As others have said, it is a great pleasure to have you overseeing our proceedings. The European Scrutiny Committee notes in its report the Commission’s suggestion that the new arrangements should come into effect on 1 January 2010, which, as we all know, is three months away, and says:
“Given the scope and complexity of the issues involved, this strikes us as a tall order,”
a view with which I concur in regard to some aspects of the implementation of the measures. What form will come into effect on 1 January? For example, will all vessels needing VMS be required to have it fitted and uploaded by that point?
Huw Irranca-Davies: In respect of VMS, an extensive roll-out has already taken place. The issue then involves the other two forms of electronic monitoring, but on the broader question of whether all can come into effect on 1 January, we agree that the timetable is still ambitious. However, it is achievable, as many of the control provisions, such as VMS, are already in place. Also, the compromise text now contains later dates for the implementation of certain resource-intensive measures that might have caused member states difficulties. They have been delayed or follow logically on technological developments, which are an issue.
The introduction of many of the provisions is also subject to the adoption of detailed rules pertaining to them. That means that where the text states “shall”, for example, the provision cannot be introduced until the rules are agreed and in place. There will be a staggered timetable for some of the measures.
Mr. Benyon: I move on to page 15 of the bundle and page 3 of the explanatory memorandum—sorry, page 17 of the bundle and page 5 of the explanatory memorandum. My eyes glaze over whenever I read a line containing words such as
“indicative qualitative and quantitative analyses show that”.
However, they snapped back into action as soon as I read the paragraph below, which discusses calculations of the benefit of the measure. Does the Minister have any views on that?
The memorandum says that
“the incremental net benefits to the industry as a result of recovered and better protected stocks could be in the order of €10 billion over 10 years”,
and might involve
“net increases in employment of up to 4,000 new jobs”.
Does the Minister have any view on how that might have been calculated, and what it might mean for the UK fishing industry?
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