Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Mitchell: That is absolutely correct. We have already seen the anger that was produced on the east coast when French fishermen came in and disrupted the
26 Oct 2009 : Column 85
pots of fishermen from Scarborough, Bridlington and Whitby. I do not want a repetition of that, because it could lead to violence and would certainly lead to anger and disrespect for the law. I hope that the Minister can give us some guarantees on that situation. I know that it is a difficult one, because of the principles of the common fisheries policy, but it is still important that the principle of equal access to a common resource should not allow European fishermen to fish in our marine conservation areas when British fishermen cannot. That is a basic principle.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that President Sarkozy, in July, announced his intention to designate 20 per cent. of France's territorial waters as marine protected areas, with half of them to be fishing free? Does he agree that it would be in the interests of British fishermen and women to have no-take zones in the areas where we have responsibility?

Mr. Mitchell: Yes, but I am not sure what follows from that. If fishing is to be totally excluded from the French conservation zones, I would not want it to be excluded from our conservation zones. I am not sure that there is a quid pro quo there, but both systems have to be treated the same, and fishermen in our areas must be treated the same as European fishermen. The basic principle is clear.

I come now to the masterpiece of my speech. I am glad that it has been so entertaining, but I am extremely concerned that the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771 should not be deleted, as proposed in the Bill, and I say that not only as an historian and natural defender of old-the Minister would say otiose-laws. He will note that opposition to the repeal of the Act comes from all sides of the House and from all parties that supported my amendment, and is strongly felt by the fishing industry. That is the most important point. We discussed the matter with the Minister, who told us that the law is irrelevant and that its repeal was part of the process of clearing the broom cupboard of unnecessary legislation.

Fishermen see the 1771 Act as a protection of their rights. It is an exciting Act; we should read it some time. It provides a legal right for British fishermen to use all UK ports and harbours, which is an important principle to maintain. It allows fishermen to draw their boats up on the beaches, which is particularly important in areas such as Hastings, where there has been friction about bringing the boats up on to the beaches. The Act provides the legal right for fishing vessels to use wasteland for storage purposes-all exciting stuff. Given that all the fishing organisations have argued against its repeal and want the Act maintained, I do not see that it is necessary to scrub it.

I ask the Minister to reconsider and to keep the white herring fisheries flag flying because of the importance attached to it by the fishing industry. I draw his attention to the fact that all parties in the House oppose the repeal. It is not appropriate that the Act should be repealed, given the rights that it gives to maintain access for fisheries around the coast. Keeping it would not contradict any other provisions of the Bill, so why not keep it?

My last amendment is amendment 15, which is very similar to amendment 41 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran). He is a
26 Oct 2009 : Column 86
lawyer and I am not, so his opinion is likely to be more valuable, interesting and important than mine. I speak from a concern for fishing. He brings legal expertise to the matter. We want to exclude fishing from the list of restricted activities in the conservation zones. There is no reason why fishing should be on the list. Fishing is exercising its traditional right. Fishermen have always fished these areas.

The Bill is not about conserving fish stocks. It is about conserving the marine environment, which is not damaged-I repeat, for the benefit of Reading listeners-by fishing. It is conserved by fishing. It is therefore legitimate to exclude fishing from the restrictions imposed. That is what amendment 15 and, more eloquently, amendment 41 would do. If fishing needs a licence, as it does, it should be excluded from the restrictions imposed in marine conservation zones.

That is the list of amendments that I wished to speak to. The common thread, which will emerge in the next group as well, is a concern to clarify and sustain the interests of fishing, which has a real concern about conservation and should be mobilised for the Bill, not restricted and damaged by it. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has consulted closely both with the industry and with the all-party fisheries group, has the interests of fishing at heart, but I would like him to give us assurances before we decide whether to withdraw or pursue the amendments. I do not want to be disruptive in any way. That is not my disposition.

We need to clarify and assert the interests of fishing. I hope the Minister can give us some guarantees against the anxieties that I have spoken about, and guarantees about the position of fishing. I trust my hon. Friend, who has done a brilliant job in consulting and carrying the industry with him. I hope he can give us some kind of assurances before we decide on the fate of the amendments.

Mr. Benyon: The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) are very interesting and, in some cases, very similar to those that I submitted about 30 seconds after he did. We will come to those later.

On new clause 8, the impact on the fishing industry is a fundamental consideration. Groups of fishermen that I have met over recent months have all been acutely aware that without the conservation measures that they are already implementing, such as real-time closures, targets on discards-in some cases, those targets have been extremely successful, although there is an enormous amount of work to do-and technical measures, the future of the industry would be far more bleak.

Marine conservation zones are a fundamental part of my desire for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are fishing today to have a job tomorrow, and to be able to do the important work that fishermen do in addressing issues such as food security, obesity, and healthy eating. It is vital that we address the concerns about the marine environment and ensure a long-term future for a variety of socio-economic activities, of which fishing is the primary one in our minds.

Mr. Cox: Does my hon. Friend agree that the demonisation of the fishing industry by some of those to whom I have been listening this evening is unhelpful
26 Oct 2009 : Column 87
and unfair? In my constituency, the fishing industry has co-operated in maintaining the pioneering no-take zone around the island of Lundy, with which Labour Members may be familiar, for many years. The no-take zone has resulted in much greater amounts of fish for the inshore fishing fleet, so co-operation exists between the fishing industry and the marine conservation community. Is that not the model that we should follow, rather than the demonisation and polarisation promoted by some of the old-fashioned Members on the Labour Benches?

Mr. Benyon: I take my hon. and learned Friend's point. Let me be conciliatory. We should use the Lundy case as a basis. The "finding sanctuary" approach in the south-west is important. If we create no-take zones, or zones where the seabed is protected while fishing activity is allowed to continue higher up in the sea, and angling opportunities, which enhance tourism, we create a virtuous circle. It is a matter of getting the balance right.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. If we get it wrong, we end up with a self-perpetuating marine bureaucracy which rides roughshod over the wishes of fishermen and local communities, as I see constantly in the Outer Hebrides. The fear of what Scottish Natural Heritage is going to do, clamping down on the rights that people have traditionally held, cannot be allowed to grow any greater than it is.

Mr. Benyon: I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman has pointed out-just as we can get this issue right, we can get this issue wrong. When I last checked, however, his party was actually in government in Scotland, so it needs to rein in the SNH, if the SNH is really driving his people out of business.

Huw Irranca-Davies rose-

Mr. Benyon: I shall give way to the Minister in a minute.

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) has made the fundamental point that we have to get the balance right. If we do not do so, and if we do not involve fishermen at the very earliest stage of MCZ designation, we will fail, if only because such measures will fail the test of credibility.

7.30 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell: rose-

Mr. Benyon: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, the Minister wants to intervene, but I shall then give way to him.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I alert the hon. Gentleman to the fact that, during the Bill's development, there has been very good co-ordination throughout the UK. There are great benefits to that approach: we are signed up to UK high-level objectives; the marine policy statement will bind us together; and the engagement with my Scottish Executive colleague, Richard Lochhead, who has introduced the Scottish Marine Bill, which will tally with the Bill before us, has been very good. I take the
26 Oct 2009 : Column 88
point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby that we have to engage on the Bill at all levels with the fisheries industry, but the whole of the UK is signed up to the Bill.

Mr. Benyon: Rightly so. I look forward to meeting Richard Lochhead in a couple of weeks. It is vital that we balance the Scottish Bill with the Bill before us. It would be absurd if we did not, not least for border areas, where we will be trying to create synergies through the ecologically coherent network of MCZs that we are trying to establish. I now give way to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, who has been very patient.

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman has been very patient, although he has provoked many interjections. I rise to disagree with his initial point, which was that the marine conservation zones are a means of preserving fish stocks. They are not; they are a means of preserving the marine environment. Preserving fish stocks is not compatible with that objective, because fish stocks are migratory and that issue has not been dealt with. The industry's efforts, including square mesh panels, no-take zones and seasonal closures of grounds, are a means of providing sustainable fishing and nothing to do with MCZs, so we should not get the two mixed up. One is about the marine environment; the other is about the conservation of fish stocks.

Mr. Benyon: One benefit of the Lundy island case is that shellfish, for example, have increased in size and are more productive in areas just outside the no-take zone. There has been a benefit in terms of stock. In terms of marine conservation zones, we should identify the spawning beds of at-risk stocks. That is an entirely legitimate activity. This is an interesting debate, but perhaps we should return to the specifics of the new clauses and amendments.

Socio-economic factors are already a part of the designation process for MCZs, and we absolutely must not tip the balance too far in one direction or another; we should keep it structured between the demands of a socio-economic and legitimate activity, such as fishing, leisure boating and all the other important activities that support our coastal communities, and the needs of conservation. Equally, however, those needs must be credible to all sides, and we sought at every point to develop that balance in Committee.

Sometimes the balance will not be struck, so we need to work on the basis of best practice, and that is already under way. I recently met the chief executive of Natural England, and I sought reassurances from her about the process of designation. If Natural England is as good as its word, fishing communities will be at the centre of the process. My party and I see fishermen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. No one will hear me demonise fishermen-particularly not the coastal fleet, which, as one of the most sustainably minded groups of fishermen anywhere in Europe, is moving fast towards accreditation under the Marine Stewardship Council.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) has tabled an amendment that he will no doubt discuss. I am inclined to support its general thrust, because I understand the spirit of it. Clause 124 is really important, because it allows the Government, through a transparent process, to look at each MCZ and ask what it is designated
26 Oct 2009 : Column 89
to achieve; what feature it seeks to protect, which may address some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby; and, what should be done if it is failing to achieve that objective. One could argue that the clause is missing a requirement to state accurately how the success or otherwise of the management of a marine conservation zone is measured, however.

Clause 124(2) notes that the report that will be submitted annually must contain


I was impressed by the North sea regional advisory council proposal that very simple tests be applied to marine conservation zones. Broadly speaking, that means most of the Bill, but a little more, including: what we are seeking to protect; how our ability to protect a feature or species is measured; and, whether there is an exit route. I do not necessarily mean that we should dissolve an MCZ, although that option may have to be considered, but we may have to move one.

We know that a lot is happening in the North sea, including changes to sea temperatures, cod moving further north, the availability of cocopods at particular times of year and acidification, and we have to be fast on our feet to ensure that any conservation measures work. They have to be embedded in what fishermen already do, such as in real-time closures and other conservation benefits.

Mr. MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman mentioned what is being conserved, but the fishing communities in my constituency ask not only, "What is being protected?" but, "Who is it being protected from?" and, quite often, "What authority is doing the protecting?" The protecting authority's agenda can skew it quite markedly against the perceived group from which it seeks to do the protecting. Sadly, that often means a skewed view of fishermen and of fishing activities. Rather than take that approach, we should all look to support and protect fishing rights, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is trying to do.

Mr. Benyon: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In a recent European Committee sitting, I was amazed to read "success" and "common fisheries policy" in the same sentence. It was an act of audacity which left me breathless. I would not have started from this point, but what we try to achieve must be linked at every stage with CFP reform. I know that the Minister sees that, and, from my conversations with Commissioner Borg, I certainly think that he gets it, because in my last meeting with him he referred to the CFP as a "disaster". I shall no doubt be accused of breathtaking naivety to believe that CFP reform is possible, but I really believe that it is, because, with the growth of the European Union, the CFP cannot continue in its current form.

I shall return to the case in point, because this aspect of the Bill is about nature conservation, fishermen and conservationists. Both groups understand that fishing activities have to change in certain areas if we are to achieve a sustainable future for our fisheries. We agree that the impact on the marine environment and on the
26 Oct 2009 : Column 90
recreational fishing industry should be considered when implementing MCZs, but enshrining that point in the Bill might water down the environmental thrust of MCZs and, ultimately, threaten the industry, too.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby made some interesting points on amendment 24, but I repeat my argument that altering the Bill in that way would allow the irresponsible few to damage the future of our fisheries. However, the vast majority of our fishermen would not do that. MCZs are being introduced for a reason, and some of them will be no-take zones. Such zones will need to be flexible and subject to change if improvement occurs, and they absolutely must be upheld where they are needed.

I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) about his amendment, which comes at the issue from another direction. It is very much from the left side-not politically, but more in the football context. I believe that the measure would disadvantage our fishermen by making the sea fisheries defence apply only to UK vessels. A balance is needed here. Irresponsible fishermen need to be held to account, and responsible fishermen, who want a sustainable future for our seas as much as the conservationists, should not be unduly punished. The last thing that I want us to do is impose measures that protect the seas only from our fishermen and allow others to fish in our waters.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I find myself in the unusual position of coming from the left field, as my hon. Friend describes it, because I cannot see how what he has just said-that we must have some MCZs that are effectively no-take zones-is consistent with having an absolute sea fisheries defence. Surely, those ideas are not consistent. Can he lead the debate on how these issues could be dealt with through the development of the common fisheries policy in the reforms of the next few years?

Mr. Benyon: Looking at you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see that I shall have to use my words carefully to keep them relevant. The reform of the CFP, which has to run parallel to our attempts in this Bill, is vital. The European Commission's green paper talks about having much more localised control and about pushing power down, away from the micro-management that has failed at every stage, toward a much more devolved power. In that way, local people such as fishermen could take responsibility for the management of their industry and say, "These are the measures we are going to bring in; we are going to get Marine Stewardship Council accreditation; these are the technical measures we are going to adopt; this is our target for discards; this is the market we are going to produce; and these are the relevant organisations-the scientific bodies and the university-we are dealing with." That would allow fishermen to take back control of their industry. There is a direction of travel in the EU's green paper. I am sure that in thinking that the CFP can be reformed, I will be open to all sorts of accusations, such as that I am showing breathtaking naivety, but let us give it a crack. We have to achieve our aims by 2012, and the direction of travel is very much in our favour.

Next Section Index Home Page