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14 Oct 2010 : Column 589

It is worth remembering, however, that that is not an easy task. The women and children involved are often a long way from home. They do not speak the language and are away from such family as they have, and the authorities can seem remote and unhelpful. Getting valuable witness statements from those individuals-most often, it is women and children-is very difficult, particular given what they have suffered. The prosecution rate for such offences is woefully low. Will the Minister say what the Government intend to do about that? We have the laws, as has been said, but we do not seem to enforce them to their fullest extent. That might be a problem of mechanics, but I should like to know what the Government will do.

I also want to mention briefly, if I may, an issue alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), namely the plight of domestic staff working in conditions that amount to slavery right here in London for embassy staff protected by diplomatic privilege. Unlike those on ordinary domestic visas, those on diplomatic domestic visas are not permitted to change jobs. They are stuck in their employment and with their employer, and essentially have no legal status. They do not and cannot go to the police if they suffer abuse. It is about time the Government dealt with that. The House is entitled to ask why we cannot get rid of those visas and issue normal domestic visas to those workers, which would enable them to have the same access to help as anybody else who needs it. What is the Government's position on that?

I end simply by reminding the House what Wilberforce himself said in the House of Commons in May 1789-of course, that was not in this building. He said that

We are simply debating anti-slavery day today, but the decision for the future is whether we are prepared to continue to accept situations of slavery which pertain to our society some 200 years after Wilberforce and his colleagues successfully fought the battle to end slavery in this country.

5.24 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who introduced the historical context of the debate. I listened carefully to other hon. Members speak about the current situation, which is vital, but I want to say more about the historical context.

I am from Merseyside. Members may be aware that Liverpool was at one time described as the slavery capital of the world. No one associated with the city has any pride in that, but it must be acknowledged. Ships out of Liverpool carried about 1.5 million enslaved Africans on some 5,000 slave ship voyages. In 2007, I was proud that National Museums Liverpool opened the international slavery museum on 23 August, the
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anniversary of the Haiti uprising, when enslaved workers fought for their liberty. The museum is only metres from the docks that once repaired the slave ships. At the time, Sir Peter Moores rightly remarked that we can come to terms with our past only by accepting it, and to accept it we need knowledge of what actually happened. There is a lesson in that about what is happening today, and I am pleased that the House is having this debate to bring to light important issues such as trafficking and bonded labour, which still exist in the world.

The resistance of enslaved Africans and the actions of abolitionists in Britain ended the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, but in the north-west of England the cotton trade maintained links with slavery around the world for many years afterwards. We need to recognise our history and acknowledge that while our predecessors as Members of Parliament abolished the trade, the conduct of members of the public was even more astounding-another lesson from history for us today. In 1788, 100 petitions were presented to this House on the subject of slavery, and 2,000 people from Sheffield-or 22% of the adult population-signed one of the petitions. In 1972, 519 petitions were presented and every county in England was represented and stood up for enslaved people around the world. One in 10 of the adult population was involved-an amazing aspect of our history that should be recognised. The overwhelming opinion was that slavery was an utter offence to human dignity.

When we discuss this issue, we need to reflect on what caused the uprising of emotion and outrage. It included the testimony of freed slaves, published in this country. Olaudah Equiano is probably the most famous example. He was born in Benin and later captured and sold several times by slave traders. Eventually, he came to this country, where he bought his way out of slavery for £40. He published his autobiography in 1789 and brought to the public's attention the horror of the middle passage. I need not remind Members of the conditions of those voyages on which people could be thrown overboard with little regard for their safety. The eyes of the British people were opened to the reality of slavery and they would not stand for it. That shows us about the morality that we all share. We care about each other and cannot stand by when others face pain and indignity. That is what makes change happen-human compassion and knowledge about what goes on.

Today has been important because we have reaffirmed our commitment as parliamentarians not to stand by in the face of human indignity. The POPPY project and its important work have already been mentioned. It has helped 700 women so far and we need to support its work. I look forward to the Minister's remarks on how we can ensure that the victims of trafficking in this country are treated with the utmost respect and care, and enabled to find a way out.

The historical context of the debate is important. We need to enliven public outrage and think globally. As some people said at the time, and as we know now, charity and compassion do not begin at home. No matter where human indignity exists, it is everyone's responsibility to promote action to change it.

5.30 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who made an important point about the
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anger and determination of people 200 years ago to do something about slavery, and about how we need a similar fury now about the outrages we are aware of here. Funnily enough, my constituency played a major part in the abolition of slavery in so far as one of my predecessors promoted legislation to abolish it in the 1830s, and an archway was erected to celebrate the end of slavery-it is one of the few such archways still remaining. The sad thing is that it celebrates the end of something that has not quite ended, and we need to bear that in mind in this very important debate. We need to excite that sense of fury and anger about slavery.

I want to make several points. The first is that we have to get a measure of the problem, and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) did exactly that. The fact that 27 million people across the globe are in slavery is simply outrageous. We cannot tolerate it.

My second point is about the importance of border control. I hope that the Minister will highlight how that will be strengthened. It is critical that we tackle border control issues, and it is very important that we deliver meaningful results.

The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), put his finger on an important point. It is not just that they have come here that matters; where they came from and how they got here also matter. That international dimension needs a focus too, because we cannot just sit here on an island and say, "We're doing okay. How about the rest of you?" We need to take an international attitude. At the end of the day, as recipients of the problem, even if we deal with specific cases more satisfactorily, a threat will still remain, because people will still be trafficking from other places. We therefore need to use our influence to tackle the source of the problem and those who traffic.

That brings me to the EU directive against trafficking mentioned by several people today. As I understand it, we will be reviewing our position once that directive is confirmed. Furthermore, of course, we are signatories to the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking, which is robust in its attitude. However, I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the EU directive, because if we are serious about taking action, we need to consider its impact.

I want to talk about the rule of law. A lot of people have talked about the legislation and measures already in place. Yes, they probably are in place, and we may need to strengthen some of them, but in this case the rule of law is being flagrantly abused by many. It is, therefore, a question of enforcement as well. We have to get the question of enforcement right, because, at the end of the day, a country such as ours should be able to pack a punch in that respect.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should applaud an initiative by the Metropolitan police to press for legislation that would allow editors who continue to publish sex adverts that can then be linked to trafficking to be arrested and tried in court? Does he agree with the words of the deputy Mayor for London responsible for policing? He said:

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Neil Carmichael: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for-Enfield?

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Ealing-always Ealing!

Neil Carmichael: Oh, yes, and I know where the hon. Gentleman comes from too.

I shall finish with this point. None of us in this House can be confident of our own dignity while others are entrapped or enslaved and therefore do not have theirs.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The wind-ups will begin at 5.38 pm.

5.35 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Before I was elected to this place, I was vice-chairman of my party for women. In that capacity I worked quite closely with the POPPY project, and also with the Eaves housing group, of which many Members have spoken highly. I echo those views, and would like to pay a special tribute to one of its founders, Denise Marshall. She has worked on the issue unstintingly over many years, going to places that I would not dare go myself, on behalf of the cause. Indeed, she has been awarded a CBE for her efforts. I would like to share a few of the learnings that I have picked up from Denise and her colleagues on this terrible problem, and to compliment everybody involved in getting anti-slavery day on to the statute book. It is so important that we have these hooks to remind the general public and all the law enforcement agencies of the terrible problem that still blights our country.

Many Members have spoken about the international dimension. I would like to mention another dimension. Tragically, trafficking is not confined to a cross-border business. I am afraid that I hear increasing numbers of examples of intra-country trafficking. I should remind Members that children, and in particular young girls, who are residents of care homes in their constituencies are particularly vulnerable to the ruthless and evil people who try to get them out of that home environment, so that they can be trafficked to another part of the UK- where they will be more difficult to identify-and put to work in the evil, forced sex trade.

Another matter that I would like to pick up on was raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He talked about the need for expertise in the enforcement agencies and the concerns of some Members, on both sides of the House, about the dilution of some of our specialist policing forces. As he said, there is undoubtedly a need for concentrations of expertise. That is most important. However, no matter how much expertise we can afford to fund, there will never be enough. There will always be a need for good, solid training of the wider police and of enforcement agency staff and personnel. As hon. Members have said, we are talking about a problem that can arise in any of the constituencies that we represent. Nowhere is safe, so we need to ensure that all the police are trained, and not just the specialist forces.

Several hon. Members rose -

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Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry that not every Member could get in, but that shows the interest in the subject matter of this debate.

5.38 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I know that Members will forgive me if I do not respond or refer to every contribution, but what is striking about this debate-a debate that I am rather proud to have provoked from the Back Benches, and which I am now responding to from the Front Bench-is the extent of concern and the shared views across those on all Benches. Ten months after he introduced his Bill-now the Anti-Slavery Day Act 2010-I think that Anthony Steen would be proud that we are about to celebrate anti-slavery day. That must be some kind of record for implementing a policy.

I want to focus on an issue that Members on both sides of the House have raised, which is the EU directive. The Minister has said that the Government's position on the matter will be reviewed, and I am grateful for that. I hope that he will forgive me for being boring about this subject-for continuing to persist with it-because he will recall that his party did exactly the same in opposition. Indeed, I recall the Prime Minister-then the Leader of the Opposition-claiming credit in March 2007 for the Government's signing of the convention, when he asked a question about it across this Dispatch Box and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said, as I recall, "We're doing it on Friday." The argument that he made at that time still holds: this is an international problem, and we need the best possible international collaboration between the countries that create movements of people across borders and those that receive them. I hope that the review will be concluded speedily, and that we will opt into the directive. Members have made the need for that clear today. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) also explained in very human terms why we cannot possibly opt out of providing guardians for children.

My next concern is about policing. There is a risk that centres of expertise, such as the one that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) has just mentioned, could become diluted by being merged with other institutions. I recall the words of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), when he was the Opposition spokesman, in the debate on Anthony Steen's Bill. He said:

He was talking about the UK Human Trafficking Centre, and told the House how such centres of excellence improved the quality of policing. I am worried that we now risk losing some of that specialist focus. We began to sense that risk when the UKHTC was merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and further mergers into the proposed national crime agency and a move to elsewhere in the country will mean that it will continue to exist. The widely respected director of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, told the Home Affairs Committee recently that he believed he would be "fighting for airtime" in a national crime agency.

We need to focus on how we can improve the policing of human trafficking. It is not enough to depend on a specialist border force, because many trafficked people
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are unaware that they are being trafficked when they cross the border. At that point, the trafficking experience has not kicked in. We need all-through expertise in order to police the issue properly. I am deeply concerned that we are about to see a cut in the number of police officers, and, without these centres of expertise, we might find ourselves policing the problem much less effectively.

I urge the Minister to make another commitment, which involves one of the requirements of the EU directive. We need to lead the training of police officers in the policing of this issue. We know that, in the best forces, where there is effective collaboration between the police and social services, we can make a real difference on this issue. If there were a proper cascading of policy and information, so that every police organisation could be at the level of the best, we could make better progress on this matter. I hope that the Minister will tell us that that is going to happen.

The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) told the House that the national referral mechanism was overloaded. I heard from Kalayaan just two days ago how often it has to hesitate before referring someone to the national referral mechanism because to do so would be too burdensome, because its client would not be guaranteed advocacy, or because the bureaucracy involved would add to the stress being experienced by an already-stressed person. We need to ensure that the UK Border Agency's domination of the processes is squeezed out, as the hon. Gentleman rightly suggested, and that we use the voices of the voluntary sector and of those people who have advocated on behalf of trafficked women and children. Of course, it is overwhelmingly women and children-people who are already vulnerable-who are the victims of this vile trade. We should therefore use this expertise to protect women and children.

I hope that the Minister will also be able to assure us about prosecution policy-that there will be more prosecutions for trafficking crime, that they will be effectively conducted and that specialist prosecutors who understand the experience of the vulnerable people who have been trafficked will be used. I would like the Minister to inform us whether the offence of paying for sex with someone who has been subject to exploitation is being effectively prosecuted, as I am anxious that it is not. Will he also tell us how many prosecutions are happening, as they provide an important mechanism to prevent trafficking by reducing the demand for it?

After all, Anthony Steen passed his Bill and we are marking anti-slavery day because we want slavery and trafficking to come to an end. We have talked about ways of prosecuting those engaged in this vile trade and we have talked about ways of protecting the victims, but what we really need to do is to prevent it. To achieve that, we need effective international collaboration and effective international policing, and we need to ensure that the people who have been trafficked are not trafficked again.

One of the most horrific things about the victims is how vulnerable they are to being re-trafficked. Many trafficked people, after they have been rescued, are re-trafficked. We know, for example, that trafficked children brought into this country to work in cannabis farms-we have heard something about that experience today-who are taken into local authority care usually, and I mean usually, disappear within weeks or months
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into the hands of their traffickers. If they are rescued again, they disappear again. It is unacceptable-and I believe every Member of this House believes it is unacceptable-for that to continue to occur.

I believe that the European directive provides a quite powerful mechanism that can be used to help in those circumstances by providing each child with a guardian. I want the Minister to sign up to the directive and I hope that he is going to tell us that he is taking steps to do so. If he does not sign up to it, however, the least he can do is to ensure that he really does what I am sure the Prime Minister believed we were really doing, which is doing everything in that directive.

I have been a Home Office Minister and, frankly, I know that Home Office officials have form in telling Ministers, "We are already doing that, Minister." I believe that this Minister might have the guts to say to those officials, "Actually, show me how. Here is the provision in the directive; show me precisely how it works. If you cannot show me precisely how, let us implement a policy to do it." I am scared that, with the cuts in policing and other expenditure cuts, even the protection that we are currently able to offer women and children will be watered down. I hope, however, that this Minister will not let that happen.

5.49 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): I thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). She instituted the debate from the Back Benches, as she said, but she was miraculously and rightly transformed to the Front Bench before this debate, so she can now reply on behalf of the Opposition. In listening to this debate, I have been struck not only by how passionate, but by how erudite many speeches have been. There is a huge amount of expertise in the House on this vital issue, as Members of all parties have said, and I will certainly take that away with me as we contemplate future policy.

We are here because, although the first anti-slavery day fell on 18 October, the Government have decided to align Britain's anti-slavery day with the existing EU anti-slavery day, partly as a reminder of the need for international co-ordination in this regard-a point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and many other Members in all parts of the House. I am sure that Anthony Steen would approve of our alignment with the EU in this context, although I am less sure that his successor as chairman of the all-party group would be quite as enthusiastic.

Anyone outside the House who is listening to the debate or will read the report in Hansard may be led to believe that Anthony Steen is no longer with us. I am happy to assure everyone that he was e-mailing me this morning, and I hope to see him somewhere on Monday so that we can jointly celebrate anti-slavery day.

The day will provide a focus for not just the work of Government, but-this is important-the contribution of the many voluntary sector groups that raise awareness and deal with the practical consequences of this terrible crime.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Damian Green: I will give way once, but that will be it.

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Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to the Minister. Will he also acknowledge the voluntary groups in the countries from which many people are trafficked? This week we have had the honour of a visit by Joseph D'souza of the Dalit Freedom Network, who will be in my constituency tonight. The network does tremendous work in India.

Damian Green: My hon. Friend has made a very good point. There are voluntary groups all over the world.

At the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said that prevention was essentially better than cure. In the short time available to me, I want to inform the House of the future direction of trafficking policy.

We all agree that trafficking is an appalling crime which treats people as commodities and exploits them for criminal gain. Combating human trafficking is a priority for the Government; what we have been discussing today is how it can best be achieved. We are seeking to improve the United Kingdom's response to the wider threat from organised crime, which includes trafficking. The Government's consultation paper "Policing in the 21st century" sets out our intention to produce a new strategy on organised crime, as well as referring to the creation of a national crime agency to make the fight against organised crime more effective. We therefore have an opportunity to ensure that there is specific consideration of the challenges involved in fighting human trafficking.

The Government intend to produce a new strategy on combating human trafficking, which will take up many of the points raised in the debate. I am sorry that I do not have time to deal with each point individually. The new strategy will be aligned with and published alongside the strategy on organised crime. It will reiterate the Government's intention to take a comprehensive approach to combating trafficking, both by combating the traffickers and by looking after the victims. It will mark a greater focus on combating the organised crime groups behind the trade. I agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee that an end-to-end approach is necessary.

The new strategy has four main components. It will enhance our ability to act early, before the harm has reached the UK; there will be smarter, multi-agency action at our border; there will be more co-ordination of our policing effort inside Britain; and victim care arrangements will be improved. Let me deal with those components in turn.

Human trafficking is obviously a cross-border crime, and our earliest opportunity to counter the threat is therefore in the source countries and the transit regions. By intervening early, we can prevent harm from being done to people and reduce the impact here in the UK. As many Members have pointed out, interventions abroad can appear far removed from a flat or a brothel somewhere in a British city or small town-or, indeed, in a factory or farm where people are exploited for labour services-but we know that early intervention produces results. For example, a three-year trafficking investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Lithuanian police, which concluded in 2008, led to the dismantling of six crime groups in the UK, prison sentences totalling 145 years for 17 people in the UK and Lithuania, and the recovery of 32 victims. That is the kind of action that is needed all over the world.

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What we are proposing is to bring together our political and diplomatic activities along with our enforcement efforts. We want to ensure they share common objectives, focused on places where criminal operations are based. That will be done in partnership with the source countries. We will therefore look at the full range of interventions open to us. Through political and diplomatic dialogue, we will build political will to combat trafficking and translate that into initiatives on the ground in other countries. We will protect potential victims by intercepting the traffickers before their activities impact on the UK. That is the first step.

The second step is at our border, which is the next line of defence against traffickers. As many Members have said, combating trafficking at the border is difficult, not least because victims will often be unaware of the traffickers' real intentions. Increased vigilance and more effective deterrence and interceptions are key. This will be one of the tasks of the national crime agency and its border police command. We want to embed that thought inside the new BPC in order to enhance our response at our borders. We will also look at how we can build on the success of the multi-agency child safeguarding and investigation teams at some of the UK's ports, and we will continue to roll out the e-Borders programme. That captures passenger and crew movements into and out of the UK and can be used to identify and intercept those suspected of a number of offences including trafficking.

The third step is inside the UK. Our domestic law enforcement response to trafficking will remain a vital part of our overall enforcement efforts. Significant progress has been made in raising awareness of trafficking and the capability to combat it among police forces through enforcement operations and mandatory training on trafficking for all new police officers. That is a step forward. The UK Human Trafficking Centre is an important resource in helping police forces by offering tactical advice, co-ordination and intelligence. Through the new strategy we will ensure that there is more effective strategic co-ordination of our existing efforts and that that leads to more targeted enforcement action on the ground. What that means in practice is that there needs to be clarity about the roles and responsibilities of police forces in combating human trafficking on the streets of Britain and better co-ordination, for example through tools like the control strategy on organised crime, which provides a framework for action by law enforcement agencies.

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The fourth step is victim care, which is very important. As I have said, we want to have a greater focus on enforcement, but our aim is to prevent harm being done to people. Trafficking is a covert crime and the victims are often unaware that they are being trafficked until it is too late. When that happens, we need to ensure that we have the right arrangements in place to meet the care needs of victims. That will remain central to our approach. The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK meets its obligations to victims as set out under the Council of Europe convention on trafficking, which was signed a few years ago. More than 700 potential victims were referred in the first year after the convention was implemented, which is a significant achievement. We are committed to improving our response. We also plan to introduce a more effective system of victim care that takes better account of the needs of individual victims and ensures that each identified victim receives an appropriate level of support. We will announce further details of these proposals shortly. I should add that many practical suggestions were made during the course of the debate, which I will take up and feed into the process.

Of course, the comprehensive spending review will be announced next week. As we have already made clear in relation to the NCA, we will make sure that more law enforcement activity is undertaken against more organised criminals and at reduced cost. To achieve that, we will prioritise resources by targeting the most serious criminals and being more joined-up, particularly in our activities overseas; we often have different agencies operating in foreign capitals and other large cities who do not work together as effectively as they should.

The European directive has been a dominant theme in many Members' contributions. The draft directive does not contain any operational co-operation measures from which we think we would benefit. It will improve the way in which some other EU states combat trafficking, but it would make little difference to the way we combat it. As I have said however, the directive is not yet finalised so if we conclude later that it would help us fight human trafficking, we can opt in then.

In conclusion, we will re-focus our efforts and make sure that this country maintains its reputation as a world leader in trying to end the disgusting and unacceptable survival of slavery in the modern world.

6 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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East Coast Inshore Fishing Fleet

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Jeremy Wright.)

6 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to debate the future of the east coast inshore fishing fleet. This matter is of great importance, both to the fishing fleet in Lowestoft, in my constituency, and to other ports along the east coast and elsewhere in Britain. Although there is much wrong with the way in which the industry is governed today, I shall say from the outset that I exempt from any criticism the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is responsible for the natural environment and fisheries.

As a shadow Minister and now as a Minister, my hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time travelling around the coast, meeting and listening to fishermen, hearing at first hand their worries and subsequently doing what he can to address their concerns. That includes obtaining additional sole quota in August when the east coast fleet had no fish to catch. Last month, he and I met Lowestoft fishermen and discussed with them the problems that they face, and he subsequently came back with considerable speed to arrange for a delegation of fishermen from Lowestoft to meet him in Whitehall in December to discuss their plight more fully.

Much of Lowestoft, as it stands today, was built on the back of the fishing industry. As well as a substantial deep sea fleet, a network of supporting industries grew up, including shipbuilding, net and rope manufacturing and processing factories. Ross Foods has long since gone, though Birds Eye remains as an important employer, despite no longer processing fish from its factory in the town. The railway used to run into the fish market, and fish sold in the morning was on London dinner tables in the evening. "Fresh fish from Lowestoft" was and still is an evocative cry, although sometimes today it rings hollow because the fishing industry is much diminished and is facing a fight for its very survival. Most of the deep sea trawlers have long gone, as have all but one of the shipyards and many of the supporting industries. However, an inshore fleet remains, which, with the right policy framework, can not only survive, but flourish.

I am conscious that time is short, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I shall set out the problems that the fleet faces, not only in Lowestoft but along the east coast, and conclude with a few thoughts on how a sustainable and financially viable long-term future can be secured.

Inshore fishermen face five problems. First, the common fisheries policy is over-centralised and fails to respond to local needs. It is too cumbersome, unwieldy and centralised, and the forthcoming review in 2012 provides an opportunity to address the problem.

Secondly, the regime palpably fails to achieve its prime objective of conserving fish stocks and causes untold damage to the marine environment. Young fish are caught before they mature and there are inadequate incentives for the long-term management of stocks. Thirdly, the British under-10 metre fleet gets a raw deal, despite making up 85% of the British fishing fleet.

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Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister has inherited a disastrous problem with the under-10 metre quota? The previous Labour Government introduced fixed quota allocations, pinned the under-10 metre quota to a grossly underestimated figure and then failed to address the situation when it came to light with the registration of buyers and sellers. Our Minister has inherited a problem arising from the inaction of the Labour party when it was in government.

Peter Aldous: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree that the Minister has inherited an unenviable problem. There is a common perception that all fishermen have overfished the sea and are now reaping their own whirlwind. However, it is important to distinguish between deep sea trawlers and the inshore fleet, which fishes sustainably with long lines.

The quota system, which is meant to conserve fish stocks, has spawned the obscene practice of discards. Fishermen go out to sea and once they have reached their quota they throw back perfectly healthy fish that they cannot land owing to the threat of criminal prosecution hanging over their heads. A Lowestoft fisherman has told me how only two weeks ago in five days he had to throw back dead 1,300 kg of skate; eight other similar sized boats have probably been forced to do the same. That makes 11,700 kg of dead skate thrown back into the sea in just five days-11.5 tonnes in one fishery. When one takes into account the fact that this is happening all around the British coast, one realises that the waste, destruction and pouring of money into the sea is mindboggling. In that fisherman's own words, the system not only stops him making a living and making long-term business investment plans but is decimating a national resource. If he was allowed to land just 20% of his discards, he could cover his expenses instead of operating at a substantial loss.

The final problem that we face is that quota has become a tradeable commodity, with legal entitlement. It is often owned by faceless investors, known as slipper skippers, who have no connection with the fishing industry and who lease the quota to fishermen at a substantial profit. That should be contrasted with the sugar beet regime, where ownership of quota remains with British Sugar, which makes it available to individual farmers both large and small.

The problems have created a frankly ridiculous and unsustainable situation. As I mentioned earlier, most of the deep sea-trawlers have left Lowestoft. However they still operate and fish the same grounds, although, as the quota was sold to a Belgian, the boats are now based in Belgium. Now and then the boats come to rest in Lowestoft, where the catch is unloaded and driven by lorry to Belgium or Holland. Much of it is then bought by Lowestoft-based processors and driven or flown back.

That is the position in which the inshore fishing fleet finds itself today. If the regime remains unchanged, the fleet, both in Lowestoft and elsewhere around the UK coast, will cease to exist. It is important to remember that just as farmers are the guardians of the land, fishermen are the custodians of the sea. None of them wishes to be aboard the vessel that catches the last fish. They all have an interest in creating and managing sustainable fisheries.

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There is a solution, there is a way forward and there is a better way of running the industry. I do not have the answers and nor do the bureaucrats or officials, but I know the people who do: the fishermen, the scientists and the others who work in the industry.

Let me set out five ways in which the situation can be improved. They are based on proposals made by the WWF and those running the east sea fisheries district. First, there must be a move from the current top-down micro-management. The EU's role should be to set high-level objectives. The Commission should not get involved in the day-to-day management of fisheries around such a large and diverse continent.

That takes me to my second point: the day-to-day management should be carried out locally by fishermen, scientists such as CEFAS-the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, which has its headquarters in Lowestoft-and representatives from the Marine Management Organisation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. These are the people who know the fisheries best. Such an approach, with management decisions being taken by those who are involved in each specific fishery, is very much the big society in action. It involves politicians getting out of the way, departing the scene and leaving those who know best to run their own industry.

Thirdly, the quota system should be relaxed and replaced with a maximum hours-at-sea means of maintaining fish stocks and controlling fishing. That will eliminate discards with fishing hours being varied over a year to take account of the level of stocks and weather conditions. If necessary, fisheries can be closed when stocks run low.

Fourthly, it is important to use science in the future management of fisheries, both monitoring the amount of fish caught and recording fishing activity. For example, a vessel monitoring system-a VMS-could be fitted to all vessels that would provide detailed information on the state and seasonality of individual fisheries. That will help provide better information to assist in marine planning decisions, not only on fishing but on wind farms, dredging and marine conservation zones.

Finally, I am mindful of the fact that today the North sea is an increasingly crowded place. As well as fishing grounds, there are shipping lanes, dredging areas and wind farms. The latter have an important role to play in Lowestoft's future, but more about that on another day.

It is important that the marine environment is managed sustainably and responsibly. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides a framework for that, although it is important that decision making takes place locally, that all interested parties are involved and that decisions are made promptly with the benefit of all the facts that science can provide.

At the current time, the outlook for the fishing industry in Lowestoft and along the east coast does not appear bright. In the past, however, Lowestoft has adapted to change and has bounced back. The challenge that politicians across Europe must address as a matter of the highest priority is to provide a proper policy framework in which the inshore fleet can rejuvenate itself and move forward, providing a fair living for all those working in it. The comments of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
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Commissioner Maria Damanaki, which were reported in today's Financial Times, provide encouragement that the seriousness of the situation is now appreciated.

The Sam Cole Food Group, fourth-generation Lowestoft fish merchants, has recently made a bold decision and invested £2.5 million in a new processing factory. We owe it to those fish merchants and all those working in the fishing industry in Lowestoft and elsewhere around the British coast to do all that we can to reverse 30 years of decline in an industry that is at the heart of this island nation. I personally will not sit back and rest until a fishing regime that has almost destroyed the Lowestoft fishing industry is itself discarded and thrown overboard.

6.12 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) has made an excellent speech and his five key points were precise. I have little to add, other than my constituency interest and that of the neighbouring constituency, Canterbury, which includes Whitstable.

In the past couple of months, the Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have bent over backwards to assist us in resolving the quota problem that we experienced this summer, and I thank them for their work. However, we are approaching the end of this year, when we will start the new allocation of quota for next year. I know that the Minister will assist us again, but that situation reveals the byzantine, unworkable system with which the fishermen, the Department and the authorities must work.

We all realise that the big prize is the reform of the common fisheries policy. On the inshore fleet, my local fishermen and I believe that some important measures need to be considered. If we can reopen the issue of controlling effort and examine technical measures rather than more prescriptive forms of management of our fisheries, my fishermen and many others along the east coast will be extremely grateful.

6.13 pm

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I rise to declare an interest, because I have spoken in this debate. I am the wife of a trawler owner. My husband's trawler bears the registration "LT1", which was originally from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). My husband owns one of the vessels that has been displaced from Lowestoft, so I have seen how the port has declined over a number of years.

6.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this welcome debate on the future of the under-10 metre fishing fleet. He represents his fishing fleet extremely well and is an assiduous lobbyer on its behalf, so it is lucky to have him. That is also the case for my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and for
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many other, often new, Members, who have taken on board the needs of and the problems facing their fishing communities with commendable spirit.

I have made no secret of the fact that the issues facing this part of the fleet are particularly challenging, as has been discussed tonight. I am personally committed to improving fisheries management for the inshore fleet, but that will require difficult decisions and have implications for all parts of the industry. It is therefore crucial that we all work together as part of the big society, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said, to develop effective and practical solutions.

My hon. Friend mentioned Sam Cole, the fish merchant in his constituency, whom I have visited twice now thanks to his good offices. I have been struck by an important statistic that has stayed with me as I have gone around the coast in this job: of the fish that Sam Cole's father or grandfather-whoever started that business-sold, 90% used to be landed in Lowestoft and 10% used to be bought in, but those percentages are now precisely the reverse, and that has changed in a very few years. I am delighted that he is investing in the town and in this important industry, and I wish him and his fellow traders in the port well. I hope that there will still be a fleet there to represent at least part of what he seeks to sell.

There are two strands to this subject: what we need to do now, which is to provide some relief to the immediate issues, and what we need to do in the long term, which is to move the whole fleet, around the coast, towards a more sustainable future. In the current economic climate and with the downbeat prognosis for quota allocations in the coming year, all sectors of the UK fleet are finding things difficult, and things are likely to get tougher in the short term. I shall not hide from that fact. I will go to the December Council negotiations with the aim of securing the best deal for the whole UK fleet, but it is unlikely that the quota allocations will be higher than last year's. However, I believe that we can take further steps together towards maximising the potential wealth from this quota, as has been demonstrated by the recent success in securing additional quota for the under-10 metre fleet by collaborative working between the Marine Management Organisation and producer organisations. I shall continue to push for more of that. I am grateful to hon. Members who have mentioned this, and I pay tribute to the new MMO, which has worked extremely hard with hon. Members and fishermen to ensure that the fisheries could stay open this summer.

It is imperative that while trying to provide short-term relief, we continue to focus on the future. I have been delighted with the progress that has been made towards our long-term goal of a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable inshore fleet in the relatively short time that I have been in my post. The sustainable access to inshore fisheries, or SAIF, project was established by the last Government to help to achieve that goal, and I have built on the work that they set in train. I welcome the recommendations that were recently made by the advisory group, which has not shied away from addressing the big questions. I have been particularly impressed by the willingness shown by the inshore and offshore sectors in coming together to discuss a range of issues relating to the reform of inshore fisheries management in an informal working group. That valuable insight from industry, along with extensive research into the
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environmental, economic and social impacts of the inshore fleet, is feeding into the SAIF project, which aims to consult on proposals for reform in the new year.

Any changes to the way in which our fisheries are managed both inshore and offshore will be more effective if they are implemented across the UK, and we are working with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations to share ideas and disseminate best practice. The SAIF work is also crucial in developing our negotiating position on reform of the common fisheries policy, helping to crystallise our thinking in relation to more localised management, self-regulation, differentiated management regimes, rights-based management and safeguarding the potential benefits of the small-scale fleet. CFP reform will play a crucial role in setting the framework for sustainable fishing, but there is much that we can do within our existing system, and we are taking action now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waverey mentioned discards, which are a waste of natural resources. They are as much an affront to fishermen as they are to consumers. In fact, they are probably more of an affront to fishermen, who, in a hungry world, have to carry out the hideous task of throwing perfectly edible fish back into the sea, dead, never to be eaten by any human being. That is a ridiculous product of a failed and bankrupted system, and a real example of why we have to change the common fisheries policy. I am committed to minimising discards. I say so with regret, because I want to eliminate them, but I recognise that although we must set our sights high, in the short term we must be realistic and seek to minimise discards. I shall therefore push strongly to bring about those changes to the CFP which in time will achieve that aim.

Within the UK we have already made great progress in demonstrating the potential to reduce discards through more selective gears and fishing methods. The current catch quota project aims to pilot an alternative management system based on catch rather than landings quotas, thereby removing the need for excessive regulation and bureaucracy. It puts the responsibility on fishermen to use their knowledge and skills to fish more selectively to optimise the value of their catch. I hope that as the project progresses, we will be able to build on that and involve more parts of the fleet. The new Fishing for the Market project is also looking at how we can maximise the wealth from all, and often discarded, parts of the catch.

The low-cost vessel monitoring project involves scientists and fishermen working together to improve data collection. That is important, too, because since shadowing this job and now doing it I have discovered that around many parts of our coast there is a gulf in understanding between fishermen and scientists. There is good practice, much of it in the south-west, but elsewhere, too, where scientists and fishermen now work closely, and I want to encourage that in any way I can.

The introduction of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities will strengthen the local management of fisheries, based on greater self-determination by those who make a living from the sea. We want to ensure that fishermen are well represented on those authorities. The strategy developed in the SAIF project will provide the basis for a more sustainable fleet, enabling solutions so those other issues are addressed. Reform of fisheries management must empower fishermen and their local
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communities to take control of their destinies. We need to move away from arbitrary divisions within the industry to a more unified system where more local needs can be reflected.

Some of the themes being discussed in the CFP reform can have a real impact, and they include rights-based management and regionalisation. I know that uncertainty breeds fear in an industry that has suffered greatly over the years, but as we develop our thoughts, in consultation at every stage with the inshore fleet and the fleet around the whole of the UK, I hope that a degree of trust-something that has been absent for too long-can be built, together with the real belief that we can turn a corner and make a real difference to the livelihoods of small coastal fleets, such as the Lowestoft fleet in my hon. Friend's constituency, and those elsewhere.

Places such as Lowestoft have a strong fishing tradition and strong community support for the industry. They are already building the foundations needed to thrive under a reformed system. I again thank my hon. Friend
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for raising this important issue. I welcome his enthusiasm for supporting his local fishing industry. I note his five solutions; they have been listened to and they will be reflected on as we progress.

I am delighted to be able to end on a positive note with congratulations to my hon. Friend and to his neighbouring MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who have worked hard to help to achieve and secure a £1.2 million grant from England's European fisheries fund to support a major development at the Southwold port. I understand that it is not specifically in his constituency, but in the same fisheries area. I want to encourage and applaud that kind of working together of colleagues in this House, pushing for projects that give a sustainable future for their industries. I hope that by working together we can secure a future that will see developments that benefit fishermen for generations to come.

Question put and agreed to.

6.25 pm

House adjourned.

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