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2 Dec 2010 : Column 381WH—continued

We must look at where we can succeed. Some schemes have been mentioned today; the hon. Lady mentioned catch quotas, and others have spoken about Project 50%. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) raised that issue, and on three occasions,
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I have heard the commissioner quote it as a shining example of what can be achieved. I intend to build on those important points.

Zac Goldsmith: How realistic is it to say that we will move to a system of catch quotas? I have no doubt that the Government are committed to dealing with that problem, but realistically, how likely is it that we will see a change in policy?

Richard Benyon: I forget the figures for the English fleet, but in Scotland, there are 17 vessels in a catch quota system. That represents about 20% of that fleet-perhaps not; I cannot remember the exact figure. At the moment, that system is a trial. We tried to persuade the Commission-and we will continue to try-that we must move beyond a trial. We want to get every vessel possible into a catch quota system because, for reasons that I will mention, that is the solution. Fishermen are incentivised to do something that gives them more fish, ends discards and is a bottom-up approach. It makes fishermen part of the solution, and instead of being the battered person at the end of the line being hit by a stick, they are given a carrot to find a solution. I will go on to talk about mackerel, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and others.

My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) echoed the point about decentralisation and I know the importance of nephrops to his constituency and the difficulties that are faced there. He rightly mentioned the difficulties of displacement. When we create a management regime that results in less activity in one area, there is a displacement effect. Too often, we have seen the malign effect of displacement round our coastline, and he is right to raise that issue. However, he sensibly discussed the world in which we live. I would love to debate how we got to this point, but that would be a waste both of my time and of the House's. We should put all our energy into working with a system that we think we might be able to change. For the first time in my adult life and in the experience of people who have been in the House for many fisheries debates, we find the door open to a level of reform that we must try to achieve. I recognise that that is important.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) is an able chairman of the all-party group, which benefits from his knowledge of, and passion for, the subject. He rightly pointed out the importance of the processing industry. We must remember the jobs at stake and the importance to our food security of keeping the infrastructure that we require on land to support the jobs that we are discussing and get the product to market that our fishermen bring ashore. I think that he is rather depressed about the prospects for CFP reform. That probably comes from years of experience, but I hope that we can work with him.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I have been in and out of meetings and have not been able to contribute to this debate, but I emphasise that the processing industry is incredibly important to us also. It plays a significant role in the Humber region. Things are all interlinked. It is a huge issue for us also.

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Richard Benyon: My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. I am meeting and working with the Food and Drink Federation to ensure that we have a strategy that supports that industry, and I am going with the FDF to see some fish processing companies near his constituency to ensure that we are integrating the needs of the processing industry into our policies.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North was positive about other aspects. He was right to point out the GLOBE report, which I value. I appreciate his good wishes at a difficult time. People have been commiserating with me on my job, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Hon. Members sometimes say nice things about me, which is probably a kiss of death in this place, but the issue is not really about anyone in the House; it is about our marine environment and the jobs of people who do dangerous work out at sea. As we go into the December round, I am conscious that a lot of people will be looking on with great fear and trepidation for their futures. It is a great responsibility, but I take it on readily.

Many hon. Members raised marine conservation zones. Several, including my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, said that fishermen are sceptical and suspicious of the process. Yes, they are, but the point is this. Fishermen come to my office and meet me as I go around the country, saying, "We're concerned about this." People from green non-governmental organisations say, "The system is too much in favour of socio-economic activities." The fact that both groups have those concerns means that we may be getting it just about right. However, I assure the House absolutely that I want to ensure that at every stage, we have a balanced approach and that people have access. The good thing about today's debate is the feeling that the argument that conservation is on one side and fishermen and socio-economic activities are on the other is weak and old-fashioned. If we can get this right-the projects, although they have not been without difficulties, are proving that we can-it will be to everybody's advantage. I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and everybody who has raised the issue that at every stage right up until designation, we will ensure that everybody has access to the process.

We must remember that when we discuss management of marine conservation zones, we might be trying to manage the sea bed, in which case activities higher up the water column might be perfectly permissible, or we might be trying to protect features at the surface, such as bird life or harbour porpoises, in which case activities on the sea bed might be perfectly permissible. It is a question of working through the suspicion that my hon. Friend mentioned.

I intervened to address the point that my hon. Friend raised about hand-line mackerel. She has raised the issue with me before and is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of the fishing community in her constituency. She also mentioned dredged materials, a matter that is very relevant to Rame head. She has raised it with me before and it is currently under review. The point she makes is absolutely right: we have to get coherence, because that will bring credibility, and it is important that all parties link together to ensure that we have a credible system.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) made important points about his fishing community in North Shields, which I have visited. I will seek to get the
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best possible deal for fishermen there and around the country, as we face one of the most historically difficult rounds that we have ever faced. He raised a specific point on whiting, which is important. I know that it is a valuable stock for fishermen in his part of the world, as elsewhere. On the "use it or lose it" rule, there is a lack of understanding about what goes on, because the science is underdeveloped and it is assumed that just because a stock is not being caught up to quota, it is not there. We know that in our seas that is not the case, and I intend to make that point clearly.

A number of Members mentioned the interpretation of the science. The Commission makes the point that we have to debate on the basis of sound science, which is absolutely right, and we do and we will. However, there is a different interpretation of science when we talk about maximum sustainable yields. Are we talking about a particular figure or a band of probabilities? I agree with those who say that Europe should set a parameter, an aspiration to move towards MSY and have a sustainable stock by a certain date, and then leave it to regional bodies or even very local bodies, for example in the case of inshore fisheries, to put into effect an overarching plan. That has to be the way forward. That is the way to use science wisely and apply it to what we actually find in our waters, and I am determined to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) has had to leave, so I will address his points directly to him. I do not have time to mention them in detail now, but I think that I can give him some assurance on his three main points. His point about the closure at Trevose Head is absolutely right. Real-time closures can be a good tool in conservation management, and they are fishermen-led. The fishermen I speak with want their sons and grandsons to carry on their profession in the future, and it is only by giving them the tools to make the conservation opportunities that they know are needed that we will get a better and more sustainable marine environment.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made an important point about nephrops in the Irish sea, which is a matter of particular concern to Northern Ireland's fishermen. I hope that we can come to some arrangement that gives them a sustainable future for at least the medium term until we see a recovery of that stock. I am working closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and others to ensure that we get the arguments across. It will be one of our priorities as we go into the December round. I take his point about cod and herring. He briefed me in a very focused way recently, and I can assure him that we will take those points forward. The weather is closing in, so I hope that he will be able to get home.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) spoke about the cluster of science excellence in his constituency. I have benefited from it, experienced it and met a number of scientists from Plymouth. I know how passionate they are about their work and will readily take up the invitations to visit Plymouth and see that work, which have come from several directions. He asked about Natural England and marine conservation zones. I can give him every assurance that I want to see proper systems through the marine conservation zone process, so I can give him
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assurances on that and on recreational angling. I am an angler. I have been invited to fish for bass in his constituency, or nearby, by one of his constituents and I give him every assurance that I will try to represent the benefits of recreational angling throughout the process of marine conservation.

I am conscious of the time and I want to get on the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). First, I send him warm congratulations on his appointment as shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister and I look forward to working with him. Long-term management plans are the future and I give him every assurance that I will work towards creating those plans. Of course, that means losing political control, to an extent, and there are some people who think that the December round is the way that it should be, because politicians are holding the quota and can distribute it, which I think gives them a sense of patronage. That sense of patronage is not an attitude that I share and I want to see Europe move away from the rather bizarre antics that we are about to enter into.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of ocean acidification, which, in terms of our adaptation to climate change, is important. Regarding his question about mackerel, yes, we are being absolutely robust and I will be very happy to brief him in more detail on that issue.

On CFP reform, I have set out quite clearly our determination to work towards regionalisation and integration on a sea-basin basis, as well as integration of the industry. I have not had time to talk about the under-10s today, but I am determined to take forward a reform that sees those vessels getting a bigger slice of the action. However, I will do that in concert with the rest of the sector and I will try to rebuild trust in the industry. In the near future, I will announce some ideas that will be taken to consultation. At the centre of our CFP reform will be an end to discards and movement towards more catch quotas, and I am happy to keep the hon. Gentleman briefed at every stage. In conclusion, I offer him the pledge that we will be making a statement on the results of the December round.

There is much more that I would like to have said, but there is simply not time to give credit to everybody's contribution today.

5.27 pm

Dr Whiteford: In closing the debate, I thank you, Mr Owen, for your exemplary chairing. I thank all hon. Members who participated in proceedings and I especially
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thank the Minister for his contribution. The very wide range of issues that have been raised indicates just how important fishing is to those of us who represent coastal communities and they also reflect the diversity and complexity of the industry and its management regimes.

We all recognise that the Minister will have his work cut out in the next few weeks. I particularly welcome the emphasis that he is placing on sustainable communities and his commitment to continue to work closely with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations. I have no doubt that he will have to endure a few sleepless nights when the EU talks roll into the wee small hours-as they always do-and he has my sympathy in that respect. However, I do not think that that is the way to manage the industry or our precious marine resources. I echo the comments of the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) in saying that we need to move towards longer-term management of our fisheries. I hope that the Minister will work with others across Europe to find a better way.

Among a number of salient points made by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) was the observation that the multi-year agreements reached with Norway represent a far better approach to managing our fishing industry. He and the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made a plea that the "use it or lose it" quotas should not be automatically cut. That point is important, because automatically cutting those quotas reduces the scope for diversification and our future negotiating stance. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) ably highlighted the great danger of having a fishery that is dependent on only one stock.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to tackling the issue of discards and his backing for a roll-out of the catch quota scheme. I urge him to continue to hold his ground in the negotiations with Iceland and the Faroes. Above all, I urge him to bring the CFP, as we know it, to an end, and to fight for the livelihoods of our fishing communities and to defend our historic fishing industry. Until that happens, our industry will continue to languish and damage our marine environment unchecked.

I hope that the next time that we debate fisheries in this House it will be on the Floor of the House in Government time, and I wish the Minister every success as he fights the good fight for our industry in the next few weeks.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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