1.40 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I welcome this timely debate. It is important that we set out some red lines before the December Council meeting so that the Minister is emboldened to make representations there

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on behalf of our industry, which is very important to coastal towns and villages around the entire United Kingdom.

In October there was a significant displacement of the scallop fishing effort from the Irish sea on to the north Antrim coast because British scallop dredgers had exhausted their area VII effort pot of 2011. That effort pot was agreed in the late 1990s under what was called the western waters regime. Uptake of it has accelerated because a growing number of vessels have diversified into the scallop fishery to escape restrictions introduced in other fisheries, such as the long-term cod recovery plan and the western channel sole recovery plan. Also, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering recommendations for a chain of marine-protected areas, which would have to be mirrored by the Minister’s colleagues in the devolved Administrations. That could create further displacement.

It is easy to become confused by all these issues, and I do not envy the Minister’s responsibilities in having to deal with what is a huge range of very complex and interconnected areas. Yet, as I heard when I was chairman of our agriculture Committee in Northern Ireland, and as I regularly hear from my colleagues in Parliament and fishermen across the country, there is concern about how the common fisheries policy operates, and people are saying, “Enough is enough.”

The Minister’s website carries a colourful photograph of a fishing boat he saw on his travels. On the vessel’s side there is a picture of a Tasmanian devil, which is represented as a trawler skipper who is being questioned by a fisheries officer. He asks the skipper, “What are you landing today?” The skipper replies, “One box of whiting and six boxes of paperwork.” [Laughter.] We laugh, but we know that our fishing fleet is hampered by red tape and paperwork, and that that paperwork comes from one place and one place only: Brussels. We need to recognise that enough is enough; this has got to stop. We hope the Minister will be emboldened to stand up against the weight of EU bureaucracy that has been created.

Miss McIntosh: I am carefully following the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and I welcome much of what he says. Does he not accept that if we were to introduce a UK register, which I believe the Minister is minded to do, that would cut through a lot of the bureaucracy and we would find out who is fishing in UK waters?

Ian Paisley: That is an interesting proposal, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response; I see that he is writing a note as he wishes to respond to it.

Do we really believe that a solution to the problems of paperwork or discards will be delivered by a commissioner who, in my view, is led by media hype, and by a Commission that, together with the other EU institutions, clearly wishes to exert even more influence over member states?

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Given what has been said—and, no doubt, what will be said—in this debate, is it not clear that the common fisheries policy should be at the top of the list of policy areas to be repatriated from Europe?

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Ian Paisley: My right hon. Friend’s point hits home with great force given what has been going on recently in the eurozone—or the “euro crisis zone” as it should be called.

There will be support from across this Chamber if the Department goes to Brussels in December and says that the 25% cuts in total allowable catches in the Irish sea alone are no longer acceptable. I hope the Minister succeeds in pausing the implementation of any further cuts in the so-called cod recovery plan and days-at-sea provisions, and the reduction in the Irish sea prawn quota. I hope the Commission will listen to those representations, and that our Minister will be able to bring home from Europe a catch that means our fishermen will be able to fish successfully.

1.45 pm

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): It will not have escaped your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, that Broxbourne does not have a rich maritime history. However, I enjoy our seas very much. I have a 16-foot Orkney made by Gus Newman of StormCats on the island of Islay, and a beautiful boat it is, too. I am proud to give him a plug in the Chamber this afternoon.

The common fisheries policy has been an absolute disaster for this country. It has been a failure of politics. Commercial fishing in this country is now almost a minority pastime. In saying that, I do not intend any disrespect to those brave men and women who fish commercially, but the fact of the matter is that over the past 40 years our commercial fishing fleet has been laid low.

Too often, scientific advice about the state of our commercial fishery stocks has been ignored. I know there are concerns about the merits of certain scientific advice. However, legend has it that 100 years ago in the North sea it was possible to stand an axe up on the backs of herring, and, as we know, the North sea was stocked to the gunwales with cod, pollock and other commercial fish. That is no longer the case. Too often, we are removing fish from our oceans and seas before they have had a chance to spawn even once, and that is not sustainable.

In the last Parliament, I and the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), served together on numerous Joint Committees considering marine conservation zones. I know Members hold different views about the merits of marine conservation zones, but they do provide a safe place for fish to breed—for fish to restock not only the conservation zone itself, but the seas around those zones.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that today’s written ministerial statement delaying announcements on marine conservation zones for a further six months creates even more uncertainty?

Mr Walker: I know that the Minister faces an enormously challenging job in reconciling the various interests of fishermen, conservationists and recreational fishermen, but, having served with him on those Committees for the best part of two years, I also know that his heart is in the right place. If anyone is capable of doing the right thing and making the right argument and putting the

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interests of this country first, it is my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. I doubt anyone in this Chamber could meet a finer man.


Yes, or would wish to meet a finer man.

We must give our seas the opportunity to restock themselves by providing a mechanism for them to do so. If in 100 years or 50 years—nay, in 20 years—we are to continue to have a commercial fishing fleet, then sustainability is essential.

Besides owning a small Orkney fishing boat, I am also chairman of the all-party group on angling. There are many hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers, who spend many millions—indeed, hundreds of millions —of pounds each year in our seaside communities.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a compelling argument, but does he not agree that recreational sea angling is far more than just a hobby? Rather, it is an industry that brings £1 billion into the UK economy, and it supports many of the 37,000 jobs that angling creates in this country. Does he therefore agree that our Ministers should work hard to try to protect that industry for the benefit of future generations?

Mr Walker: My hon. Friend makes a fine point. It is estimated that recreational sea fishers spend about £1 billion a year on fishing tackle and staying in the many wonderful seaside resorts and communities around our coastline. Their interests cannot be separated from this debate, because they did not create the problem but they are now living with it. So this debate goes beyond our commercial fishermen and stretches into almost every community in this country, because the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy our coastline live in every community in this country.

So sustainability must be the key to this debate, but we do need a certain robustness in our dealings with the European Union. Forty years ago, we brought to the party the richest fishing grounds in the world—that is no exaggeration. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark)—I call her my hon. Friend—too many parts of our seas are now the equivalent of ocean deserts, and that is simply not acceptable. However, we do still have the opportunity to restore our once proud fishing industry to the position that it once occupied. We can do this—it is within our powers—but we must be robust in our dealings with the European Union. Things cannot continue as they have done for the past 40 years. We need to get our act together and we need to sort this problem out while we still can recover the position.

1.51 pm

Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I have always thought that the best possible way to reform the common fisheries policy was to come out altogether. Before the previous election that was Conservative party policy and I was sorry to see it changed, although it is still a policy to which the Government are attached. They wish to repatriate powers from Europe, and if ever there was a case for doing so it is in respect of fishing, because the blanket command-and-control policy operated from Brussels, with centrally decided political decisions, is not working, cannot be made to work and has to be ended. That means that we have to transfer power down

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to the regional advisory councils, which have been very successful, having been established only in 2002. They have been a major success but they need powers to allocate quotas, to impose conservation and technical measures, and to enforce those quotas. That means that they must have not only some fast-track powers of implementation, so that the whole thing does not get held up in the Brussels bottleneck, but the finance and staffing to do the job properly.

Therefore, we must, first, fulfil the rather vague aspiration in the Commission’s own document of transferring powers down to the RACs to give them the control of management. They need to work with the producer organisations; they need to involve the industry in deciding and managing its own fate. That is best done through the producer organisations, by giving them power. They have been very good at managing their quotas in their own areas and that power needs to be extended. If we are to have transferable quotas, as the Commission specifies, there have to be transfers within the producer organisations, rather than sales to foreign owners, as happened so much in respect of Spanish vessels. There needs to be a transfer of quotas within the individual POs so that we keep quotas locally. The producer organisations have to play a part, with the industry taking the lead.

We have to point out to the Minister—I am sure that he is aware of this—that the last vestiges of this command-and-control economy are the Commission’s proposals to cut the quotas, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). They are the last vestige of the ancien régime that the Commission is trying for, and they have to be imposed at the December Council. That is because the cuts in the quota that the Commission is proposing do not follow the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. ICES says that there should be no increase in quota, but the Commission has translated that into a 25% reduction, which is ludicrous. So, too, is the other proposal, for which ICES does not provide an analytical assessment of what has to be done, that there should be a 15% cut. If that is passed by the December Council and comes into the process of co-determination with the European Parliament, we could be stuck with that decision until 2014, which would be ludicrous. It would be damaging to the industry and it would leave us with a huge cut in domestic fleets.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation—the hon. Member for North Antrim has just concurred with this point—calculates that if the proposed cuts are enforced on the white fish and the prawn fleets in Scotland, they will be able to fish for only four days a fortnight. They will not be able to make a profit and they will be forced to lay up. This will decimate our fleet for a goal that is mistaken and has no scientific basis, so it is vital that the Minister overturns those cuts and opposes further cuts as part of the cod recovery plans. Cuts in quota will mean more discards.

I have two other points to make. One is that we have to accept that all fish should be landed, not discarded. The fishermen can be paid a management fee—the cost of landing and marketing, and no more—but that will allow us to record all the catches actually made. Secondly, we need to end the system of buying quota from poor African countries, which is a kind of fishing imperialism, where huge Spanish vessels are going in, damaging the

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local industry, crushing the local boats, in many cases, and stopping the recovery. There can be management arrangements to assist people in managing their stocks and to help them, but there should be no buying of quota, at our expense, to crush the local industry. The times are better than how they have been portrayed and the stocks are recovering, but now is the time to take a firm stand and get the powers transferred back down to the regional advisory councils to save our industry.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I am going to reduce the time limit to four minutes. I want to get everybody in, so I ask for brevity, where possible, and fewer interventions. Where people intervene and then expect to speak, I am going to drop them down the list. Please, let us see if we can get everybody in.

1.56 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I strongly support the motion and I congratulate our fisheries Minister on his continued and dogged determination to reform the common fisheries policy—it has not gone unnoticed by everyone who cares about this issue.

I never miss an opportunity to be rude about the CFP, but I am going to restrict my comments to one point. On 12 May, this House unanimously passed a motion calling, among other things, on the Government to restore our control over the 12 territorial miles that surround this country. That was a key part of the motion, but since the EU Commission published its proposals it has curiously slipped off the agenda and out of the debate. I asked the Minister about this matter in a recent letter and his response implied that I, and by extension the House, wanted to achieve this control by removing the historical rights of other countries. I want to make it very clear that that is not at all what I voted for and it is not what the House voted for. Those rights should absolutely be retained, but they must also come with responsibility.

The responsibility on other countries is to adhere to the rules that we set for those 12 miles. So whatever rules we apply to our fishermen must be applied to others. I repeat that we have to avoid the situation, which has been well documented, where we impose laws to protect dolphins and porpoises, and restrict the trawling for bass. Our fisherman, naturally, had to adhere to the rules imposed by our Government, but within days Spanish and French fleets were continuing with the same practices and the effect on porpoises and dolphins was recorded and was depressing.

We have a one-off opportunity, given the huge public demand for reform on an issue that does not normally capture the public imagination, to fight for real change. I simply ask the Minister to remember that the unanimous vote—the unanimous passing of the very radical motion on 12 May—gives him a mandate to be tougher than any of his predecessors have been able to be. So I urge him to take that message with him to Europe and to give the people there a very hard time, as he will almost certainly have to do so.

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1.58 pm

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): I should like to put forward briefly the perspective of our local fishing industry. I was born in the former county borough of Tynemouth, which is now part of the Tynemouth and North Tyneside constituencies. The motto on the coat of arms of the former county borough was,

“Our harvest is from the deep”,

and the coat of arms proudly displayed the figures of a coal miner and a fisherman. Sadly, we no longer have any coal mines and our fishing fleet is very much diminished, but this diminished industry is still important to the local economy and local culture.

The recently formed Northumberland inshore fisheries and conservation authority, or IFCA, has put forward its views on the reform of the common fisheries policy to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, after extensive consultation with officers from the Marine Management Organisation and representatives from the commercial and recreational fisheries and the marine science and councillor sectors.

IFCA’s vision is to

“lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry”.

That vision has parallels with the aims of the EU Commission to reform the common fisheries policy. But Northumberland’s IFCA knows from local experience that achieving the vision and reform of the common fisheries policy is subject to practical limitations and it is clear that local factors need to be taken into account.

The area covered by the Northumberland IFCA stretches along the north-east coast from the Scottish borders to, and including, the Tyne. It is a mixed fisheries area, so the aim of achieving a maximum sustainable yield by 2015 would be unrealistic in that area. A more flexible date for that target would therefore be of great help to our fishing industry. Northumberland IFCA also feels that achieving maximum sustainable yield will be crucial to determining multi-annual plans, which, with an ambitious target date of 2015, could create the danger of unnecessary fisheries closures. The emphasis should be on local measures that will ensure sustainable and viable fisheries, such as the lobster V-notching permit scheme and pot limitation, with buy-in from the local industry, which currently operate in Northumberland. The idea of regionalisation cannot be stressed strongly enough, and not only in relation to large areas such as the North sea. Within regions, the specific needs of districts such as the IFCA areas must be taken into account to strike the right balance and involve stakeholders.

I am pleased that the Northumberland IFCA is continuing the interest shown by the former sea fisheries committee in the EU’s commitment to reform the discards policy. However, our fishermen feel that the Government must stress to the Commission that there must be investment in appropriate infrastructure to enable local fleets to dispose of unwanted catch. Technical advances must also be taken into account. The Government should play a role in consumer education to ensure that extra catches that are landed can be marketed more effectively.

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Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend’s point about consumer education is very important, because this issue is relevant to others as well as to fishing communities. I think that the number of fishermen left in my constituency can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but this issue concerns the wider community, and that is precisely what is behind this idea—the motivation of communities as a whole to stop the scandal of fish discards.

Mrs Glindon: Yes; the Fish Fight campaign has demonstrated that nationally.

Consumer education would, one hopes, help with marketing the catch that is currently discarded. Ultimately, however, our local fishermen believe that the prospect of a complete end to discards has not yet been set out in sufficient detail to be a viable prospect, and that further debate with the industry is needed.

Livelihoods have been diminished in our fisheries, with resulting economic and social downturns across communities. As the Government are committed to localism, that should be extended to DEFRA’s approach to the common fisheries policy on behalf of our fishing communities. I firmly believe that our prosperity does not depend simply on creating new industries and businesses but on sustaining those that already exist, which are trying hard to survive. It is in the hands of the Government to negotiate a fair deal for the reform of the common fisheries policy, to ensure the future of our fishing communities in a way that meets the vision of IFCA.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

2.5 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and other hon. Members on securing the debate. I strongly support the motion, which highlights the key points in the broad-brush approach of responding to the failure of the common fisheries policy, addressing in particular the problem of centralised management, the need for a more regionally controlled method of eliminating the problem of discarded fish and the need for a multi-annual basis for the future management of the common fisheries policy. Those who, like the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and I, have engaged in these debates over many years will reflect on the degree of consensus that has emerged in the past decade. That will not only strengthen the position but will provide a greater sense of purpose and direction for the Minister. I agree with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) that not only is the Minister up to the task, but he will have the full support of the House in his work.

I am disappointed that we will not have a further opportunity to discuss this issue, other than today’s inevitably truncated debate. I hope therefore that the Minister will make himself available to the all-party parliamentary group and other groups around the House so that we can discuss the impact of the European Commission’s proposals regarding the future of total allowable catches and quotas around the UK coast.

I want briefly to address two issues, the first of which concerns the Government’s consultation on domestic fisheries and management reform for the under 10 metre sector, which clearly needs to be tidied up and regularised. I have taken a delegation from my constituency to see the Minister about this and he knows that there is

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significant alarm and concern about the impact that the reforms might have on the under 10 metre sector, not least in relation to the reference period that has been used by the Government for the possible future allocation of quota in forthcoming years.

In the Government’s response to the consultation, which came out a fortnight ago, the Minister announced the intention to try alternative management approaches before introducing far-reaching changes to the current system. The intention is to launch three pilot schemes next year. Having discussed this with fishermen around the coast of my constituency, I know that there is enthusiasm for putting forward the west of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as a potential area in which a pilot scheme might be advanced. That could be a means by which the area has some influence over the future development of that policy.

The second issue I want to address is the need to make sure not only that scientists work with fishermen but that fishermen work with scientists. My constituent Shaun Edwards and his crew saved 47 passengers in heavy seas from the dismantled Fryderyk Chopin vessel 100 miles south-west of the Isles of Scilly on 28 October last year. He spent more than 60 hours taking them back to harbour at Falmouth, but sadly lost his job as a result of doing so. He was working for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science as an accomplice fisherman—I think the Minister knows about this case—and that is a great loss to science, as he was assisting CEFAS in its work.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

2.8 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I want to make two points about the west coast of Scotland: about mesh sizes in the Minch for prawns and about catch composition, particularly for haddock. There seems to be an abundance of haddock on the west coast of the Hebrides inside the area known as the French line, which is about 100 fathoms or 200 metres deep, and it seems that the haddock are migrating into the Minch and around the prawn fishery. It should be good news that there is an abundance of haddock, but that abundance is becoming very bad news indeed, because EU catch composition rules mean that no more than 30% of catches can consist of haddock, cod or whiting. If a trip catches quite a lot of haddock, what should have been good news is not good news if there are not enough prawns to get that haddock landed, because it is not allowed to make up more than 30% of the catch. In that case, only a fraction of the haddock caught can be landed.

Haddock is abundant and tasty, and many people in Scotland prefer it to cod, but if they cannot get haddock they will eat cod, and that makes the situation worse. The basis of the problem is the cod recovery plan. Surely we should take haddock out of the catch composition rules, particularly for the west coast of Scotland, where many fishermen’s leaders and merchants tell me there is an abundance of haddock. That underlines the silliness, folly and lunacy of the common fisheries policy. The cod recovery plan prevents haddock from being landed, which will probably mean that more cod is eaten. That is almost a comedy, but, as we all know, it quickly ends up in the usual common fisheries policy tragedy.

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Fishermen’s leaders on the west coast have expressed concern to me about a potential increase in mesh size in the Minch from 80 mm to 95 mm for prawns, especially as the size increased from 70 mm to 80 mm two years ago. The change would, of course, have catch implications for the smaller community boats, on which many local islanders work. The change should not be made now, just when Scottish Government scientists are undertaking technical trials, and in particular it should not apply to boats with an engine of under 300 hp, due to the disproportionate cost of gear change for them.

The prawn area in the west coast fishery seems to be in balance at the moment; people seem reasonably happy, although they are worried about some of the measures on the horizon, such as the mesh size proposals. However, they feel that there is a major problem with haddock. Ironically, the problem is caused not by a lack of haddock but by an abundance of it. I would be particularly grateful to the Minister if he looked at ways of removing haddock from the catch composition rules on the west coast.

I have participated in many debates on the common fisheries policy and fishing, and I feel that not a blind bit of notice is ever taken of them in Europe. Earlier this year I was in the Faroe Islands for the “Seas the Future” conference with people from Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Scotland. At the end, officials from the EU talked about the CFP. They asked why I was complaining about the CFP in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands; would I not come to talk to them in Brussels? It occurred to me that surely there are places besides this Parliament—democratically elected places—where the common fisheries policy is discussed, but are we talking into a vacuum? Surely we should have people in this Chamber listening, at least, to the complaints that Members of all parties express about the common fisheries policy. What actually happens is that one person leaves this Chamber, meets people from other chambers, and ends up having to horse-trade on the common fisheries policy. Ultimately, as we have seen over the years, fishing has been the loser.

2.12 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Thank you for inviting me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate hon. Friends from across the political divide on this truly excellent motion. My constituency hosts one of the principal fishing ports in the south-west. Plymouth is a global leader in marine science and engineering research. Our fishing industry is very much part of that, and part of our maritime heritage. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), is working so hard to protect the industry’s interests in Europe.

Last month I received an extensive briefing from the Plymouth marine laboratory. People there explained to me how plankton—the staple diet of our fish—is being lost from our seas. When my hon. Friend is next in the south-west, I would be delighted if he came with me to meet people at that laboratory, and to see that excellent research facility.

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My local commercial fishermen face real challenges. They are concerned about the marine protected areas, and the quality of evidence being offered to my hon. Friend by his statutory advisers at Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation. Two weeks ago, in an Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), I raised my concerns about the lack of transparency in the evidence-gathering process. All MPAs should be based on sound evidence, and the research should be of the highest quality.

I thank the Minister for commissioning from Dr Graham-Bryce an independent review of the process used to gather the evidence. Dr Graham-Bryce confirmed in his July report that

“the process used…fell short of best practice in many respects.”

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what progress the Department has made in ensuring transparent, robust processes? Will he confirm that any effects of displacement from MPAs will be covered fully, and that the work will be conducted by professional personnel?

Another incredibly important issue is scallop fishing. The scallop-fishing industry is an important export market that brings much-needed revenue and jobs to the Plymouth travel-to-work area. I am told that it is worth about £20 million. Recently, for the first time, western waters area VII was closed to UK vessels for scallop fishing. The area has recently been reopened, but problems and challenges remain. I hear that the UK has been at risk of reaching the kilowatt-days limit since 2009, which is before my hon. Friend took up his post. Will he explain why local fishermen were only recently alerted to that? Will we make sure that they are looked after much better, and have much more notice, in future? They can certainly be flexible, but they cannot quite turn on a sixpence immediately.

I have never missed an opportunity to call on my hon. Friend to press for the UK’s fishing waters to come back under the UK’s control. I urge him to carry on pressing for that, and for reform of the EU fisheries policy. That is the only way to make sure that we conserve and protect our fishing stocks and our industry.

2.16 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): For my constituents in the fishing ports of Ardglass and Kilkeel, the reform of the common fisheries policy is a somewhat distant process. That is not to say that they do not recognise the importance of the subject, but in what has become for many a struggle to survive, the common fisheries policy and the accompanying rules and regulations are matters for policy development in Brussels. What is vital to those in the industry, their families and the wider community in both fishing towns are issues to do with quota allocations, limits on days at sea and fuel bills. Those are the immediate priority, and they require resolution.

We have heard from the Commission that decisions made now should fit in with the spirit of what the new common fisheries policy will deliver. Given the current proposals for fishing opportunities in 2012, it is easy to conclude that that does not bode well for the future. The Commission’s failure to address the flaws in the long-term cod recovery plan, and the intention of imposing more of the failed medicine prescribed in that plan,

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which involves ill-thought-out discard policies and an inability to recognise the significant contributions made by many of my constituents to ensuring sustainable fisheries in the Irish sea, do not appear to reflect a Commission willing to surrender its centralised decision-making powers and make provision for the devolution or transfer of power to the regions.

On the other hand, the European Commission argues that it is precisely its light touch with regard to the detail of the Green Paper that signals its intention to allow the regions to decide their own management regime, within the broad framework of rules in the new common fisheries policy. In that context, who are we to believe? Is it the individuals, including some in the Commission, who offer up European Union treaties as the reason why any meaningful decentralisation is illegal? Or it is those who yearn to be regarded as the voices of reason within the Commission, and ask for our trust? For me, so far the evidence suggests that it is the former, although I want it to be the latter. I welcome the fact that the Minister is to respond to the debate, and I suggest to him that it would be helpful for the House to learn the Government’s legal opinion regarding the degree of decentralisation of the common fisheries policy that is possible after the Lisbon treaty.

I say to the House, and the Minister in particular, that for my constituents involved in the fishing industry—onshore and offshore—in Ardglass and Kilkeel in South Down, the industry is vital to their livelihood and their families, and to the wider community. It is a multi-million-pound industry that has to survive. I ask the Minister, in the negotiations, to do all he can to ensure that the fishing industry in the Irish sea is sustained for this generation—and, hopefully, for future generations.

2.19 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I congratulate hon. Members from all parts of the House who helped to secure this debate, especially my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who takes a particular interest in fishing.

May I tell the Minister to be careful of the European Commission bearing gifts? He must look that gift horse in the mouth, as he will find that the proposals on devolving powers to regional advisory councils and others are short on detail. When the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took evidence on this issue, the producer organisations for the south-west were convinced that there were no real powers coming from Brussels, and that things were going the other way. I know that the Minister fights hard for British interests, and I commend him for doing so, but we have to introduce much more local control over fishing so that the fishing industry and people going out to fish have the ownership of conservation measures and are keen to see them work. At the moment that is done far away in Brussels, and if fish are saved in one member state the fishermen there will be convinced that someone else from another member state will come along and take them away. However, there is no proposal to devolve those powers at present.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a good point. Does he agree that it is important to include in the balance the needs of recreational fishermen? In my constituency, for generations,

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people, including me, have enjoyed going out with their fathers and their grandfathers to catch fish to eat at home?

Neil Parish: My hon. Friend makes a good point. A year or two ago I went to Falmouth, where we were trying to secure more help for sea anglers, who play an important part in the fishing industry, not only by catching fish but by bringing people down to Falmouth, the west country and other parts of the United Kingdom, where they stay in hotels and so on. The value of a fish caught by an angler can be a great deal more than that of a fish caught by a professional fisherman. I know that the Minister takes that dimension very seriously.

I want to discuss the change in fishing gear and the 50:50 process in Devon, where discards have been reduced by 50%, which is good news. Until we ban discards and land everything that we catch, how do we know what there is in the seas? Up to 2 million tonnes of fish throughout the European Union are discarded every year, which is a huge waste of resources, and means that we never quite know what the stocks are.

I welcome the Commission’s proposal on landing fish that is not fit for human consumption, suggesting that it should be made into fishmeal to be fed to farmed fish. However, I question its proposal on the landing of fresh fish, which would be kept and distributed to poor people throughout Europe—not that I am against poor people throughout Europe and the UK having fish, but the idea that the Commission will organise that in every port in the EU, especially in the UK, fills me with horror. Some of those proposals need to be considered carefully.

Of course we should ban discards—I know that the Minister has done a great deal of work on this, as have celebrity chefs—but about 70% of the fish landed in Newlyn harbour goes straight in a lorry to Spain, because we do not eat that type of fish. The more fish we can eat in this country, the more we can keep the fish that we land.

We all feel strongly about the issue of the under 10 metre fleet, and the Minister is looking at ways of getting a better share for that fleet, which is essential to the south-west community, including Devon. It is key that those family-run boats have more fish to catch because, in the end, there is a limited amount of fish in the sea, and we must make sure that there are options for that fleet. I look forward to what the Minister can offer us, because in the end, the sea and fish resources have to be shared out between all the fishermen.

2.24 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I do not think that we could make this debate more timely if we tried. Negotiations to reform the CFP are under way, and it is vital that the voices of the fishing communities that we represent are heard in this debate.

The challenges that we face need to be seen in the context of a common fisheries policy that has systematically damaged our marine ecosystem for 30 years. It has eroded the livelihoods of fishing communities and fishermen, and it has been applied inconsistently in different EU states. There is a growing consensus, even in the House, that a decentralised approach offers a better way forward than the one-size-fits-nobody approach

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that we have at the moment, as it would allow coastal states to develop workable solutions and, crucially, it would allow the expertise of fishing industry leaders and other local stakeholders to come to the fore.

In my view the reform process will stand or fall on the strength of the regionalisation proposals, but it is not clear how regionalisation will work in practice, given the treaty constraints raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). I hope that the Minister will spell out the mechanisms and processes that are under consideration and how they might be made fit for purpose, because there is a great deal at stake for our fishing communities.

There is a great deal to be learned from the experience of regional advisory councils on the value of long-term planning and the need to bring fishing industry representatives into the decision-making process. There is a great deal, too, that we can learn from the efforts of our fishermen in recent years to put the industry on an environmentally sustainable footing. The Scottish fleet has been at the forefront of efforts to push alternatives to discarding, but when we discuss discards it is crucial to remember that they are a direct consequence of the impositions put on fishermen by the failed CFP. No one gains from discards.

In that respect, the catch quota pilot schemes in Scotland and England have shown real potential. They were trialled to see how good they were at cutting discards and improving the economic viability of vessels, and they have been extremely effective. So far, however, only a relatively small number of vessels have been able to benefit from them. More boats could benefit, and I urge the Minister to prioritise the issue with our international partners, particularly the Norwegians and the European Commission, and drive it forward so that we can expand the catch quota system and build on the success of the model across the EU.

The Scottish fleet has been more successful than any other European fleet in ending discards. Catch quotas are only one factor in that success: the conservation credit scheme, using selective gear and real-time closures, is the thing that has really made a difference by improving the sustainability of our fisheries, as has longer-term planning and sound science. Too often, science has been used to justify policy making of dubious quality, and it has sometimes been used as a blunt instrument. It has been made to say what policy makers want it to say. There is now widespread recognition that good science and sound scientific data are beneficial to everyone, but if we want to build trust in scientific data we have to use them consistently. When the scientific data show that stocks are healthy and fish are plentiful, we need commensurate increases in total allowable catches. The forthcoming Council meeting could not be more timely, as we should not have more quota cuts if the science says that that is not necessary.

Consistency is required. I have concerns about transferable fishing concessions, as the Commission is now calling them.

Mr MacNeil rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I urge the hon. Gentleman to think before intervening. He has already made a speech, and we are running out

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of time. More Members have indicated that they wish to speak. It is up to the Member in charge but, to be honest. I would be disappointed if the hon. Gentleman intervened.

Dr Whiteford: I shall move on, Mr Hoyle.

Exaggerated claims have been made about the benefits of transferable quota schemes. Some are more successful than others. The proponents tend to ignore the unintended consequences, especially for fishing communities—a point that was made earlier—but the key factor is improved governance. I therefore urge the Minister to look carefully at that. I welcomed his comments last week on this, and I urge him to—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. We are struggling for time, and if Members shrink their speeches so that everyone who wishes to speak can do so, I shall be very happy.

2.28 pm

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I have cut my speech from about eight minutes to three or four, but I cannot fail to pay tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard and the Fishermen’s Mission, as well as all the families of fishermen who have been lost or injured at sea this year.

I am on record saying that my ultimate goal for fisheries is to restore national control, but that debate is for another time, and for another Minister. Turning to the motion that we are debating, I shall deal first with regional management. There is no scope in the treaty to achieve the transfer of decision making to regional level. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has suggested that member states co-operating with regional advisory councils at sea area level to prepare multi-annual management plans could result in de facto regional management. Will the Minister please explore these alternative routes with the NFFO?

On the 12-mile limit, there is a case for ending the 40-year-old access rights. We see from the regulations that France has access to 15 areas within our territorial waters, Ireland to two areas, Germany to six, the Netherlands to three and Belgium to five for a variety of species, whereas the UK gains access to two areas within German waters and one area within French waters. This is not fair. I have even heard that some Belgian vessels working in the Bristol channel have changed from beam trawling to demersal twin rigging to work inside the 12-mile limit. Some of these could be Netherlands- owned Belgian-registered flag of convenience vessels. Exclusive access to the 12-mile limit could help the under-10 metre fleet.

I welcome the move to ban discards, but that is not as simple as it may seem. May I have an assurance from the Minister that he will work with the industry so that a proper solution can be found? Banning discards must not destabilise the market.

I shall briefly mention transferable fishing concessions. The UK, the Netherlands and Denmark already operate a similar system, which has been shown to control effort,

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but this was always preceded by decommissioning. Does the Minister agree that for a system of transferrable fishing concessions to work, there needs to be substantial decommissioning beforehand?

This is the only chance that we have to raise the 2012 quotas. I welcome the move by the Commission to abandon the 25% compulsory reduction in stock, but I must point out that this could exacerbate the annual horse trading that takes place.

Let me make one last point about the waters off my own constituency. Any reduction in cod effort in the Irish sea, the west of Scotland or the North sea could serve to displace effort into area VII e and g, and disadvantage Cornish fishermen.

Finally, in 1991 I was widely quoted as telling a previous fisheries Minister that British fishermen were brave, honourable, hard-working men who deserve respect. My words are as true today as they were when they were first spoken. I am pleased that we have a Minister who has already shown that he shares my sentiments. I wish him well in the negotiations, and I hope the whole House will support the motion today and give him our full backing for the important and difficult task that he will be engaged in over the coming months and years.

2.32 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): One good thing that the CFP managed to do was to unite all the fishermen, fishing bodies and elected representatives in opposition to a policy that has reduced the ability to make a living on the sea and continues to squeeze life out of the fishing sector. There will be no mourning its loss by anyone I know or have come into contact with.

Much has been made of the issue of decentralising or regionalising fisheries management, which I agree would be a positive step forward. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) and others have mentioned that, but there are those in the European Commission who suggest that post-Lisbon it is illegal to decentralise any meaningful responsibilities to the regions. Therefore, although I fully support the motion and join in the call for the Government to ensure that particular provision is made for regional management, I too would like to hear what the Minister believes is legally possible and how we can achieve that collectively. What discussions are being held with the legal experts to ensure that what is tantalising uncertainty will become cold, hard reality?

Last Saturday I held an advice surgery in Portavogie. The fishermen come to meet me with their list of things that they want me to do every month. They are concerned about the increase in bureaucracy, the changes in the net mesh size, more paperwork, more cost, more policing, more monitoring and less fish catch. All those are key issues for the fishing industry.

Northern Ireland’s fishing industry has instituted measures that have been introduced voluntarily which have cut discards of haddock and whiting by over 60%, yet go unrecognised by the European Commission—nobody in the European Commission seems to have any idea what is going on. As with most other good points concerning the fishermen, if the scientists have not marked it in their book, it could not possibly be happening. If the 25% cuts go ahead, the white fish sector in Northern Ireland is finished for ever. I know the Minister will be batting for us in the meetings in December.

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Locally, to address the issue of discards, our fisherman have had to incorporate various EU-legislated panels in their nets, which did little, if anything, for discard reduction, before they could deploy the gear designed specifically for use in the Irish sea. So it was true—the net designed by our fishermen, which would have reduced discards, was effectively outlawed by Europe. That concerns me.

On 10 November there was a meeting to impose emergency technical conservation measures in western waters. I am told that national Administrations will have little input into the process, which is politically driven by the EU’s Greek Fisheries Commissioner. Let us be honest: if we pair the word “Greek” with the words “Fisheries Commissioner”, we can understand why fishermen’s knees are knocking.

The industry, like fisheries managers, has as a goal the reduction of unwanted catches to a minimum, but the fishing industry will not be made greener by driving it into the red. We must be honest about what we are doing. In a little over four weeks the Minister will be leading the UK team at the EU’s annual December Fisheries Council. I urge him to support the industry at home.

Finally, the three-point plan for the Irish sea is clear. There should be a pause in further implementation of the long-term cod recovery plan. We should secure a rollover on the area VII nephrop TAC, which has been successfully managed for more than 40 years and remains stable, and we should seek an increase in the Irish sea herring quota, a stock which is at its largest for 18 years. It is time our fishermen saw some reward for the sacrifices they have made in the face of the EU’s ever-moving goalposts. I support the motion and urge the Minister to do his best for the fishermen in Northern Ireland, as I know he will.

2.36 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I had intended to talk about discards and the local management of fisheries, but as the points that I would have raised have been well made by other Members, I shall move quickly to my final point—securing a fair deal for the under-10s.

At present the under-10 metre fleet is treated poorly—as a second-class citizen comprising 85% of the national fleet, but with access to only 4% of the UK quota. The fleet needs to be enfranchised and we must move away from the current system of quota control that lacks flexibility and transparency. The Minister has commendably put forward proposals for the future management of English fisheries. He is right to attempt to do what most of his predecessors have put in the “too difficult to tackle” category. I commend him for introducing the pilot scheme that will operate from January.

However, there is a real concern that a rights-based method of control is not in the best interests of the under-10s. The problem is that there is no easily defined starting reference point on which to base a fair allocation for them. There is also the worry that globally there is evidence that rights-based systems do not work and quickly result in the loss of quota for the inshore sector. The evidence from Denmark is contradictory at best.

I commend Jerry Percy, now fishing in Wales but originally from Lowestoft in my constituency, for responding constructively to the consultation and coming forward

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with NUTFA’s—the New Under Tens Fishermen’s Association—proposals, which provide a way forward for the under-10s. The phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them” springs to mind, but he is right to propose a dedicated inshore producer organisation.

I conclude by saying that there are three considerations on which the future management of domestic fisheries should be built. First, there must be recognition that quota is public property. Secondly, we must replace the current system whereby no one appears to know who holds quota with a transparent system—a register of holdings. Finally, quota should be only in the hands of working fishermen.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I need to bring the Minister in at 2.50 pm. I call Kelvin Hopkins.

2.38 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I shall be brief. Hon. Members will have seen the Library’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology note 357, citing a European Commission report that stated that 88% of European fish stocks were being fished beyond sustainable levels and 30% of stocks were close to collapse. I have been quoted before as saying that this is an unmitigated disaster and these figures prove it. The only effective solution is to seek the abolition of the common fisheries policy and return fisheries to member states. All talk of reform at this stage is mere tinkering at the margins.

I welcome the motion, but it does not go far enough. The UK already has opt-outs in a number of EU areas, such as the euro and Schengen, so surely we could negotiate a simple opt-out for the CFP. If we cannot, we should tell our European partners that we will withdraw unilaterally from it in, say, three years’ time. We have much more to gain than they have to lose, because our fisheries are among the largest in the EU and the restoration of a 200-mile limit, or a 50% limit where there are adjacent countries, would solve the problems for us, certainly for our fishermen and for our fish stocks.

I had wanted to say much more but realise that time is short. I urge the Minister to mention in his negotiations that Members of this House are calling for the abolition of the common fisheries policy and will do so until we get it.

2.40 pm

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on securing the debate and all Members on both sides of the House who have spoken. I realise that many did not speak for as long as they had hoped to, but they all did the right thing by speaking up for their fishing communities. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray). Anyone who knows her even a little will not have been surprised by the courage and passion she has shown in the debate.

There is clearly significant cross-party support for a debate on fisheries before the EU Council meeting in December, and I welcome the opportunity to speak

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about it today. It is widely accepted that the current CFP has failed to achieve its objective of ensuring that the fishing industry is environmentally sustainable and economically viable for the benefit of society now and for future generations, as the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) said.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) spoke about marine conservation zones and referred to a conservation crisis. I hope that the Minister will apologise to the House and to all the stakeholders who took part in the consultations to identify marine conservation zones for yet another target that DEFRA has not been met. It really is not good enough. On the day when we are appealing to stakeholders to take part and contribute—[ Interruption. ] The Minister asks me whether I really want to go there. It would perhaps have been easier to go there if the scientific advice that he claims supports the decision had been available at the time. I hope that he will at least give us an explanation when he comes to the Dispatch Box. I also thank the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for its contribution to the debate and look forward to its report.

Sheryll Murray: Does the hon. Lady not appreciate that getting marine conservation zones right for our fishing industry is far more important than meeting artificially set deadlines?

Fiona O’Donnell: Getting it right also requires political leadership, which has been sadly lacking from the Minister on this matter. What we have instead is more uncertainty and delay for the fishing sector, which is not welcome.

Food security has not featured heavily in the debate, so I want to take the opportunity to mention it. In Europe we are eating more fish than ever before. We have hit an historic peak and the projections for the next 30 years show that consumption will continue to rise. With the EU already importing two thirds of its fish and growing demand in big markets such as the US and China, the reforms must address the issue. I hope that the Minister will address that when he comes to the Dispatch Box.

Reform is long overdue, as all Members have said—it is one concern that unites the House. That is the hope, but as ever the devil will be in the detail and in how strongly the Government argue and negotiate for UK fisheries and use regionalisation to respond to the needs of fishing communities. We support the reform process and stress the need for a strong voice for the interests of UK fisheries and a clear move away from the top-down management and control that pervades the current CFP.

I have no hesitation in acknowledging the hard work and commitment of the Minister in engaging with the devolved Governments and with stakeholders. It is essential that the UK has the strongest possible voice in these negotiations. I read yesterday that the Secretary of State is bending over backwards in representing the interests of the UK in reform of the common agricultural policy, but where is she on CFP reform? Can the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State is fully engaged and will perform similar political contortions to get the best possible deal for the UK on fisheries reform? It would also be helpful if he put more flesh on the bones of his negotiating position. Four months on from the publication of the Commission’s proposals,

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does he have a clear view of what he wants to come out of CFP reform, which of the proposals he agrees with, and which he wants to strengthen? I am aware that the impact assessment closed only last Thursday, but can he update us on its progress? Any information would be welcome.

I would like to turn to some of the key areas of the reforms set out by the Commission. Regionalisation is a key element of the new CFP, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned. The current top-down approach has failed to achieve its objectives. Radical reform is necessary. The new CFP must ensure that fisheries management is dealt with at the most appropriate level. Without genuine decentralisation of fisheries management, it is difficult to imagine that sustainable management will be achieved. To that end, I welcome the proposals for multi-annual plans devised by member states, which the Commission intends as a central tool for ensuring that fish stocks are kept at sustainable levels and achieve maximum sustainable yields. It is vital that the Minister works closely with stakeholders in that process.

The collaborative approach will be particularly important in the plans to eliminate discards under the basic regulation within the multi-annual plans. In some EU fisheries 60% of catches are discarded. Discarding is a symptom of the poor management and practice of the current CFP. Much of the focus of the current proposals is on landing all catches of the main commercial species, but there is a real danger that discards overboard will become discards ashore.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that all previous Governments have not wanted that policy but failed to get rid of it, does the shadow Minister have any idea how the Minister will be able to do so?

Fiona O’Donnell: I am sure that the Minister will be glad to answer that question, but I will say that what we are seeing now is a phased-in approach on three levels, which gives us a real opportunity. I share concerns that Members have voiced in the debate on how we can achieve that, but that is not an excuse for a lack of political leadership in achieving the aim.

The Commission’s proposals place a legal duty on the UK to implement a tradeable system of quotas, known as transferrable fishing concessions, which some Members have touched on. They have raised concerns in other debates and argued that we should not end up with a situation in which a vast share of our concessions is in the hands of a few and multinational organisations can buy up the rights to our national resource. There is a proposal that member states should maintain an accurate register of holders of transferrable fishing concessions. Does the Minister support and welcome those plans for transparency, and what preparatory plans and assessments have been undertaken by his Department? Has he come to a view on the transfer of concessions to other member states?

My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) spoke about reaching maximum sustainable yield, and like her I have concerns about how we achieve that, given the nature of our mixed fisheries. The scale of the challenge must not again be an excuse for a lack of political will from the Government in driving forward

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to achieve maximum sustainable yields wherever possible by 2015. Ensuring that decisions are based on the best possible data and scientific advice requires Government agencies and the Government to work with fishermen, and as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) mentioned, there is good practice in the pilots in Scotland to build on.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned external waters. It is proposed that fishing partnership agreements will be replaced with sustainable fisheries agreements, which will put more emphasis on achieving the aims of the CFP outside EU waters. I welcome the new legal framework introduced by the Commission to ensure that European fishermen fish responsibly, but there is another concern relating to employment rights—perhaps not the Government’s strongest cause—which I would like to raise with the Minister. We know that on EU vessels there are many workers from developing countries and there is concern about their employment rights.

Sheryll Murray: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Fiona O’Donnell: I am afraid that I must press on, as I have little time remaining.

I want also to mention—last but by no means least—the under 10 metre fleet and how pleased I am that so many Members have made the case for it today. We wait to see how the pilots work, but I hope that the Minister will draw on the experience and skills of the co-operative and mutual movements in making them a success.

Fish are not territorial; they move across borders and seas, as do fishing fleets. As the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), recently remarked, “Fish do not wear Union Jacks”; and nor do they wear Scottish saltires, and that is why we need a common fisheries policy and a single strong voice speaking up for UK fisheries.

The measures under discussion look set to form the biggest shake-up of the CFP in its history, and the Commission’s proposal shows a welcome shift from annual decision making to longer-term management plans and ecosystem-based decisions, with policies that pledge to raise all fish stocks to a sustainable level by 2015, to stop discarding, to offer improved consumer information on the sustainability of seafood and to impose rules that offer financial support to environmentally sustainable fisheries.

I wish the Minister and the Secretary of State well in their negotiations, and I commend the motion to the House.

2.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I commend the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) and his colleagues on the all-party fisheries group for bringing this issue to the House, and the Backbench Business Committee for supporting it. This debate leads on well from our debate in May, which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) brought to the House, and if Members support the motion they will give me and the Government

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a mandate to continue our work to introduce some common-sense reform to a failed policy, and to take forward proposals that will greatly advantage the industry and our marine environment.

I should like to take this opportunity, however, to recall the six fishermen who have lost their lives this year in the line of their work at sea and in the harbour. We must remember the courage and sacrifice of individual fishermen, who put their lives in danger to bring food to our tables. Today is especially poignant, given our memory of Neil Murray, the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), to whom many Members have referred, and I know that the House will wish to join me in sending sincere condolences to all those families and friends who have suffered losses.

I shall try to cover as many points as I possibly can. I shall not be able to cover them all, but at this vital time, as we move toward the December round and, of course, through the wider CFP reform negotiations, I remain absolutely willing to meet the all-party group of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and any other groups of hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the manifest failing of the common fisheries policy and found a ready audience in the House and, certainly, with me. He spoke about discards, as did several hon. Members, and it is important that our reforms on discards—I think that these were his words—reflect the reality of fishing. It is absolutely vital that we do so on a stock-by-stock, sea-basin and species-by-species basis and secure a workable result that delivers not just what the 700,000 people who signed up to the Fish Fight campaign want, but a sustainable solution for the fishing industry.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the landing of black fish, and let the House be absolutely clear: those who land fish illegally are stealing fish from their fellow fishermen, so it is absolutely vital that we do all we can to crack down on that practice. He spoke also about regionalisation, as did a great many other Members, and about the welcome addition of the regional advisory councils in the 2002 reforms, and I absolutely agree that that is the basis on which we should talk, using a sea-basin approach to the management of our fisheries.

I want to see regionalisation work, but I concede the concerns, raised by hon. Members from all parties, that regionalisation in its current form could lead perversely to an increase in the Commission’s powers. That is not what we want, and we will push very hard to ensure that regionalisation is effectively that.

The hon. Gentleman and several others raised another point, about the proposed cuts in the December round to those stocks where there is data-deficiency. We won a very important argument in the Baltic round of negotiations last month, noting that the arbitrary 25% or 15% cuts on the basis of a lack of evidence was completely illogical. It results in more discards, in poverty and in people going out of business, and we won that point. It remains on the table for the December round, but the principle has been won and we will drive it home, because it is really important.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, made a very important point when she spoke about her Committee’s desire to see more work on marketing less popular fish. DEFRA is doing that. We set up the “Fishing for the Markets” project, and among other things we are undertaking a land-all scheme in North Shields. Indeed, we have been doing so for a long time—for well over a year—and it is paying dividends. As Members have pointed out, 54% of discards are nothing to do with quotas; they are species that are not eaten in this country.

Mr Redwood: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Richard Benyon: If my right hon. Friend will allow me, I will not, because I have only five minutes and a lot to get through.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned the lobsters and brown crabs off the coast of her constituency, and I assure her that we are thinking again about that issue, because we want to ensure that we carry people with us and our measures work.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), my hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall, for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and others spoke about the under 10 metre plan, as did the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell), who spoke for the Opposition.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Richard Benyon: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I really do not have time.

The important thing is that those reforms really work. A lot of work has gone into the issue, not just by this Government, I am first to concede, and the three pilots will be taken forward. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said that there is enthusiasm in his constituency, as there is around the coast, to ensure that they work, and we are recruiting coastal liaison officers, who will assist people not only with managing their fishing opportunity or quota, but with marketing their catch and getting a better price for what they land.

Mr Redwood: Will the Minister give way?

Richard Benyon: I am sorry, but I shall not give way.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran asked about marine conservation zones, and that represented the one note of discord in the debate, but I think that I can address it precisely. The hon. Member for East Lothian, who leads for the Opposition, asked me to take forward proposals on which there is no scientific basis or not enough of one to sustain them, but that position was not taken during the lengthy hours of debate, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, about provisions that became the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Neither the Wildlife Trust nor anyone else took that position. What we will do—[ Interruption ]—and the hon. Lady would do well to listen to this—is obtain the evidence so that we can take forward an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones. I assure her that it will be something of which she can be proud—and so can we.

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The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke with concern about the displacement effect of scallops, and he is absolutely right: our management of one area of the seas will impact on another. I assure him that I take that issue very seriously.

We secured a review of the cod recovery plan a year ago, and I—naively perhaps—thought that it might have manifested itself by now, but unfortunately there will be dramatic cuts in days at sea unless we can improve it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for his praise. There is a terrifying hidden threat when Members are nice to Ministers, because they are saying, “If you fail, boy do you fail” but I take his comments at face value and absolutely assure him that recreational sea angling is key to what we want to do—not just because of the enjoyment that it provides, but because of its social and environmental benefits and what it does for coastal communities.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) mentioned the 25% and 15% cut, but I hope he is reassured that we are going to fight it. On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park made, I intend to get more management control out to 200 miles. With the marine conservation zones, it is vital that we get buy-in from the European Union, otherwise we might have the perverse case of conservation zones that are just for fishermen from the United Kingdom, not for those on vessels that fish from other parts of the EU.

Member states must be able to work regionally to develop management plans and to implement measures that are appropriate to their fisheries, but currently the proposals lack crucial detail on how regionalisation will work. I understand that there are legal constraints to devolving power, particularly to the regional level, but proposals must enable nations fishing in the same areas—often for the same fish, as Members have said—to come together and agree on how to manage their fisheries.

This debate is, of course, also important for allowing us to set out clearly that our partnership with fishermen, both in terms of science and how government works, is vital. This is a critical time for fisheries management and I am sure that the House shares my commitment and enthusiasm to take this once in a decade opportunity to overcome the structural failings of the CFP. It is a long and challenging road ahead, but the UK has a major role to play in influencing the new policy and, with negotiations under way, progress is being made.

However, there is a lot more we can and must do to deliver the reformed CFP that we want. We need continued engagement with the European Commission, other members states and the European Parliament to exert maximum influence throughout the negotiations. We also need to continue working closely with NGOs, fisherman, retailers, processors and others with an interest in fisheries and the marine environment to secure a policy that will deliver a real change for the future of fisheries and the marine environment. I hope that hon.

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Members will continue to support the Government’s view that fundamental reform of the CFP is required. I fully support the motion.

3 pm

Mr Doran: With the leave of the House, may I say that we have had an excellent debate? I am deeply sorry to those who were not able to contribute. We seem to have had half an hour taken off our debate because of the urgent question. In the 20 years or so I have been attending fisheries debates, this is the one in which there have been the most speakers, which clearly underlines the importance of the issue we have been discussing.

The message to the Minister is loud and clear: we support radical reform. That has come from all hon. Members’ contributions. The Minister can go to the negotiations in December and in 2012 in the full knowledge of that support. He can afford to be brave. The Commission has put very little meat on the bones, but that could be an opportunity. He can be brave and bring the radical reform that we all want to see.

Jim Shannon: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Last year, this debate took place in Westminster Hall and lasted for three hours. The request was made to have the debate here in the House, to which everybody could contribute. Will the Deputy Speaker consider the process and the time scale, because we thought we were going to have a three-hour debate here as well?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I understand the feeling running through the House today. A lot of Members wanted to contribute and the debate has had to be cut short. I am sure that that will be taken on board for future debates.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House considers that the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to achieve its key objective of producing a sustainable European fishery; welcomes the review of the policy by the European Commission; and urges Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that a revised Common Fisheries Policy makes particular provision for—

(a) a move away from a centralised management system to a system of regional management of fisheries involving all stakeholders and strengthening of the local management of the 12 mile limit;

(b) a manageable and practical scheme to eliminate the problem of discarded fish; and

(c) the replacement of the current system of annual quotas with a multi-annual system of management focussed on conserving fish stocks within a sustainable fishing industry, in particular to protect the viability of low impact fishing.

Royal Assent

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Localism Act 2011

Education Act 2011

15 Nov 2011 : Column 743

Fuel Prices

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have to tell the House that no amendments have been selected.

3.2 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the 1p cut in fuel duty at the 2011 Budget, the abolition of the fuel tax escalator, the establishment of a fair fuel stabiliser and the Government’s acknowledgement that high petrol and diesel prices are a serious problem; notes that in the context of the Government’s efforts to tackle the deficit and put the public finances on a sustainable path, ensuring stable tax revenues is vital for sustainable growth; however, believes that high fuel prices are causing immense difficulties for small and medium-sized enterprises vital to economic recovery; further notes reports that some low-paid workers are paying a tenth of their income just to fill up the family car and that high fuel prices are particularly damaging for the road freight industry; considers that high rates of fuel duty may have led to lower tax revenues in recent years, after reports from leading motoring organisations suggested that fuel duty revenues were at least £1 billion lower in the first six months of 2011 compared with 2008; and calls on the Government to consider the effect that increased taxes on fuel will have on the economy, examine ways of working with industry to ensure that falls in oil prices are passed on to consumers, to take account of market competitiveness, and to consider the feasibility of a price stabilisation mechanism that would work alongside the fair fuel stabiliser to address fluctuations in the pump price.

I would not be here today without the 116 MPs from all parties who have signed the motion; the many other Members who have Government posts who would have liked to have signed it; the 110,000 people who signed our e-petition; The Sun newspaper’s “Keep it Down” campaign; the FairFuelUK group led by Quentin Willson, who is in the precincts of Westminster today and who has been one of the leading campaigners for lower petrol prices; and Peter Carroll supported by the Daily Express. I also want to thank the Backbench Business Committee and its excellent Chair, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel). Above all, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) who has been instrumental in helping me to secure this debate and the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) who I am pleased will be summing up. I want to consider why fuel duty is the No. 1 issue in Britain. I also want to talk about the financial impact, the economic impact and, finally, the social impact.

With the agreement of FairFuelUK, today’s motion has been framed to unite the House and to win as much support as possible. As I said, that is reflected by the fact that 116 MPs from all parties have signed it so this has been successful. Last week, a poll in The Sun showed that 85% of people now believe that the duty rise in January should be cancelled. Other polls show that people are more concerned about petrol and diesel prices than anything else. We have the highest diesel price in Europe and one of the highest petrol prices. The Government’s figures show that sales of petrol and diesel have been falling since 2008 because fuel is becoming unaffordable.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that another problem is the difference in price of the same brand at different garages? At one

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garage on a motorway, we could see £1.50 a litre and, locally, we might see £1.29 a litre. Surely that is also a big problem.

Robert Halfon: I agree with my hon. Friend. Often if someone is driving up the M11—as I often do—or any other motorway, they are hostage to the various petrol stations. As I will say later, we need a market study into competitiveness.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that rural areas, such as Shropshire, where there are limited bus services, are adversely affected by these expensive prices?

Robert Halfon: Absolutely. I welcome the fact that the Government are going to introduce pilots in some rural areas. I know that people will talk more about that today, but I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks.

In real terms, adjusted for inflation, motoring fuel has never been this expensive, apart from twice in history during historic crises of supply—Suez in 1956 and the OPEC strike in 1973. The current situation is being driven by higher taxes and we have to be realistic and truthful about who pays the lion’s share of fuel duty: it is ordinary families driving to work, mums taking their children to school, small businesses that cannot afford to drive vans or lorries, and non-motorists who depend on buses and who are also being crushed by rocketing food prices as the cost of road haulage goes through the roof.

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned restricted bus services. Can I tell him that in large parts of Cumbria and other rural areas, there simply are not any bus services and people have to use their cars?

Robert Halfon: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was pleased to bump into him on holiday in Cumbria not so long ago. In certain areas, we cannot simply say, “People should use public transport.” People depend on their cars.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous with his time. He mentioned small businesses. Coach companies in places such as Great Yarmouth are also affected. That affects the local economy because current prices make it difficult for them to have the money to invest further in their business and create more jobs and bus services for people locally.

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend is exactly right. Later, I will show that transport firms are closing because of the high cost of petrol and diesel. His constituents are lucky to have him to represent them. As I said, small businesses have no choice but to use their vans and lorries, and non-motorists depend on buses and are being crushed by rocketing food prices.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Robert Halfon: Let me just carry on for a bit.

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The jobless, who are struggling to get off benefits and out of the poverty trap, cannot afford to drive to work. Fuel duty is a tax on hard-working and vulnerable Britons. I accept that the Government need to raise revenue, but let us at least be honest about who pays this tax. When fuel duty was first introduced in the 1920s, it was a third of its current level in real terms. However, as ever, tax increases have had the engine of a Rolls-Royce but the brakes of a lawnmower. The fuel tax escalator was introduced in 1993. Labour then accelerated it to 6% above inflation, and it was finally halted in November 2000, when massive fuel protests brought the country to a standstill. That was when petrol was just 80p a litre.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Like everyone else, I welcome this debate. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that rural areas and the regions of this nation—places such as Northern Ireland—have the lowest salaries per worker but the highest fuel costs? That means fuel pricing has a disproportionate impact on people living in those parts of the United Kingdom. Importantly, Government taxation policy is encouraging fuel fraud, fuel laundering and fuel smuggling, meaning that the Exchequer is losing hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Robert Halfon: As ever, the hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. He sets out how fuel prices are creating a more unequal society.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), does the hon. Gentleman agree that this disproportionate taxation is absolutely unjustifiable for people in rural areas who have no choice but to drive, particularly those in poorer households and small businesses?

Robert Halfon: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, and I thank her for coming with me to the Backbench Committee to try to get this debate.

Several hon. Members rose

Robert Halfon: A lot of people want to speak, so I do not want to take too many interventions.

The coalition Government abolished the fuel escalator—we welcome that—and cut duty by 1p. They also introduced a semi-stabiliser, which means that duty will rise quicker than inflation only if oil prices are low for a sustained period. Thanks to this, motorists will pay £274 less on fuel duty during this Parliament than if the previous Government had been re-elected and stuck with their plans—but for most people filling up the family car, our prices are still the most expensive in Europe. Even bankrupt socialist nations such as Spain now have lower rates of fuel tax than Britain.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he acknowledge that in January there was a hike in VAT that affected individual motorists right across the country?

Robert Halfon: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that. The majority of businesses that are suffering from fuel prices get their VAT refunded. Sadly, as I mentioned, the last Labour Government increased the

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fuel escalator by 6% ahead of inflation. When we cut fuel taxes in the last Budget, Labour Members voted against it.

Research has shown that residents in my constituency of Harlow are now paying £42 million in fuel taxes every single year. However, tax is not the only problem. There are suggestions that some of the big oil companies are behaving like a cartel, with a stranglehold over the market. Brian Madderson of the Retail Motor Industry Federation says that the small forecourts that he represents are now forced to buy fuel from the big players at a set wholesale price on a daily basis rather than on weekly or monthly terms. There is no competition from wholesalers on these terms. The Enterprise Act 2002 gives Ministers powers to ask for an independent market study, and that is what we need.

Another factor is that fuel prices are quick to rise but sluggish in coming down.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Devon has as many roads as the whole of Belgium. We have very low wages, and many rural people are affected by fuel prices, in particular. There is also the question of diesel for lorries. Everything that goes by lorry uses diesel, so what about reducing its price in the way that it has been in many other countries?

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I prefer Devon to Belgium. Of course, he is exactly right.

In the past four months, the price of oil has fallen by 8% but fuel prices have stayed static. Oil firms protest that they are forced to buy raw materials in dollars and that currency fluctuations have made price cuts impossible, but analysis shows that this is false. The cost of Brent crude has fallen by nearly 20% since April this year, and yet the dollar has just risen by 6%.

Neil Carmichael rose

Robert Halfon: Let me carry on for a moment.

Big oil firms should not hide behind currency fluctuations. Statistics from the UK Petroleum Industry Association, which is funded by the major oil companies, show that in early 2010 the price of crude oil fell steadily, and yet retail fuel prices stayed high for months. Why was that? Ultimately, the only way to resolve this is through open-book accounting. If the big oil companies want to prove their innocence, why do not they volunteer to publish the financial data?

I want to turn to the financial impacts. Since 2008, our consumption of diesel and petrol has declined, and the Government forecast that it will continue to plummet next year.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) rose

Robert Halfon: I give way to the president of the Liberal Democrats.

Tim Farron: My hon. Friend is being unfathomably but characteristically generous with his time. He says that consumption has gone down. Does he agree that consumption in rural areas has probably gone down as far as it is going to? Demand for petrol is so inelastic because people have only one way of getting to work,

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and that is by driving, even if they are on the minimum wage. This is now no longer an issue of environmental concern—it is about social justice.

Robert Halfon: I am pleased to say that I was also in the constituency of my hon. Friend for my holidays; it is such a wonderful part of the world. There is absolutely no doubt that fuel prices are threatening rural communities and preventing people from meeting and gathering together. Petrol is now so astronomically expensive that it is driving people off the roads and costing the Exchequer money.

Neil Carmichael rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are not meant to be waving around the Chamber, Mr Carmichael. I am sure that you have already caught Mr Halfon’s eye.

Robert Halfon: Just to relieve my hon. Friend, I will give way.

Neil Carmichael: I wanted to invite my hon. Friend to Stroud for his holidays, as well, if he has not already been. If he does come, he will see that we have a large number of road haulage firms that are very concerned about the price of diesel. Of course, they are having to pass that on to small and medium-sized firms, which, in turn, means difficulties for them. We need to understand that and give further strength to his case in this House.

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend makes the point better than I have; I completely agree with him.

In the run-up to this debate, lots of people came to me and said, “We all want lower fuel duty, but how can we pay for it?” In fact, this is back to front. Evidence suggests that we are on the wrong side of the Laffer curve and that lower taxes might increase revenues. The Government’s own figures show that between January and June this year 1.7 billion fewer litres of petrol and diesel were sold compared with the first half of 2008. The AA has done its analysis and says that this equates to £1 billion in lost revenue for the Treasury. As the Chancellor said earlier this year, we must put fuel into the tank of the British economy, and cutting fuel tax is the way to do it. The economic impact of this is disastrous. The ex-Tesco boss, Sir Terry Leahy, told The Sun:

“I don’t think people fully appreciated what an oil shock we’ve had. Filling up the family car has gone up 70% in two years, causing what was a steady recovery to go sideways.”

As some of my hon. Friends have said, UK haulage companies are being driven out of business as they face higher taxes here than in nearby countries such as Ireland, with which we share a land border. To their credit, the Government have taken some action, and foreign lorry drivers are now charged up to £9 a day to use our roads. But still the insolvency firm SFP has said that three quarters of transport business failures in the last year have been caused by excessive fuel prices.

Fuel prices are adding to our dole queues. In 2006, when petrol was just 95p per litre, experts at the London School of Economics published research showing that unemployed workers who could not afford to drive or

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to commute to jobs stayed unemployed for longer. Since then, fuel prices have surged by 40%, despite the recession, and many workers have suffered from redundancy or wage freezes. The Government are working on a rural fuel duty rebate for remote outer islands such as the Outer Hebrides and elsewhere. This is welcome, but it will help only a tiny number of motorists.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I should like to add my comments to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I want particularly to draw attention to the fact that young people in my constituency, which is very rural, are limited in their choice of education because there are no bus services to speak of, and they are sorely tested in trying to get to their schools and colleges if they choose to use a school outside their area. This was highlighted even more by the fact that they brought transport—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. This is far too long an intervention. We want to get through a lot of Members who wish to speak. Some people are trying to intervene who wanted to catch my eye early on, and I will put them further down the list if that carries on. I want to get as many people in as possible.

Robert Halfon: I understand and agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt). I am grateful to her for supporting the motion and for backing me at the Backbench Business Committee.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Robert Halfon: I will not give way again because of what Mr Deputy Speaker has just said. I apologise to my hon. Friend.

I will turn to the social impact. In Harlow, the cheapest unleaded petrol costs £1.33 per litre. Most Harlow motorists are therefore spending £1,700 a year just to fill their tanks. For most people, that is the equivalent of £2,200 of income before tax—a tenth of the average Harlow salary. I met a Harlow man called Mr Barry Metcalf a few weeks ago. He is self-employed and uses his own car to commute to West Ham for work. He spends nearly £60 a week on fuel and has seen a 35% increase in the past year or two. The Government define fuel poverty as spending a tenth of one’s income on heating bills. What about spending a tenth of one’s income just on driving to work?

Of that £1,700, about £1,000 is taxation. That is why fuel duty is like a second income tax. The Office for National Statistics confirmed yesterday that fuel duty is regressive and that the poorest are hit twice as hard as the richest. Fuel duty is not just about economics; it is an issue of social justice. That is especially true in rural communities, which are being destroyed by fuel prices.

In conclusion, there is a strong financial, economic and social case for cutting fuel taxes. That is why we urge the Government to scrap the planned 4p fuel duty increases that are scheduled for January and August 2012; to create a genuine price stabilisation mechanism that smoothes out fluctuations in the pump price; to pressurise the big oil companies to pass on cheaper oil to motorists; and to set up a commission to look at

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market competitiveness and radical ways of cutting fuel taxes in the long term. There is an ethical case too. We must show that tax cutting is a moral creed. We must show that this is a Government for the many, not for the few; a Government who cut taxes for millions of British people, not just for millionaires. I urge the Government to listen to the 116 MPs who have signed the motion; to the 110,000 people who have signed the FairFuelUK e-petition; and to the many millions of families, small businesses and pensioners who are struggling with fuel costs. I urge the House to support the motion.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I remind the House that there is a four-minute limit on speeches. Members should restrict the amount of time that they use wherever possible. Brevity will be helpful in this debate.

3.22 pm

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): I am sorry that my amendment was not selected by Mr Speaker, because I believe that the motion is wishy-washy. I will explain the reasons for that later. My amendment went into some of the details that need to be addressed to help hard-working families.

Like many Members, about four or five weeks ago I started to receive letters from constituents on this issue, mainly prompted by the FairFuelUK campaign. At the time I wrote back to my constituents to tell them that I could not support the campaign because it called for tax cuts without saying how they would be paid for. I have little time for campaigns by the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, FairFuelUK or the TaxPayers Alliance, which are extreme right-wing organisations that promote tax cuts at the expense of public services.

However, I have now changed my mind after speaking to some of my constituents. There is no doubt in my mind that high fuel prices are having a tremendous impact on many low-paid and middle-paid families in my constituency. It is clear that the Government have no idea about the impact that high fuel prices are having on many constituents around the country. It is also clear that they have no understanding of the impact that wage freezes, high inflation, tax increases and high unemployment are having on the general public and the economy. Many of my constituents will have no pay increase for two years. Prices go up in the shops virtually every week. Heating and petrol prices are a particular problem for many of my constituents, and many of them are struggling to stay afloat.

The second reason I support the campaign is the decision by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories to raise VAT to 20%, which has had a massive impact on the cost of living and on my community. It has made the situation worse. We have now had a flatlining economy for 18 months and unemployment is at a 17-year high. Those who believe that the motion will address those issues are sadly mistaken. What we need is a complete review of economic policy in this country, taking on board something like the Labour plan for jobs and growth. Unlike Labour, the Government parties have no policies for growth. Labour’s policies of providing

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100,000 jobs for young people, bringing forward investment in major projects and schools, a temporary reversal of the VAT rise—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We need to stick to fuel prices.

Mr Watts: I am sticking to them, because the people promoting the motion believe that it will address their constituents’ problems. We have heard many Members talking about the impact that high fuel prices are having on their constituencies. I know that to be the case, but it is only part of the problem that people face on a daily basis. We need a review. At the last election the Tories promised to cut fuel costs and to stabilise them in the immediate future and the long term.

Many families depend on cars to get themselves to work and to deliver their children to school—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Mark Garnier.

3.26 pm

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Speaking as somebody whose combined family mileage approaches 50,000 miles a year, and as a Member who represents a semi-rural constituency, I am acutely aware of the burden placed on local households by fuel prices. The cost of fuel does not just affect those who use cars; it affects everyone through food prices and prices on the high street, and it affects those who use public transport.

Some argue that if we want to move towards a more sustainable economy, high fuel prices will encourage a greener outlook. I do not disagree with that. However, when we are doing everything we can to improve our economic prospects, now is not the time to allow rising fuel prices to limit the mobility of our work force and hinder manufacturers and retailers through increased transport costs.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that young people in particular feel the pressure of high fuel prices when they are trying to find their first job, which is often low paid? Does he also agree that the cost of insurance adds a burden to young people who have to get to and from employment?

Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The cost of car insurance is unbelievably high for young people. That is a particular problem when they are trying to get on the job ladder. We should certainly be doing everything we can to help young people.

The price of oil, as we have heard, is determined by commodity markets as well as by the sterling-dollar exchange rate. The only way to control pump prices is therefore through fuel duty. However, the country has incredibly little room for manoeuvre. I am convinced that helping economic growth through tax breaks works, especially when those tax breaks are targeted at specific areas such as fuel duty.

A cut in the price of fuel at the pump would reduce manufacturing and distribution costs, increase the mobility of our work force, increase household disposable income and lessen, overall, the headwind facing our economic recovery. Taking into account the work that we are trying to do in Kidderminster to promote advanced

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manufacturing and help boost the retail industry, I would welcome any reduction in costs, including fuel and transport costs. However, given where our economy is, any reduction in fuel revenue would have to be met by an increase in revenue elsewhere. Everything that the Government do has to be fiscally neutral. We simply do not have the resources available to cut fuel duty significantly without putting in jeopardy our low borrowing rates, which mean that we are in greater control of our own destiny than some of our European neighbours.

Although I support the efforts that the Government have already made in cutting 1p off the fuel duty in March and suspending the fuel duty escalator—a reduction of £1.9 billion in fuel duty—I urge them to see whether more can be done to help. The rising price of oil leads to increased profit for the oil companies from existing oilfields, as we have heard, and that extra profit gives the Government more opportunities to look again at tackling the high pump price of fuel, either through encouraging price reductions by the oil companies or through the tax system.

What has recently been causing a great deal of anguish among my constituents is that it costs more to run a car in Wyre Forest than in nearby Dudley. The average of 134.8p per litre of unleaded is about 6p higher than in Dudley, just 10 miles up the road. I have written to the petrol companies to see whether they can explain why they want my constituents to pay more for their petrol than people in nearby Dudley or Wolverhampton. Just one has taken the trouble to reply, to say that it has received my letter, but I have had no other replies, and certainly no explanation as yet.

It is right that we are debating the overall cost of fuel duty to our economy, and it is right that we are looking for ways of reducing that burden. However, I want the oil companies to explain why they see fit to charge my constituents in Wyre Forest more for their motoring. Can they justify subsidising more urban areas, not just in the black country but in the country as a whole, at the expense of our semi-rural and rural communities? Can they please let us all know when they intend to remove that rural surcharge on fuel?

3.30 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). I congratulate the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing the debate, and I was one of those who signed the motion and helped him to do so. I believe that the motion is a little broad and weak in its application, but I understand the reason for that—securing this debate.

I wish to talk about two main issues to do with how fuel prices hit peripheral areas—not just isolated communities but other areas on the periphery. They suffer from a double whammy of high energy costs—particularly for those who are off the grid and have to pay for heating oil and liquefied petroleum gas—and having to pay more for their petrol.

Road journeys are a necessity in communities such as the one that I represent. We are not talking about Chelsea tractors or luxury vehicles; we are talking about the necessity of getting from A to B in rural and

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semi-rural areas, where alternatives do not exist. If the hon. Member for Harlow were to come to my constituency, along with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson) and others, he would see the price differences as he moved west from Chester to Anglesey. Only yesterday, the difference was 7p per litre of petrol, and far more for diesel. We need to do something about that.

I welcome any reduction in fuel duty, for which I have campaigned for many years, but the March reduction was wiped out by the January VAT increase. That was a real problem for real motorists. I understand what the hon. Member for Harlow said about businesses reclaiming VAT, but ordinary motorists were unable to reclaim that extra 2.5 percentage points.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My hon. Friend knows that fuel prices go up when he travels westwards from the Chester area to his constituency. However, there are also people in urban areas who are trapped by fuel prices, such as the lady who came to see me at my last surgery, who has to travel to Liverpool for medical treatment and also has to travel regularly to Bolton to see her daughter, who is in a mental health hospital. Such people need support, and some of them live in urban areas. I am sure he would not want to exclude them.

Albert Owen: Sure—and I was not making a rural versus urban argument, I was talking about peripheral areas, particularly those far from refineries. Indeed, I want to talk about British refineries. Quite often, crude oil from the North sea is actually refined in faraway countries and brought back here, which adds cost. We therefore need to improve our refinery capacity in this country, to keep prices down.

I welcome the fact that the escalator has been done away with. It was introduced in 1993, perhaps for good reasons: it was felt that people could move from private to public transport. However, in semi-rural areas that is just not possible. That is why motorists have been enraged by the rise in the escalator. It went up, I think, by 5% under the Conservatives and 6% under Labour.

The Government could deal with VAT now. We can talk about the effect that a semi-stabiliser would have on North sea oil and the prices at the pump, but the Government can take measures now to reduce VAT to help motorists today. When the previous Government lowered VAT from 17.5% to 15%, fuel prices came down, helping to stimulate the economy. [ Interruption. ] They did. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) is laughing, but he needs to compare the prices. Prices came down and businesses were able to trade more. Individuals could also use their cars more, and not just for work but for leisure. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that fuel duty went up, but the calculation shows an overall saving to the motorist at the pump, and that is what we are talking about. We can argue the complicated and technical aspects, but at the end of the day people want lower prices at the pump.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Government Members may well be laughing too, but people in Chesterfield are not laughing, because they are paying through the nose. It is not just the general public who are affected by the

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current level of VAT. Small businesses up and down the country that are not VAT-registered and do not qualify to get their VAT back are paying huge amounts. We should not be laughing about this; we should be taking the point seriously.

Albert Owen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government need to look again at changing the rate, because it worked. If we in this House are serious about stimulating the economy, we need to look at such mechanisms—which can be used now—because the economy is flatlining.

Areas such as mine are paying extra for energy and fuel, and we need to do something about it. We had a debate the other week about energy prices, and we agreed that we needed to investigate what is called the “rocket and feathers” effect—that means that when prices go up they shoot up quickly, but when they come down they come down slowly—for domestic energy users and retailers. As the hon. Member for Harlow said, we also need to look at that effect in relation to crude oil prices, which also escalate quickly but come down slowly. We need some sort of commission to examine that mechanism.

The three points that I wanted to make today are as follows. We need to look at the differentials between areas close to refineries and those on the periphery. I understand that a rebate is being considered for remote islands, but, as has already been said, that does not help the many motorists around the coastal areas of the United Kingdom who are paying considerably more. I heard one of my colleagues from Northern Ireland say that Northern Ireland has higher prices, but according to the website that compares prices, Bangor in north Wales pays 3p or 4p a litre more than Bangor in Northern Ireland. I say good luck to the people who live in Bangor in Northern Ireland, but my constituents are paying 7p a litre more, week in week out, to trade, to do business, to move people and goods across the area and to take young children to amenities and leisure facilities of a night.

It is time the Government did something. I will back them when they do the right thing. They can consider whether more could be done on refineries. We need to look at transport costs and VAT, and we need to help the people today.

3.37 pm

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on his campaign to secure today’s debate.

I represent a sparsely populated constituency where long drives for essential business are common, so I am well aware of the impact of high fuel prices on individuals and businesses. For example, the price of fuel on some of the larger islands in my constituency, such as Mull and Islay, is typically about 15p to 20p a litre higher than in a city centre supermarket, and on the smaller islands, such as Coll and Colonsay, the price is usually about 30p a litre higher. It should be stressed that this is not because of profiteering by the local filling stations. The reasons for the higher prices are low turnover, compared with all the fixed costs that a rural filling station has to pay, and the costs of the distribution

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network. The costs of fuel distribution in the highlands and islands are very high, and I hope that the Office of Fair Trading will investigate them.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Coll and Colonsay, but he will know that a newspaper on Coll and Colonsay costs the same as in the city centre. Should the Government not move towards more parity and equality between islands such as Coll and Colonsay—or, indeed, Na h-Eileanan an Iar—and city centres?

Mr Reid: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will give credit to the Government for what they are doing on fuel duty on islands. The high price of fuel obviously has a great impact on people’s living standards, and makes it difficult for anyone trying to run a business on an island or in a remote rural area.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): My hon. Friend is making the important point, which has come out again and again in the debate, that people in remote rural areas in constituencies such as ours have no choice but to use a car. Does he agree that, in the long run, the Government will have to look at a system of variable road user pricing that is based on the choices available and that will enable essential users to pay a lower price?

Mr Reid: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend.

There has always been an environmental argument for higher fuel prices, in order to persuade people to use public transport rather than a car. That argument works fine in a city with plenty of bus and train services, but it falls down completely in a rural area, and particularly in a remote rural area such as Argyll and Bute, where in places there is a bus service only on school days. That might be okay for getting schoolteachers to and from work, but it is no good for anyone who needs to be at work outside school hours. The advantage of road user pricing would be that more could be charged for driving on city roads, with a much lower price for driving on a remote rural road. The problem with fuel duty is that it is a blunt instrument, in that the same level of duty is charged in all parts of the country, irrespective of whether public transport alternatives exist or not.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Reid: I am sorry; I have used both my interventions.

To go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), I was delighted when the Government announced their intention to pursue a pilot scheme whereby there will be a 5p a litre fuel duty discount for those on many of the country’s islands, including all those in my constituency. That reduction will go part of the way towards removing the price differential between fuel on the islands and fuel on the mainland. I hope that the scheme will be up and running soon, and I ask the Minister to give us an update at the end of the debate on how the negotiations are going in Europe. I am sure that the pilot scheme for the islands will be successful; if it is, I would like it to be extended to remote parts of the mainland. Operating a

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rural filling station is clearly not a profitable business these days. On the Kintyre peninsula, two of the five filling stations that the area had at the start of the year have closed.

There was a time when it could be argued that high fuel taxation was needed to discourage people from driving and polluting the environment, but market forces have already achieved that. The environmental argument for high fuel duty is not sustainable in the present circumstances. The high price is already discouraging people from driving, and they are making only journeys that are absolutely essential. Changing people’s behaviour is possible only when public transport alternatives are available, which is simply not the case in the highlands and islands.

I was also delighted when the Government abandoned Labour’s fuel duty escalator in the Budget, introducing the fuel duty stabiliser instead and bringing down the fuel duty because the price was so high. The Government have scheduled a fuel duty increase for January, because it was hoped at the time of the Budget that prices would have decreased by then. Prices show no sign of coming down, however, so I hope that the Government will listen to everyone who has signed the motion and spoken in the debate, and not proceed with the January fuel duty increase. The price of fuel adds to the price of everything in a rural area. The high cost is holding back economic recovery, so anything that the Government can do to bring the price down would be greatly welcomed in all rural parts of the country, and particularly in the highlands and islands.

3.44 pm

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I too want to thank the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing the debate today. Like many others in the House, I have received a multitude of e-mails supporting the FairFuelUK campaign. Expectations in my constituency and right across the country are very high indeed, and I think that some people are expecting fuel prices to fall at 7 o’clock this evening, on the back of this debate. That is not going to happen, however, and I have had to make my constituents aware that the wording of the motion will not provide a quick fix to the problems that they are facing.

Let me quickly raise one or two issues. Crude oil today is less than $115 a barrel; in 2008, oil was $147 a barrel. We have to ask about market speculation and what it is doing to the price of fuel and thus to our constituents. Like others who have spoken this afternoon, I represent a rural area, where people often have off-grid heating. That means they suffer more, not just from having to fill up their vehicles.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): Do people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency suffer as we do in South Derbyshire from fuel thefts, which are common in rural areas? This applies to heating oil in particular, but transport companies also have their stocks of oil stolen regularly, and yet the police do not seem to be able to trace them.

Mr Brown: Dumfries and Galloway constabulary is first class at tracking and tracing thieves. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We often face this situation when the

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value of the product rises and people try to steal heating oil and all the rest of it. People have to heat their homes, whether it be with heating oil or liquefied petroleum gas, and they also have to use their vehicles. In some locations, there is no other form of transport whatever. For some, there is a bus until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, which can be very difficult when people need to travel a distance to visit other family members or friends in hospital. A car is thus an absolute necessity for many households.

We are seeing price differentials and we are certainly seeing them with some supermarkets. I am not going to name the supermarkets on this occasion, as the last time I mentioned just the word “supermarkets”, two or three of them were quick to write to me to express their anger. Supermarkets drive the price in our local communities: prices tend to fix around what local supermarkets are bidding from their customers.

Here we are getting towards the back end of the year and we see another price differential between diesel and unleaded petrol. The difference has gone up from what it was in the late summer—about 2p or 3p a litre—to up to 6p, 7p or 8p a litre today. I recognise that lies partly with the refineries, but surely in this day and age more investment should be forthcoming so that the price differential does not create an even greater problem for those who have decided to drive diesel vehicles.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): My hon. Friend is setting out the complexity of this issue. Does he agree that, given that complexity, the simplest way to relieve the pressure on families and businesses would be temporarily to reverse the rise in VAT?

Mr Brown: My hon. Friend is exactly right, and I was about to come on to that point. That was the most significant single increase of the last 12 months. The increase in VAT drove up the price by some 3.2p a litre. We could give families that amount back if we took off the extra 2.5% on VAT. I ask the Economic Secretary to consider that measure temporarily. My other plea to her and her Treasury colleagues relates to future increases in the pipeline, as outlined in the Budget. I sincerely hope that she and her colleagues will listen to what we are saying this afternoon, as we do not want the proposed increases finding their way through. She should be bold, as the previous Government were bold. That Labour Government took some flak on duty increases, but there were 11 occasions over nine years when the Labour Government either froze, postponed or totally abandoned increases that were in the pipeline because the price of crude oil was rising.

I sincerely hope that some Department will speak to the oil companies about what we are witnessing. I come back to the speculation going on in the marketplace, which is hurting our constituents and hurting businesses, particularly small businesses. I realise that because those who are VAT-registered will get the VAT back, any reduction will not affect them, but others are being hurt very badly. Like other Members, perhaps, I know of people in remote areas who have discovered that travelling to work is becoming far too costly, and some of them are considering giving up work altogether.

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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that immediate action is required to stimulate economic growth, and that we need a Government who will respond to what is happening?

Mr Brown: We do need immediate action. As I have said, we will see nothing immediate this evening or in the next few weeks, but I hope for a positive response from the Treasury team in the statement that will be made later this month.

3.50 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on the persistence that enabled him to secure this important debate.

The issue that we are discussing does not affect only rural constituencies. I am very conscious that 75% of the constituents who have contacted me come from the more urban parts of the constituency. The truth is that everyone is affected by rising fuel prices. Nevertheless, a disproportionate burden has been placed on those who live in rural areas. In parts of my constituency, people have no choice but to use their cars. Those who live in remote rural villages travel, on average, 10,000 miles a year just to gain access to essential services. One constituent told me, “This is not about luxury. I leave home for work before the first bus arrives in the morning, and I return long after the last one has gone back to the depot.” He has no choice whatsoever.

However, it is not only those who use their cars for their own journeys who are affected. We should also consider those who act as volunteer drivers and support charities, an increasing number of whom tell me that they are finding it too expensive to continue to help the community in that way. We should be thinking about ways of supporting them. Although they welcome the increase in the Chancellor’s approved mileage allowance, they say it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to play their part in helping the local community and reducing the burden on the local councils that would otherwise foot the bill.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that because of the greater scarcity of fossil fuels, we should be aware of the costs of energy generally and in the long term, not just the short term?

Caroline Nokes: Absolutely. I hope that I shall have time to mention that at the end of my speech.

This is not just of concern to middle-income families who may be running two cars; it is a huge cost for low-income families who spend proportionally more of their incomes on fuel.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that some of those low-income families are trying to establish their own businesses, or are already running small businesses such as, in my constituency, landscape gardening businesses. Winter is coming, and those people will now have to deal with the increase in fuel prices as well.

Caroline Nokes: That is indeed of real concern.

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It is little wonder that so many of our constituents signed the e-petition—more than 110,000 members of the public called for the debate—and little wonder that the focus has been on the proportion of taxation in the current average price of £1.34 a litre.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Could she make it even more powerful by saying that she would support a reversal of the increase in VAT on fuel?

Caroline Nokes: I am not convinced that that would be legal.

This morning I met representatives of the Freight Transport Association. They told me that high fuel prices have had a crippling effect on the logistics industry, whose business viability is determined by the price of fuel. Even the smallest rise makes a massive difference to them. A 5p increase in fuel duty adds another £2,350 to the annual price of running an articulated lorry, and the 3p increase that is planned for January would mean that a fleet of 50 vehicles would have to recover £37,000 more per year.

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Caroline Nokes: I am sorry, but I do not think I have time to do so.

Profit margins for hauliers are incredibly tight, which makes haulage a very vulnerable business. In particular, fuel companies are not willing to extend credit terms, with the result that some payments are shrinking to as little as three days’ worth. As haulage firms are often not paid for work for up to 60 days, this is very much a hand-to-mouth industry, and companies can afford to think only as far as January. That hinders growth, investment and further recruitment.

There are about 100 Freight Transport Association members in my constituency, which is, of course, close to a deep-sea port. Fuel duty is lower on the continent, and £1,000-worth of diesel purchased on the continent can give over 200 extra miles to the driver. That has led to European businesses becoming more competitive than their UK counterparts, further heightening the pressure on domestic hauliers.

I acknowledge that we are facing a very difficult economic situation, and that we need to take robust steps to tackle the deficit, and I also know that the planned rises are less than the previous Government had intended. It is a relief to constituents that the Government delayed the scheduled tax rises and have introduced a fuel stabiliser but, like others supporting this motion, I want us to have a stabilisation mechanism under which duty rises and falls in response to fluctuations in the underlying price of oil.

As I am a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, it would be wrong of me not to mention the impact motorists and hauliers have on our nation’s carbon footprint, but fuel taxation is a blunt instrument and the reality is that people in rural areas are having to bear the additional cost as they often have to make the same essential journeys as before.