Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Katy Clark 

Benyon, Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)  

Connarty, Michael (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) 

Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab) 

Heaton-Harris, Chris (Daventry) (Con) 

Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab) 

Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con) 

Mills, Nigel (Amber Valley) (Con) 

O'Donnell, Fiona (East Lothian) (Lab) 

Reid, Mr Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD) 

Rudd, Amber (Hastings and Rye) (Con) 

Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab) 

Watkinson, Angela (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) 

Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 119(6)):

Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North) (Lab) 

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European Committee A 

Monday 7 November 2011  

[Katy Clark in the Chair] 

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy 

4.30 pm 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a statement on why the Committee has referred this matter to us? 

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Clark. It is my first time, so please be gentle with me. It may be helpful and, indeed, exciting, for the Committee if I take a few moments to explain the background to the two documents before us today and the reason why the ESC recommended them for debate. 

It is generally recognised that, despite various reforms, the conservation aspects of the common fisheries policy have failed in their aim of maintaining stocks at a sustainable level. The Commission therefore produced in July 2011 a number of documents, including a general communication, document 12519/11. This noted that the identified failings of the CFP include overfishing, the fragile economic state of the fleet and the precarious situation of many coastal communities, and it suggested various areas of reform. It also highlighted a number of specific changes, notably the elimination of discards of unwanted fish, the introduction of a system of transferable fishing concessions and the refocusing of agreements that enable EU vessels to fish in third country waters. 

The principles set out in the communication are reflected in the draft regulation, document 12514/11, which repeals existing EU legislation in this area, but goes on to re-enact many of the provisions, while incorporating the changes identified in the Green Paper. The Government say that the UK is committed to genuine, fundamental reform and that the proposals are a good starting point with key issues being the ending of discards, the extent of the freedom given to member states to implement national measures, the achieving of maximum sustainable yields by 2015, transferable fishing concessions and sustainable fisheries agreements with third countries. 

In recommending these two documents for debate, the European Scrutiny Committee’s report of 14 September 2011 drew attention to representations it had received from an organisation, Client Earth, about the legality of the proposed system of transferable fishing concessions. As these contrasted with the view taken by the Government, it asked the Government to comment in time for its meeting on 12 October, when it intended to consider whether it was necessary to issue a reasoned opinion under the Lisbon treaty protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality. As explained in the ESC’s report of 2 November 2011, the Government’s failure to provide these views in time meant that the deadline under the Lisbon treaty for submitting reasoned opinions could not be met and, although the Government’s eventual response means it is unlikely the Committee would in

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fact have put forward a reasoned opinion, it has drawn attention to the unsatisfactory way in which its request was handled. 

The Chair:  I call the Minister to make an opening statement. 

4.33 pm 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):  I look forward to a debate on this issue and I will start by stating very clearly that I regret that the advice was not given to the Committee in time. It is a very detailed technical issue. We were given three or four weeks to provide that information and it required not just getting a legal opinion, but discussing with the devolved Governments the impact it had on them and whether they wished to make a contribution to the debate. I hope that in my discussions with the Chairman and with my letters since I have allayed their concerns. I remain willing to answer any questions from the Committee on the detail. My understanding of the procedures is that I take questions now and then we move into a debate. With those comments I am happy to move on to the next stage. 

The Chair:  We now have until 5.30 for questions to the Minister. May I remind Members that their questions should be brief? However it is open to them, subject to my discretion, to ask supplementaries. 

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under you chairmanship, Ms Clark. I can assure the hon. Member for Daventry that if he really knew your character, he would have known that you would be gentle with both of us as it is our first appearance. The Minister mentioned that he had had discussions with the devolved Governments on this matter. Perhaps he could provide more details on the views forthcoming at those meetings. 

Richard Benyon:  I had discussions with devolved Ministers last week in Newcastle. We discussed the direction of the UK Government’s approach to CFP reform, and we coalesced around some central themes on which we agree. Concerns were raised about the implications of TFCs. We think there is common ground on which to build. Officials have been dealing with the specifics mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. It is important to consult the devolved Governments in detail on how to approach this and the wider issues relating to CFP reform. 

Fiona O'Donnell:  Was the repatriation of powers raised at any of those meetings? 

Richard Benyon:  Regardless of what we all might want, we live in the real world. Repatriation of powers can have a number of different meanings. The principal area that might cover is the regionalisation element of CFP reform. We strongly believe that the absurdity and the manifest failure of the policy, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, mean that we have to push down the decision-making process, so that member states, working with other member states on a sea basin

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basis, can get the decisions closer to the fishermen who are operating it, and the markets and the food chain they are supplying. Keeping it at that practical level means devolving power, and that is what we refer to as regionalisation. 

The perversity of the current proposals could mean an increase in powers for the Commission if the countries around a sea basin fail to agree. We have to iron that out over the next few months. It is crucial to deal with that and to be up front with the House, the devolved Governments and all interested parties, to ensure that we are getting it right. 

Fiona O'Donnell:  With the greatest respect, the Minister has steered us in a slightly different direction from the specific question I asked, which was about repatriation of powers. He may be aware that Richard Lochhead, the Minister in the Scottish Government responsible for fisheries, recently appeared before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He spoke about the preference of an independent Scotland for repatriation of powers. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham may huff and puff—and I may join him in that view—but I would be grateful if the Minster could give us more specific information. 

Richard Benyon:  I have not seen what Mr Lochhead said to the EFRA Committee. I am shortly to give evidence to it as well, and on Wednesday I am giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Select Committee, because this is a really important subject for both the UK and countries such as Scotland. 

The repatriation of powers that Mr Lochhead might have referred to is sometimes argued as a withdrawal from the CFP—that it is somehow possible to withdraw unilaterally—and that, through either an extension of devolution or increased powers, the Scottish Government can have total responsibility for Scottish waters up to 200 miles. We have to remember that in the real world fish do not recognise borders. We have to talk in terms of ecosystems and sea basins. It is important that those of us—I am one of them—who start the whole debate by saying, “We wouldn’t have started from here,” recognise that if we get to where some hon. Members want to get, and to a certain extent I would also like to see much more devolved control of our fisheries, we would still have to sit down with other countries. We would still have a common policy, and it is the policy that is wrong at the moment. We have to create a common policy with other countries that will be good for fishing in the future. 

I apologise for giving a long answer, but it is an important point. If we take the Irish sea, for example, there is a line down the middle that divides the waters of the UK and all its constituent parts from those of the Irish Republic. In those waters—I have no evidence for this—I suspect that there are fishing rights for other countries besides Ireland and the UK that way exceed our entry into the common fisheries policy, and Ireland and the UK have interests in their waters as well. It is a complex situation, but in any new world of devolved fisheries management we would have to recognise that we are discussing a sea basin approach and working with other countries. 

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Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Ms Clark. There is widespread agreement that discarding has to end, but it must end in a way that is practical for fishermen. Can the Minister tell us what is the Government’s view on how to take that forward? 

Richard Benyon:  On the specific point of discards, I certainly can. I actually think that the commission is pulling in the right direction. The work that it has done and the words that it has used show a perfectly admirable vision. We have to ensure that the policies we create are practical. I would consider the reform to be an abject failure if we were just transferring a problem that exists at sea to landfill. 

We have to create new markets. For the 54% of discards that exist because people do not eat the species caught—it is nothing to do with quotas—we have to ensure that the new quota allocation of our national resource system is better and it has to be practical. It must be done on a fishery-by-fishery basis and, in some cases, on a species-by-species basis. We must understand what it means to a fisherman in the fish room on his boat in a high sea when we ask him to land everything that he has caught. 

We must work from the basis of strength, and strength is in working with the fishing industry. We have done that with catch quotas, which will see zero discards of species such as cod on most boats in the scheme this year. We have seen massive reductions through incentivising fishermen to different gear, such as in Project 50% in the south-west and a new project that we have started in the north-west. CEFAS is running a land-all scheme in North Shields, which is seeing fish landed and followed right through the food chain to ensure that we can build on the work of the “Fishing for the Market” scheme, which was set up by DEFRA last year. 

Much good work has been done, but I really want the Commission to understand that the solution must be practical. I understand that the 700,000 people who supported the Fish Fight campaign will be satisfied only when they see the words “discards” and “ban” in the same headline, but in order to be absolutely successful the scheme must be rooted in practical applications. 

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):  I appreciate the Minister’s candour in acknowledging the difficulties of regionalisation, and I want to ask him about the detail. He said a moment ago that there were issues around the technical increase in the powers of the Commission. He will understand why most fishing communities will be really concerned and have a complete lack of confidence in that kind of potential for more of what we have seen already. Does the Minister agree that the success of CFP reform will stand or fall by how effectively we manage to find some process of regionalisation that actually works? 

Richard Benyon:  I do. If we cannot crack the regionalisation issue, it will be a big blow for those of us—I think I speak for people on both sides of the House—who want a dramatic and radical reform of this failed policy. 

As things stand, the Commission’s proposal is for countries that fish in a particular sea to do the detailed work on the management of that fishery. The overarching policy would be set because it is an EU competence in

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Brussels. The countries would then have to agree a way forward and negotiate with third party states such as Norway on the application of that. If they cannot agree, it would be for the Commission to decide, and that is where we have a bit of a problem and where we have to sort out precisely what this means. It is a form of words and I believe that we can get to what we want, which is a genuine regionalisation and a much more local management of our fishery. 

We have got the good start with the development of the regional advisory councils which came about through the last reform. The RACs have been a good move forward because they are starting to create the capacity and scale that we are looking to see. But I am very hopeful that we can deal with this slight anomaly. We are trying to push power down and if with some bizarre wording we technically increased the powers of the Commission, it would be go against everything that all the Ministers around the table seem to say when we discuss these issues at the Council of Ministers. 

Dr Whiteford:  I am grateful for that answer but if the regionalisation is to be successful how do we get over the problem, pointed out by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation today, of the Commission’s tardiness in failing to push forward the cod recovery plan, which clearly is not working? It points out that if these proposals are pushed through as they stand, it will leave people with four days a fortnight to fish. That encapsulates why confidence is so low. How can we get some legal assurances that the regionalisation will not simply be sucking more power into Brussels? 

Richard Benyon:  One of the successes of last December’s negotiations was to get a fundamental review of the cod recovery plan. I am as exasperated as the hon. Lady’s constituents that we do not seem to have moved forward on this. It is almost an iconic species when we talk about the recovery of fish stocks. It is the most marketable stock and it is one that we want to see recover to previous levels. A review of the cod recovery plan was vital to achieve. But it is depressing that it takes a long time for this to be achieved. In discussions last week with devolved Ministers, stakeholders and the fishing industry in Newcastle, we said that a speeding up of the review of the cod recovery plan was an absolute priority. I understand that days at sea is a very serious issue for her constituents. It can now go down to 110 days. We have to get the Commission to understand the value of catch quota schemes and other alternatives. The days-at-sea element of the cod recovery plan just means that it is creating such economic hardship that we are putting at risk our ability to have a fishing industry that moves forward. 

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con):  I know that the Minister is aware that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member along with the hon. Member for Brent North, is conducting an inquiry at the moment. Although we have concerns about the fish stocks and are keen to see their revival, we also have concerns about the fishing communities. Does he think these plans will try to make our fishing communities sustainable, as well as the stocks themselves? 

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Richard Benyon:  It is a two-pronged approach. We need more sensible management of our fisheries, reflecting the fact that her constituents, who fish inshore, are fishing in a mixed fishery, which, too often, the rules do not recognise. That is one reason why we have such high levels of discard. What they need are more opportunities to fish, more quota, more fish to catch. That can come through successful conservation measures and rigorous management. Rigorous management can be achieved only at a more regional level. The idea of setting net sizes from Brussels is absurd. Those matters have to be dealt with at much more local levels. 

There are measures, separate from the CFP, that we can take that will make a difference. I met the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association and other representatives of producer organisations today to discuss changes that we hope to make to the inshore fleet—the under-10 metre fleet. I recognise that there a great many small fishing communities where the industry is hanging on by its fingernails. The infrastructure that supports it is also hanging on by its fingernails. Once a fish market or the ability to repair a vessel close to base port are lost, the incentive is to land fish somewhere else, and the community loses something with which it identifies. 

We recognise that there is a social element to fisheries policy, because coastal communities very much identify with their fishing community and have a fierce loyalty to it. The fishing community is part of that community’s sense of place and worth. We want policies that reflect that and can support communities in the future. 

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):  The Minister refers again and again to the real world, the world in which Edward Heath gave away our fishing rights so as to get entry to the European Union, and in which Margaret Thatcher, in order to get her rebate, gave away the Irish box, so that it could be fished by people from the rest of the EU. 

The elements I see in these discussions include the subject of discards—as mentioned by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute—and the proposal that fishing vessels should land all the species, instead of throwing overboard small fish so that they can increase capacity for large fish. Another element is that of transferable concessions. What progress has been made in discussions on those other two items? The Minister has already mentioned discards. 

Richard Benyon:  Is the hon. Gentleman asking what progress has been made on transferable concessions? 

Michael Connarty:  On transferable concessions and on landing of all species caught. 

Richard Benyon:  Part of the proposal that would see an end to discards would require fishermen to land everything. Under the catch quota scheme, once they hit their quota allocation they must stop fishing. That incentivises skippers to change the way they fish. They are regulated, not least and at the start, in a very unpopular way by having cameras on board. A quarter of discards are due to fish being undersized. We obviously want to incentivise fishermen not to catch undersized fish because they are not yet of breeding age. Where they do—and there is a land-all policy—some form of

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market is required to ensure that what they would have thrown overboard achieves a value on land. There are many alternatives to that, one of which is, of course, fishmeal. Through Fishing for the Markets, we have been delivering onshore solutions to an offshore problem. 

I believe transferable fishing concessions have merit. I have looked to see how fisheries are managed abroad. For example, the catch-share scheme in the United States has revolutionised the sustainability of fisheries and businesses. It has created a virtuous circle: fishermen who were intensely suspicious of the scheme when it was proposed have welcomed it, and regard it as a saviour of their livelihoods. I am not saying that our fisheries are the same as those in other countries or that the precise system of catch-share management in the United States is similar to our proposal, but a transferable fishing concession creates a longer-term approach for the management of that fishery. The fisherman—the business—can talk to his bank in a grown-up way and say, “I have something of value”. 

It is still the allocation of a national resource, but it is a right to fish and that right has a value. If we can protect it within member states—a key part of our proposals—from being sold to other countries in a way that would see our fishing interests taken abroad, then a transferable fishing concession has merit. It is not where we want it to be yet; we think 15 years is too long and there are other aspects we do not like, but we believe that through negotiation we can get something that could be a real game changer in the conservation of fish stocks. 

Michael Connarty:  The Minister is on the right track. Will the quotas sold with the fishing vessels that Spain bought be repatriated? It is clear that many sales of fishing vessels to Spain not only included the vessel, but the quota to fish here—we lost a court case on that one. Is there discussion on repatriating those quotas so that we can have genuinely sustainable fisheries around the UK? 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Gentleman asks me to be part of an incredibly complicated unpicking process. Fishing interests have transferred in all directions across the EU. As things stand, a company that owns a boat fishing out of any port in the country can be purchased by a foreign company, and one could argue that that fishing interest has gone abroad. 

Our system, which was possibly developed through the court case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, requires an economic link, which can be either landing the fish in the country of origin—that is, the United Kingdom in the case of a company being bought by another country—or at least 50% of the crew being, in this case, from the UK. Those are the measures at the moment. I do not think that they are by any means perfect and I certainly would not have started from here, as I said. 

I am trying to unravel a muddle. I am sure we will hear in a moment from the hon. Member for Luton North, who will suggest, as no doubt a lot of Conservative Members would, that at a stroke we could go back to 1972, when it was all a beautiful, easy world, but these are complicated matters. I assure him that I am open to any ideas. The Commission has come forward with

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ideas that are on the right track and if we can work through the problems, we can have something that might make a difference. 

Chris Heaton-Harris:  On a different subject within the common fisheries policy, what is the Government’s view on the purpose of third-country agreements? How much do they cost? Do they benefit the UK at all? 

Richard Benyon:  On the latter point, very few vessels fish off the coast of north Africa, but the UK Minister’s position is to be quite shocked at what I have discovered about the use of some fisheries partnership agreements, and I am absolutely adamant that we should reform how they work. I do not want to see an end to them, because they matter to a lot of developing countries’ economies. I want to ensure that if money goes from the EU to a third country in a fisheries partnership agreement, there is some link between it and enabling fish to be preferably landed in that country, creating processing capacity, or money going to the coastal community on which the agreement might impact, or, at the very least, ensuring that some governance of the fishery can take place. 

Recently, I met Sierra Leone’s excellent fisheries Minister, and I saw the work that he is doing to try to improve the governance of fisheries in Sierra Leone and the work that Britain is doing to assist him through our military advisory team in Freetown. There are good elements, but we must recognise that through the fisheries partnership agreements, our constituents’ taxes are going towards subsidies for fishermen who, in nearly every case, are not from the United Kingdom. They fish off the coast of Mauritania, Cape Verde and other countries. Whatever the rights and wrongs of individual vessels, stocks are plummeting. The coastal communities are migrating or dying on their boats because they have to travel five miles out to sea, as opposed to 500 yards, to find a fish. I could go on. It is a harrowing story. 

The European Union is not the only villain; there are other countries as well. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Commission is seized of the problems. We very much support a dramatic change to this element of the common fisheries policy. 

Chris Heaton-Harris:  I thank the Minister for his reply. In 10 years as a Member of the European Parliament, I regularly rebelled against the Conservative Whip to vote against these things, and then I became Chief Whip, so we all voted against these things. 

I want the Minister to look at the list of countries that are involved in third country agreements. Until recently—it might still be the case—Canada was one such country. The agreements are not specifically aimed, as everyone tends to believe, at developing countries. I wonder whether that is of any interest or any benefit to our country. 

Richard Benyon:  I am of course aware that UK vessels fish off the Grand Banks; we have a distant footprint in our fisheries. What particularly concerns me is the application of fisheries partnership agreements with developing countries. I want to make absolutely certain that such agreements can be a force for good, increasing governance and allowing a different approach

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to the value of fish. Work has been done by the Prince of Wales’s sustainability unit on the value of certain fisheries, such as the Atlantic tuna. In some developing countries and their communities, creating such value has enormous benefit in achieving sustainability in a stock. My hon. Friend need not worry; I am on the case and I applaud the work that he has done over the years in the European Parliament. 

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab):  I am pleased to be serving under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I recognise your profound interest in this as somebody who has one of the first of the marine protected areas in Scotland in your constituency. I can say “in your constituency”, given that it extends to the Isle of Arran. 

Will the Minister confirm a simple point? The TFC proposal was issued on 13 July 2011. Up until approximately a month earlier, the TFCs were not actually referred to in the draft proposals as such; they were referred to as transferable fishing rights. I just want a simple confirmation. 

Richard Benyon:  They certainly were not referred to as transferable fishing concessions. From memory, I do not know the exact words, but I am prepared to bow to the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of such matters. 

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I should explain that I am not a member of the Committee. It is understood that other Members can ask questions and speak, but not vote. 

The Minister is absolutely right. He struggled manfully to justify something that I described as an unmitigated disaster in the Chamber. The only way to guarantee that we preserve fish stocks and protect our fishing industry is to re-establish our 200-mile limit and the 50% limit between countries. Fish stocks could recover and our fishing fleets have enough work to do. The same is true of all the other member states. Is that not the only way forward, and why do we not just suggest that? 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Gentleman is wrong if he feels that I would not share his description of the common fisheries policy as an unmitigated disaster. I have used many such phrases—whether I have used precisely those words, I do not know—and I certainly join him by saying that it has been a total, abject failure, which has seen fewer fishermen, fewer fish and some stocks threatened to the point of crashing to a level from which they might never recover. 

On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, what he has asked me to do is rather above my pay grade, but let us look at what it would mean if I had the means at my disposal to rewrite treaties, to unpick them all the way back to the treaty of Rome, and to create a simple 200-mile limit around the United Kingdom—job done. I am not a lover of the common fisheries policy but let us look at the kind of world that he is suggesting. We are talking about the fish stocks that exist in that 200-mile area, but for part of their life they will shoal or breed in other countries’ waters. Is he suggesting that our view should be that if they are in our waters they

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are our stocks, or would we have to work with other countries and develop scientific understanding about the level of catches? 

The idea is that we could do that totally in exclusion, but consider the problems that we are currently facing with the mackerel stock. Two countries have taken a unilateral view—quite wrongly, against all the science—that they want some of that valuable fishery and that they will exploit it to an unprecedented level. If every country in sea basins or the range where fish move were able to take such decisions purely on the basis of lines on maps—lines never respected by fish, for obvious reasons—the risk is that we could have an even worse unmitigated disaster. 

Whatever games we play about where we would like to start from or get to, we must still work on the basis—I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees—of some level of common management of international resources. Fish that might move from one side of a line to the other can then be managed on the basis of ecosystems rather than geography. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  I thank the Minister for his answer. I admire him for, again, manfully addressing the problem. However, fish stocks around Norway, which still has its own fishing grounds, are better preserved than they are around the European Union countries. Norway monitors every fishing boat and catch, and there are no discards. We appreciate that fish swim from one place to another but, if the Spanish were to choose to fish out all the seas around their shores, I suggest that we would still have better fish stocks than the Spanish if we protected our 200-mile limit. It is not simply a question of one country misbehaving and all the fish disappearing. I ask him again, what about Norway? 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that last week I was in the ops room of the Marine Management Organisation in Newcastle. I was looking at the vessel monitoring system’s real-time data on the location of every single vessel fishing in European waters—although it is a global system, and I could have looked anywhere in the world. It was interesting to see, yes, that vessels from other countries were fishing in our waters, but vessels from our country were fishing in Norwegian, French and, he will be glad to know, Spanish waters. 

I am not saying that the story is even and that no historical problem was created by that perverse system, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that every single vessel that fishes in our waters is monitored. I have been out with the fisheries protection vessel to see that work. We can now tell electronically precisely what activity a fishing vessel is engaged in, whether steaming or towing. The means we have for managing our fisheries are infinitely better than they were in the dark days when this system was created. Let us push at an open door that will lead to a different management style, an end to discards, the greater devolvement of control mechanisms back to a more local basis, and an understanding that we cannot continue as we are. We can debate late into the night about how we might get to the world wanted by the hon. Gentleman, but I am dealing with the real world as it is today, where there is an environmental crisis as well as a personal and economic crisis for fishermen and fishing communities. I hope that he will

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join me in pushing hard to get a result in this round, and that we will continue our conversation about the kind of longer-term future we may wish for once we have saved the fishing industry. 

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):  Given the antecedents of this Committee, and the importance of fisheries to an island nation, I wonder whether I can persuade the Minister to have a word with the Leader of the House, and convince him about the error of his ways in having abandoned the annual fisheries debate and made the issue the concern of the Backbench Business Committee. It has meant that we have not had a fisheries debate since the coalition Government came to power. 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Lady speaks a lot of sense; the annual fisheries debate highlighted the importance of the industry for the House. We have, however, recently had a Backbench Business Committee debate on discards, and there will be a debate on Tuesday 15 November in which we will discuss precisely those sorts of issues. That will provide an opportunity for the hon. Lady to raise issues that would otherwise have been brought up in the annual fisheries debate. I am entirely on her side. 

Ms Stuart:  I am grateful to the Minister, but my point is that this matter is so important that it should be Government business, not generated by petitions or the Backbench Business Committee. 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Lady’s point is well made. 

The Chair:  If no more Members wish to ask questions, we will now proceed to debate the motion. 

5.12 pm 

Richard Benyon:  I beg to move, 

That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 12519/11, relating to a Commission Communication—Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and No. 12514/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, relating to a Draft Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy; and supports the Government’s view that fundamental reform of EU fisheries policy is required to deliver the legislative changes necessary to achieve healthy fish stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and a healthy marine environment. 

I welcome the views of hon. Members in this important debate. As we have said, the common fisheries policy is a broken policy and we need to address the long-standing problems that have arisen from its failure. Those involved in catching, processing and selling fish, NGOs and consumers are all impatient for change. The UK Government are committed to achieving genuine and radical reform of the common fisheries policy. The European Commission’s proposals for reform are a welcome start, but we need to improve on them to get the policy right, and for me, that means ensuring that a reformed CFP does all it can to eradicate discards. We need a flexible regulatory framework that drives the necessary changes in fishing activity and behaviour to end discards. It is therefore essential to work with industry and to introduce a range of tailored discard reduction measures that are both effective and enforceable. As they stand, the proposals are too prescriptive and will not provide the flexibility that we need to ensure that solutions are practical, enforceable, and can be applied on a fishery-by-fishery basis. 

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I want to get rid of unnecessary over-detailed regulation and see genuine decentralisation and decision making, in which member states work together at regional level to develop management plans and implement measures that are appropriate to their fisheries. The Commission tells us that it also wants that, but its proposals lack crucial detail and seem to offer the perverse prospect of actually furthering the powers transferred to it in certain circumstances. 

I understand that there are legal constraints to devolving power, particularly at regional level. However, I want to see a reformed CFP that enables those nations that fish in the same area—often for the same fish—to come together and agree on how their fisheries should be managed. I want a reformed CFP to give fishermen a greater stake in the long-term health of fish stocks. That requires a more economically rational system that allows fishermen to plan for the long term, but does not mean imposing the same system on all. 

The Commission’s proposal for transferable fishing concessions aims to improve fisheries management with clearer, more tradeable long-term rights, but there are important details to get right, and we cannot accept any provisions that would lead to UK rights being sold abroad, permanently removing UK quota and compromising relative stability. 

We must make sure that a reformed CFP integrates fisheries management with other marine environmental policies. That means that the CFP must stop treating fisheries in isolation from other marine environmental policies, and should, for example, contribute to the delivery of good environmental status under the marine strategy framework directive. The Commission’s proposals do not go far enough, and there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that a new CFP contributes to other marine environmental policies with resource to robust science and sensible consistent objectives at its heart. 

Finally, to set the policy right, we must apply the same principles for sustainable use and marine resources within and outside EU waters. That means achieving coherence between EU fisheries and development policies, and securing greater transparency in dealings with developing countries. There are promising signs, but the proposals lack detail on how that will be achieved, so we must bolster the Commission’s efforts to see changes through the negotiations. 

That is my vision for a reform policy, and one that I hope we are all committed to achieving. We have entered into negotiations on the reform of the CFP, but the road ahead is long and challenging. I believe the UK has a major role to play in influencing the new policy, so it is crucial that we work with the Commission, other member states, the European Parliament, non-governmental organisations and others to improve the proposals, and agree that change is necessary to deliver real reform. Most of all, we should remain grounded in what the people of this country want, which is radical reform. 

Of course, we need not wait for reform of the CFP to achieve some of the aims I have discussed. Work is being done in the UK now to deliver change. For example, UK trials of a catch quota system, which I referred to earlier, encourage fishermen to use their skill and knowledge to fish more selectively to maximise the value of their catch. That is helping to demonstrate how effectively such a system can contribute to reducing discards. 

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We have also explored market-based solutions for reducing discards. For example, the fishing for the market project seeks to encourage the consumption and better use of under-utilised sustainable species that are often discarded. We will continue to work in partnership with fishermen to improve the selectivity of fishing gears, so that they catch fewer unwanted fish in the first place. That work is important because it will inform fishermen on practical ways to eliminate discards under a new CFP. 

We have also undertaken consultation on reform of the fisheries management arrangements in England. Those proposals look to giving those who manage under-10-metre vessels greater control and choice in how they operate their businesses. Responses to the consultation were mixed, to say the least, and on 1 November I announced our next steps, which seek to balance the desire from some parts of the industry for urgent action with the feedback we received from others to take more time and to test options before making wide-reaching changes. We are taking forward dramatic and important changes that will make a difference. 

I am sure the Committee is eager to discuss the package of proposals presented to the Commission on CFP reform. I welcome its views, and look forward to discussing them further with hon. Members on this occasion and in future. 

5.18 pm 

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab):  I thank the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for his opening comments. I am pleased to have this opportunity so early in my new role to speak about reform of the common fisheries policy. It is well overdue, and offers hope for a profitable and sustainable future for our fishing industry, agriculture, and coastal and island communities. That is the hope, but as always the devil will be in the detail, and how strongly the Government argue and negotiate for UK fisheries and how they use regionalisation post-reform to respond to the needs of our fishing communities. 

I have some questions for the Minister on the proposals, and I will set them out during my contribution to the debate. I mean them to be genuinely helpful. We want to work with the Government where we can, to achieve meaningful reform, but reserve the right to hold the Minister accountable where we feel he is not speaking up strongly enough for UK fisheries. 

I regret that we are having this debate without an impact assessment from the Government. The Minister does not need to bob up and down every time I ask him a question, but will he tell us when he replies when we can expect that impact assessment? He has said it will be in the winter, but I am still waiting for the Department to present consultation results which were due for the autumn. In Scotland, all the leaves are gone from the trees; so if he could be a little more specific about when the impact assessment will be available, and provide updates on what it is uncovering, that would be useful. 

I thank the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for its excellent work. That work is still under way, and it has been particularly useful to have Commissioner Damanaki’s evidence to the Committee.

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That has given me a chance, early in my new role, to see where the debate is moving and how the Commission is shifting. 

When she announced the Commission’s proposals for a reformed common fisheries policy, Commissioner Damanaki was clear in saying that the present policy is not working. Possibly about 80% of EU stocks are still overfished, and a third are in a severely fragile state. Food security will be one of the big challenges facing the world in the next decade, and with the EU currently importing two thirds of its fish, and demand growing in larger markets such as China and the US, it is clear that the reforms must address food security too. 

We are broadly supportive of the reform process, and the proposals in the Commission’s green paper of April 2009, but we want to stress the need for a strong voice for the interests of UK fisheries, in defence of which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have already spoken up. We want a clear move away from the top-down management and control that pervades the common fisheries policy in its current form. 

I broadly welcome the Minister’s comments in writing and in the debate today, and I share many of his concerns: the move to a bottom-up approach to fisheries policy should be achieved in the detailed legislation, and we should not reverse that direction of travel with new bodies and legislation giving powers back to the EU, even if some of those powers are only to be used in emergencies. We are keen to have meaningful reform. 

Regionalisation is a key element in the success of a new common fisheries policy. As I have said, the current top-down approach has failed and is not achieving its objectives, and we need radical reform. The new policy must ensure that fisheries management will be dealt with at the most appropriate level. Without genuine decentralisation of fisheries management it is difficult to imagine that the sustainable management of EU fisheries will be achieved. That decentralisation presents an opportunity for greater involvement of those working in the sector. I hope that the Minister may talk at greater length at the end of the debate about how he plans to work with all the different strands, and the different stakeholders. He has referred to consultations that he has had with them. It would be interesting for the Committee to hear more information about views within the sector—I know they are not always of one voice—and how the consultations are proceeding. 

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, whom I congratulate, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), on securing a Back-Bench debate on 15 November, when there will be a further opportunity to discuss in detail what reform means, spoke about the need for regionalisation that is effective. Just now there is not enough detail to enable us to form an informed opinion about whether that will be achieved. 

In her oral evidence to the Select Committee, Commissioner Damanaki said: 

“we will welcome any proposals from the national Parliaments in order to be sure that the subsidiarity principle is fully respected.” 

It would be helpful if the Minister could give us some detail about the proposals and amendments he plans to make to ensure that the reforms deliver meaningful decision making for the UK. 

Along with the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye, I want to talk about this issue in a broader contest. I want to talk about not just the large vessels, many of

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which fish off the coast of Scotland and in the North sea, but the fragile coastal and island communities that depend on fisheries. This is about not just the economy of those communities, but their schools and other services, because if the fishing industry collapses, the whole fibre and point of those communities will disappear. I hope the Minister will address that point. 

The Minister referred to progress on the under-10 fleet, and I am sure he will want to give credit to one of my predecessors for encouraging it to form an association to represent its interests, even though those are often, let us say, diverse and fragmented. It is important, in the negotiating process and in any reform of the common fisheries policy, that Ministers make good on the many sounds they made in opposition in support of the under-10 fleet. There are more than 5,000 under-10 metre vessels in the UK, and they are vital to the very survival of many coastal and island communities. I urge the Minister to be a strong voice in the negotiations in Europe for our under-10 fleet. This is not just about talking the talk—the Government have proved they can do that—but about the outcome of the reformed common fisheries policy and about how the Government choose to use their new powers to give new opportunities to the under-10 fleet. 

The reform of the common fisheries policy must achieve the long-term sustainability and profitability of UK fishing. To that end, I welcome the proposals for monthly annual plans devised by member states, and it is vital that the Minister works closely with stakeholders in that process. However, we do not just want a sustainable and profitable UK fishing industry; we want fishing to be an attractive career choice, and we want to see improvements in safety at sea. 

The Commission has set out the objective of exploiting fish stocks at maximum sustainable yield by 2015. I note the Minister has concerns about the particular challenges for the UK’s mixed fisheries, and I share some of those concerns. In her evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Commissioner Damanaki said some member states are indicating that they need more time to prepare themselves better. Will the Minister confirm whether he is making such representations to the Commission? Concerns on their own will not deliver change; we need a strong voice to introduce amendments and build consensus—that is what will deliver change. 

I note from today’s written statement from the Secretary of State that the Commission has agreed to treat data-poor stocks on a case-by-case basis. As she states, this is 

“an important shift for forthcoming fishing opportunities negotiations of interest to the UK and other fishing Member States.” 

However, we do not want the Government to use this as a get-out clause when it comes to driving forward and having the political will to achieve maximum sustainable yield wherever possible by 2015. 

Inadequate scientific assessment and a lack of reliable data to assess, and therefore manage, many fish stocks is one of the major failings of the current common fisheries policy. The draft regulations contain a commitment to establish management measures 

“in accordance with the best available scientific advice”. 

That is stronger wording than the existing common fisheries policy’s “based on scientific advice” and will provide a stronger basis for reaching the 2015 maximum sustainable yield target. 

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However, with the focus of the proposals on holding member states to their obligations on the regional co-ordination of data collection, I have concerns over how the Government will achieve that objective. We already have good practice in many parts of the country. The Minister mentioned the use of CCTV, but vessels in Scotland are co-operating willingly with the Scottish marine organisation to ensure that we can collect that data and that we can get a full picture of which species are swimming in our seas. As part of the new bottom-up approach, the Minister must work closely with fishermen to ensure that we build on their knowledge and expertise. He is already cautioning that resources will be an issue for the UK in meeting obligations, which is not surprising, given that the Government are taking £2 billion out of DEFRA over the next four years—the second largest cut of any spending Department. What resources will be invested in the science to achieve maximum sustainable yield and ensure that decisions are based on robust data? 

The Minister referred to the Fish Fight campaign, which shone a light on the shameful practice of discards. In some EU fisheries, 60% of catches are discarded. As the Minister knows—we agree on more than he might think—discarding is a symptom of the poor management and practice of the current common fisheries policy. The reform of the CFP is a unique opportunity to end this wasteful practice, and we welcome the Commission's proposals to work towards a ban on discards by 2016. 

Much of the focus of the existing proposals, however, is to land all catches of the main commercial species. There is a real danger that discards overboard, as the Minister has said, will become discards onshore and that new markets will be created through the landing of unwanted catch. Instead, we need to look at how we avoid catching these discarded fish in the first place. The real aim of banning discards should be to reduce fish mortality to help re-build the fish population and support a healthy ecosystem. 

Does the Minister agree that we need to build on Project 50% with a three-pronged approach, which incentivises reductions in the by-catch, supports innovation, and develops markets for the by-catch? The proposals state that immature fish must not enter the market for human consumption, and the Minister spoke about this matter earlier, too. Commissioner Damanaki has been reported as saying that these fish could be given to the poor. Has the Minister thought about how that might work on the ground? I am old enough to remember, back in the ’80s, when we had beef and butter mountains, and the local chair of the Conservative association came to my door to offer me beef and butter, because I lived in a semi-detached house and had four children. It was obviously thought that such a thing constituted poverty. If the proposals are to be taken forward, I would like reassurance that they will be targeted in the right way. 

There are concerns about tradeable fishing concessions, and the Minister spoke about the possibility of those moving overseas. The opinion of the stakeholders, and within fishermen’s organisations, is split on whether the fishing concessions could do so, with the Member state’s permission. The document states that that could happen, saying 

“however, a Member state may allow the transfer of concessions to and from other Member States”. 

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What is the Minister’s view? Does he believe that they should remain in UK ownership? Does he have any opinion on whether we should try to see such concessions not concentrated in the hands of a few, so that we see a trickle-down effect and fragile fishing communities, which concern Members on both sides of the House, having the same opportunities? The social impact, which the Minister referred to, can often bring a far greater benefit. 

Barry Gardiner:  Will my hon. Friend give way? 

Fiona O'Donnell:  Yes, if only so I can have a drink of water. 

Barry Gardiner:  “For this relief much thanks; ’tis bitter cold”, 

and you are obviously very thirsty. 

I wondered, on that point, whether my hon. Friend would accept that the whole intent of the concessions is that there should be a reduction of those fishers engaged in the quota. Has she had the opportunity to look at the report commissioned by Government, called “A review of the effectiveness of the Economic Link”? That was by Vivid Economics, prepared at the request of the Government, and it suggested that the annual benefit to the UK economy of foreign-owned and operated UK vessels—they are UK flag vessels—that would follow from the concessions structure being advanced in the proposals is likely to be in the region of £5 million to £10 million compared with an annual turnover of £50 million to £88 million for local communities otherwise. 

Fiona O'Donnell:  I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. As usual, he brings much to the debate because of his expertise and experience in this sector. It will be interesting to hear how the Minister responds to his contribution. 

The Labour Government took advantage of decommissioning to give all of those quotas to the under-10 fleet. While the fleet still faces many challenges, that measure delivered real change, and profitability and viability to those communities. This is an issue. We need to seize this opportunity and I wonder if the Minister has had a chance to look the evidence submitted by the New Economics Foundation to the EFRA Committee and, if so, whether he will respond to some of the socio-economic impacts that the NEF discussed in its submission, which make interesting reading to say the least. 

I want to discuss the conservation issues. The EFRA Committee consultation asked: 

“What additional tools are needed to deliver the CFP’s objectives, for example measures to restrict fishing in certain areas such as spawning grounds?” 

The Minister said that we do not need to wait for reform to get on and take action now. The Labour Government took great time and effort to work with stakeholders to identify marine protection zones. So I would be interested to know whether, as part of our marine conservancy, the Government are currently reviewing their attitude to those zones. I think that there are 127 zones that we identified. That was a lengthy process, with which all stakeholders engaged. It will be

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unfortunate if the Government do not go forward with those proposals, given all the effort that has been expended on them. 

Finally, I want to talk about external waters. I was really grateful for the contribution that was made by the hon. Member for Daventry. Like the Minister, I have concerns about how these powers might be used. We do not want to return to the days where colonial powers could go in and rape the natural resources of a developing country. Even if a country chooses to give up its fishing concessions, as the Minister himself said in his response that can still mean that the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen in coastal communities collapse and their communities die. 

However, there are good examples and I ask the Minister to look at those as well. While meeting the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, I heard the story of one Scottish fisherman who is fishing off the coast of west Africa but who has now set up two factories that provide good employment opportunities for people in those communities. I do not want us to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are opportunities, but it is essential that the regulations in this field ensure that these communities are protected. 

In summary, I assure the Minister again that we want to work with him, where there are areas that we can work together, to ensure a profitable and sustainable future for UK fisheries. 

5.39 pm 

Mr Reid:  My hon. Friend the Minister was right when he said that the common fisheries policy was a broken policy. It has conserved neither fish nor fishing communities. There is widespread agreement that regional control is the way forward. Centralised control from Brussels has failed. The regional advisory councils are a significant step in the right direction, but they are only a first step. The RACs must develop into decision-making bodies and CFP reform must include allowing initiatives to be developed and translated into local regulations that best fit local circumstances. 

We must have science-based long-term management plans that provide a secure and sustainable future for fishing communities throughout Europe and for the environment. Discards have to end, but the rules that end them must be practical for fishermen. The current regulations that force fishermen working in a mixed fishery to discard must be changed, for example, by allowing fishermen to match quotas with catches through an improved and transparent system of quota transfers. If we have better regulation that is determined at a more local level and science-based, long-term management plans, we can make our fishing industry sustainable for both fish and fishermen. 

I agree with the vision that the Minister outlined in his opening speech, and I wish him all the best in the coming negotiations on common fisheries policy reform. 

5.40 pm 

Dr Whiteford:  When discussing CFP reform, it is important that we put it in the context of the past 10 years. The communities that I represent have watched their fleets halve over that time, and I have seen the devastation that that has brought to some of those coastal towns and villages. One lesson that we have

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learned from the past is that the previous reforms caused a great deal of pain in those communities as boats were decommissioned. Unfortunately, our fishermen are now being asked to take more of the same. I appreciate the Minister saying that none of us would want to start from where we are now, which is right, but at the same time the people who have already made sacrifices are now being asked to make more. My concern with the proposals that I have seen so far is that they go nowhere near far enough to address the underlying social, economic and environmental problems that the CFP has caused in our fishing waters. 

The people whom I represent have done more than any other fishermen anywhere in the EU to make their fishery sustainable. They have taken huge steps towards innovative measures such as trying to use selective gears and all kinds of new approaches. They have developed many ways forward, so that 80% of fish landed now comes from managed stocks. They are also working towards Marine Conservation Society certification in so many of the key stocks. That is huge progress. They have made more progress on discards than anywhere else in Europe, and it is important that they see a reward for the steps that they have taken and for how far they have come. 

The challenges that, in particular, the whitefish and prawn fleets face are symptomatic of the failures that we have seen. We need to remember, as the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye said earlier, that there is a knock-on effect and that not only fishermen, but whole communities suffer. In my constituency, the processing sector, which provides at least as many jobs—if not more—than those that are directly involved in fishing, also suffers. 

I want to return to some points that have been raised already. The catch quota system has already been alluded to by the Minister as something that has been very successful, and I must agree, but it is a small pilot scheme. In Scotland, only some 26 vessels are involved. The problem is that there are simply not enough quotas around for that to be expanded. However, that seems to be a more economically and environmentally viable way forward than some of the other proposals on the table. I urge the Minister to work with the Norwegians and the Commission to push that measure forward so that we can actually expand the catch quota system and make its success something that we can build on right across the European Union. 

I must say that I am not as relaxed as the Minister about internationally transferable quotas. I am still not convinced that they offer as viable a way forward as the claims would suggest, and that comes from the fact that, in Scotland, a lot of the fleet is locally owned. I know that that is not the case in other parts of the UK, but I am concerned that if we open the door to quotas being traded internationally, we will lose the knock-on economic benefits of having a locally owned and managed fisheries sector. The earlier points of the hon. Member for Brent North reflect a similar concern. I want to see the legal evidence that any safeguards that we put in place around ITQs will not be open to legal challenge. We need the detail of that before we can really see it as a way forward. 

A little was said earlier about the issue of discards, and I have said in the House before that we need to tackle the causes of discards, not just discarding, and to do that, we need to acknowledge that we are in a mixed fishery. 

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In the same way that fish do not know whose waters they are in, they do not know which other fish they are swimming with. Fish eat fish. It is a complex ecosystem and we cannot draw up a fisheries policy on a bit of paper that the fish can read and understand. We need to look at the ecosystem as we are devising the policy. 

It is also important that we do not just fall into gimmicks on food aid. In a previous life working in the development sector, I was aware that food aid rarely benefits the people it is supposed to benefit. It is usually a way of offloading cheap food and it can damage the very people it is designed to help. So I would be sceptical and careful about any policies put forward to give fish that are not marketable in our own economy to other people’s markets, distorting them and potentially undermining the already fairly fragile livelihoods of people in other parts of the world. 

Finally, as I remarked earlier, regionalisation is key. Unless we get effective regionalisation we will not be able to move this forward in any way. We are still quite a long way from a policy that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable for our communities. I urge the Minister to push the CFP negotiations as far as possible because we still need to go an awful lot further. 

5.46 pm 

Amber Rudd:  The Select Committee’s inquiry into the CFP found a lot of common ground: as the Minister said, we all agree how bad the CFP has been and how much needs to change. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan just said, we need to make changes to help coastal communities. One thing that surprised many members of the Select Committee was how bad a lot of the information about catches and fisheries is. All our witnesses were uncertain about which direction the fisheries were going and what the exact science was. We concluded, and this also came from the New Economics Foundation, that we need much better evidence on the state of fisheries. 

We have information on 60% of fish stocks but not on the remaining 40%. So it is all very well for the regulators to tell the fishermen that there is a great problem with this fish stock or that fish stock, but unless we can have the scientific evidence it is much more difficult to enforce regulation. One of the things that I would particularly ask the Minister to consider in the negotiations as he moves forward to deliver, I hope, a fairer system for all our fishermen and our fisheries, is a system that has more science-based evidence. 

5.47 pm 

Kelvin Hopkins:  It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Miss Clark. I have to defer to several hon. Members who have fishing communities in their constituencies. Not a lot fishing boats ply out of Luton, but on the other hand the CFP is something that has concerned me for many years. It has politics at its heart rather than the real interests of fishing communities or fishing stocks. Under the surface it is about the European Union wanting to create a country called Europe with the seas around it being European seas. So everybody fishes in those European seas because we all belong to this country called Europe. If one unpicks that, it starts to undermine this concept of the country called Europe. 

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I believe we should propose to the European Union that we should abandon the CFP and revert to what we had before, which is national control over 200-mile limits, or 50% limits where the countries are closer than that and each country is responsible for its own fishing stocks and fishes in its own waters. We could have an arrangement to allow other nations to fish in our waters, but that would be an exception. The rule would be that one managed one’s own fishing stocks and fishing fleets and monitored everything. Without doing that, it is inevitably, in one sense or another, a free for all. 

The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye talked about not knowing many of the facts. I should like to know how much the other nations fishing in UK waters observe the rules about discards, about landing what they catch. Who knows? With long coastlines and secret landings of unregulated fish, who knows what is going on? I do not think that it is properly monitored, but I think that it is in Norway, because the Norwegians restrict their fishing to registered fishing boats from their own country only, and they can manage their own landings as well. 

We have heard lots of warm words about the progress we have made. No doubt there are part solutions—measures to restrain excesses and so on—which are all very impressive. However, we have also heard about external waters—not something that I was going to focus on—and what is happening to poorer countries, with richer countries fishing out their seas. On external waters, I was one of those who, unusually, supported Iceland in the cod war. It was trying to protect cod stocks around its own coast and that is perfectly acceptable. We should do the same around Britain’s shores, with our own limits too. If we do not do that, we will end up like Newfoundland, where just about every fish was stripped out of the sea. That had all sorts of unexpected effects on the ecosystem—vast numbers of crabs and so on—which became completely unbalanced, whereas ecosystems that have developed over a long period of time become balanced. Once one component of an ecosystem is destroyed, there are all sorts of unexpected consequences. 

It has been pointed out that our fishing stocks were at their peak—the North sea, in particular, was full of fish—in 1945, because there was no fishing during the war. If we do not overfish, the fish stocks will recover. We can only guarantee that our fishing grounds will not be overfished if we control rigorously what fishing goes on, what fish are taken out of the sea and what fish are landed. Countries can only do that if they control their own fishing waters and the boats that fish in their own fishing waters are based in that country. That will be the same for Spain, Germany, Holland, France and all the others. 

There is a major difference between us and many of those countries: our fishing waters are much greater than theirs—much larger. We have much more fishing going on in what were Britain’s fishing waters than we would do in other fishing waters, because they are larger. At the same time, it has been pointed out that fish swim. Obviously, they swim from one area to another, but our fishing waters are also big breeding grounds for fish. If we control our shores, in a sense we would help the recovery of fish stocks elsewhere too. 

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I remain absolutely unconvinced. I admire the Minister for his sterling attempts to justify carrying on with the policy in a modified form. He is doing his best, but I think fundamentally he agrees with me. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian made an excellent speech from the Opposition Front Bench and I think we are pushing in the right direction. However, getting rid of the common fisheries policy and restoring national waters to all the member states of Europe, with each policing its own waters, is the only way we will see fish stocks recover. 

Let us talk about regional control and regionalisation. That is the thin end of the wedge towards what I am suggesting, which is the restoration of national fishing waters and national control. 

Mr Reid:  There is a significant difference. Regional control means all the nations within a sea basin co-operating. That is completely different from the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, which, for example, in the Irish sea would have Britain managing one side and Ireland managing the other side of the line. Surely, it is better for the two to co-operate in the sea basin. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  I was saying that regionalisation was moving in a particular direction; we are not there yet. We would be perfectly happy if the Irish had all its seas. It is on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, so it would have a 200-mile limit going right out into the Atlantic, and would benefit greatly from that. 

Chris Heaton-Harris:  I seem to remember in my school days that we had a small altercation with a country called Iceland over territorial waters, and 200 miles might just sweep over that country. Now might be a good time to do that, but then again we do not have any aircraft carriers, do we? I am just wondering whether there is logic to this and whether it can possibly be done. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  Obviously, this would have to be done by agreement in the long run. In the short term, however, we might have to be a bit rough and push Parliament. I have proposed in the Chamber that the common fisheries policy be abandoned and we revert to national control of fishing waters for each member state, which would benefit those states as much as our own. Fish stocks would recover and fishing fleets would know where they could fish. That would certainly be enormously beneficial to fishing fleets in Britain’s waters, because they would not have to compete with all the other fleets that fish in them. 

Barry Gardiner:  My hon. Friend is ignoring the fundamental matter of considering the proposal on an ecosystem basis. We do not have 200 miles of clear blue water universally round the UK coast without bumping into another land mass that comes under another state. Therefore, what we can control in our territorial area is only part of the whole ecosystem. If there is not clear co-operation with other states to control what goes on in the basin as a whole, we may not even be able to control what is going on in our part of those territorial waters. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  The first point is that the 200-mile limit operates only where there is not another country close to us, it would be a 50% limit, that is how it operates. Where there is a 100-mile gap or a 20-mile gap, it is a 10-mile limit or whatever. 

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All the other member states will be in the same position as us, because they will want to maintain fish stocks and fishing fleets in their own waters as much as we do in ours. The difference between Britain and many of the other countries is that our fishing waters are much larger than theirs. I have not done the calculations, so I might be corrected, but I suspect that if all other fishing fleets were excluded from our 200-mile limit, or 50% limit, there would be plenty of fish for Britain’s fishing fleets and plenty of scope for rapid recovery of fish stocks at the same time, simply because we had that larger area. 

Chris Heaton-Harris:  I know where the hon. Gentleman is going with this argument and I tend to agree. We are after an element of responsibility from the fishermen, are we not? If they are fishing in their own waters, they tend to be more responsible, because they know that they will be fishing in those waters again, perhaps for generations. Has he considered the Icelandic model of ownership and responsibility, which relates to that situation very strongly? 

Kelvin Hopkins:  I return to the Newfoundland scenario, and if we do not do what I am suggesting, that is what we will face in the longer term, but it does encourage every country to be responsible in its own waters. Holland, for example, might be full of fishermen who were constantly overfishing, and Dutch waters might lose all their fish stocks in their coastal areas. They might benefit from fish that would, no doubt, swim in from British waters, but it would be very bad for Dutch fishermen. The Dutch Government and fishing industry would then get together and act sensibly to sustain fish in their own waters. They would not simply hope that fish would swim in from Britain’s protected waters. Fish do swim, and, as I have heard argued many times, with large fishing grounds all round Britain’s shores, some fish would swim away, but if fishing areas were properly protected, stocks would recover. No doubt we would benefit other nations, because some fish would swim away and be caught in other waters, but that is British generosity. 

Unless we restore national control of waters, I remain unconvinced that we will succeed in dealing with the horrendous prospect of our ecosystems being destroyed and of fishing fleets ending up with nothing to catch in our seas. There would be all sorts of disbenefits to our food chain and our future. I remain to be convinced that reform is possible and I have heard every possible argument. I spoke about this to a former senior official from Britain in the Commission. I asked, “What would happen if we chose the common fisheries policy as our first step in repatriating powers from the European Union?” He said that that would be absolutely unacceptable and that we would have to get out of the European Union. I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” 

Are we seriously going to accept that any return of powers from the European Union, such as through a future opt-out of the CFP, will mean that we can no longer be a member of the Union? I think that insisting on being sensible about fishing policy in the future would be the last thing that would get us thrown out of the EU, but that was what was said to me. 

I believe that under the surface, people who believe in creating a country called Europe know that having such common policies, such as the common agricultural policy, to name but one other, is part of the glue of the

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European Union. The CFP is also part of that glue. The sooner we tell the European Union that we do not necessarily want to undermine the whole EU, but that we want to have control over our fish, because we think that it is beneficial not just for us, but for the fish in the sea, the ecosystems, all the fishing fleets and all of us who eat fish, the better. 

6.1 pm 

Barry Gardiner:  I want to focus on a small area of the proposals. I welcome most of what the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian said, but I believe that there is a serious point of principle, about which I must say I am surprised to find quiescence on the Government Benches. That point is simply about the introduction of transferable fishing concessions. 

The question that I want to put at the heart of the matter is whether the introduction of a mandatory system of transferable fishing concessions by the EU of fishing rights that must be transferable nationally is legal under EU law. The addendum papers that we received before coming to the Committee have addressed that issue, and I will come on to the way in which it was addressed later on. I believe that the issue was inadequately addressed in the papers, which focused on the second of the two arguments that have been advanced—not the one about legality, but the one about the challenge levelled on the grounds of subsidiarity and proportionality. 

The proposals released by the Commission on 13 July will introduce a mandatory and rights-based management scheme to deal with the issues of access to marine resources. The rights created by such an approach are usually known as individual transferable quotas. They have been introduced in many countries around the world, and in the CFP proposals, ITQs will be called transferable fishing concessions, defined as 

“revocable user entitlements to a specific part of fishing opportunities allocated to a Member State or established in management plans adopted by a Member State…which the holder may transfer to other eligible holders of such transferable fishing concessions”. 

Such concessions will be valid for a minimum of 15 years, thereby giving a holder a long-term entitlement to a proportion of the annual quota allocated to a member state. In the CFP proposals, such quotas are called individual fishing opportunities, which are defined as 

“annual fishing opportunities allocated to holders of transferable fishing concessions in a Member State on the basis of the proportion of fishing opportunities pertaining to that Member State”. 

By the end of 2013, member states are required to implement nationally the system of TFCs for all fishing vessels with towed gear. Potentially, a member state may choose to apply TFCs to its entire fleet, including vessels with other types of gear than towed gear. At the moment, the exception would leave out only lobster potting and stuff like that. Most of our under-10 fleet is towed-gear fleet. 

Article 345 of the TFEU states: 

“The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.” 

The phrase 

“shall in no way prejudice” 

refers to the neutral stance that the EU must take with regard to how member states regulate their systems of property rights. That is the principle of legal neutrality. The legal order of the member states must not be

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affected by the EU. Nationalisations or, indeed, privatisations, such as I believe this to be, are to be decided by member states and not by the EU as a whole. The EU cannot create new property rights or take away existing property rights, as this will affect the property rights systems of member states. 

That is underscored by the fact that the translated German text of article 345 states that the legal order of the member states’ property law is “untouchable”. That means that it cannot be touched, rather than the English translation, which refers to prejudice. It should be noted that although the power to establish a system of property ownership and property rights belongs to member states, the exercise of such powers must be in accordance with the fundamental rules of EU law, including those of non-discrimination, freedom of establishment, freedom of movement of capital and so on. 

TFCs, however, can be considered property rights. That is why I asked the Minister in the question session whether he accepted that, in all the drafts up to 13 July, instead of referring to transferable fishing concessions it had referred to “transferable fishing rights.” I will go on to adumbrate that, but he was good enough to acknowledge that he believed that that may have been the case. The Commission’s proposal on reform of the mandatory national introduction of TFCs prejudices the rules on member states governing the system of property ownership, contrary to the principle of mutuality. 

Property in the strict sense means the right of ownership. The right to an asset can also be a property right. Property generally entails, at minimum, the right to transfer its entitlement to someone else, which is usually referred to as alienability, and to exclude others from its use and enjoyment, which is usually referred to as excludability. It may also provide for some protection from private and public dispossession. 

Though its definition includes the term “concessions” rather than “shares” or “rights”, the nature of a TFC is still that of a right, share or entitlement. TFCs are defined by the common fisheries policy proposal as user entitlements. An entitlement is basically a right in this context. Both those terms are used when describing property. We understand that the word “concession”, as the Minister allowed, was a last-minute change to the proposal’s wording. Almost until the publication of the proposals, TFCs had been called “transferable fishing shares”. In the impact assessment of the proposal, they are called individual transferable rights. 

If I can refer to the addendum that was put out and the counter argument to this, which was set out in that addendum, it states: 

“This argument cannot be maintained”— 

that is the argument that it contravenes article 345 of the TFEU— 

“since the current proposals merely require Member States to limit the amount of fish that can be caught through a system of TFCs—rather than defining individuals’ property rights. Consequently, we are content that the current proposals do not infringe Article 345.” 

That is the argument that the Government have advanced. 

Whatever the terminology—and I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged that the word “rights” was used previously, and in the impact assessment—the

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transferability of the TFCs changes the nature of the underlying instrument from one that deals merely with the allocation of fishing opportunities, quota or fishing rights, or, as the addendum says, merely requires 

“Member States to limit the amount of fish that can be caught” 

to one that satisfies the definition of a property right. 

To be a right it must be alienable, so how does the TFC measure up there? TFCs must be fully or partially transferable within a member state, among eligible holders of TFCs. In addition they may also be, if member states choose, transferable to and from other member states. A mere quota system does not have that element of transferability, so it does not involve property rights. The question is not simply one of limiting the amount of fish—it is about transferability of rights. 

The second element, of course, is to entitle the holder to exclude others, and TFCs are exclusive by their nature. The right at the heart of a TFC entitles a fisher to a defined and specific portion of the finite quota that a member state is awarded. The total entitlements under TFCs distributed to fishers will never exceed the total amount of fishing opportunities available to a particular member state each year. In practice, that ultimately translates into a defined and specific share of the actual resource, which at the same time comes with the knowledge and the right that all others who do not similarly have a specific defined right to a proportion of the total resource are excluded from access to that resource. 

The two key issues that determine whether what we are considering should be regarded as a right, and not simply a way of limiting the amount of fish, are present: alienability and entitlement to exclude others. In addition, property rights are often categorised by protection from dispossession. Although TFCs are revocable, they are valid for a minimum period of 15 years, and member states may recall them only with a notice period of at least 15 years, or if the holder has been proved to have committed a serious infringement or has not used the TFCs for a period of three consecutive years. 

If the relevant right—the TFC—is to be taken back by national authorities earlier than the guaranteed ownership period, compensation is payable. That means for example that if a mandatory system of TFCs were to be tested for a few years, and it was then decided that it was not successful—and this goes to the point that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan made earlier—it would be extremely difficult then to reform and change it. In fact, compensation would need to be paid to all holders of the concessions for the loss of their long-term entitlements over that 15-year period. 

The system is not one that can be entered into—and, as the Minister rightly explained in relation to other contexts—subsequently unpicked, easily. There are extremely complex and long-term obligations and liabilities, which would go with such a scheme, particularly if it were found not to work. 

The specific definition of property rights can vary in different jurisdictions. I think that is accepted. The argument that is being put forward is that at least in some member states, of which I would argue that the UK and Germany are certainly two, the TFCs would be classified as property rights. That makes their mandatory introduction by the EU automatically contrary to article 345. Indeed, if there were only one member state where TFCs were a property right, it would still be unlawful

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under article 345. That seems to me to be a fundamental issue of competence.

Are we allowing something to happen that changes the nature of what is permissible under EU law? I believe that TFCs are unlawful under EU law. Frankly I am surprised that, in an area in which the EU is taking such a large step to obtain control over property rights, it is not seen by the Government, particularly by Government Back Benchers, who are often vocal on such subjects, as a matter of grave concern. 
There are also issues of subsidiarity and proportionality, which I want to address on the clear understanding that they are secondary to the question of legality. It is interesting that the Government’s response to the addendum focused on subsidiarity and proportionality, and I accept that there are genuine arguments on that subject. The Government clearly think it is better to tackle an area in which there is a genuine argument, rather than something against which it would perhaps be difficult to advance a case. 

I turn now to subsidiarity and proportionality, which are important for the proposals, because they prescribe the boundaries for the exercise of Union competence. Both principles combined mean that the EU should not get involved in areas beyond those with which it is concerned. Article 5(3) states: 

“Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.” 

The principle of subsidiarity applies only in areas of shared competence between the EU and its member states; it does not apply in areas of exclusive competence. 

The Commission impact statement accompanying the CFP proposal states that the proposal satisfies the subsidiarity principle. The impact statement explains that the only two areas of shared competence in the proposal relate to aquaculture and the Common Market organisation, which implies that everything else is subject to exclusive competence as it relates to the conservation of marine biological resources. 

TFCs should also be regarded as being subject to shared competence, because only measures relating to the conservation of marine biological resources under the CFP are subject to exclusive competence; all other aspects of fisheries are subject to shared competence. Unless the objective of TFCs is to conserve marine biological resources under the CFP, they are subject to shared competence and, therefore, the principle of subsidiarity. 

I accept that there is a possible argument about fish stock conservation and TFCs, but the Government would not necessarily win that argument because the effectiveness of TFCs has not been proven. One can look at Iceland and New Zealand, where they have worked well, or one can look at the east coast of the United States, where they have worked badly and have had a detrimental and appalling impact on fishing communities. 

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It is important to distinguish between the system of setting fishing limits—setting quotas and determining how much may be fished—and how those fishing opportunities, once set, are distributed or allocated. Setting fishing opportunities or quotas is without doubt a conservation tool and subject to exclusive competence. However, the mandatory imposition of a system of national transferrable fishing rights has nothing to do with conservation in that sense. Rather, it has to do with economic distribution, fleet structure and who has the right to fish. 

That is confirmed by the Commission impact statement, and relies on the impact assessment conducted for the Commission by Agnew et al. According to that statement, TFCs are clearly not fisheries conservation tools. They are not listed under the heading of conservation marine biological resources, where the CFP’s planned conservation measures are described. Rather, they are dealt with under a separate heading. Their main aims are the reduction of over-capacity—in simplified terms, the size and power of a fishing fleet—and the improvement of the economic performance of the catching sector. Long-term thinking that may lead to environmental sustainability is not even mentioned in the Commission impact statement. 

In any event, TFCs, by their very nature, are an economic tool that aims to have economic market effects—they are not a conservation measure. In fact, similar approaches elsewhere have led to stock collapses due to fishers maximising the return on their rent of the ITQs; stock collapses due to a lack of robust stock assessments; and persistent high-grading and discarding problems. All that of that shows that ITQs alone will not halt the negative impacts of fishing on the ecosystem. 

The TFCs are not a fisheries conservation tool; they are subject to shared competence and, thus, the principle of subsidiarity. That means—this is the important point—that the Union can act only if a proposed objective cannot be sufficiently achieved at national or regional level, and would be better applied at EU level by reason of scale and effects. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  The European Scrutiny Committee has had some discussions about subsidiarity, and it seems that the principle has almost never been implemented or taken advantage of. Is it not a bit of a political decoration? 

Barry Gardiner:  The Government have sought to address it. I do not want to get drawn into the wider debate about subsidiarity and the European Union, which is long and tedious and goes back many years. I am interested in the way in which the Government have tried to advance their argument on TFCs around the issues of subsidiarity and proportionality. I am trying effectively to mount the counter-argument to show that TFCs are not only illegal, but would violate those principles. I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for not being drawn into the wider debate, but my concerns, as I am sure the Minister knows, are not about the wider structure of the EU; they are simply about the conservation of fish stocks and the biome, and about ensuring that our fish stocks are properly managed. 

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If the proposal were trying to prescribe an EU-wide trading system for fishing rights, leaving aside the issue of legality, EU action to achieve such a system might be justified and appropriate if there were good reasons for it. However, in the case of TFCs, the EU is looking to mandate new national fishing rights trading systems. It simply cannot be argued that that is better achieved through the EU by reason of scale and effects. Instead, it is clearly a matter of national sovereignty and for member states to decide at a national level. 

In addition, the mandatory introduction of TFCs needs to satisfy the principle of proportionality set out in article 5(4) of the treaty on European union, which states: 

“Under the principle of proportionality, the content and form of Union action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.” 

The Commission impact statement does not refer to TFCs in particular when it justifies why the CFP proposal is consistent with the principle of proportionality. However, it does acknowledge that more member state and regional action is appropriate within the CFP, and even that that is particularly the case in relation to allocating fishing opportunities: 

“Member States have ample form for manoeuvre on decisions related to the social/economic model of their choice to exploit their allocated fishing opportunities”. 

That clearly ties in with transferable fishing concessions. 

The CFP proposal therefore attempts to introduce a new mandatory property rights system in all member states on a purely national market basis, unless the member state decides otherwise. No other EU-wide impacts result from such a system. Economic impacts are national, and environmental or fish-stock conservation benefits, if any, would not be the result of a system of TFCs, but rather of a reformed system setting sustainable fishing levels and other environmental sustainability measures. If TFCs are introduced at all, they should be voluntary, and it should be up to each member state to decide whether the measure is appropriate for that particular state. The EU forcing purely national changes that might fundamentally change the property rights system of a particular member state is, I suggest, an excessive use of EU power and inconsistent with the principle of proportionality. As I draw my remarks to a close, I am grateful that the Committee patiently allowed me to extend them. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  My hon. Friend is talking about TFCs being voluntary, but any arrangement depends on the willingness of people to co-operate, and voluntary co-operation means that people catch fewer fish and make less money. Without compulsion or some kind of control, a system simply will not work. 

Barry Gardiner:  I was referring to the system of TFCs that could be entered into by nation states voluntarily but could not be imposed as a mandatory requirement by the EU because of the principles of proportionality. That is the point I was making. 

To wind up, TFCs are a property right in a number of EU jurisdictions. Under article 345, the EU is not permitted to prejudice the systems of property ownership of member states, and a mandatory EU-wide system of TFCs is therefore unlawful. Nothing in the Government’s

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response or the addendum has sought to counter the argument that I have set out this afternoon. Irrespective of, and without prejudice to, that argument, even if article 345 did not exist, the mandatory introduction of a system based on the transferable nature of the fishing rights would in any case be contrary to the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity, and their introduction could be challenged by member states. I should like the Minister, in his response, to pay particular attention to that issue and say whether it could be challenged and at what stage. 

Infringements of the principle of subsidiarity, in particular, give rise to a right of challenge for national Parliaments and member states in the EU. The only way in which an ITQ system, or the TFC system itself, could be introduced legally would be on a voluntary rather than a mandatory basis. That would not be in breach of article 345, and it would not be contrary to the principles of subsidiarity or proportionality, although such a system still might not work from a fisheries management or conservation perspective for a number of reasons. 

I am sorry to detain the Committee as long as I have done, but fundamental issues are at stake, which the Government have sought simply to brush over in the addendum. I am astonished that Government Back Benchers who are normally so assiduous on such issues have not sought to hold their Front Bench to account. These are real matters of great import to relations between the nation state and the EU. 

6.29 pm 

Richard Benyon:  I appreciate the thought put into the debate by the members of the Committee. The issues raised are timely, and I will seek to answer as many questions as I can. 

I have already congratulated the hon. Member for East Lothian on her appointment and it is impressive how quickly she has got to grips with her brief. I have been where she is and I know that, with the limited resources available, a technical brief such as this is hard work. I pay tribute to her. She has a good mentor in the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), my predecessor as Fisheries Minister, who has now joined her Front-Bench team. He did great work, which we are carrying forward, particularly in supporting the inshore under-10 metre fleet. I continue to work with her, and him, on that. 

We heard the East Lothian questions, if we can call them that, from the hon. Member for East Lothian. I shall go through them rapidly. The reform consultation on the impact assessment is due to close this Thursday, and an assessment will follow once we have analysed the results. She mentioned the importance of working with the industry, interested parties and stakeholder groups, whom I met them last week, and I can assure her that I will continue to keep in close touch. Barely a week goes by without some element of the industry coming to DEFRA. I also make it my work to get out and about and see as many of them as possible, as we go through this important stage. 

We are meeting other member states to talk through the decentralising ideas and solutions, and I am happy to keep the hon. Lady informed, on a formal or informal basis, on where I think we have friends and where we have blockages among other member states. I want to

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ensure that we negotiate from a position of strength. Sometimes that means not sharing negotiating positions in this type of forum. I am happy to talk to her and to others. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  Is it negotiating from a position of strength if there are Members demanding abandonment of the CFP? Is that not a bit of a lever? 

Richard Benyon:  I have yet to come across one. The point that the hon. Member for East Lothian made about food security is absolutely right. It would be the most wonderful time for the fishing industry, if we were at sustainable stocks and had increasing biomass in our seas. Food security has never been more important, and with rising oil prices, the need for a healthy diet, and the need to tackle the obesity crisis, fresh fish is a fantastic product. It is frustrating for me, as I go round the coast and see an industry in such difficulty, to reflect on the fact that we are talking about a product that we need. We need to assist fishermen to get through the crisis, so that their children and grandchildren feel that there is a future in the business—dangerous, tough hard work though it is. 

The point that the hon. Member for East Lothian made about the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association is absolutely right. We are at a crucial stage in our proposal, taking forward the work on sustainable access to inshore fisheries started under the previous Government. We are putting forward proposals to be piloted in about three different areas, giving fishermen and communities quota fishing opportunities and the opportunity to be directly connected to the viability of the fishing community. We think that offers a good way forward. 

The hon. Lady mentioned multi-annual plans, which are a key part of the reform. Good multi-annual plans are a huge asset. They actually take power away from politicians, and that is why some countries do not like them. They like the patronage of the ridiculous December round and the fighting for every single sector and stock. Multi-annual plans are science-based, and people can buy into them because they are clear and set out the way forward, and we want to see more of that. 

On the Commissioner’s remarks to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about timing, as far as I am concerned, the timing is urgent. Where we have concerns with the Commission, there will be no holding back on trying to get a clearer position as quickly as possible. 

On the November and December round of negotiations —I am off next week to talk about the EU-Norway round—I am delighted that we have got the Commission to drop the mandatory 25% or 15% cut in quota for data-poor stocks. There is a multitude of reasons why we have data deficiencies, and it is not always the fault of Governments or the commitments that we give. We have maintained and protected our science and evidence-base budgets, and we have absolutely got the right resources to provide what we need. 

The Commission must be flexible. There is a wealth of data that have not been provided in absolutely the prescribed method through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and sometimes there are other means of getting the information that shows that a stock is healthy or improving and does not require the

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cuts. I must say that the change that the Commission made was only for the Baltic round. It is still on the table, but the Commission has stated its position, and I believe that we will be able to carry that forward in the next two months. 

On discards, the absolutely crucial point is to try to achieve what we have done on catch quotas, which is the holy grail of fisheries management—getting fishermen to catch less but land more, and to land higher-value products. 

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan on the point about fish for the poor. There is a multitude of different ways in which government at all levels can assist in social provision and welfare, but it should be done in the way that was mentioned. I have had arguments on behalf of my ministerial colleagues at the Council on agricultural products, and I believe that the principle is the same for fish. It is an affront to all of us to have healthy food thrown away because of a perverse system of management. There are better ways of assisting and providing for the poor than having a very complicated top-down system. The hon. Lady is right that one could skew the ability of charities or NGOs to provide resources for people on low incomes. 

The hon. Lady asked about conservation, and made points that are absolutely relevant to this debate. There is really good work taking place on real-time closures, and a variety of other measures have been developed in Scottish and English waters, and all around the UK. We have to ensure that we have to build on those good points. 

The hon. Member for East Lothian mentioned the marine conservation zones. The four stakeholder groups around the coast of England have recently come forward with 127 schemes. Those schemes have been examined by the independent scientific panel, which is looking at the evidence supporting those schemes. Because they have been proposed by stakeholder groups, sometimes there is information that may not be supported precisely by the science, and it will be a gradual process. However, we will get to what was the shared aim of both Front-Bench teams when the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 was passed and I was in her position as Opposition spokesperson. At the time, we supported the process. We want an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones around our coasts, and we will work hard to achieve that aim. I will keep her informed on the progress towards that. 

It is important to put on record that some fishery partnership agreements are good and achieve precisely what they set out to do: support the economies of developing countries. I was in no way condemning all those agreements, but I share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry about the way in which they are implemented. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute made some very good points. He clearly set out a coherent view of how we want to get to reform, and he made some serious points about our approach. I appreciate his contribution. 

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan spoke with her usual passion for the subject and for her constituents. On the catch quota, I point out that when I was Opposition

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spokesperson, I first went to her constituency to meet industry representatives, and there was huge hostility to the idea of having cameras on boats for the catch quota scheme. When I want back there just a short while later, I found an acceptance of the scheme, because the fishermen were getting something for it. They were working with the scheme, and the scheme was greatly popular. The opposition was all from fishermen from other countries. The good news is that recently I signed a declaration with Fisheries Ministers from France, Germany and Denmark, who all said that catch quotas are the way forward. Gradually, that is becoming much more accepted. 

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has said that I am “relaxed” about transferable fishing concessions. I would never use that word. I am far from relaxed about them. The situation is not as we would like at this stage. I want to improve the Commission’s proposal. I am not happy with 15 years; we want that reduced considerably. I want to make sure that we can offer answers to all the legal points, some of which I shall talk about in a moment. I assure the hon. Lady that “relaxed” is not the word. I am absolutely determined to make sure that as many people as possible can see the virtue of the system, from a conservation point of view. That is absolutely vital. 

I am surprised at the hon. Member for Brent North. He is well known for his concern for the environment, and I have respect for his huge efforts on behalf of organisations, but he has missed a trick. There is an opportunity to deliver a good conservation mechanism, which I hope he will learn to love as the proceedings progress. I will address his points in a moment. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye rightly pointed out the need for scientific evidence to be accurate. There is much that we can do. Technology is improving our understanding of the macro-activities of fish stocks in huge ecosystems. Sometimes, Fisheries Ministers and people who manage fisheries will have to face down some pretty determined views; some people say that they have never seen so many fish of a different stock—that it is possible to walk across certain seas on the backs of cod—but although we are talking about species that sometimes shoal in huge numbers in certain areas, we have to remember that, across the whole ecosystem, the numbers give rise to serious concerns, so I accept my hon. Friend’s point. 

There was an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Luton South—[Hon. Members: “North.”] North; I apologise. He probably thinks that I take a simplistic view of the issue, but that is entirely wrong. He probably assumes that I am somehow an apologist for the status quo, but I assure him that that is far from being the case. In fact, I am more in spirit with him than he perhaps realises. I must correct him on one or two points. Our vessels fish in Norwegian waters. Norway is not a closed zone for vessels from other countries. Canada manages its fisheries on its own, in a style that the hon. Gentleman would probably approve of, but its fish stocks on the Grand Banks collapsed, and are only just starting to recover, more than a decade later. The hon. Gentleman’s suggested solution is not always the panacea. 

I commend Professor Callum Roberts’s book, which highlights the exact point on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman—namely that, if we allow the ecosystem

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to get unbalanced via the over-exploitation of certain species, extraordinary things will happen. It can take eons to get back to where we want to be with fish stocks, so the hon. Gentleman is right. Perhaps my one aim in life is to get him to believe that we are going in the right direction to get a solution that is good for Britain, British waters and the future. 

The points raised by the hon. Member for Brent North have also been made to this Committee by ClientEarth, and have been the subject of rigorous analysis by legal minds across Government. We disagree with those points. I will be more brief than the hon. Gentleman, but will state clearly our understanding of the issues. On whether it is unlawful to introduce property rights under article 345 of the treaty, current proposals merely require member states to limit the amount of fish that can be caught through a system of TFCs, rather than defining individuals’ property rights. Moreover, the proposals do not amount to the imposition of rules governing a system of property ownership, and the Government are therefore content that they do not infringe article 345. 

On whether the proposals adhere to the principle of subsidiarity, that principle states that the EU may act only where the objectives of proposals cannot be achieved by member states acting individually, which rather badly articulates exactly what the hon. Gentleman said. For fisheries management, article 3.1(d) provides for exclusive EU competence for 

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“the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy”. 

That entitles the Commission to include proposals such as the mandatory introduction of TFCs as a tool for the conservation of marine biological resources. That means that the proposals also adhere to the principle of proportionality, which states that the Commission must not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaty. The Commission is entitled to propose the introduction of TFCs as one way of managing fisheries to achieve the CFP’s objective of having sustainable fisheries. 

I thank Committee members for the points that they have made. This is a crucial time for the management of fisheries and for the future of the CFP, and I hope that the Committee will agree to the motion. 

Question put and agreed to.  


That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 12519/11, relating to a Commission Communication—Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and No. 12514/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, relating to a Draft Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy; and supports the Government’s view that fundamental reform of EU fisheries policy is required to deliver the legislative changes necessary to achieve healthy fish stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and a healthy marine environment. 

6.46 pm 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 8th November 2011