Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1563-ii

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 7 December 2011

Members present

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Thomas Docherty

Richard Drax

George Eustice

Neil Parish

Amber Rudd

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary UnderSecretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, John Robbs, Director, Marine Programme and Natural Environment, and Andrew Clayton, Head of CFP Reform Policy, Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, gave evidence.

Q343 Chair: Good afternoon, Minister, and welcome to you. Thank you very much indeed, Richard, for participating in our inquiry. This is the highlight of our inquiry. For the record, would you like to introduce yourself and your team?

Richard Benyon: Thank you, Madam Chair; it is a delight to be back in front of this Committee. I have brought along John Robbs, on my right, who is the Director of the Marine Programme and Natural Environment at Defra, and Andrew Clayton, who is the Head of CFP Reform Policy, and has been with me doing a lot of this work as we go towards reform of this policy.

Q344 Chair: Thank you. We will proceed in the usual way. Are you concerned that there is no formal legal basis for the regionalisation of fisheries policy under the Commission’s proposals?

Richard Benyon: We are awaiting what the Commission call a "nonpaper", which should be published this week, which is the method by which they add flesh to the bones of proposals thus far. And we are waiting for nonpapers on regionalisation-I will be corrected by people either side of me-on transferable fishing concessions, on the external element, and on discards and the EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund), as it is now known-it was the EFF (European Fisheries Fund)-and this will set out more detail.

As far as the legal basis is concerned, I believe it is no secret that there has been a bit of a tussle within the Commission about where the legality for proper regionalisation lies. We think there is a very good legal case and wish to support the Commissioner in her attempts to achieve this.

Q345 Chair: The Commissioner, when she gave evidence to us, was very open, very charming, saying that it was not enough for just the northern member states to agree the policy; it would have to be for, obviously, especially the southern-presumably the Mediterranean-member states to support. In your discussions with southern member states, do you think that they are minded to support the Commission proposals?

Richard Benyon: The European political scene at the moment is an evermoving ecosystem. We have new Governments in four of the five major southern European states: Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. But our discussions at official level, and at my level, with past Ministers and, hopefully, with future Ministers will find ways forward.

There are undoubtedly, across Europe, differing views. One gets the feeling that some countries are quite cautious about the idea of regionalisation; I am not going to name those countries because we are in detailed negotiation with them. However, there is a sense, among some countries, that levels of control by Brussels and the whole rather ridiculous circus that we will be going through next week, late through the night, is a political activity. Many people see it as standing up for their sectoral interests and we should be getting away from that and towards multiannual plans, towards looking at the management of fisheries on a sea basin, ecosystem basis, which will undoubtedly mean that we have better management, but less political activity at its heart. And so it is going to be a different world but, I hope, a better one.

Q346 Chair: The Commissioner put it to us that member states would have "the possibility to come together and agree between themselves" over the implementation of multiannual plans. Do you think that is a risky way of going forward? Would this degree of co-operation be likely without a formal decisionmaking-

Richard Benyon: No, I think that is the right way forward. There is a paradox in this, which is that, as you might read things currently, it might result in greater competence remaining at Commission level and I will come on to explain that. But it surely must be right that those countries that fish a sea basin decide the details of how it is managed, and I think in most cases they will do that very well.

We will certainly do that in the North Sea with countries like Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France and Holland, to a certain extent Sweden, and working of course with Norway, as happens now, but being done by those countries that fish that sea basin; it is the same in the Irish Sea and the same in the Channel. But what we have to clarify now is what happens if we can’t agree. As things stand at the moment what worries me is that it could just be taken back to the Commission to decide at that level.

Now, if six out of seven countries agree a way forward and one doesn’t, and that fact is recognised in terms of how a solution is arbitrated, then I think most of us can live with that. There is obviously a lot more detail that has to go with that, but if it was going to create more power for the Commission at the end of the day, that would be perverse. So we have a difficult way forward to discuss this, but I think the essential idea about devolving control down to countries that have an interest in those seas means that you get better management that exists for those waters. Trying to get a single system that is applicable and run from one place-so is applicable for subarctic seas in the north down to waters south of Malta in the south-is manifestly failing.

Q347 Chair: We met both Danish fishermen and the Danish Minister last week. Are there comparisons here with the Schengen Agreement, where there could be regionalisation on the basis of the sea basin? Have you discussed that with the Commission, and have you thought of a way forward with other member states on that basis?

Richard Benyon: I have not looked at it in the context of other treaties. We have just looked at it and discussed with other countries on the basis that was first indicated through the Commission’s Green Paper some time ago and has since been followed up by conversations and now the Commission’s position paper of last summer, which is that, as I say, we should start to have systems that work on a sea-basin or ecosystem basis, and we think that is the right way forward. The Commission, because this is a European competence, will dictate guiding principles, targets, scientificbased directions and it is for the countries that fish those waters to do it in more detail.

Q348 Chair: Do you think there is general agreement proceeding along those lines?

Richard Benyon: I will ask my colleagues to come in, but there are undoubtedly countries that are wary of this and there are countries, like us, that are keener on it.

John Robbs: I will just add a few words, if I may. I think you, Chair, caught the point when you summarised what the Commissioner said, which is it is giving countries the opportunity to do this. So, in the Baltic and in the North Sea, there is a good deal of enthusiasm for going down this route; we had a meeting with our North Sea counterparts just two or three weeks ago and we are very close to a shared position on this. In other waters, there will not be that enthusiasm. So there is the choice: where you want to do it you can do it; where you don’t, you don’t need to do it. I think that may be the way forward.

Chair: I had not appreciated that the Mediterranean only has quotas on one species whereas the North Sea and the Baltic seem to have quotas on every species. So, hopefully, that will not go unnoticed.

Richard Benyon: Not every species, but quite a few species.

Q349 Chair: Also, just speaking to the Danish fishermen, there is this Baltic box, which has been agreed between Danish and Swedish fishermen; is that something that our people would not normally fish in? What will the status of those boxes be if regionalisation proceeds?

Richard Benyon: We do not fish in that water. There are a lot of things happening now that are of interest to us. In the Skagerrak sea, which is the sea between Denmark and Sweden, there is, for example, a discard ban, which is being imposed, as you may have heard about. There are transferable fishing rights being exercised in Denmark, to an extent. We have carried out reforms here outside the parameters of CFP reform, which have changed the way we manage fisheries, so we have to look at it in the context of this. We have pioneered a number of different conservation methods that we want to be able to take forward into a reformed management arrangement.

Q350 Chair: Does what you are proposing, what the Commission is proposing, mean that there will be different conservation measures and different sizes of mesh for the same fishermen in the same area, or will it be uniform?

Richard Benyon: We will want to ensure that there are common management goals and measures imposed over an entire ecosystem. So if you were to take the North Sea, our management methods would not be particularly advantaging one country over another or disadvantaging one country against another. Whatever the arrangements were before we entered this disastrous policy-I was only 12 at the time, so I can’t remember these days-there was a degree of common management; there were historic fishing rights that go back to almost medieval times, so there has to be levels of working with other countries. What we want to do is to create the mechanism through a reformed Common Fisheries Policy that has more localised management, and we want those management tools to be fair, clear, simple, nondiscriminatory and entirely science and conservationbased.

Q351 George Eustice: I am a huge supporter of this idea of, effectively, partially devolving responsibility back to member states, but I wanted to pick up what you said earlier about the problem that it might, paradoxically, give the Commission more power if people cannot agree, and whether you have given thought on how you could deal with that potential threat.

Richard Benyon: We have discussed this at length and we await the nonpaper, as it is called, which may address this and may resolve this. That is due out this week.

Q352 George Eustice: Have we expressed a view, though, to the Commission for that non-paper?

Richard Benyon: Yes, very much so. If one was being very negative about this, one could say that this is competence creep by the Commission, and actually we think that everything that the Commissioner has said is very much in line with what we and other northern European states have been pushing for, which is a genuine devolving of management powers. And so it would be a strange result if it was to actually create more power for the Commission to say, "Well, you can’t agree; therefore we are going to impose these management rules".

John Robbs: Again, just to add a little bit of detail: when we had the meeting with North Sea member states in November, we were all clear that the Commission’s model is that we have the opportunity to come together and agree measures to achieve implementation of the rules in the North Sea, and the Commission’s version is if we fail to do that the default option is that they do it. Our clear and agreed view is that the default option is then it reverts to the Council as a whole and the codecision procedure with the Parliament, which is what will happen if the rules do not change.

Q353 Chair: What the Commissioner told us was that she, quite rightly, has to work within the treaty basis as it currently is. So is this not a case that we could argue for a treaty change and instead of being-you are shaking your head, which I can’t record as a response. I do not think we would ever get exclusive competence for the member states, but rather this idea of devolved responsibility.

If we could have shared competency, there has to be some stick to get the coastal member states for a particular sea, whether it is the North Sea or the Mediterranean Sea, to decide. Because, to me, this is the most exciting part of the fisheries reforms-this idea of shared competencies and moving away from exclusive competence-and I cannot quite grasp why we are not proposing a treaty change along those lines.

Richard Benyon: Our belief is that if the Commission keeps its overall competence and exercises that in an overarching way-dealing with principle, target-setting, encouraging fisheries to move towards, and asking serious questions where they fail-and it keeps that level of control, but the details and the management methods are then dealt with by member states, that should be entirely within the law.

The absurdity we have at the moment, which I cannot believe was ever the intention of most of the architects of this policy, are that fishermen in coastal parts of this country are having their net sizes set in Brussels, and that is too remote. That system lacks credibility. So it is our belief that the legal framework exists and does not require a treaty change. If it was a treaty change, I imagine it would be a long and much more convoluted process than this already seems. But the legal advice that I hope that the Commission will finally adopt is that this can just be taken forward as a reformed Common Fisheries Policy through the codecision process, and not requiring a treaty change. That should be in our advantage.

Q354 Chair: Just to conclude this point: in the scenario you have just given us, though, where one member state does not agree, it would revert back to the Commission under the revised proposals.

Richard Benyon: Yes, or through the Council, but again we want to see some detail on this and it may well be that the paper released this week will set our fears at rest. But if that does exist, then that is a very clear point on which we will be negotiating very hard. We will be seeking alliances with other countries to try and resolve it over the coming months.

Q355 George Eustice: John, just to follow up on your point, what is the advantage, therefore, of having it decided at the Council rather than the Commission? Is it just that you have a veto there?

John Robbs: We do not have a veto in the Council. The present position is that all these rules are decided by the Council and, in future, by codecision with the Parliament. We are wanting to get to a position where the group of member states most directly affected decides the detailed rules. If those member states cannot come together and successfully agree them, then you have two routes under the treaty. One is the Commission takes control, and this doesn’t seem to us to be the best model for decentralisation. The other route is it stays where it currently is, which is that the Council collectively takes all these decisions through codecision with the Parliament.

Q356 George Eustice: Would it be possible to have a basic principle that if six countries agree and one does not, then there is a strong margin of appreciation given to that in the decision? So the starting point is not that the Commission will decide; it is that the Commission will bring a conclusion to a dispute. Is the Commission capable of doing that?

Richard Benyon: Again, we are at an uncertain stage, but I hope that as we take this forward we can resolve this matter in a way that does not give the Commission more of a role in the direct management of fisheries. If there is an almost unanimous agreement about how measures should be taken forward, that should be reflected in how a final decision is arbitrated, whichever body has responsibility for that final decision.

Q357 Chair: Without being too technical, the actual proposals say that it allows member states to adopt their own national plan and it is only if member states do not adopt a national plan it would revert to the Commission. It is Chapter I, Article 17: "Conservation measures adopted in accordance with multiannual plans". It seems to be that if a member state does not adopt a national plan that it would revert to the Commission. Mr Robbs, is that the case?

John Robbs: My colleague has the regulation.

Andrew Clayton: I think there are two concerns about this. First of all, there are still generic technical measures provided for in here. So although it does not go into clear detail on exactly who passes those technical measures, there is an assumption that the Commission would still be passing some generic, highlevel technical measures for the whole of Europe. Although member states would be given the opportunity to bring forward their own measures, that is with quite a healthy dose of Commission power sitting behind it; if member states do not bring forward measures, the Commission have the power to do that. Also, if the Commission do not feel that those measures are sufficient or effective enough, again the Commission is the backstop and the Commission are able at any time to bring forward their own measures.

Q358 Chair: So what is the difference? Moving forward, what is the big change?

Richard Benyon: The big change we hope to achieve is what we believe to be the principle set out in the Green Paper and underlined in the body of the text of the Commission’s July position paper, which was for a genuine devolvement of management of fisheries. I wish I was able to give a clear, definitive answer at this stage. We have the best part of a year’s serious negotiation on this and the timescale itself is uncertain because we are in uncharted waters with codecision.

Q359 Chair: That is fair enough. Just finally on this point, what is the status of a Commission non-paper, because we have spent quite a few hours taking evidence on this, going into quite considerable depth, and we obviously will have concluded our inquiry before we have sight of the Commission nonpaper. What is the legal status of the nonpaper?

Richard Benyon: They are public documents.

Q360 Chair: But to what extent does it form part of the core negotiation?

Richard Benyon: John will tell me what is the exact status of a nonpaper.

John Robbs: It is a convention that is often used in negotiations to help things along. The Commission proposal on the table is the text being negotiated and will continue to be the text being negotiated and then the Council suggest amendments and the Parliament and so on-the procedures you are very familiar with. These nonpapers from the Commission are intended to give us insight into what they intended, and so where there are disputes about what the text on the table says, these are meant to help us understand it.

Andrew Clayton: A bit like an explanatory memorandum.

Chair: Thank you, that is helpful.

Q361 Richard Drax: Minister, environmental charities want the CFP to propose a duty of member states to prevent sustainable fishing levels being exceeded. Do you think the proposals establish this duty?

Richard Benyon: There is a difference between what rights people have in this country to hold this Government to its word-and it can do that through judicial review process-and a longfelt wish by many organisations to have the same powers over the European Union. Whether CFP reform is going to unravel that and create new rights of organisations to hold individual governments to account, I do not know. I do not believe it would, but it would, presumably, come down to a legal definition of where you are actually moving the power to. The proposal is that at the moment you are devolving a decision currently taken in one place to a group of nations; quite what that status would give to those organisations’ ability to hold those groups of nations to account legally is undetermined at this stage.

Q362 Richard Drax: Right. Do you think the scientific data on fish stocks are good enough to establish what constitutes a sustainable level of fishing?

Richard Benyon: The most frequently articulated gripe in your constituency, Mr Drax, and in many others, is from fishermen saying that the scientists have got it wrong. I frequently get told that you can walk across certain parts of the sea on the backs of cod-I may exaggerate a little-and that scientists have all got it wrong. One of my great ambitions is to bridge any gulf of trust that may occur between scientists and fishermen.

There has been some really good work and I really do applaud organisations like Cefas and others for the Fisheries Science Partnerships, where fishermen are on vessels and working with them. But the data that the Commission accept as valid very often refers to data taken from exactly the same point at exactly the same time each year, and those numbers get crunched and form the advice on which basis stock levels and total liable catches are assessed. I think there is cause to believe that we have a much fasterchanging ecosystem in the marine environment than we have had in the past. Issues such as acidification, sea temperatures and others may mean that fish are spawning at different times and in different places and, as Governments, we have to make sure that the science is taking these factors into consideration.

We are having a battle at the moment, in which I think we are succeeding, which is to face down the Commission’s desire next week to see automatic 15% or 25% cuts in quotas for datapoor stocks. In the Baltic round negotiations last month we were successful in getting the Commission to recognise that that is not fair. There are often many reasons why certain stocks in certain places do not have data that prescribes to the IC’s model and there are many other areas where you can get the necessary data. So I think our science is pretty good. I think we have got some very able scientists. The methodologies will always be challenged and should be. I will ask my colleagues to chip in here to see whether the discussions that they have had at official level are reflecting this.

John Robbs: The Minister referred to the annual negotiations, not part of the CFP reform package, to fix next year’s fishing opportunities for total liable catches to tax. That is done on the basis of advice from international scientists at ICES who draw together the data collected by several member states for most stocks and then give their best shot at what is a sustainable level of fishing, to come directly back to the question.

There is no guaranteed right answer, but it is the best advice that these scientists can do with the knowledge they have and the quality of that science varies from stock to stock. In many, it is very well established, there are long data series and a high level of confidence; some it is not so sure and the lack of confidence is reflected in the advice and it is given with qualifications. For a number of stocks where the advice is not complete, as the Minister said, the Commission say, "Okay, the advice is not complete here, we will go for a 15% or 25% cut in the total allowable catch to be on the safe side".

Now, that is problematic for a number of people. Often, we can say with some pride that the UK has contributed its share of the data and perhaps one or two other member states have not put theirs in, but we would all get the cut and, in any event, where the international scientists are saying, "We are not completely sure, but do not increase fishing mortality", to most of us that means a freeze in the total allowable catch and not a 15% or 25% cut. So we are having to bring the Commission back closer to what is a reasonable interpretation of the science.

These are the main stocks. For some stocks, the knowledge is not so good and more needs to be done, but it is quite an expensive business.

Q363 Richard Drax: So you are cutting the 15% or 20% because you do not know and you have not got the data; that is what I understand you are saying.

John Robbs: That is what the Commission is proposing.

Q364 Richard Drax: That is what would tell me that we are not doing enough, unless I am being very stupid, to gather sufficient data to get a more accurate figure. Is that a fair comment?

John Robbs: A lot of work is put in to gathering the data. The question is how much is enough. I think the UK is putting in more effort than some member states. The Commission is trying to raise the bar across the piece and get more information to increase confidence.

Richard Benyon: I will just back up what John said there. In certain circumstances countries like Britain are providing data for part of that ecosystem; other countries are not playing their part, but we all face the cut because there is still a paucity of information going to the Commission. So there is a fairness issue here as well.

Q365 Richard Drax: So it is not a good example of Europe working efficiently. Finally, the maximum sustainable yield is a theoretical concept that some say is not helpful in terms of practical management. Do you agree with that?

Richard Benyon: I think we all agree with the principle of managing our fisheries to maximum sustainable yield. We have had debates on it in this House and everybody has nodded sagely at the concept. But I think what we really need to do-and this is where your Committee can be very valuable-is to look at precisely what we are saying when we are talking about maximum sustainable yield. Because we have a belief that the Commission’s definition is fairly simplistic and that the dangers associated with it are that it does not take into account the size of fish getting caught and the fact that they are, by and large, being caught in a mixed fishery. Just sticking rigidly to a maximum sustainable yield for one stock may have an adverse effect on the stocks of species swimming alongside it. So we prefer to develop the concept that we are talking about the maximum average longterm catch that may be taken from a fish stock under prevailing environmental conditions.

The other part of the Commission’s definition that we find simplistic is that it refers to MSY as being the "largest yield that can be taken from a species or stock over an indefinite period". "Over an indefinite period" is not really, by its nature, precise enough. We have to be able to measure what maximum sustainable yield is and how we are fishing to it. So we think this needs more work and we will be doing that over the coming weeks and months.

Q366 Richard Drax: Which is my final point: is there any more alternative objectives that the CFP could encompass to ensure sustainable fishing?

Richard Benyon: Yes, there are other measures that we are committed to. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive-I am looking to be corrected on either side of me if I get this wrong-has a requirement to have our marine environment in good environmental status by 2020. The Commission are pushing for us to achieve maximum sustainable yield, by their definition, by 2013.

Q367 Chair: We have signed an international commitment. It was made in 2002 at the Johannesburg summit; that is what the Commissioner keeps saying, so I presume that is where she took the definition from. I do not know; I stand to be corrected. Is that the case, Mr Robbs?

John Robbs: The international commitment made at Johannesburg was to achieve it by 2015 where possible, not 2013.

Q368 Chair: But how specific was the MSY in 2002?

John Robbs: Where possible.

Richard Benyon: Where possible by 2015, and we are committed to that. We think that the 2020 date for good environmental status fits into another aspect of the reform agenda that we think is very important, which is integrating fisheries management into the wider marine environment. So we are considering it alongside our commitments for other socioeconomic activities-mineral extraction, marine renewables, but also conservation.

Q369 Chair: Why haven’t we announced the Marine Conservation Zones?

Richard Benyon: We have. We have announced 127 proposed sites.

Chair: I thought there was a delay.

Richard Benyon: There is a delay because we have to make sure that there is enough scientific evidence.

Q370 Chair: I am just struggling here, Minister, to understand the difference between what was agreed in 2002, what the Commission is proposing and what your position is. If you could just help us.

Richard Benyon: Well, I will repeat that we are keen to develop a much more clear definition of what maximum sustainable yield means, and we are worried that if the definition is too broad it does not take into account factors that exist within our seat. We are totally committed to achieving good environmental status and we are committed to achieving maximum sustainable yield, as it has been defined, by 2015, where possible, and to fit in with our other commitments. But we do think that it needs to be looked at in the context of all our activities on the marine environment.

We are moving ahead with Marine Conservation Zones. It is going to be something that I believe this Government can be very proud of. This has come from a stakeholderled system with fishermen sitting around tables with conservationists and coming up with plans. But it has to be looked at in the context of an integrated marine environment rather than just looking at it through the silos of fisheries and conservation and other activities.

Q371 George Eustice: My question is on the same kind of theme, really. One of the things that some of the fishermen have told us is this issue of predatory patterns of the interaction of species and I think that is one of the things you are probably getting at. Does the raw data exist to be able to computer-model the impact of one species on another in a mixed fishery or are there just big blind spots and so it is always going to be imperfect for the time being?

Richard Benyon: You get these extraordinary spikes. Two or three years ago, the haddock fishery off the west coast of Scotland was facing reduced total allowable catches and was in a very dangerous state. The ICES advice recommends a 410% increase this year, which is causing us difficulties. A nice problem to have, you might say, but it is causing us difficulties in the context of the cod bycatch. So you do get these peaks and troughs. It is a very predatory environment and there is a lot of data on the impact of this; there are still things to learn, undoubtedly.

Q372 Chair: Can I try one last time, Minister? I am trying to help you and get on the record what it is you are saying. What is the difference between reaching maximum sustainable yield by 2015 where possible and the Commission’s proposal, which is to aim to restore stocks, maximum sustainable yield, by 2015? Is it a semantic difference? Is it a realistic difference?

John Robbs: The Commission is currently proposing, in the annual fixing of total allowable catches-this is not a CFP reform issue-to try and get to MSY in 2013 and that is what is being questioned by member states collectively.

Now, MSY also figures in the CFP reform proposals. I think this may be where the confusion has come in; we have been talking about two separate negotiations at the same time. It also features in the CFP reform proposals. There, they have taken a political, an international, a global commitment to seek to achieve MSY by 2015 where possible and are wanting to turn it into a legally binding obligation to achieve MSY by 2015. Now, there is clearly a difference between a political commitment to do something where possible in 2015 and something that is legally binding regardless of other circumstances at the time.

Q373 Chair: So the offending words are "and shall aim to ensure, by 2015", which turns it into a legal commitment as opposed to an aspiration.

John Robbs: It depends how that is going to be applied in practice.

Chair: Helpful. Now I have got it. Thank you very much indeed.

Q374 Neil Parish: Good afternoon. I want to go on and talk about discards and a possible ban on discards. One point I want to make before I ask you the direct question is that there is an argument that until you have actually landed all you catch then it is very difficult to get the right type of data to know the stocks in the seas anyway and it could work quite well together, landing everything you catch, so you know what is in the sea.

Now, you have welcomed the Commission’s intention to address the problem of discards, but you have said that a blanket ban may not be the most effective measure. What do you believe to be the most effective measure?

Richard Benyon: I think the Commission are on the right lines here. I think you look at it stock by stock and you set very clear rules and aspirations-aspirations and then rules-around how you manage that. So, fishermen know on particular pressure stocks that they are going to be required to land all that they catch. The incentives are for them to avoid size of fish that they would otherwise have discarded. It incentivises them towards other conservation methods, different times of year when they fish and they know that there is a market for what they are landing. And that is why we believe that it should build on the good work that we have been doing in this country, for example in trying to find new markets. We have run landall pilots, which have followed what we have landed right through the supply chain to find an end user. My mantra throughout all this is that I do not want to convert a problem at sea to a problem of landfill; that would be equally if not more of an affront. And so what we need is practical solutions.

You will be aware of the Fish Fight campaign and the 700,000 signatures that that engendered. If they see the words "discard" and "ban" in the same headline, most people who signed that petition will be thinking, "Good, job done", but actually, it is much more complicated than that. The rules need to reflect what it is like to be in a fish room on a vessel in a high sea, where you put your most marketable fish, where you would be putting the fish that you are currently discarding, recognising that 54% of discards by the latest measure are nothing to do with quotas or the impact of quotas; it is because they represent stocks for which there is no market. Also, we want to encourage the end use of fish that would otherwise have been discarded to go towards human consumption, but there are markets for fishmeal, which is much in demand, not least in aquaculture.

So this is a complicated process. I am not diminishing in any way our determination to see as best as possible a discardfree fishery. We also have to remember that a lot of species survive; shellfish species in particular and it is a good conservation action to discard undersized scallops or crabs or other forms of shellfish. So, as with all things, more complicated in the detail than currently exists, but this is a very key element of CFP reform and one we want to get right.

Q375 Neil Parish: Yes-I could not agree with you more. In fact, Jim Portus came to give us evidence from the south-west and was saying that quite a few species do survive and so therefore it would not be right to necessarily land them if they would go on and grow in the sea. But one of the points I want to make is that you talk about the public opinion. At the moment, the public opinion very much is they want to see a ban on discards. You have explained a little bit of how you argue the point with them that the process that you are going through would be better than a total discard ban, but are you convinced that you can convince the public of this?

Richard Benyon: I want a practical, sustainable solution and then I think the vast majority of the public will go along with that. I mean "sustainable" in that it lasts-that it is not just a headlinegrabbing action by a Government in order to appease public opinion. But I really want this to work and all our experience is that when you work with fishermen and incentivise them in the right way and you sit down around the table and develop concepts, like Project 50% near where you live, you get solutions and you get answers. The public like that because it is the fishing industry working with Government to find solutions, not just another layer of control. They have got days at sea, they have got quotas, they have got every conceivable level of control and to hit them with another one without proper consultation, and without proper understanding of its impact, could have a devastating effect.

So we want this to be practical. Like all those millions of people who have registered their concern about this totally unacceptable practice in a hungry world-throwing away perfectly edible fish-we want to find a solution, but I think it is better to find one that really works for the long term.

Q376 Neil Parish: Right, so do you actually think it might be better to introduce a catch quota system rather than the current landing quota system and would it be a more appropriate response to the discard problem than the Commission’s proposal for a landing obligation?

Richard Benyon: The holy grail of fisheries management can be achieved through a catch quota system where you are actually catching less but landing more, and landing fish of better value; that has been found to work. I have got a level of frustration in me that we still have not expanded the catch quota scheme beyond the number of vessels that we have. We have now got vessels in the south-west as well as off the east and north east coast of Scotland in catch quota schemes.

When I first went up to Peterhead to talk about this prior to the election, I found a lot of hostility. I was Opposition spokesman. I found a lot of hostility to the idea of cameras on boats, but when I next went up there I found acceptance. More recently I have found a lot of hostility amongst other countries for us taking forward this concept; I have just signed a joint declaration with the Governments of France, Germany and Denmark all calling for catch quotas. So it is developing its own momentum and I see it as a really good method going forward.

Obviously, it is expensive kitting out a vessel with cameras and they are quite technical. It is not just strapping a camera to a pole; it is about who owns that piece of equipment, who processes the data and how it is triggered. It is expensive for vessel owners, so it is not suitable, in many cases, for smaller vessels that one day might be fishing static gear, another day towing. Therefore, it is not a solution right across the industry, but I think it has much more value going forward.

That is why we need a devolved CFP, because these are the ideas that we can take forward as a member state, as a Government that understands its own fishing industry much better than one that is managed remotely and has to deal with concerns from countries that have no understanding of what it is like to manage a mixed fishery like ours.

Q377 Neil Parish: One point that you can put to the Commission is that basically they have wasted, in my view, millions over the years decommissioning boats, so perhaps some money spent towards helping have cameras on board might be a solution.

Richard Benyon: I hope that the way the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will take over from the current European Fisheries Fund, will be used will be to promote conservation activities so that taxpayers’ money is being spent to protect the viability of our seas and improve stocks for the future. That should be a good use of these sorts of funds.

Q378 Neil Parish: Right, the next question I’ve got we talked a little bit about the last time you came to see us. The Commissioner told us that producer organisations would be eligible for funding to give unwanted fish to poor people. Is this plan workable and what other measures do you think should be available to make use of unwanted fish that will be landed as a result of a discard ban?

Richard Benyon: It is very similar to the debate that I have had at the Council seeking to provide excess food from the Common Agricultural Policy to those on low income across Europe. Now, nobody in this room has a problem with surplus food being given to poor people and of course we support that, but the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy are not the places to do that. The way to support people on low incomes is through our own national welfare systems that we manage ourselves.

For a pannational bureaucracy to try and manage what goes on in one particular harbour or creek to assess what particular landed stock would be applicable and who would qualify it-I can see European Commission lawyers dancing on the head of legal pins to the point where we would all be driven to distraction and not one poor person will be fed. Let us work in member states to produce policies that support people on low incomes, but the Common Fisheries Policy is not a way of delivering it.

Q379 Neil Parish: None of us is against poor people getting access to fish, but you are talking about a very perishable product as well; the idea that somehow or other the European Commission are going to manage, through whatever agencies, this very perishable product and then get it to poor people-the mind boggles. You talked about agricultural products; at least if you’ve got a processed cheese or whatever there is some chance of actually storing that. Has the Commission come forward with any practical ideas of how they might deliver this?

Richard Benyon: Andrew, on my left, has just said no.

Andrew Clayton: There is a little bit of detail in the proposals on the common market organisation about POs taking a greater role for managing the flow of fish after a landing obligation is implemented, so that they can find channels to either get those for fishmeal or to new markets or whatever and also to make sure that that does not distort the market, so that this fish is channelled away without doing that. There is not anything in the proposals about the detail of how such a scheme would work to give fish away.

But the key point for us is rather than focusing on a landing obligation and then trying to solve the problems of where you put all that unwanted fish, the focus is on the fishing mortality in the first place and incentivising the industry to not catch unwanted fish or do their best to minimise that catch.

Q380 Neil Parish: My one last question is on the fishmeal side. If you are landing unwanted fish and you want to minimise it, I accept that, but I think the argument that you could actually have that picked up, frozen and then processed in various plants around the country-I can actually see that side of it working, and I think that we should actually look to ways where in local areas we could help that. But the idea of dealing with actual fish and providing it for poor people is the bit that I find difficult.

Richard Benyon: I think also you need to understand the complexities of this as a supply chain. What the market seeks the industry to provide is particular types of fish and particular sizes. As you say, it is very perishable so it requires speed and it is a fantastic marketdriven activity. Once you get Government, in whatever form, trying to inset provisions in that that are effectively welfare provisions, disaster ensues; therefore, I am really keen to not let the Commission progress this one, but for us to have robust welfare policies in our member states which will provide the kinds of support we need.

Q381 Amber Rudd: Minister, there is clearly a debate going on about what sort of fishing industry we want to have-i.e. whether we have large fishing boats, efficiency, perhaps low employment, or whether we have much more inefficient fishing, in a way, which might provide greater employment. We have seen that here. We have seen that when we have taken evidence from various people here. Do you have a view on which way we should be going with that? What is your preference?

Richard Benyon: I have to be careful how I word this so that my effigy is not burned in various ports around the country. I am on record as saying that when people talk about the fishing industry, they are referring to everything from a £5 million pelagic trawler fishing out of a north-east Scottish port landing £500,000 worth of fish after a fiveday trip down to an artisanal opentop boat fishing nonprecious stocks a few yards offshore, and we call it one industry.

It is a very wide spectrum of activity and thank heavens for that, because it keeps communities around our coasts, which would otherwise be impoverished aesthetically, commercially, and in so many ways if it was not there. So I am on record as saying that there is a social dimension to what we are trying to do as much as an economic one. I want to see help being given to our under-10-metres fleet, because I think they are struggling in many areas, but I recognise that it is not a question of the over10-metres vessel thriving and the under-10-metres vessels struggling. They are struggling right across the piece and it requires a very careful approach that is nuanced to the circumstances of the fishing industry where we find it around our coast. That is why we need a devolved system of management.

Q382 Amber Rudd: As I know you are aware, the under-10-metres are very concerned that the transferable fishing concessions particularly will militate against trying to recover their position in terms of the communities etc, because the evidence appears to be that that means that the larger fishing organisations tend to get hold of those; they tend to be able to buy them and some of the smaller ones tend to go out of business. What they say to us that they are seeing is that this proposal, this potential direction of travel, indicates that the Government is not going to stick up for the smaller fishermen and try to look after coastal communities.

Richard Benyon: Nothing could be further from the truth. I am determined to stick up for the under-10-metres sector and our proposal, quite separate from our reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, is seeking to do that and it is requiring us possibly to take some very tough decisions in order to achieve that. I am happy to expand on that if you wish me to. But in terms of transferable fishing concessions, as I said in response to your question in the House the other day, we are not happy with the current proposals as far as transferable fishing concessions are concerned. If we learn nothing else from the last few decades of this policy except this, we’ve got to take this forward: if you try and develop one system of management, transferable fishing concessions for 15 years, as proposed, from the north of the North Sea to the south of the Mediterranean, it will not work.

What we want is for member states to be able to progress ideas like transferable fishing concessions, which do work in certain parts of the world; as a conservation method and as a method of keeping small coastal fisheries alive, they are very successful, and they also have huge benefits as a method of dealing with overcapacity. But for member states to decide that they may apply for this particular type of vessel in this particular port, but not for that-we should be able to take it forward as a devolved issue rather than trying to create a one-size-fits-all.

So I share the concerns of those who voice unhappiness about the proposal, and we have a lot of work to do to convince the Commission about our way forward, but I do not reject the whole concept of transferable fishing concessions because I think they may work for certain elements of our industry.

Q383 Amber Rudd: Do you have certain weapons in the armoury that you feel would help and protect smallscale fisheries if we had transferable fishing concessions?

Richard Benyon: Yes. For example, if we did have transferable fishing concessions you could have a oneway valve, which means that some of these concessions-certain stocks, certain elements-could only move into the under-10-metres sector. You should be able to have restrictions so they cannot transfer it; they have to keep some sort of economic link, landing fish in a certain port or whatever. There are lots of conversations to be had that will show our commitment to the under-10-metres sector and the smaller fishing ports.

Q384 Thomas Docherty: You have obviously had some disagreements with your counterpart in Scotland, Mr Lochhead. Could you update the Committee on how resolving those differences-first of all in terms of CFP-is going?

Richard Benyon: I work really very closely with the Government in Scotland and we are addressing a number of concerns, particularly in the last few days, relating to effort controls; I suspect in the last week I have spoken to Richard Lochhead almost daily, certainly over the weekend. I was with him in Brussels the day before yesterday and will be spending four days with him and other devolved Ministers in Brussels next week. Differences have been voiced in terms of transferable fishing concessions, but I hope and think, relating to what I have just said in reply to Ms Rudd, that we are actually much closer than the initial rhetoric may have indicated.

What I absolutely believe on transferable fishing concessions is that what we are talking about here is a national resource and what we are talking about here is the allocation of our national resource. I am not talking about privatisation or any aspect that may give people legitimate cause for concern. What I want to see is sound conservationbased management that is relevant to different fleets. And I accept that in Scotland there is a different profile of the fleet there than there is in large parts of the English coast.

I take my responsibility as a UK Minister very seriously and I want the UK to punch its weight in Europe and I think it is the better for that collective nature. But in order to do that, I have to work closely with the devolved Ministers. I recognise they all come with different mandates; I recognise they all come with different agendas, but thus far we have worked extremely closely together.

Q385 Thomas Docherty: I do not know if you have had the opportunity to see the transcript of Bertie Armstrong’s evidence to the Committee. I was struck by two things he said and I would be grateful if you could comment on them. He said that fish do not recognise a national boundary within the United Kingdom and that the challenges facing his counterparts in England were his challenges as well. And the second thing was that he was very keen to emphasise that it is to the benefit of Scottish fishermen if there is one voice speaking up at Brussels in negotiations rather than two. I was wondering if I could get your comments on those two issues.

Richard Benyon: I think just after I became Minister, Bertie Armstrong was quoted in the fishing press saying that he hoped that the new Government would work closely with the Scottish Government because the health of our seas and the viability of this industry are much more important than politics-I can’t remember exactly how he worded it. I entirely agree with him. I recognise that we are dealing with an industry, diverse as it is; the one thing that unites it is that every single sector seems to be in varying degrees of crisis and that means that what we have to achieve is much more important than what our individual political agendas may be.

I do think it important that the UK speaks collectively with one voice and that is why I take every effort to make sure that I am working with the devolved Governments right from the start. Where there is a problem, we must address that in a perfectly open and frank way, up front, and when we get to Brussels, so when we are in international negotiations we are doing so on the basis of one powerful voice, a 29vote voting member of the European Union, which puts us up there on a par with Spain, France, Germany, and Poland-the big voting members of the European Union. And I think that is to the advantage of every fisherman in every part of the United Kingdom.

Q386 Thomas Docherty: One issue that Bertie Armstrong talked to us about was this issue about lease versus sale of TFCs and his view-and I think it was actually, to be fair, the view of his English counterpart-is that if we simply allow leasing of TFCs that will not actually lead to exits, that will actually encourage what I think he described as "slipper fishermen". I don’t know if you are familiar with that phrase or if that is particularly just a Scottish fishermen’s phrase. What is your observation on that?

Richard Benyon: I am going to ask my colleagues to come in on the detail, but I think that there is much in what he says. The aim of this must be for this to be a transaction between active fishermen. When you come down to try and describe what active fishermen are, you get into the same mire as you do trying to describe what an active farmer is, and if you are too prescriptive you actually stifle any tradability. There are genuine concerns about this.

Andrew Clayton: Also the trade or leasing of quota is a method that fishermen use now to match their catch to the quota available and it can help them make the most from what they are catching. But there are also concerns about allowing unlimited trade. Those concerns are very valid and we would need to make sure, if we did allow a system of more widespread trading than is currently allowed, that it had those kinds of safeguards that we talked about, with the aggregation safeguards and the oneway valve for the under-10s, for example.

Q387 Thomas Docherty: Yes, but Mr Armstrong’s specific concern was that the theory is that the TFCs are supposed to be about exiting the industry, but actually they will not exit if you let them lease. You actually have to sell to have an exit and I do not think you have necessarily, Mr Clayton, recognised that is his concern-that it is not about matching, but about not getting out of the business.

Richard Benyon: A key element of this has to be an ability, where overcapacity exists, to find a market way of reducing capacity. If leasing would prevent that from happening, then that would be another concern that we very clearly have with this proposal.

Q388 Amber Rudd: The Commissioner has argued that the only way to reduce overcapacity is transferable fishing concessions. Do you think that that is right, because she thinks that it is politically impossible to set lower targets?

Richard Benyon: One of the ways of dealing with overcapacity is, of course, a decommissioning scheme, but one of the problems with decommissioning schemes in the past has been that people have upgraded. Really what you need, if the years of plenty ever exist again, is a decommissioning scheme like the one we had that, if required, was a true exit scheme and enhanced the businesses of those that remained. I think that TFCs are a market mechanism to achieve a reduction in overcapacity, but how successful they are depends on how they are set and the length of time that they run for and thereby the value that they have.

Q389 Richard Drax: Minister, if the system of transferable fishing concessions were to be established in the United Kingdom, would you agree to the international sale of these concessions?

Richard Benyon: No. We very much like the Commission’s proposal that these should only be transferrable within member states. Another of the concerns we have is that it is still not absolutely certain that that is legally enforceable. We have had many UK fishing interests that have been bought up by other companies in Europe: Englishflagged vessels, Britishflagged vessels owned by companies abroad.

We have sought to retain an economic link; that can either be in a percentage of the crew that are UK passport holders or a percentage of the catch is landed in UK ports, but it is still a relatively imprecise method and I want to be absolutely certain that this member state link can be legally enforceable. It is one of the other great concerns that other countries have and it is why, if we do develop it, we want it to be developed as a tool that member states can use in a bespoke manner. Rather than applying it across the whole industry, we can apply it in certain parts of the United Kingdom, in certain sectors and for certain areas of the industry that target certain stocks.

Q390 Richard Drax: Minister, I made the point because Mr Lochhead-just to carry on from my colleague’s point-is concerned about multinationals teaming up together in 10, 20, or 30 years’ time to take away what he termed as Scotland’s "birthright" in this particular case. What if a Spanish multinational or any other member of the EU were to come for fishing quota off the Scottish coast? Would that be allowed under this, or would it just be Scottish multinationals? How far would it go?

Richard Benyon: Again, we are going to wait to see what the Commission nonpaper says on this; it is going to provide detail that we require. I hope that it will give us a surefire legal mechanism that can mean that transferable fishing concessions remain within those member states. Now, there are many different ways at the moment of UK fishing interests-or, indeed, those of any other European country-being bought up by another member state: they can purchase a vessel; this can be done as individuals or through a company.

As I say, there are methods of trying to keep some form of economic link. But the whole purpose of a single market has been to try and see a free flow of goods and services and this, on face value, is counter to that: trying to keep it in a member state. But I do not think it would fly, and I certainly would not support it if I felt that even a few years down the line there would be the risk of us losing a large proportion of our fishing industry to foreign interests. So it is a difficult step forward. I don’t know whether my colleagues have any more facts from the negotiations that they have been having that can add to this answer.

John Robbs: I think just one thing to say, possibly, is that of course this is a current issue under the present arrangements, how far foreign businesses can buy up British businesses. In the case of Scotland, of course, much of the fish farming industry is in foreign ownership and that is part of how we work in international trade.

But there is a distinction between buying up the business and trading the quota; I think it is quite helpful to keep those two concepts separate. In both instances you have to compare where we currently are with where we might be in the future and where we might be in the future is what is currently negotiation and is, at present, not totally clear. But the Minister has explained what we are trying to achieve.

Q391 Neil Parish: So Britishowned quota at the moment when fished by British boats, whoever they are owned by: does that have to be landed in British ports or can it be landed in the Netherlands or France or Germany?

Richard Benyon: There has been an economic link, as it is called, that has developed which, as I say, can be in terms of a certain percentage of the crew; it can be in terms of where the fish are landed. Now, whether it is totally landed in the UK or not, I cannot remember.

John Robbs: A lot of Britishowned, Britishcrewed boats land abroad; we do not insist they land in this country, so there is that flexibility within the system. Then there are the foreignowned boats, which may have a British flag, and then there is the economic link, which may be where they land, it may be percentage of crew-there are options.

Q392 Neil Parish: It is just interesting on who owns what quota and where it is landed, but anyway we will have a further debate on that. Defra uses a different length criteria to the European Commission to designate the smallscale fleet. Have you accessed whether this disadvantages the UK, particularly those boats between 10 and 12 metres, because we say the 10metres fleet and the Commission say 12metres fleet? Also, do we actually control the size of engines in a different way to the rest of Europe, because there is an argument that it does not really matter entirely about the size of the boat; it is the size of the engine that matters. You could actually do an awful lot of fishing in a small boat if you’ve got a much bigger engine.

Richard Benyon: I will ask my colleagues to come in on the detail, but if you were to look at a graph of the fishing capacity of the under-10-metres fleet-

Chair: I presume there will only be one vote, so we shall come back in 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chair: I did say 15 minutes, but we are quorate and, if you are agreeable, we will allow you to complete your sentence. So we resume.

Richard Benyon: I was saying if you were to look at a graph, from where you are sitting, of the under-10-metres catching opportunities and what they actually caught, there would be a group that were catching very large amounts indeed and then there would be a line to a large number that were basically artisanal vessels. And that small number of vessels, sometimes known as the super under10s, can compete freely with over10-metres vessels, can go many miles out to sea and, as you rightly say, the length of the vessel does not matter as much as the kilowatt, the power of the engine.

And so we are stuck with this rather arbitrary line. It is not one that is comparable across Europe, as you say, but I am not proposing at this stage that we should change that. It would cause quite a lot of structural difficulties across the industry. We just have to make sure that policies that are created do not militate against the livelihoods of the under-10-metres sector. For example, in the application of e-logbooks, which I think went out for vessels under 15 metres-was it 12 metres to 15 metres?-we actually provide some funding for them to fit the necessary IT and some training for them to do it. So there is assistance that we can give, recognising that there is this difference.

Q393 Neil Parish: Because these are inshore fleet, there are no 12metres boats that come from other countries and fish in the same waters. I expect this is just all off our shores, but how would that work, if you had a 10metres boat from our country and a Belgian or a Dutch vessel at 12 metres. Does that happen or not? I don’t know.

Richard Benyon: I don’t know the details on this.

John Robbs: Within the sixmile limit, there are no foreign vessels, as I am sure you are aware. Between six and 12 there are limited foreign vessels and in some instances those limitations, from memory, are related to size of vessel, but in many cases they are not, just nationality. I think we would say that the fact that we use under-10-metres as our dividing line and others use under-12-metres is an example of different things working for different people, and one of the very reasons why we do not like the Commission proposal on TFCs is that it uses the 12metres line, because that does not make much sense in our context. That is just the sort of example we would quote to show that setting a single detailed rule at EU level is not a very clever way of proceeding.

Q394 Neil Parish: That leads me quite neatly into the next question, because I take it that at the moment the 10metres fleet fish from against a pool of quota held by the Marine Management Organisation. But would you support the extension of transferable fishing concessions for the under-12metres fleet, because there is a theory that we need to share more of the quota that the bigger boats have for the smaller boats? Now you will get burnt as an effigy, Minister.

Richard Benyon: In our proposals for the reform of the under-10-metres sector, which we put out for consultation, one of those elements was the extension of FQAs (Fixed Quota Allocation) to the under-10-metres sector so that they would be treated in a similar way to the larger elements of the fleet. And that got a pretty universal raspberry in response, but what we are taking forward is giving them access to some quota that they can manage locally; we are recruiting Coastal Liaison Officers who will assist them in doing it.

We are going to run three pilots and we think this will be very successful and will be a good way of rolling out reforms that will enhance the economic status of the under-10-metres fleet. But we are also looking at creating a producer organisation for the under-10-metres fleet and giving them access, which exists to some degree already, to other producer organisations. We are talking to the big producer organisations on this. Anything I’ve forgotten here?

Q395 Chair: If you could be concise with your answers, because we have still got rather a lot to cover.

Richard Benyon: I am trying to be as quick as I can, Chair. It is a complicated issue. I think we have covered it.

Q396 George Eustice: A lot of this new system is going to rely on the multiannual plans that will be set at a European level. When the Commissioner gave us evidence, she was very frustrated-I think that is the right way to say it-about the lack of progress in getting some of these in place to date, because they had had these longterm management plans since 2002. Have you got any concerns about whether they can get these in place in time or do you think that if this was made a much more central element of the system it would just happen much faster?

Richard Benyon: The creation of multiannual plans is a form of regionalisation in itself, and we are not having a particularly happy experience at the moment with the highest profile multiannual plan, which is the Cod Recovery Plan. Multiannual plans are the way forward. They need to be speedily brought forward and implemented, but they need to be the right plan and that is the problem. The Cod Recovery Plan, for example, takes no account of what the impact would be on a mixed fishery. So each year, you have a ratchet down of the number of days at sea, and the element that you have ratcheted down from a baseline you can then offer back in days in compensation for selective gears, for realtime closures, cameras on boats or whatever.

However, that is not working because we could get to the extraordinary situation where there are not enough days at sea to catch the quota we are allocated, so we have a multiannual plan that is not working. So that is informing us about how we are going to go into this brave new world. We do think multiannual plans are the right way forward, but they have got to be the right multiannual plans.

Q397 George Eustice: Does that mean that they need more flexibility or that they need to focus on outcomes rather than specific targets?

Richard Benyon: They need to focus on outcomes and that requires an understanding of the local dynamic, and if the local dynamic is a mixed fishery it has to reflect that. In terms of reduction of days in the Cod Recovery Plan, because of the bycatch element this is affecting the fleet that are targeting every other white fish, and nephrops as well; it is causing severe structural and economic problems for those fleets and not achieving what we set out to do, which is to see cod recover. And actually, this plan could stop us doing the really good things we are doing on catch quotas and other schemes.

Q398 George Eustice: The Commissioner was saying that there was something of a quarrel between the Parliament and the Council about who should set these multiannual plans. Who do you think should be in charge of setting it? Should it be the Council?

Richard Benyon: I think there is a bit of a power struggle going on. We are in uncharted waters because we have not done this codecision before. I am making it my point to talk to MEPs of all parties, and I have been doing that this week. Ultimately, that will be a matter that will be resolved between the Parliament and the Commission, and I suspect it will come down to a legal point. But the codecision element does add a very important new dimension into this, which we are taking very seriously.

Q399 Amber Rudd: The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund has said that it will help to fund diversification amongst the fishing fleet. Have you considered how we might implement that as a Government and whether there will be cost implications for Defra?

Richard Benyon: We are viewing this change in a positive way. We think this offers opportunities to use this fund in a way that assists the development of conservation and the longterm viability of the fishing industry rather than invasively subsidising-as has happened in certain countries-vessels or gears, which we do not want to see as part of the use of taxpayers’ money. Quite where we are on the detail-Andrew?

Andrew Clayton: I think the main priority for us is that the new EMFF actually supports delivery of a reformed CFP, so if the reformed CFP has lots of new detail in there about regionalisation and things like discards, for example, we need to make sure the EMFF is contributing towards achieving those outcomes and that it gives us enough flexibility across the various axes to do that in a way that suits UK fisheries.

Q400 Richard Drax: The Commission proposes that the EMFF funding will not be made available to operators or member states that do not comply with the CFP rules. Do you think this will be sufficient to lead to an improvement in compliance with the CFP rules?

Richard Benyon: The EMFF must fully support a reformed Common Fisheries Policy and must be in line with the EU 2020 strategy objectives for fisheries and the wider marine environment, so it must promote sustainable and competitive fishing. And it can be used to promote aquaculture; this is an area that is being encouraged by countries that are less maritime than ours, but certainly this country as well. The development of aquaculture can be extremely important around our waters to support our wider aims of food security, but they have to be linked to sustainability as well.

Q401 Richard Drax: But do you think this potential lack of funding will help people obey the rules-in simple language, I suppose? Do you think it will work?

Richard Benyon: I hope it works better than it has. There have been criticisms about the European Fisheries Fund in the past. Obviously, it requires an element of matched funding, and in times of straitened circumstances that can be harder to find and harder to justify. What we have got to have as our core governing principle here is a move away from the subsidies that currently exist in some elements of governance of fisheries across the European Union. I think we have made a good fist of that in recent years, moving away from those sorts of subsidies.

However, where funds like this can support the better marketing of fish, giving better value, that is fine, that is what has happened in the past, but also really targeting it towards conservation and sustainability. That should be the governing principles; I know that that will not be universally agreed with by other countries who have looked on this fund as a means of sustaining their industry, whatever its impact on the marine environment.

Q402 Chair: What has the take-up been of the EFF here? Have we used our full allocation?

Richard Benyon: We have not.

John Robbs: Not yet, no.

Q403 Chair: Are there implications? Is it because of matched funding?

John Robbs: It is a very small sum of money, first of all. When we talk about the European Fisheries Fund it is very, very small beer compared with the agricultural structural fund or the regional fund. So it is a small European fund. The UK then gets a very, very small percentage of it. We get a very, very large rulebook to go with the very, very small percentage. Our very, very small percentage and our very, very large rulebook we then divide into four parts within the UK, so we end up with a hugely bureaucratic and difficult-to-run scheme to disburse modest sums of money. I tell you all that because that is one of the reasons-the principal reason, I believe-why we are behind profile in spending our allocation. We are not behind profile because of lack of national cofinancing.

Richard Benyon: Just for the record, it stands at €6.6 billion allocated for the EMFF for 2014 to 2020. The EFF has a budget of €4.3 billion for 2007 to 2013, of which the UK received €138 million, around 3% of the EU budget.

Q404 Chair: Will the Government intend to spend more of the next allocation?

Richard Benyon: We want to get as much as we can. Obviously, there are issues that relate to matched funding and we have to have the right proposals coming forward. I have seen some evidence of very good use of the fund in the UK in recent years. I have seen some less good examples in other parts of Europe.

Chair: Fair enough.

Q405 Neil Parish: Mr Deas, the Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said, "I attended a seminar in Brussels on the state of the stocks in September and we were told, in the company of the Directorate-General for Fisheries, that European stocks were improving. That was on 8 September. On 13 July, Commissioner Damanaki, on the "Today" programme, said that the stocks ‘are really collapsing’".

So my question is: the fishing industry are always questioning the presumption that the health of UK stocks is always on a downward trend, and you talked a bit about this when you started. What is your assessment of what our stocks are at, because the fishermen always maintain they are higher than the scientists do and even the scientists have different views?

Richard Benyon: I think the initial word of caution is that where proliferation of stocks occurs, it can be for a multitude of reasons and there are some strange climatic or environmental changes going on. I was in Dorset last week and hearing that there were huge quantities of sprats that they had not seen for years being caught off the coast of the Dorset and the Isle of Wight. They have not seen them there for 15 years, no one had any quota and they were complaining about it. That is a small example of issues we are seeing all around the coast.

When fishermen say they have never seen quantities of this stock in this place as they are seeing at that moment, the question we have to ask is what the status of that stock across the ecosystem is and what the age class of that stock is. Are they of an age where they are going to breed so that we can exploit an increasing biomass? That is where we have to be cautious; sometimes it is really tough to face down received wisdoms that one finds around the coast.

Politicians are transitory creatures in this world. These fishermen sometimes have generations of experience and you have to respect that, but you also have to respect that there is a high level of scientific ability as well, so it is a balance-a balance that we have to get right. I think the Commission’s statistic is somewhere around 70% of stocks in European waters are being fished unsustainably, and that is a horrendous figure.

Q406 Chair: UK stocks?

John Robbs: That is an EU figure, I think. The UK fishes in a lot of the stocks, along with other member states.

Q407 Chair: So we don’t have separate figures for UK stocks?

John Robbs: I don’t have them.

Q408 Neil Parish: How many times do the scientists from Defra and others actually go on board the boats to monitor what is being caught so that they can get some practical idea of what is being caught out in the sea?

Richard Benyon: An increasing amount. I spoke earlier about Fisheries Science Partnerships, which are achieving just that, and that is creating a healthy relationship between the industry and science. There are other opportunities where fishing vessels that are not able to fish for days at sea are being used to harvest data; there is no better way of checking how sustainable new gear can be.

For example, with a beam trawler they can fish out of one side with one net size and over the other side with another and you can tell precisely, in the same part of the sea, whether it is being effective or not in limiting discards. These are activities that we have to see more of and, of course, these issues are devolved, for example to Marine Scotland. We have to make sure that we are sharing data across not just the United Kingdom but Europe. There are well renowned scientific hubs, not least in places like Plymouth-

Chair: I am very conscious of the fact there might be another vote and we are tantalisingly close.

Richard Benyon: I will be very brief, Chair.

Q409 George Eustice: Yes, it was really picking up on what Mr Drax was saying earlier about the scientific data and how important that is in the process, because in the US they’ve got this MagnusonStevens Act, about which the Commissioner was very, very supportive, effectively saying it would be excellent if we had something similar in the CFP. Have you got a view on that: this idea that it should be effectively illegal to set catch levels above that recommended by the science?

Richard Benyon: Whether we were to go down that route or not, I would require an absolutely clear understanding of how we use data and the impact it would have on a mixed fishery. In a clean fishery like mackerel, it is relatively easy to work with data and the established mechanisms on egg counts and other ways of establishing the viability of that stock, which is of course creating other political problems, but at least with the data you know exactly where you are.

In mixed stocks it is not so easy, because the implementation of a legal mechanism on one stock in a highly predatory marine environment can have very strange effects and you have to take those factors into account. I don’t know whether we have actually done some work in Defra on seeing how that Act, if implemented here, would work, but if the Commissioner is pushing this as a reality through the negotiations, I will certainly take it very seriously.

Q410 George Eustice: Has your experience of the Cod Recovery Plan put you off?

Richard Benyon: Perhaps naively, I thought a year ago that the review we secured of the Cod Recovery Plan would result, by now, in bringing forward an amended plan. What I realise now is that we have a Kafkaesque process, which is going to see any review of this Cod Recovery Plan being required to achieve codecision European Parliament changes, which really knocks it back beyond 2015. Therefore, unless we can get an understanding that a review means a proper review and a quick review, it fills me with dread that we could have this problem magnified across a whole range of multiannual plans that we are seeking to develop. Multiannual plans are good. We want them to be introduced, but we want them to be practical and flexible.

Q411 George Eustice: Just coming back to that point, because I was just curious to get to the bottom of whether you think there should be a tighter timescale put on the delivery of those multiannual plans or whether actually it is better to get them right and take longer, or actually whether you need to just fundamentally change the whole way they are decided, so that they are more adaptable and more easily changed.

Richard Benyon: The most important thing is to get them right but if, in doing so, you are spending years in seeking to get it right and meanwhile either the stock is crashing or your industry is going out of business or both, then it would seem that you want to get it right but you want to balance that with speed of process. And unfortunately, the machinations of the Commission and the European Parliament mean that processes are not quick and in some of these stocks it requires pretty speedy moves. I am not sure I am giving a full enough answer.

Q412 George Eustice: So do you think codecision is the biggest block to expediting quicker decisions?

Richard Benyon: You have been at this a lot longer, John.

John Robbs: None of us has been at codecision yet under the Common Fisheries Policy. We wait to see, but it is certainly not going to speed things up.

Q413 Chair: On the Department of Health issues and the advice on healthy eating, they recommend fish be eaten once or twice each week. Is this consistent with the fact that fish stocks may not be sustainable?

Richard Benyon: The vast majority of fish we eat are imported. We would like to see that situation change. It should be a brilliant time to be in an industry like fishing, because it fulfils so many requirements that Governments are talking about: food security, healthy eating, obesity agendas and the rest of it. I strongly believe that if we can get through to a more sensible management regime we can see a recovery in stocks. As with farming, it can actually be a really good and respected business to be in, because you are producing food-quality food that the market needs. We are a long way from satisfying that at the moment and that is a very important principle, Chair, that we should hold in our minds as we try and frame this new management system.

Q414 Chair: In terms of educating consumers to eat fish that currently are not marketable, is the Department playing an active role and not just relying on celebrity chefs?

Richard Benyon: Your very excellent report some time ago suggested that we should be doing this, and in reading it I had no criticism of anything you produced, but I was wanting to shout, "We are doing this!", and very vehemently.

We are running very important and very successful projects such as Fishing for the Markets, which seeks to encourage the use of fish that are currently being discarded and working with organisations such as Sainsbury’s and other retailers. That has been very successful and more people are eating species such as dab, a delicious fish. But we still are very conservative, with a small "c", in our tastes in this country and we’ve got to encourage people to see not only the value of fish in terms of the health benefit it gives, but also that there are more than five shows in town-five species that people tend to eat.

Q415 Chair: You have been incredibly generous with us, Minister. I wish you very well and I am sure the whole Committee wishes you very well in the negotiations next week. Obviously we will watch as regards codecision and we shall equally be speaking to our MEP colleagues in that regard. How confident are you that the science is as well developed for proceeding to reform the Common Fisheries Policy as you would hope?

Richard Benyon: As I said earlier, I think we’ve got access to some of the best scientists in the world; we have got some world renowned marine science hubs around this country. That can play an important part going forward.

What I want to do is make sure that science is respected across the fishing industry as much as it should be, and that should be a twoway street in terms of respect. I was at Cefas last week, seeing the really top quality research that is being done that can support us and the only decisions we can take as Ministers can be ones supported by the evidence. And that is why we have protected the science budget through this very difficult Spending Review and why our Chief Scientific Officer is really pushing for a continuation of the support we give to these centres of excellence.

Chair: We are delighted to have been rejoined by Mr Docherty, who has a small question he would like to put.

Q416 Thomas Docherty: Taking you back one answer, you spoke about retailers and what they were doing to promote the use of less fashionable fish. Do you want to spell out what Defra is doing to promote to Government Departments the use of less fashionable fish both in the canteens and perhaps on more formal occasions, perhaps when you next host your fishing counterparts?

Richard Benyon: We have a hair shirt approach to life. We do not entertain very much and have no fun and joy in our lives compared to Governments in the past. Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But much more importantly than that, we are introducing Government Buying Standards, which are seeing us only purchasing fish across central Government that are from sustainable sources, and a sustainability standard that is the highest standard that has been set-the London Olympics Sustainability Test, which is what we are applying across this. I had a very good piece of mackerel not long ago in the Defra canteen, so we are practising what we preach.

Q417 Chair: We are extremely grateful to you. A number of us are visiting Hastings tomorrow, which is obviously of particular interest to one member of the Committee. We are very grateful to you for participating with your team in our inquiry. Obviously, we shall wing our report to you at the earliest opportunity. We shall also be sharing it with Commissioner Damanaki, who has asked that national Parliaments share conclusions with the Commission as well.

Richard Benyon: Thank you very much. Your report will come at a very crucial time in this negotiation, so I look forward to discussing it with you.

Prepared 23rd February 2012