European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Andrew Turner 

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

Burrowes, Mr David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con) 

Clappison, Mr James (Hertsmere) (Con) 

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

Elphicke, Charlie (Dover) (Con) 

Evennett, Mr David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Glindon, Mrs Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab) 

Harris, Mr Tom (Glasgow South) (Lab) 

Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab) 

Munn, Meg (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op) 

Murray, Sheryll (South East Cornwall) (Con) 

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

Williams, Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD) 

Alison Groves, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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European Committee A 

Tuesday 8 January 2013  

[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair] 

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 

8.55 am 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to this Committee? 

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con):  If I may, I shall make such a statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, but before doing so, let me say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. 

We are discussing a document relating to the European maritime and fisheries fund. At present, the main source of EU financial support for the fishing industry is the European fisheries fund, which requires member states to draw up national programmes to achieve a sustainable balance between resources and fishing capacity. This document proposes that, for the period from 2014 to 2020, those arrangements should be replaced by a European maritime and fisheries fund, thus extending them for the first time to support for the EU’s integrated maritime policy. 

The fund would be structured around four pillars and include a number of accompanying measures, but it will not extend to operations that increase fishing capacity. The Government consider that some of the proposals further to develop the integrated maritime policy would be better carried out by member states, and although they see potential synergies with other European Union funds, they are concerned about the possible administrative burden and that the budget proposed would represent a real increase on that for the years 2007 to 2013. 

In its report of 1 February 2012, the European Scrutiny Committee raised questions about the desirability of the Commission involving itself in certain areas of the integrated maritime policy, and the priority to be given to the different activities covered, and it decided to hold the document under scrutiny while the Government provided an impact assessment. However, the Committee was subsequently informed that the Government had decided to override the parliamentary scrutiny reserve by agreeing to a partial general approach in the Council, on the grounds that that had enabled the UK to secure the best possible outcome. The Committee observed in its report of 7 November 2012 that that did not necessarily mean that the deal agreed was a good one, and it took the view that a number of aspects of it should be explored further in European Committee. In addition, it has since drawn attention in its report of 5 December 2012 to an initial assessment by the Government of the proposal’s impact. 

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

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8.57 am 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere for setting out his Committee’s concerns about this matter. I hope that I can allay those concerns in what I say now and in answering any questions in the Committee. 

As hon. Members will be aware, following the partial general approach being agreed at the Fisheries Council meeting in October 2012, we are now at an important stage of the co-decision process. The European Parliament is currently considering the European maritime and fisheries fund proposal, so this debate is timely. As I made clear in my letter to the Committee on 1 November 2012, I firmly believe that the elements of the proposal falling within the partial approach represent a positive result for the UK, albeit with no financial details having been agreed as yet. Let me say a few words on that, as I know the Committee is particularly interested in the overall budgetary provision for the period from 2014 to 2020 and in the allocation that member states will receive under the EMFF. 

The EMFF budget is subject to the wider multi-annual financial framework negotiations, which, as hon. Members will be more than aware, have been taking place in parallel. That means that individual member state allocations under the EMFF will not be known until the multi-annual financial framework negotiations have concluded; nor have the criteria setting out the allocation of funds between member states yet been agreed, although I expect official-level discussions on those to resume shortly. 

What is clear is that we need to use the next financial perspective, from 2014 to 2020, to help this sector to adapt to what will be a very challenging future. The agreement reached at the October Council directs the vast majority of EMFF funding squarely towards reform of the common fisheries policy. That is very good news because support will be available for measures such as more selective gear to help to eliminate discards, innovative research projects to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the fishing industry, and help for fishermen and small communities to improve their marketing of fish. Funding will also be available for training to improve skills and to encourage diversification and job creation outside fishing. 

A combined cap of 15% of funding under priorities 1 and 2 of the EMFF will apply to measures such as permanent and temporary cessation of fishing activities and engine modernisation with a maximum of 3% for engine modernisation. Such measures will also be subject to strict conditions to ensure that they also contribute to common fisheries reform. For example, permanent cessation of fishing activities will have to be part of a member state’s operational and capacity reduction action plan approved by the Commission and will target those parts of the fleet where there is overcapacity. 

The beneficiary will have to cease all fishing activities for at least one year and will be unable to register a new vessel for at least five years. Scrapped vessels will be permanently removed from the EU fishing vessel register, and the licence permanently removed. In addition, decommissioning aid will end after 31 December 2017.

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Temporary cessation aid will be allowed for emergency situations and last for up to six months of the seven-year period. 

Tight restrictions will also apply to support for modernising engines, which will be granted only in sectors that are in balance with the available fishing opportunities. Funding will be permitted only for vessels of under 12 metres that do not use towed gear, and for vessels of 12 to 24 metres, as long as the new engine is 20% less powerful than the one it is replacing, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation by lowering emissions without increasing the vessel’s capacity to catch fish. 

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere outlined, the Committee is also interested in integrated maritime policy, which is a wide-ranging, cross-cutting initiative to provide a more coherent approach to marine and maritime issues with increased co-ordination between different policy areas. It focuses on issues across a range of interests that do not fall under a single sector-based policy, such as economic growth based on different maritime sectors—known collectively as blue growth—that require the co-ordination of different sectors and actions. 

We will continue to influence development of IMP proposals to ensure it takes a more co-ordinated approach to marine and maritime issues when appropriate. We will also work to ensure that this initiative does not replicate or impede member states’ progress outside this programme, and in particular that EMFF funding supporting IMP represents real added value at a EU level. Much of the detail specifying how these measures will work in practice will be subject to further discussion at official level this year, as will delivery aspects of the proposal, which we expect to be put to the Council in the spring or summer. 

With those remarks, I put myself at the mercy of the Committee, and I am willing to answer any questions. 

The Chair:  We now have until 9.55 am for questions to the Minister, and I remind hon. Members that they should be brief. Subject to my discretion, hon. Members may ask related supplementary questions. 

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab):  I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Turner, and welcome hon. Members at this early hour. I wish everyone a happy new year. 

Does the Minister agree with Commissioner Maria Damanaki’s assessment labelling the partial general approach as weak? 

May I also ask the Minister about the plans for extra European funding for improving fishing boats’ engines? In the partial general approach, the Council reintroduced article 39 for replacing engines of vessels under 24 metres. However, replacing older engines is often associated with higher efficiency and an improved capacity to catch fish. This trend has been dubbed “technological creep”. Does the Minister agree that if this continues, subsidies will only contribute to the problem of overfishing? That being the case, why has the partial general approach, for which he voted, failed to make fleet capacity assessments mandatory for all financial aid for fishing vessels? I do not want to be accused of being a luddite, but I do not believe that technological developments in fishing inevitably lead to an increase in the fishing power of the fleets—it

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is not a one-way street. Technology has helped significantly in promoting more sustainability, yet the real challenge does not lie in technological advance per se, but in how we apply that technology. Will the Minister accept that the under-declaration of engine power is a common problem in European fleets? Engines can be legally certified with a power that is much lower than the maximum continuous power. If decommissioning continues in some parts of the EU, will the Minister also clarify whether he envisages it being accompanied by related reductions in quota? If this does not happen, surely we are simply risking institutionalising unsustainability, as the same amount of fish is caught by fewer boats.

Given that the Minister has acknowledged the large number of data-deficient stocks in the past in terms of recording catches and the scale of illegal fishing practices, does he believe that greater financial commitment to data management and enforcement is needed? Those are my only questions for the Minister this morning.

Richard Benyon:  I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. In negotiations with 26 other member states on such an issue, I suppose that it is naive to go into them thinking that we will get everything we want. Some of the hon. Gentleman’s points simply relate to issues that either were not a priority for us, or areas that we did not feel it was the job of taxpayers—here or in any other EU member state—to fund. That said, we literally worked through the night to try to achieve layer upon layer of caveats on those areas where we were less comfortable. I hope that we are able to satisfy the Committee and the House that what we achieved was good. 

There is a time in negotiations to decide whether to be absolutely rigid in one’s position, and in effect to be out of the room in the negotiations, or to be part of those negotiations and get a much better deal. We could have been purists and, in doing so, made the perfect the enemy of the good, but we would not have been able to stop this proposal going through. There was not a blocking minority, so we were right to hold out and make sure that areas such as engine replacement were as restricted as possible.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s first point about the Commissioner’s comments, we have a partial general agreement—that is Eurospeak for a general position that people feel comfortable about—but there is a lot more detail to be worked out. There is a lot in square brackets, and we cannot discuss the absolute financial impact at great length. I am sure that the European Scrutiny Committee would want us to look in detail at that, but we cannot, because we do not know what the total financial package will be. I can take a punt about where it will be in relation to the current levels of funding of the EFF and see what the EMFF will be in future years.

On the specific point about engine replacement, engines can be replaced to assist efforts by the fishing industry to combat climate change. Support for new engines can be granted only in those sectors in balance with fishing opportunities available—that means fishing sustainably. Support is available only for vessels under 20 metres that do not use towed gear, and for 12 to 24-metre vessels as long as the new engine is 20% less powerful, which addresses the hon. Gentleman’s point about competence creep. Replacement engines will be subject

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to physical inspection and testing to ensure that they do not exceed the new threshold, and I hope that that addresses his point about under-declaration. Engines need to be certified and physically inspected to ensure that they do not exceed limits. 

On decommissioning, overcapacity should not be absolutely linked to quota levels. We want a viable fishing industry that is fishing sustainably. If we have too many vessels in a particular sector, they cannot operate in a financially viable way. They cannot approach their bank to gear up to run their businesses, as any business should be able to. There are occasions when it is sensible for a Government to step in with a scheme that will allow the businesses that remain to flourish. I share the view of the Court of Auditors and others that decommissioning has not been well managed in the past. It is not simply a question of saying that when catching power is removed—that is by taking out a vessel—the quota should be reduced. I want to see an increase in UK fishing opportunities, as will be the case with an increased biomass, and I want the fishermen who remain in the industry to have a viable future. It is not as simple as saying that quotas should somehow be linked. 

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about data management. The UK is taking great steps forward in our fisheries management with regard to data. What we really want is fully documented fisheries, and the way to achieve that is to land everything that we catch. That has been proved through our catch quota scheme and other sustainable fisheries that we have been developing. The data on what fish are in the sea are improving through better scientific techniques. Developing thinking around every fishing vessel being a scientific platform is the way forward. 

If we want to support modest projects that will reduce discards, encourage fisheries to fish more sustainably and improve our scientific knowledge, and that will also protect those coastal communities that depend on the fishing industry by enhancing their ability to support that industry through better marketing and the like, that is a legitimate use of the fund. This country is a modest user of the fund which, of course, we have to co-finance through the Exchequer. We want to make sure that we are spending it sensibly and proportionately, and that is what has guided us through all the negotiations thus far. 

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):  May I begin by commending the progress that has been made on the EMFF so far, in what I know were quite difficult negotiations? Before I question the Minister, I want to reflect a little on the valuable and critical role that the EFF has played to date in the fishing-dependent communities to which he alluded. 

I am keen to question the Minister on the proposal in the EMFF scoping documents around young entrants. As he will know, young entrants are increasingly struggling to find any opportunity to get in, unless they have a grandfather who was a fisherman— 

The Chair:  Order. The hon. Lady must ask questions, rather than making a speech. 

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Dr Whiteford:  I apologise, Mr Turner. I was simply trying to contextualise my question. I hope that the Minister will explain what prospects he sees for the development of the young entrants’ scheme in the UK. 

Richard Benyon:  I thank the hon. Lady for her question; her commitment to this issue is well on the record. 

Several member states, albeit not the UK, called for support for young fishermen to be included under the fund. Such support for fishermen under 40 years of age will be allowed, but that will be under very strict conditions. I share the hon. Lady’s desire to see more young people entering the industry, and we all know the reasons why they do not: they do not see the industry as having a particularly viable future; it is a dangerous business to be in; and it is extremely unpleasant at certain times of the year. However, if it is a better business to be part of, and if the rewards are better, because there is a growing biomass out in the sea and can get a good price for the fish when they get them back, that will be the real driver that will encourage young people into the industry. 

There are caveats under the scheme, however. Support must be only for the first acquisition of a vessel under 24 metres. The vessel must be between 5 and 30 years old, and it must belong to a fleet segment that is not above capacity to receive the funding needed. Support is also limited to 15% of the vessel price, which is capped at €50,000 per recipient. I do think there are provisions for young people to develop their own businesses, and that may be the deal-maker for some young people wishing to purchase a vessel fitting the criteria. I think that the greatest incentive for young people to play a part in this vital industry is for them to feel rewarded—not by the taxpayer giving them a leg up, but because they feel that there are opportunities for them to develop their business and to feed a hungry nation. 

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):  The one question that the public are most exercised by, particularly because of last year’s campaigns, is the discarding of fish. The bundle states that one aspect of the EMFF is 

“Funding to support the ban on discarded fish” 

and that in the UK, in 2010, 

“51,700 kilo of fish were discarded”. 

That is the disgusting aspect of the industry. What detail can the Minister give us about the practical steps that will be taken to challenge that and to support the ban throughout the EU, and particularly in the UK? 

Richard Benyon:  The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. Guiding us throughout the talks on this element of the future common fisheries policy was a firm desire that this funding would support the radical reforms to the policy that are shared across the House. They are also shared by our constituents whether they live in inland places, like mine, or perhaps nearer the coast, like his. The key to that is an end to throwing away perfectly edible and healthy fish. In a hungry world, that is an affront to the fishermen who have to do it and to consumers. I share his concern, and that is an absolute priority for us in the wider context of CFP reform. 

We are moving towards a land-all policy, starting with pelagic fish in about a year, we hope, and then moving on to whitefish stocks. Across UK and EU

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waters, there will hopefully be a policy of landing all fish that are caught. Just doing that might satisfy quite a few of the people who signed petitions or wrote to the hon. Gentlemen and the rest of us at the time of the Fish Fight campaign. However, as he well understands, it is more complicated than that. DEFRA has been working with colleagues around the UK to try and support small projects—and some quite large projects—that are seeing dramatic reductions in discards. There will be practically zero cod discards for vessels in the North sea in the catch quota scheme. In the south-west, there are projects such as Project 50%. These projects are doing good work, but we must support the fishermen. In certain areas, there may be groups of fishermen who, like those who have entered this scheme, just need a bit of technical help, such as a different system of exploiting their stocks or different gear, and this fund might be able to help them. We want to make sure it drives towards discard-free fisheries. That is a legitimate use of the fund, and is something that our constituents will support. 

Many people rightly had concerns about the old fund, which was used by some countries to up their capacities, to buy new vessels and to improve their gear. We want to focus this fund to fit like a hand in a glove with our common fisheries policy reform agenda. 

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD):  I commend the Minister on the progress he has made in these difficult negotiations. Just before Christmas, the Science and Technology Committee visited Falmouth as part of our inquiry on marine science. We met people who are concerned about the Government’s proposals to set up an ecologically coherent system of marine conservation zones, because although fishermen and other economic interests supported the principle, they envisaged difficulties. Is there anything in the proposals that could help the Government to set up these marine conservation zones? 

Richard Benyon:  May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on his recent honour in the new year’s honours list? It was richly deserved and I compliment him on it. 

Broadly speaking, the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is no—I hope that that is not disappointing. There may be elements within the management of certain marine conservation zones that will require changes to some techniques. I do not exclude the fund being in some way responsible for a change in management of a particular part of the seas, but the marine conservation zones, on which we are currently consulting and which will be designated later this year, will contribute to about 25% of our inshore waters coming under conservation management. They are part of a programme of designations that will continue in the future. 

I can offer my hon. Friend some comfort because we are trying to get away from our seas being viewed through silos such as fishery management, conservation, other marine activities, aggregates and shipping. We want to have a much more holistic view of the management of the sea. Conservation is key to issues such as marine planning, which was a welcome new addition arising from the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 that we are implementing around our coast. It fundamentally has to work with a reformed system for the management

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of our fisheries. Such management has to be more local. I do not want to spend another second in Brussels sitting with officials in the wee small hours of the morning discussing net sizes in the south-west or the north of Scotland. Such technical measures need to be decided locally, because that is where they can be best managed. Marine conservation zones can be an integrated part of that management system. 

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. The Minister did extremely well at negotiating this at a European level, towing against a very strong tide with the qualified majority voting system, so I will stick to the issue of fleet measures, which he will have a little control over domestically. Should a decommissioning scheme be introduced using the 15% funding available, does he intend to detach the fixed quota allocations of any decommissioned vessel, perhaps utilising them for the under 10 metre fleet? Otherwise, does he envisage that that fund will be used to introduce safety measures such as the one that I am promoting, where if fisherman were to fit emergency stops aboard small fishing vessels, they could secure some funding to help with that? I have a strong interest in that area, purely and simply because if an emergency stop had been aboard my husband’s vessel, he may not have suffered his fatal accident. 

Richard Benyon:  I well understand my hon. Friend’s concern on this issue. Touching first on the quota, she will be aware of my desire to seek greater fishing opportunities for the under 10 metre sector—the inshore fleet as it is sometimes referred to, not entirely accurately. 

In the past, decommissioning was not done in the best way, and it is interesting that the Court of Auditors agrees with us on that. If hard-pressed taxpayers’ money is paid into the pockets of a fisherman who can decommission a boat on Monday and buy a new boat on Tuesday—I agree that I am making a simplistic argument, but that is, broadly speaking, what happened—that could have increased fishing power, that would not seem to be a sensible use of funds. Under the decommissioning proposals, in the general approach that we agreed, that kind of abuse cannot happen. The proposals also give the opportunity domestically to allow member states to move quota around efficiently. 

I believe, and I know that my hon. Friend agrees, that fishing opportunity quota is a national resource, and where it is not being used, it should be used. That is what has driven us to try to find extra support for the under 10 metre sector from the larger fleet’s unused quota. Where decommissioning happens, it gives the Government the opportunity to allocate quota to sectors that they believe need particular support. 

I cannot be more specific than that, but I continue to believe that if we want to keep fishing fleets in some of the smaller ports—I know that my hon. Friend has particular concerns about places such as Looe, where the fishing industry is fundamental to the community’s pride, sense of place and sense of worth—and keep fishing communities alive, we must help them. I am absolutely unafraid about intervening. This is not a free market; it is an allocation of a national resource and we have to be smart about how we use it, but if opportunities such as this arise where we can allocate opportunity for

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people who we believe are particularly hard-pressed, hanging on by their fingernails, I will not be afraid to do so. 

Michael Connarty:  I want to press the Minister a little on the note that he sent to the Committee with his letter of 26 November on the initial assessment, specifically on how we cope with getting rid of discards. In the note he says: 

“Over the shorter term, as fish stocks stabilise, fish landings and industry profitability may go down due to restrictions in place, working mostly through quota controls and the progressive reduction in discards.” 

Having dealt with the possible technicalities under the EMFF, the point on income seems to contradict his answer to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that we want to encourage young people into the industry. Will the Government argue for funding to replace that lost profitability during the period in which discards are eradicated, because I think that is what the public really want? They want to see us doing something through the European Union to get rid of discards—we have little wriggle room because it has total competence in this field—without driving people out of the industry. 

Richard Benyon:  I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will clarify what I said earlier: I think that the public will be equally, probably more, outraged if all we do is transfer a problem that happens over the horizon at sea to one of landfill. That is why we are working hard to create new supply chains that will deal with a lot of the fish that will be landed. That is why we negotiated, for example, in the week before Christmas on some stocks, arguing coherently from a science-based process that all we are doing is transferring something from the discards column to the landings column, so the fish will be eaten. That seems to be a much better answer and, of course, there needs to be a market price. 

What the hon. Gentleman and I need to hold in our heads as we develop these policies on an end to discarding is what actually happens in the fish room of a vessel. At the moment, once a quota for a particular stock is reached, most of our vessels are fishing in a mixed fishery so they are landing lots of different—certainly more than one—different stock. Then they start discarding the fish before they even get into the fish room. With a land-all policy you are requiring those fish to be put in boxes. There is a huge extra amount of work. When those fish have to be landed, what happens to them? Will there be a market? How will we incentivise the fishermen to do that? How will we ensure that we are getting the fully documented fisheries? So there is a burden on them. 

We are working with economists and organisations like Seafish to try and make sure that we are ahead of the game and understand the impact we are starting to impose on these fishermen. What we will get out of this is a much better system of management. Once we have fully documented fisheries we are in a much better position to work towards sustainable fisheries. We have a commitment to fish to maximum sustainable yield by 2015 with a caveat, where possible. We are making good progress towards achieving that, with the result that we get a much increased biomass. We are already seeing a

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number of stocks increasing in an encouraging way. That is what the fishermen want to achieve. What we want to achieve is good fisheries management: killing fewer fish but landing more. We are managing to do that. It sounds an oxymoron, but it is possible to achieve it by means of some of the sensible measures we have brought in. 

There will be a burden on some elements of the sector to make this work. The Commission has said that they need to be incentivised through sensible quota allocations and a diversion of those fish that are currently in the discards column to the landable column. That will make a difference, but ultimately it is about how they can be rewarded for doing it. I hope we are moving towards what the public want, but in a practical and achievable way and working with the industry rather than imposing yet another top-down control, in addition to those to which it has been subjected for much too long. 

Michael Connarty:  I thank the Minister for his optimism, if not for his offer of finance, which I had hoped might come forward for those people who may want to help with getting rid of discards. I do not know if he joined the chefs who took the trouble last year outside Parliament to fry and offer to the public and Members of Parliament fish that were all discards. It was delicious; I have to say I went, and I think if people realised that what is being discarded is not only edible but tasty, such fish would find a market. 

I want to turn to the budget because again, in his initial assessment, the Minister talks about the indicative financial allocation for the EMFF being £5.4 billion for 2014 to 2020. Then, of course, he puts in the caveat about the problem of multi-annual financial framework regulation which we have heard debated at great length. What assurances can the Minister give that if that is considered to be the required amount, he will fight for it? I totally agree that the EU should not increase its budget beyond the present cash level, because there is, frankly, a lot of fat in its budget at the moment, but will he ensure that if £5.4 billion is required, the budget will remain at that figure? Does he have the support of other members of the Government in that? 

Richard Benyon:  The Government are, as the hon. Gentleman knows, at a detailed stage of the negotiations on the multi-annual framework. Everything that we deal with at a European level in my Department, whether the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy or the rural development programme, depends on the matter being resolved. He rightly points out that we will look very closely at whatever area of the industry can actively source finance from the fund. 

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I want as fair a deal as possible for the UK. Working with my colleagues in the devolved administrations, I want to ensure that we get the funds we need to help our fisheries to become more sustainable and tackle some of the issues we have discussed. I will fight hard for that. He recognises that the money is co-funded—it must be co-funded from the Exchequer. Whoever is in government, eternal arguments go down through the years to ensure the fairest deal possible. I will argue for it, where there is a clear environmental and managerial advantage to the industry. We are looking to align the EMFF with other structural funds to ensure a more coherent approach. 

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I wish I could say more about the level of funding, but, as has been said, it is dependent on the negotiations. I am happy to keep the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members informed when we know what the figure is and on what we feel the new EMFF will mean for Europe, the UK and the parts that make up the UK. When we negotiate in Europe on such issues, it is better to be a large-voting member state with 29 votes, which puts us up there with the large countries, because we can then form alliances, be listened to and make ourselves part of blocking minorities. It is much more effective for fishermen in all parts of the UK for us to be a large-voting member of the EU. 

Sheryll Murray:  I would like to come back to the Minister on the safety measures aboard fishing vessels. If they are not included in the new scheme, it will be appropriate for me to return to my fishermen to urge them that if they intend to modify their vessels, they should do so prior to the end of EMFF to ensure that they take advantage of the funding available. 

Richard Benyon:  I apologise to my hon. Friend for not answering the second part of her question. I assure her that funding for safety measures is available under the new EMFF where those safety measures go beyond legal requirements—the development of the particular safety measures she described is precisely that. With the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has responsibility for marine safety, we can have further conversations to try to implement that. I am constantly troubled by the number of accidents—not only the tragedies and fatalities, one of which my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall is particularly closely associated with, but the injuries. These vessels use powerful winches and machinery. They are unstable platforms. If we can use the fund in any way to make fishermen safer, we will. There are also safety elements to shore-based activities. Much can be done to improve the working life of people at sea and in ports. 

Mr Harris:  On a point of order, Mr. Turner. As a relative newcomer, I have never served on the Front Bench of European Committee A, so I appreciate your guidance. I am more than happy to ask Opposition Members to agree with the first part of the motion, and first of all to take note of the European Union document. However, given that a number of non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and Oceans 2012, have described the partial general approach as basically EU Governments continuing to subsidise overfishing, I cannot recommend that Opposition Members vote for this motion in its entirety. Can you suggest any way that I could communicate that recommendation to my Opposition colleagues? 

The Chair:  It is my view that you have communicated your view. We will move on, if you are happy to. If no more Members wish to ask questions we will now proceed to the debate on the motion. I call the Minister to move the motion on the paper. 

9.41 am 

Richard Benyon:  I beg to move, 

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That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 17870/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Regulation on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund repealing Council Regulation (EC) No. 1198/2006, Council Regulation (EC) No. 861/2006 and Council Regulation No. XXX/2011 on integrated maritime policy; and supports the Government's view that the terms so far agreed under the partial general approach would support delivery of the ambitious Common Fisheries Policy reform package which was the subject of a separate partial general approach in June 2012 [19th Report of Session 2012-13, HC 86-xix, Chapter 1, and 22nd Report of Session 2012-13, HC86-xxii, Chapter 7]. 

Honourable Members will have read the motion; I commend it to the Committee. It is brought to the House with the support of the Backbench Business Committee. We have had a useful debate covering many issues that have inevitably gone beyond the technicalities of the EMFF, because it is so intrinsically linked to many other areas, not least common fisheries policy reform. I hope that I have answered most of the points. If hon. Members feel there are further questions they wish me to answer, I will be happy to write to them or meet with them. 

I hope that my regular correspondence with the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee shows that we are on the side of the angels on this. We fought very robustly in the October discussions to achieve the general partial approach. I think if the hon. Member for Glasgow South was in my boots on that day he would have done precisely what we did. No one likes to exercise an override, but you are where you are in the watches of the night, trying to make sure that you have as many people as possible thinking the way we do. We are a northern European state, with like-minded states around us, pushing an agenda. There were other countries that wanted what one might call a rather more old-fashioned agenda, very much on the old line of providing subsidies where we do not think that they should be, and we managed to defeat some pretty barmy suggestions in those discussions. I hope that we have achieved something that is moving in the right direction, that is coherent with our policies on CFP reform. 

This is a critical time for fisheries management. I am sure the House shares my commitment and my enthusiasm for continuing our ambitions to work in this area. Challenges remain ahead, but we are making progress towards our goals of healthy fish stocks, a prosperous and competitive industry and a healthy marine environment. An effective support mechanism in the form of the EMFF will be essential to ensure that we achieve this aim. 

I hope that knowing that 90% of the EMFF, the new fund, will go towards sustainability issues will encourage Opposition Members, as well as Members on the Government side of the Committee, to support the motion. A small—very small—amount of the remainder will go towards issues such as engine replacement, but I have already described the caveats that I think move this in the right direction. Smaller engines will replace larger ones, and will only be allowed in vessels that are fishing sustainably, and this will only be able to amount to 3% of a member state’s allocation. It was such caveats that allowed us to agree the package. 

We need a regulation that not only enables us to do the right things in effectively supporting CFP reform, but allows us to do the right things in terms of managing finances, which addresses the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. I am therefore committed

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to working closely with fishermen around our coasts, who know these issues better than any of us, to ensure that we can support real change for the future of our fishing industry and the marine environment. 

I am equally committed to working with European colleagues to ensure a regulation that safeguards taxpayers’ funds. We must remember that we have just been discussing the matter in the Council of Ministers, and we now have co-decision. Alain Cadec, the rapporteur in the European Parliament, has made some proposals to the Fisheries Committee that would return to original positions that do not relate to our position. A Kafkaesque trilogue process will continue, with which some members of this Committee are more familiar than I am, which we are about to go through in the future. 

I hope that I will have the Committee’s support in trying to ensure that our agenda—the radical one—is supported. We want to ensure that, where taxpayers’ money is being used, we are delivering maximum value for money, reducing the administrative burden on authorities and recipients alike. 

9.46 am 

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab):  I genuinely believe that the Minister has acted and negotiated on behalf of the Government in good faith. To a certain extent, I do not envy him the task he faced in the Council last year. However, I do not find his assurance on EU funding for engine replacement convincing at all. Such assurances have been made many times before. The negotiations have once again capitulated to a couple of smaller nations that have no intention of playing by the rules set by the rest of the club. 

The Minister did not respond to my question about whether he agrees with Commissioner Damanaki that the partial general approach is weak. If he agrees, I am not quite sure how he can ask us to pass the motion before us today. 

In a fisheries debate in Westminster Hall at the end of last year, I asked the Minister whether EU subsidies should continue to be given to nation states that are in clear breach of EU funding rules. That is a genuine issue, which I think most Members on both sides of the House will recognise. I see nothing in the partial general approach that will contribute to the fight against continual breaches of the rules and the consequent reduction in public confidence in the common fisheries policy and its reform. 

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I know that the issue would be difficult for any Minister, but I think there comes a point where we have to stop simply dismissing the continuing negotiations as Kafkaesque and say, “Let’s go along with them anyway.” 

Richard Benyon:  I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman’s position. He seems to think that we have the best deal possible, but that we should not have got the deal. He seems to be sitting on the fence. 

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that we did the right thing in trying to drive an agenda that, although not perfect, was as near to what we wanted as possible? Should we have been outside the room, not taking part in the discussions and voting against the proposals, which are a dramatic change from the old European fisheries fund to a new one, in which the kind of fears that he has about the old one simply cannot exist? 

Mr Harris:  I am very happy to correct the record. If the Minister checks Hansard, he will see that I did not suggest that he got the best deal possible. I said that he went into the negotiations in good faith. I do not believe that the outcome of the negotiations is good enough for the Committee to support. It is as simple as that. We need to draw a line and say that the negotiations are not a good deal for the whole of the EU fishing industry. I do not think that the measure is worthy of the Committee’s support and I ask Members to vote against it. 

Question put.  

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5. 

Division No. 1 ]  


Benyon, Richard   

Burrowes, Mr David   

Clappison, Mr James   

Elphicke, Charlie   

Evennett, Mr David   

Murray, Sheryll   

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh   

Williams, Roger   


Connarty, Michael   

Glindon, Mrs Mary   

Harris, Mr Tom   

Jones, Susan Elan   

Munn, Meg   

Question accordingly agreed to.  

9.51 am 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 9th January 2013