Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 521

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 5 December 2012

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Richard Drax

George Eustice

Mrs Mary Glindon

Iain McKenzie

Sheryll Murray

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, John Robbs, Director, Marine and Fisheries, Defra, and Sarah Adcock, Head of CFP Management and Discards Team, Defra, gave evidence.

Q37 Chair: Welcome. Thank you very much, Minister and team, for joining us. I am very grateful to you for coming a little earlier and also for agreeing to take some questions on flooding.

Richard Benyon: On flooding?

Chair: Yes.

Richard Benyon: Oh, okay. I was not aware of that.

Chair: We have been in constant communication with your office about this, so I am very sorry if you did not get the message. We will turn to fisheries at 10 past 3.

Neil Parish: The Minister is well briefed; he will be fine.

Q38 Chair: If I can start, Minister. I know you were in York; it was a great shame you could not come to Old Malton and Norton where over 50 properties did, in fact, flood. In fact, the flood defences held, which is smashing, but unfortunately-I sometimes sound like a longplaying record-what happened was clean spring water went into the drains, and as for sewage, there was a lake outside the main road on the way to my office. I was apprised of the situation very early on. Just looking at your consultations with interested parties under the 2010 Act and following on from Pitt, there is some unfinished business that does relate specifically to these floods. It would be churlish of me not to welcome the extra £120 million that the Committee is obviously very pleased that the Government has announced on flood defences, but could you tell us, please, where we are with the reservoir safety guidance, the technical guidance, and when this might be brought forward? I am told by the Institution of Civil Engineers that they are waiting to hear from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), so we would like to know what Defra is waiting for.

The other thing was the automatic adoption arrangements for new foul sewers and lateral drains, and national build standards for gravity foul sewers and lateral drains. I think you were minded to delay that until the Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) provisions came in, but you have now told us that-my third point-the implementation for sustainable drain provisions in Schedule 3 are not coming into force in 2013, as you intended, but have been delayed until 2014. So I just wondered where we are with these very seriously delayed items under the 2010 legislation.

Richard Benyon: Thank you, Chair. I was not aware I was coming along to talk to you about flooding matters at all. If I had known, I would have perhaps been able to get you some more up to date figures, but I am, like you, very glad that we have managed to secure some funding for flood defences. With the Secretary of State and his predecessor, I have been making the case in Government that it is very good use of taxpayers’ money if you get £8 back for every £1 you spend. It unlocks regeneration, it saves untold amounts of misery and is good for communities as well. So with the addition of that and our partnership funding, I think that we are in as good a place as we can be given the financial circumstances we face.

There are a great many places that I have not yet got to see, Chair, since the floods last week. I have been to the West Country, as have the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. We have also had visits to the Midlands and to the North and we cannot get to every community, but I do know that your constituency was affected-obviously I have followed the exact detail of where flooding took place and where it did not. I slightly regret that such is the way that some of the media cover some of these events that the concentration was on, perhaps, 20 or-

Chair: I am sorry to rush you, Minister, but we have a lot to get through.

Richard Benyon: I am trying to answer, but okay. That 20 or 30 homes flooded because flood defences failed ignores the fact that over 100,000 properties did not get flooded because of good, well built flood defences. Now, there is not a single, silver-bullet, right-or-wrong way of building flood defences, and I am really interested in what is happening in your constituency, with slowing up of water in steep valleys, and I want to make sure that we are learning from where it does work.

On the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and their piece of research, I will make sure you know exactly where we are on their report and the important work they are doing looking at the guidance of the Reservoir Act.

Q39 Chair: Minister, I am so sorry to interrupt, but they have written to me and spoken to me and they are awaiting your instructions to proceed with the reservoir safety guidance. The Committee is simply asking why Defra is not in a position to proceed. Is it something to do with the Welsh Assembly? Is there a concrete reason why you have not asked ICE to proceed with the reservoir safety guidance, because we cannot proceed with projects like Pickering or Thirsk until such time as you come forward with the guidance, so none of this £120 million can be spent.

Richard Benyon: I can assure you there is no wish to delay this a second on my part and if I had known that this is what you were going to talk to me about I would certainly have had a response. Just for the record, neither the Parliamentary branch of Defra nor my office were informed that you wanted to talk about flooding issues. So I am sorry if that is the information you received, but that is definitely the situation.

In terms of the SuDS provision, as I said to your Committee the other day, we finished a consultation in August, which has thrown up a plethora of concerns and issues on this and we simply cannot implement this in the time that we wanted to, which was April next year. It is going to take longer and the object lesson for me on this is that if you are too prescriptive in terms of how you legislate-this is why it is important for the Water Bill-it makes it extremely difficult to execute provisions such as this. We will be implementing the full SuDS provisions from the Act, but we have to make sure that we are doing it in a way that does not cause improper burdens. We recognise this is not just about local government; it is about the impact it has on developers and how we maintain these assets over future years and how we encourage them to be an absolutely integral part of the planning system.

Q40 Chair: So, if you could undertake, please, to write to me on the specific point of the reservoir safety guidance. I can only apologise. I had strict confirmation from our side twice that you had been informed, so I can only apologise, Minister, that you did not hear.1

Could I just ask on drains-moving on to dredging and maintenance-as you know, I am a Vice-President of the Association of Drainage Authorities. They are very clear that the amount of dredging and maintenance that the Pitt review envisaged and was envisaged under the 2010 Act is not happening. Is this a misunderstanding? How can we point to where the amount of dredging and maintenance is taking place?

Richard Benyon: I have discussed this with senior management in the Environment Agency, with officials at Defra and with the Association of Drainage Authorities. It is very hard to give an absolutely general view from my position, because very often it depends in detail on what is happening locally. I have been particularly following, for example, the case in Somerset and the appalling situation faced by the farmers and land managers on the Somerset Levels, which have been underwater for most of this summer and certainly through to now. They are coming up with solutions that, at a very local level, may make the situation better in future years. We are looking at that with urgency with the Environment Agency, and whether a different dredging regime in a particular part of a drain or access to a river or even in a riverbed, that that will happen. The perception that exists-which I quite often find is a misperception but may be accurate in some cases-where permission to dredge or clear a watercourse is prevented because there is a belief that there are ecological reasons why that should not happen. To me, we have just got to get over this. We are talking about people’s homes and people’s livelihoods. There has to be a balance. Yes, we have to obey the law, we have to obey international designations, but there must be a way of making sure that we are not putting an intolerable burden on people’s livelihoods and risking their homes because of these designations. We have to find a way through on this.

Chair: Thank you. If you could write to us about the reservoir guidance, that would be most helpful.

Q41 Sheryll Murray: Obviously I had nine areas in my constituency that were flooded, including my own village. One of the consistencies that seems to have come up is that, because of the geographical nature of the constituency, it took the Environment Agency quite a long time sometimes to reach areas. In my own village, for instance, had somebody locally had a key to open the lock gates on the dam that creates the lake, flooding would not have happened. Could I just ask you, Minister, if people can come up with these local solutions, would you put weight behind their request to the Environment Agency? When I spoke to them, they were very reluctant to allow this sort of local intervention, in case it goes wrong; but an hour’s delay in getting the key from one end of my constituency to another and causing 40odd houses in the village to flood is not acceptable.

Richard Benyon: I think we learn from every single flood and we always will. It is difficult again to drive this from a desk in Whitehall. These are very important local issues. I can assure you that we will look into the details of these incidents locally and we are having a full debrief on how the response has been. I have to say-it sounds hackneyed because it is what politicians always say in these circumstances-I really have been impressed by the response of the emergency services, the local authorities’ staff and particularly the Environment Agency. I have lots of evidence of where Environment Agency officials were out right through the night making sure that they were raking grills and all those things, and I know from conversations I have had with you that this was a feature locally. But where something like that happens, clearly there must be a better local solution-why can there not be two keys? Why can there not be access to these sorts of things?

Q42 Sheryll Murray: Exactly. To follow on, there were three or four other instances where grids were not cleared, but it is unclear whether it was just the sheer weight of water washing debris into those grids within the course of an hour before the floods took place. Do you have a dialogue with the Environment Agency and was it made clear to you that they have a strict regime that they adhere to with regard to the regular clearing of grids?

Richard Benyon: They have and I do have a very frequent dialogue. We have been out and about talking to them at local level as well as talking to the leadership of the Environment Agency and, as I say, we will learn from this. I also think it is right that they work on a riskbased basis and our ability to predict where flooding is going to take place is now much better, thanks to Pitt, thanks to the lessons learned from the 2007 floods, and thanks to investment by the last Government and this Government in warning systems, in better meteorological advice and that sort of thing. So we can adjust our manpower, which is not what it was in the days of the National River Authority and no Government will go back to those levels, but we can be better at this. I think our response to flooding is now better than ever, but that is no comfort to your constituents who were flooded; that is no comfort to anyone. What your constituents need is the assurance that, first of all, any perceptions are addressed-were the drains clean, had the local authority done their bit, was the Environment Agency doing their bit? They want to know the facts and that is what has to be done and the best place to do that is through the local authority, working with the Environment Agency, perhaps through the scrutiny committee doing a complete review. Secondly, they want assurance that I and my Department will look at this very closely and make sure that we are getting the answers to address those perceptions, because that minimises the stress and fear that your constituents will have in the future.

Q43 Sheryll Murray: Finally, have we rolled out the floodwatch schemes that have been implemented locally? I cannot reinforce enough that that worked in Lostwithiel again this time, and although some properties in Polperro were still flooded, the flood prevention scheme that has been installed there worked very, very well and most of the locals were full of praise for it. Are other areas reporting back a similar situation?

Richard Benyon: As well as visiting homes that have been flooded, I have been visiting homes that were not flooded because of the fast action of flood warden schemes. These are hugely impressive local voluntary action, but organised. The National Flood Forum can give you a bespoke plan, which people can just pick up and run with, as can the Environment Agency and local communities. Obviously, the driver for this is those who have experienced flooding, but what we have been trying to do through taking forward Pitt and getting local risk assessments carried out by local authorities is that we are trying to encourage those communities that have not been flooded but live under the threat of it to have just the same level of community action that you and I have witnessed.

Q44 Neil Parish: Minister, I would endorse the fact that I think the Environment Agency, with the warnings that people’s homes were at risk, the river levels and all those warnings worked very well. What I think we do have to do, though, is review the way we manage our rivers. You mentioned Somerset: the Tone and the Parrett meet at Burrowbridge and that river is only probably half the size it should be because of lack of dredging and that is where, eventually, Taunton will flood, there is no doubt. To go to my constituency, we have a very massive hole now in the Tiverton Canal, and we would be grateful for any contributions you might have to put that right, but that is another situation where, luckily, it flooded away from the village of Halberton, but again there were sluices in that canal. The canal ran far too high for many, many weeks and that is where I think perhaps some local honorarium for some individual to be able to manage sluices and manage water levels would also help. I think in this instance we do need to have wash-up-perhaps it is the wrong word to use-and I think the Environment Agency is going to do that, as to how we manage it in the future, because I think we did many things well, but other things badly.

The other thing is too, of course, the village of Feniton flooded and people are taking, quite rightly I think, their own ways of stopping water coming into their houses, but sometimes the Environment Agency will oppose some of the measures that people want to do to protect their own homes. I think that is something else that we need to look at. I am sure you are taking all these things on board, but I think we do just have to have a review of exactly how we manage. Good marks for what we have done, but I think there could be better marks on other things we could do.

Richard Benyon: I repeat my assurance that we will look at every aspect of these floods right over the summer, but particularly last week, and make sure that where there are lessons to learn they are learned. We are providing a considerable sum of money for propertylevel protection. We want to encourage propertylevel protection, and in our discussions concerning insurance, which I know is of great concern to everyone, we want to make sure that where proper householdlevel protection takes place, with approved products, that matter is reflected in the insurance premium and excess charges. That just seems to me absolutely the sort of thing that all of us can buy into. We want to encourage people to take responsibility themselves. We can provide sums of money, but ultimately, if people feel that there is financial gain not only in the value of their property but in the premiums they pay, an entirely virtuous circle is being created. I think I have trespassed on Mr Eustice’s question.

Q45 George Eustice: That was exactly my question, yes. There appears to be almost an element of brinkmanship around the negotiations and replacement for the Statement of Principles, and obviously the floods last week brought this back into focus. Given that it expires in June next year, I wondered if you could update us on the status of your negotiations. There had been some discussion, I think, in the draft Bill, saying that you may need to legislate to bring in some things, but obviously that is before the Bill has come forward.

Richard Benyon: There may well be a requirement for primary legislation and I am having conversations on this practically daily with Oliver Letwin and with the Secretary of State-certainly daily with the Secretary of State. We are determined to have a solution in the near future and I wish there was more I could say. You would not expect me to negotiate in public, but what I will say is that discussions are ongoing in a meaningful way. There is no stalling of talks; there is no deadlock. We want to be able to make an announcement that will give the reassurance to the millions of people who live at flood risk as soon as possible.

Q46 Chair: You will be aware that North Yorkshire flooded twice this year, September and now. In the past capital expenditure has been given for roads and bridge damage and assessing the status of them, particularly in 2007, to Hull and Gloucestershire. Can we have an assurance that similar capital expenditure on roads and bridges in North Yorkshire and other parts of the country will benefit this time as well?

Richard Benyon: Not my brief, but I can assure you-

Q47 Chair: It is within the overall responsibility of Defra and I am sure you would not wish to resile from that.

Richard Benyon: Absolutely not and we have had very good discussions with other Departments on a range of issues, not least Bellwin and its impact. Sometimes national schemes such as Bellwin do not reflect local realities. I think there was some good work done on transport infrastructure. It was to the credit of many different agencies that the railway in the West Country that was washed away was restored; then the ballast that was put in there was washed away again and it was restored in very quick time and got up and running. That can be achieved. This follows very detailed discussions I have been having with people like Craig Whittaker following the floods in Hebden Bridge. We want to make sure that when there is an extraordinary head of water, as happened there-I know it happened in your constituency-and this damages large pieces of infrastructure, there are the means to restore it, but I cannot give details about out of which budget that is going to come or give absolute assurances; that would be wrong.

Q48 Chair: On climate change, what seems to be a feature of all the floods from 2007 onwards is that it is not fluvial, pluvial or coastal; it is surface water runoff. That is why we would urge you to give the utmost urgency to looking at the drains, the two outstanding consultations and consider bringing them forward from 2014 to next year. What seems to be the feature of recent floods is, as Mrs Murray was saying, it is surface water runoff going into drains and mixing clean water with sewage outflow. There is a degree of urgency here, Minister; we would just like to leave you with today to reconsider what needs to be done.

Thank you for your responses on flooding and I can only apologise. We will check our records, but we are pretty sure that we did request and that we had a formal acceptance that that would be in order; otherwise we would not have proceeded. If we could now ask you to introduce your team who are here to discuss fisheries formally, we can move on.

Richard Benyon: Certainly. You will recognise John Robbs on my left, who is the Director of the marine department and on my right is Sarah Adcock, who is in charge of CFP management.

Chair: Okay. I am going to ask at the end about the legal basis, but I shall ask Margaret Ritchie to start us off.

Q49 Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Chair. Minister, you are very welcome. Obviously, the first issue we want to address is that of Total Allowable Catch and quotas. The normal annual discussions are currently ongoing into that, and the European Commission has adopted a new approach to the annual round of quota negotiations by splitting the proposals for EU managed and jointly managed stocks and attempting to simplify the categorisation of stock levels. Do you believe or do you think this new approach has improved the process?

Richard Benyon: I am just approaching these in a similar way to the way we always have: we are basing it on science, on the sustainability and the desire to see the end of discards. The Commission do have a different approach this time. This is now my third December Council, and rather than going into wishing I was doing it differently, I deal with it how it is. We can all dream about a greater degree of sanity that might prevail after CFP reform and we always start conversations about December negotiations or CFP reform saying, "We would not start from here if we had the choice." I will ask Sarah to say something perhaps on the detail of your question, but in overall terms I hope it will not make much difference to the fishing opportunities that our fishermen can exploit, but it certainly makes it slightly more complicated.

Sarah Adcock: The Commission split their proposal last year as well. This is not new for this year; it is something they did previously. The UK continues to believe that splitting the negotiations in this way in the regulations is not the most appropriate thing to do for many reasons. We would argue that it is not a simplification process but increases the administrative burden; but our bigger concern is that in some cases you can give your hand away in terms of negotiation to the third countries like Norway, Iceland and Faroes that we negotiate with. The external regulation, for instance, can suggest what we might or might not be willing to negotiate with those countries and that undermines our negotiating position. Most member states are of a similar opinion and we stressed this at the July Council when the Commission was discussing their policy statement, but it is the Commission’s prerogative to split the regulation in this way.

Q50 Ms Ritchie: Minister, on foot of what your official has just said and on foot of representations obviously that you have made, is it your view that the Commission is not in a frame of mind to change its decision in relation to this matter?

Richard Benyon: It is too late now really. We had the November Council meeting last week, where we discussed the EUNorway provisions and one or two other matters, and EUNorway talks are ongoing as we speak. As I said earlier, we are where we are. December is an interesting negotiation, because there is some good news but there is also some bad news. I think that has probably always been the case, but I think the trends are up and that shows that many of the conservation measures that have been carried out by our fleets, in many cases initiated by the fishing industry, are starting to pay off. I think this is something that we need to recognise and that we are heading in the right direction on a great many stocks.

Q51 George Eustice: I am going to ask you about the multiannual plans, because in our CFP reform report that we did previously, we recommended that there should be some flexibility in those plans and we advocated that there should be some kind of mechanism by which they could be amended in a timely way should the scientific evidence change. I know in your response you appeared supportive of that general principle, but slightly noncommittal in terms of whether you would be arguing for that. I just wondered if you could say whether that is something that you are pushing for within the Commission.

Richard Benyon: I have always said that I want to move on to more multiannual plans. Apart from anything else, from a political perspective it takes the power away from some politicians who use the December round in the wrong way. Having a multiannual plan that is based on scientific evidence and that has the flexibility to roll with changes in the ecosystem that may occur from time to time has to be the way we want fisheries management to go. Of course when you have a bad multiannual plan, then you are in a spiral of decline. You have, with the Cod Recovery Plan, a bad plan which, if it is followed through to the letter of its law-which it is; it is a legal instrument-will see greater mortality, more discards, fewer fishermen fishing with the kind of selectivity we want to see and possibly some fisherman being forced out of business. It just seems crazy to me that we are locked into something that so manifestly is not working and that is why we are working extremely hard to change it.

Q52 George Eustice: What is the reception you are getting to that argument for flexibility?

Richard Benyon: In one sense we have a good reception-two years ago, we got a commitment from the Commission to review the Cod Recovery Plan-and conversations go pretty well, until a lawyer walks into the room. I have nothing against lawyers as a profession, Chair-some of my best friends are lawyers-but that brings it down to the very serious point, which is this is a legal instrument and requires codecision under Lisbon. What I really do not want is for the Cod Recovery Plan, or the two strands that we are talking about, the effort reduction and the proposed reduction in Total Allowable Catch, being used as some sort of totemic issue in a tussle between institutions in Europe. What we want is to resolve this for reasons of sustainability, for reasons of the productivity of our fishing industry and so we are working extremely hard to achieve that.

Q53 George Eustice: Finally, realistically, how soon do you think we will be switching to the new multiannual plan? I know Commissioner Damanaki hoped that by the end of 2014 we might be in a position to switch to that. Do you think that is now unrealistic?

Richard Benyon: It might help the Committee if I was to run through the timeline on reform.

Q54 Chair: That would be helpful. You have preempted one of my questions. Perhaps while you are looking it up I should make my declaration that not only am I a nonpractising Scottish advocate, I did practice EU law for a time and I was a stagiaire in the European Commission, though I was not strongly exposed to fishing at that time.

Richard Benyon: We are still possibly on track to see a new CFP in January 2014, but it is quite a big ask. During 2012 we secured, as you know, the General Approach and we have discussed this as a Committee. The progress made by the European Parliament has been slower. To date, the European Parliament has only reached agreement on the Common Market Organisation regulation, with the CFP and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund regulation still being considered by the Fisheries Committee. I am informed that that will be voted on, on the 18th of this month and that this timeline and the likely outcome of any vote remain uncertain, but we continue to work with MEPs of all parties on the Committee to support radical reform.

Following the Committee vote, it is expected that a plenary vote on the CFP basic regulation will follow in early 2013. Discussions on the Fisheries Fund are currently lagging even further behind those on the basic regulation, with the Committee and plenary votes expected in spring of next year.

Then there is of course the trilogue process, which will happen under the Irish presidency. We hope that that can be resolved, although that is quite a big ask, but it is now likely that the Lithuanian presidency will be instrumental in helping finalise a deal on the package of regulations, with a conclusion not expected before this time next year at the latest, possibly further. John, you might want to elaborate.

John Robbs: I think that has given a very full account of the timescale. Just to give you a sense of the complexity of the European Parliament’s consideration, the rapporteur of the Fisheries Committee, which hopes to have a vote later this month, has prepared 104 compromise amendments, which seek to consolidate over 2,500 amendments proposed by Members of the European Parliament. All of this, I regret to say, is on the Commission’s original proposal, because that is what the Parliament is looking at. We hope that they will be influenced by the General Approach agreed by the Council, but that is a further stage yet to come. So it is really quite a long drawn out, complicated route we are following.

Just in case you are asking yourselves this already, after the Lithuanian presidency, it is the Greek presidency, should we venture into 2014 without an agreement.

Chair: I have it on reliable authority that the Irish presidency are going to lock you all up in a castle until you have reached agreement and not release you, Minister, until you have all signed along the dotted line.

Q55 Sheryll Murray: Just very quickly, Minister, with regard to MAPs, as a follow on from George before I move on to TACs and quotas. For multiannual plans to work properly you have to set the quota limits in a mixed fishery at a realistic level, and we do not seem to have been moving in that direction ever since the Cod Recovery Plan has been in place. I am absolutely horrified to find that for haddock, for instance, in Area VII there is a 55% reduction proposed, although we have a maximum sustainable yield that has been increasing year on year, and a spawning stock by mass that is looking at moving in the right direction as well. Surely there has to be a better way? Surely this has to be that the Commission proposals must adhere to the ICES’ scientific assessments and recommendations, because the ones that we are seeing proposed at the moment bear no resemblance to what ICES is proposing.

Chair: And that was in the conclusions of our report, Minister, which will not have escaped your attention.

Richard Benyon: And a very good conclusion it was too. The ICES data on North Sea cod, for example, is that it is going up, but the rigidity of the Cod Recovery Plan says that because it is not recovering to a particular line on a graph, therefore there has to be a cut. This is having an impact on other stocks and the net effect is that you will get higher mortality. Boats could well go out of the Catch Quota Scheme, the very scheme that has been praised by the Commission as being an example of good management-I do not know the up to date figures, but I think it is almost zero discards of cod from vessels in the scheme in the North Sea this year. This is going to result in precisely the wrong results, so you are absolutely right: the way to deliver this has to be local management. That is why regionalisation is really important.

Q56 Sheryll Murray: Can I just press you on the Area VII haddock 55% proposal? Can you also comment on the fact that, I understand, there have been proposed reductions for hake, monk and megrims in part because the ICES scientists were not happy with the Spanish data that was presented to them, because it was inconsistent; so all the countries, like the United Kingdom, that have presented consistent and credible data have been penalised because of the irresponsibility of the Spanish?

Richard Benyon: I will ask Sarah to comment on the haddock issue.

Sarah Adcock: If I take each of them in turn, on the VIIbk haddock you are right in that the Commission have proposed something different from the ICES’ advice. If they followed the ICES’ advice, you would still be looking at a 43% reduction in the TAC. This is back to your original point about how it is not based on mixed fishery advice; it is based on single species advice. Mixed fishery advice is still a little way off, but there has been some significant work done in the North Sea, which we are going to use to fight off some of the arguments the Minister was making on the North Sea cod matter.

On hake the Commission proposal is again to do something slightly different from the ICES’ advice. It is within the ICES’ advice, but it is not their headline recommendation. There, they are trying to get to MSY quicker. There is an issue about the Spanish data not being available, but that is not the main reason for the proposed reduction. The penalty to other member states is not directly linked to that.

Monk and meg-I think you must mean in Area VII-are quite interesting. ICES have made some assessment on that. I forget the exact figures, but the data on which they made assessments is overreliant on landings data. The UK position has been for a number of years that you cannot make an assessment based solely on landings data. So we are pushing the Commission on that one and we do again have quite a number of member states’ support there too.

Q57 Sheryll Murray: I see Mr Robbs was nodding when I said about the Spanish inconsistency, would you like to comment on that?

John Robbs: Sarah touched on it very briefly. In a number of stocks-and this is not the only one-where there is not a sufficient quantity of data submitted by all member states, the Commission has tended to make a bit of a gesture and has proposed a lower TAC than otherwise would be the case. So the consequence is that those member states who do submit the data are potentially penalised. That was the point you were making, I think, on a particular stock, but it does apply elsewhere as well.

Q58 Sheryll Murray: This has the potential to increase discards quite considerably.

John Robbs: Yes.

Q59 Sheryll Murray: When you gave evidence to us in December last year on the CFP reform you described the review of the cod recovery as "a Kafkaesque process". I think you have probably partially answered this already: you suggested that codecision with the European Parliament would cause considerable delay. What will the UK Government do to remove these intolerable delays? I think you have partially answered, Minister.

Richard Benyon: Yes. I would just say I think if Kafka had written a novel about this, critics would have said, "He has gone way over the top this time. This could never happen in reality." It is the product of a tortuous process and now a sort of power struggle between institutions in Europe, which is unhelpful. Using this as the vehicle to resolve both that risks penalising our ability to achieve sustainable fisheries, but also it is dealing with people’s livelihoods and the jobs of those who support our fishing industry. It is incredibly complex. I can sit right through the night discussing some of these things, from time to time wondering how on earth we have got ourselves in this position, but the fact remains that the goal we all have to keep our eye on is a very simplified, more regionally managed fisheries policy, where the overarching details may be decided at a high level, but the really detailed technical measures that will drive us towards achieving our sustainability goals are decided amongst those who fish those waters. You cannot have one system that runs from subArctic waters in the north to subMediterranean waters in the south.

Q60 Sheryll Murray: On that point, could I just ask you one question about the mackerel handline quota? I understand that the concordat, that the devolved agreement this year-we have always had a ring fenced 0.83% or 1,750 tonnes Western handline mackerel quota for these vessels that fish sustainably. Can you assure me that this will be ring fenced again in the new fisheries rules?

Richard Benyon: Handline mackerel from the South West has been-

Sheryll Murray: It is Western, not South West.

Richard Benyon: Yes. It has been an underfished stock and the surplus has been used for a number of years as a swap currency. Under the new, clear system, what we have to do is to make sure that, after we have agreed what we have agreed in December, we agree through the devolved Governments about how our allowable catches are apportioned in the United Kingdom; but I have great sympathy with the point you have made to me on more than one occasion about this. I can assure you that we will be representing the good case that is made by the English fleet on this particular stock.

Q61 Ms Ritchie: Minister, the reduction in TAC for cod is based on the precautionary principle. Do UK fishery scientists support the imposition of the precautionary principle for cod stocks in the North Sea and do they agree that a 20% reduction in TAC is appropriate?

Richard Benyon: No, in short. We do not believe that it is the right answer. It is being done again as an allegedly precautionary approach delivered through the Cod Recovery Plan, but it is going to have a perverse effect. It is going to result in, as I say, vessels possibly feeling that it is no longer worth them being in the Catch Quota Scheme. It is going to result in more discards and in higher degrees of mortality, so it is wrong on every level, but what are we doing about it? We have commissioned some work, which we have sent to ICES. They have agreed it is going to be considered in December, so I am very hopeful that if we deliver this with enough force and with the intellectual and scientific arguments that we put behind it, the Commission will see the folly of such a cut. This is one of our very, very important priorities in the December discussions.

Q62 Neil Parish: I would just like to comment on the codecision of the Parliament, because I think one of the problems is that the Commission have been allpowerful and all of a sudden they have to deal with the Parliament as well. I think it has added a further complication and I think it is taking a while to feed through. But the question I wanted to ask you is: in the Government’s response to our report and recommendations on the importance of funding science and data collection, you referred to the need to make member states more accountable for delivering the data needed to manage fisheries, so what have you done since providing that response to press for improved scientific and monitoring performance among member states?

Richard Benyon: We have worked to ensure that fisheries partnership agreements-sorry, Fisheries Science Partnerships are active and happen on a more regular basis, and I think there is good evidence to say there is greater trust. Not every fisherman would agree with me, but there is now greater trust between fishermen and scientists, because they have more to do with scientists; they see how they work and scientists see how fishermen work, and that is really important. What we were very concerned about a year ago was the precautionary cuts that were being proposed for data-poor stocks, and we have worked really hard over the last year to make sure that where there is data deficiency on stocks we are providing the necessary information. This means that there is not the mandatory 15%, going up to 25%, cuts for stocks where there is data deficiency. We have nearly nailed down every single one of those areas to make sure that the necessary data is available.

Q63 Neil Parish: Across all member states? That is the problem. I think we are collecting data reasonably well here, but are other member states? That is what always worries me.

Sarah Adcock: A couple of points, if I may. The Data Collection Framework, the regulation at EU level, is being renewed this year and next year as part of the reform package. One of the things the UK is pushing for in there is things like the Fisheries Science Partnerships and that sort of thing to be done in other member states.

On the point the Minister made about the data deficiencies, this year ICES itself has done a lot of work to improve those data deficiencies and they are relying on data from other member states. Last year, the UK alone had 60 stocks that were datapoor and other member states were suffering similarly and that has, in itself, provided a mechanism for member states to provide the data necessary.

Q64 Neil Parish: The final part of my question, Minister, is would you support a stronger, legally binding requirement on the Commission to follow scientific advice when setting quotas? I know you have worked very hard on fish discards. My view is until you stop the discards, you will never truly know what the fish stocks are.

Richard Benyon: I totally agree and so does the Secretary of State, who has been plugging this point since he was the Opposition spokesman. We will never truly know until we have fully documented fisheries. I think there is nothing for fishermen to fear in having fully documented fisheries. It absolutely holds up their argument when they say that they are seeing more fish on the ground than the science says, and so I entirely agree: that is where we want to get to, and we will only get there when we have tackled the discards issue in a meaningful and practical way.

Q65 Neil Parish: And on the legally binding aspect?

Richard Benyon: I think we are heading there, Mr Parish, because of the requirement to fish to MSY. That will be a legal requirement.

John Robbs: Yes. The question was, I think, should the Commission be legally required to set quotas on the basis of scientific advice? It is the Council, of course, who decide on the quotas on the basis of the Commission proposal, so, by extension-

Q66 Neil Parish: The Council advises the Commission as well, does it not? It works both ways.

John Robbs: Yes, it is a dialogue, but the Council takes the decision. The basis on which we are moving under CFP reform includes the requirement to achieve maximum sustainable yield by 2015 wherever possible. That in itself constrains the level at which the TACs will be set year on year, so you are getting a more strategic, long-term approach, which will be legally binding.

Q67 Ms Ritchie: Moving on, Minister, to the issue of regionalisation and Regional Advisory Councils, what progress has been made on ensuring that Regional Advisory Councils have a meaningful and decisive role in delivering the regionalisation of fishing management?

Richard Benyon: In the June agreement, the General Approach, we were pleased to get to where we had on regionalisation, because there was some evidence prior to that that other states were lukewarm about this. Where there is absolute agreement across the UK in all the devolved Administrations is that you cannot get to where we want to, in terms of discards and fishing to sustainable levels, unless you have a meaningful regional management system. I think I might be repeating myself, but we had a conversation in a Brussels room last December at some small hour in the morning about where an eliminator panel should sit, at which point in the net, or what size mesh should be used in certain circumstances-lunacy. That kind of detail has to be decided at local level.

You are absolutely right that the best vehicle for that is what we currently call a RAC, because that is basically at sea basin level. At the moment, it is an advisory council. What I would think, through the kind of reform that we are promoting, is that we will see that having a much more executive capacity. I do not know what the legalities of this are yet at this stage, but this will incorporate all the countries that fish a particular piece of sea. I am sure one of the ones that is concerning you is the Irish Sea and that is a model, for me, of how a RAC can work effectively. The people who should be managing that fishery in detail are the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, England and Wales that fish it, and also the Irish Republic and one or two other countries that do have historical fishing rights in that sea basin. They can find the solutions to deliver on sustainability so much more effectively than can be achieved at the moment and that is what we want to see.

Q68 Ms Ritchie: Thank you. If I may move on, back in the summer edition of your Department’s Fishing Focus newsletter, it stated that there is a broad range of views from members of the European Parliament on the main challenges facing Europe’s fisheries, and it is clear that major reforms to how Europe’s fisheries are managed are essential. It also stated the UK Government is currently working with MEPs to encourage the European Parliament to take the bold steps that are needed to bring about real reform. Do you think, Minister, the proposals agreed by the Council on regionalisation will survive the European Parliament intact?

Richard Benyon: There have undoubtedly been some amendments, which, if they went through, would make it more difficult to achieve the kind of regionalisation we want, but on a general view of the whole CFP reform package I am in a slightly more optimistic place than I was a while back. Some of that is gut feeling; some of it is the product of conversations I have had with MEPs of all parties and from a number of different countries; some of it comes down to votes that have gone through. It is nothing to do with CFP reform, but I think the very welcome vote on shark finning showed a direction of travel in the Parliament that is prosustainability. The logic of that follows through that if you are prosustainability and you want to have an industry that stands up to scrutiny from across the world, which we cannot say we have at the moment, then you have to have the means for delivering that sustainability, and a key part of that is regionalisation. I cannot predict at the moment where we will get to; the European Parliament is mercurial in that it has people from certainly lots of different spectrums of views on this. Some take a very oldfashioned view about fisheries management, some take a more progressive view, and sometimes they vote in different ways on different parts of the reform package. All I would do is urge every member of this Committee who has contacts with the European Parliament-and some have very recent experience of it-to make sure that we are all pushing towards the radical end of reform that we in Britain and most of the Northern European states have been pushing for, because I think we can achieve it this time.

Q69 Chair: Minister, can I just ask for clarification of article 25 of the revised text? It would seem to indicate and I just want confirmation, if you would, that the measures that have been agreed at regional level will operate against all vessels operating in the area. Is that your understanding of article 25?

Richard Benyon: I will ask John Robbs.

John Robbs: I do not have article 25 with me, but I do have a recollection of broadly what it says. Nothing has been agreed yet. You are referring to the Council’s General Approach, I think?

Q70 Chair: It is rather important because it was one of the major disagreements between the Department and our opinion, our conclusions and recommendations. I am just a little concerned that if regionalisation, which was music to our ears when the Minister came before us and before the House and said that this had been agreed, is not given legal effect, it means nothing. Now, we met with the Danish fishermen, who have an agreement with the Swedish fishermen and the RAC and the Danish and Swedish Governments on exactly what the Minister said about mesh sizes and regional agreements between those two countries. My understanding is that the Commission is not recognising that and will not recognise that until there is a legal basis. Now, you need, I think, to convince the Committee today and the wider fishing community and the British public that your interpretation of regionalisation will have legal teeth.

John Robbs: Okay. In the General Approach, which from your explanation is what you are picking up, the model is that the countries who fish in a regional sea-such as the North Sea, or I think in the case you quoted probably the Skagerrak/Kattegat area-are empowered to come together to agree the different detailed measures that will apply to the fisheries in that area.

Chair: Mesh sizes and so on.

John Robbs: Yes, exactly, and if they do reach agreement then there are two ways of giving that legal effect. One is by a Commission measure introduced-a Commission regulation-because the Council members concerned, having all agreed it, then they tell the Commission, "Okay, we have agreed this among ourselves," the Commission checks it is happy with it as well and the Commission brings in a Commission implementing regulation, which is binding on all member states concerned.

Q71 Chair: Is that technically a Commission decision?

John Robbs: It is a Commission regulation or decision, yes.

Q72 Chair: So it will not be misinterpreted or reinterpreted by any member state?

John Robbs: It is a legally binding instrument, which then has to be applied by all member states.

That is one route. The other route is the member states who have all come together and agreed something would then, in their own national legislations, introduce the detailed legal requirements that they have all agreed.

So you have two routes to follow and depending on which route you follow you determine who this applies to.

Q73 Chair: So this decision, which is the way forward, if you like, between Denmark and Sweden, does that have legal effect as far as the Commission is concerned? If it does not, then I am afraid the whole formula for regionalisation will fall apart.

John Robbs: First, I do not know the details of the agreements between Denmark and Sweden. Secondly, they predate the introduction of the new regionalisation measures that we are talking about.

Q74 Chair: Okay. And you believe that one or two, those two ways, will be given legal effect, will be recognised by the Commission. The Commission will not try and block a decision made under two.

John Robbs: The Commission has to be happy with what we are doing. If the member states got together and decided on some nefarious plot to introduce something that was clearly incompatible with the basic CFP regulation, then it is the Commission’s duty, as defender of the Treaty and the CFP, to say, "Hang on a minute, you cannot do that, even if you are all agreed," and that is perfectly right and proper. The Commission does have to be happy with this.

Q75 Chair: I am going to call on Sheryll Murray in just a moment, but what I am concerned about is that we are heralding as a great step forward, but what you are telling us today is that this Commission decision could set the mesh sizes, if the Commission chooses to go down that path.

John Robbs: In the model the member states, having all agreed what the mesh sizes should be-

Chair: So it will be an agreement by the member states.

John Robbs: -you can then invite the Commission, using its powers, to give that legal effect. You have to give this thing legal effect one way or the other, and one route is through Commission legislation. As long as all the member states concerned are happy, then that is fine.

Q76 Sheryll Murray: Mr Robbs, if I can just press you a little bit on this, article 17 of the current regulation states very clearly, and it is rolled over into the new proposal, "Community fishing vessels shall have equal access to the waters and resources in all community waters other than those referred to in paragraph two", which is the 12mile limit. I would like to know where your legal advice is that says you can have a limited number of member states taking a decision on the CFP and still carry out the obligations under article 17, which used to be article 2 of 10176. Carrying on from the Chair’s question about mesh sizes and negotiations, as I understand it, a Commission decision could be published that was in line with what is proposed throughout the Community, but if you had, say, Danish fishermen and Swedish fishermen who agreed with something, that could not be enforced on all member states. It is a bit like we used to be with the bass fishery, when we were looking to introduce a minimum landing size for bass within the 12mile limit, but our Minister could only enforce that on our own fishermen and could not enforce it on fishermen who quite legitimately had access to our 12mile limit. Maybe that has explained it a little bit better.

From your point of view, would you please confirm, one, that we cannot just write off equal access to a common resource, and even if they do not have access on paper, then we could have the Iberian states quite legitimately saying that they want to still have a say in what happens in the North Sea. It might come at one time that they will enjoy equal access, because it has not been written out. And two, that a Danish Minister or a Swedish Minister could not introduce a minimum mesh size over and above what is required under the EU regulations and impose those on all member states’ fishermen fishing in those waters.

Q77 Chair: I think I have set a red herring running, for which I apologise. If you could just confirm, Mr Robbs, that the scenario I referred to is nothing to do with the North Sea. It is the Skagerrak and the Kattegat, where only Danes and Swedes will have the right to fish.

John Robbs: That is right-and Norwegians.

Chair: I want to differentiate the two scenarios.

Q78 Sheryll Murray: They still have equal access to a common resource.

John Robbs: Shall I attempt to answer the very specific questions from Ms Murray? First of all, the model on regionalisation in the partial General Approach agreed by the Council clearly provides for the member states who are active in the fishery to come together to agree the detailed rules. That is the legal base that we are talking about. Those member states can agree measures that apply to all the people active in that area; then, if it is agreed, as we hope, it will be given legal effect through one of the two routes: the Commission measure or the member states introducing national legislation.

Your second point reflects the current state of affairs and the state of affairs in the future for that matter, where, as you quite rightly say, a Danish Minister who wishes to introduce technical conservation measures over and above those in the EU legislation can do it to his own vessels, but cannot do it to another country’s vessels. That is correct. Equally, if only Sweden and Denmark are fishing an area, they can agree that they will both nationally introduce exactly the same measures, and so the vessels of the two countries will be operating to the same standard, but it does require both countries to do that.

Q79 Sheryll Murray: Absolutely, and we still have the equal access to a common resource principle, as described in that article, which is live at the moment.

I would like to turn to the discard ban now and the moratorium on discards. Do you think that the position on discards agreed in the General Approach provides sufficient flexibility to accommodate the different sorts of discards: for marketing purposes, undersized discards, species that are not marketable? Do you think it will cover everything, Minister?

Richard Benyon: I think that it can, yes. The text includes consideration of the time and the measures needed to ensure a landing obligation can be applied practically within the quota management system. Multiannual plans are clearly going to be the preferable way in which we can manage a fishery on a fisherybyfishery basis, and where these plans have not been agreed, standalone discard reduction plans can be introduced.

Let us just break it down. What we were talking about in the General Approach was a fairly speedy introduction of a discard ban on pelagic stocks. That is easier to deliver. They are largely clean fisheries and it would take very little effort on behalf of the industry to achieve that. It gets more complicated after that, when you start talking about whitefish stocks in mixed fisheries, but I think that the work we have done as a Department on looking at landall pilots, which we have done in North Shields, I think, and we did through our Fishing for the Market approach, shows that there are practical solutions for these measures. My conversations with the industry show, yes, they are concerned about this, but I think that there is a willingness to deliver on this. The longer date that was applied for that was welcome.

Of course, we do need to make sure that we are incentivising and that is why I find that some of the problems we are facing in the short term-this month, for example, in a reduction of the cod catch-just work against what we are trying to achieve. So much has been achieved by the industry through imposing their own realtime closures, joining our Catch Quota Scheme, looking at the technical measures that they themselves are driving forward. These are measures that really work.

The other point that I really would make is that the reduction in effort required under the Cod Recovery Plan is going to have a perverse effect as well, because it encourages a race to fish. It encourages fishing where fish are nearest to where you are in port rather than steaming to where they are larger size. So we have to get over these short-term problems, but I think that the basic text does offer a meaningful way forward to deliver for not just the informed group of people who are worried about this, but the wider population who have a genuine dislike of what has been happening, and the fishermen themselves who do not like it.

Q80 Sheryll Murray: I think you have already answered this: what confidence can the fishing industry have in the Commission’s understanding of discards when the TACs that they are proposing are so low that they are going to create discards? What will you do over there in December to try to address this situation?

Richard Benyon: We continue to support reducing discards in every measure that we make and also to deliver the wider ambitions under the reform agenda, but we will argue certainly against the points that I have just made and that you have just reiterated. We will do so not on the basis of some whimsical view about the fishing industry, although I strongly believe there is a social dimension to what we are talking about in coastal communities and everything like that, but on the basis of those three core points. We will argue on the basis of sound science, have sustainability at the centre of what we are talking about, but also recognise the need to work towards an end to discards. It is not something that is just going to happen and we are going to fall off a cliff in 2018, and there is going to be a discard ban done at that point. We are working towards it now by working with the industry.

Q81 George Eustice: You mentioned that you had a pilot in South Shields, I think.

Richard Benyon: Is it South Shields or North Shields? I cannot remember.

Q82 George Eustice: North Shields-one of them, somewhere in the north. I just wondered whether that had been a success or whether it had thrown up some of the problems and concerns of the industry.

Sarah Adcock: The one that I know about in North Shields is a very recent pilot, and it is ongoing right now. It came out of last December Council where we were tasked with trying to reduce discards in the nephrops fleet. The nephrops fleet in England is largely based in North Shields. We went up there and talked to them and what we found really reassuring is what the Minister said: it is about the fishing industry coming forward with the measures. The trial started in October. We have had a preliminary report, which has shown that we are meeting the target that we set, which is to reduce cod catches in the nephrops fishery to under 1.5%. That would get you an exemption under the Cod Recovery Plan from days at sea, so if you meet that rule you do not have to abide by days. It is still early days, but it is showing quite good results.

Q83 Sheryll Murray: The 12-mile limit-my favourite topic. Minister, I have looked at all the regulations and I noticed that on our 12mile limit, the protection of which was envisaged in the 1964 London Convention, every regulation refers to the same clause, article 100, of our Act of Accession, which basically said we should enjoy the same rights as we enjoyed from 31 December 1971-until you get to regulation 2731/2002, when it went from historic vessels that had traditionally fished within our limit to a series of areas of sea, countries and species. Now, I accept that you were not the Minister at the time and the Government was not the Government at the time. We have a twoyear window, because the 12mile limit has been temporarily extended. Would it be feasible for you to go over to the negotiations and say that as these vessels that were originally referred to would now be 50 years old and obviously they are not around anymore, there is a case to argue for exclusive rights to our 12mile limit and also other member states’, of course?

Richard Benyon: I look at any proposal that allows us more control over our own waters-I caveat that by saying that I need to make sure I have the resources-that does not distract us away from the important agenda we have on reform and arguing this year’s TACs and quotas.

I think it is worth stating that there is a view amongst a number of other member states that the 12mile derogation is somehow against the spirit of previous treaties and that the total competence should run from the end of the pier and the beach to the 200mile limit. There is a sense that I want to avoid putting a stick in a hornet’s nest that might excite those who believe the current derogation is wrong. I am pleased that it has been extended and I think that that is an achievement in itself. I just think that we could put enormous amounts of resources into trying to achieve something we would not achieve, and take away from the fact that if we get the kind of regionalisation we want, we will have much more control over our waters beyond 12 miles-much more influence over the management of our waters beyond 12 miles-and that seems to me a much more important goal to achieve. But I am always happy to look at proposals that you put to me and I will bounce them past our lawyers in Defra, who are very good and do not, I can assure the Committee, take the path of least resistance, because they know that you are serious and they know that I am serious in wanting to look at every possibility.

Q84 Chair: It would be churlish of us not to congratulate you on getting the derogation and I am pleased there are some good lawyers in Defra. Can I just ask, before we move on, what is the current position and what is in it for under-10s at the moment?

Richard Benyon: We have started our pilot of local management in the Ramsgate area and we are giving them more quota. That is not without its controversies, but I am very pleased that we have at least one pilot that is taking forward the work that runs through the Sustainable Access to Inshore Fisheries project, through the consultations that we did right across the industry. I’m afraid I have a robust view about my responsibility to make sure that all the available quota that we have in the United Kingdom is fished. We have taken some of the unfished quota from the over-10s sector to provide to the under-10s sector as well, which I think is the right thing to do. We are currently facing a judicial review and perhaps because of that there is not much more I can say.

Q85 Chair: Okay. Can I just have a reassurance you are not intending-I hope you have not already introduced-a quota for shellfish, which would impact negatively, I am told, on my local under-10 fishermen?

Richard Benyon: What I do know is that we have just received Cefas advice on the health of the shellfish industry around the UK and it is in very good nick. I think that is good news for those who have a potting industry, and that we can develop, hopefully in accordance with our marine conservation policies, a much rosier future for those who fish for shellfish and, indeed, an enhanced aquaculture sector, perhaps, over time.

Q86 Chair: I hope that the coble fishermen of Filey will be pleased.

Can I ask how close you are to publishing or establishing a national register of all those who hold quotas?

Richard Benyon: We are working with devolved colleagues during the course of 2013 to develop a publicly accessible register of holdings and transactions of FQAs. This is a piece of work we are determined to do. I know it is of great concern to this Committee. We think at the end of this process we will have something that is available for review. We can see what is a national asset and how it is managed. I think the opaqueness of who holds quota has not been to the credit of fisheries management in the past. It is something that your Committee felt very serious about and it is a concern that we share. It is a lot of work; it is not a simple operation. I have yet to discover the truth of urban myths about celebrities and football teams owning quota, but all this will become apparent as we go through the next calendar year.

Chair: That is very welcome news, Minister, indeed. Can I turn to Richard Drax on third-country agreements, please?

Q87 Richard Drax: Minister, bearing in mind that, to me, the EU fisheries policy is barking mad, can we just move on to third-world countries? We have sent EU boats now off North Africa, I think it says here, where we are allegedly crippling local fishing communities because our huge boats go there, and rape their seas and fish. That is a little bit ironic when we are trying to protect our own, but still. Do you share the concerns that third-country agreements have led to local fishing communities being disadvantaged? And because I only have one question, I will extend just a bit by saying that I assume we pay gazillions to these third world countries-as we know, we have a good track record of giving third-world countries lots of money-and I assume also that the last person who sees anything of it is the fishermen who live in those countries.

Richard Benyon: I approached in a very sceptical way the whole concept of Fisheries Partnerships Agreements. When I came into this role I was staggered to find the extent of them and the extent to which your and my constituents have been paying for them. To me, it comes down to some fairly simple points. There is nothing wrong with Fisheries Partnership Agreements, provided they exploit a surplus that that country would otherwise not be able to exploit, and provided that income from that activity goes to the people, preferably those who live in the coastal region, and it benefits them through trade, through processing, through other activities. I am afraid we have, in the EU, been party to some arrangements where your and my taxpayers’ money has paid for the licences of some fishing companies to go into waters and to fish unsustainably, to remove those fish from those waters, never ever seeing landfall in those countries, and being processed back to feed us in the affluent West.

There is some evidence that the money that goes from the EU to some countries perhaps does not find its way to the coastal states and is spent on science, governance of a fishery or processing. We all know what happens in certain countries when fisheries crash, but those are extreme cases. I think that there are some very good Fisheries Partnership Agreements-some countries have a surplus of certain stocks and an absolutely virtuous case can be made for countries such as ours to exploit such a surplus. So I think the good news is, you will be pleased to hear, that the Commission got this, and that against the teeth of some opposition they have put Fisheries Partnership Agreements in a much better place. There is much more conditionality on where the money goes, on how licences are financed and that sort of thing. I started the process thinking that we must get our own house in order and just stop this absolutely outright. I am now in the position of believing that good Fisheries Partnership Agreements should go ahead and I think that we are in a much better place than we were a year ago.

Q88 Sheryll Murray: I know that the last EUMauritania Fisheries Agreement was not honoured because they did not provide the processing and landing facilities and so forth. Can the Minister just tell me whether we have signed up to it, whether the processing plants will be in place now, and whether there will be a requirement for all the Spanish licence holders actually to land in Mauritania to benefit the economy of that country?

Chair: I am going to ask Neil to come in on this.

Neil Parish: You referred to the past. There is no doubt that in the past much of this money, especially in developing countries, has gone into-I will be quite blunt-bent dictators’ pockets and probably landed up in Switzerland or wherever. Is there any justification for having third-country agreements in the developing world when they need their resource so much more than we do? I just do not see the justification.

Richard Benyon: I think that a lot of developing countries on the west coast of Africa and elsewhere will say that they really value sensible Fisheries Partnership Agreements. I met the Fisheries Minister from Sierra Leone. He is a hero of mine: that country has come back from chaos and there are people like him who are trying to develop governance techniques. Using assets that we are providing through the military and various other things and a bit of training, he is doing his best to bring in levels of governance. We do not have Fisheries Partnership Agreements with Sierra Leone, but I just think that is an example of where we have done a lot to stabilise that country through some little help-arranging perhaps a visit to the MMO headquarters to see what realtime fisheries management through VMS data can do, and making sure that the EU is policing its vessels properly when they are caught doing illegal acts and really bearing down on any vessels that are behaving badly in these countries. I think that is really important, but I hesitate to make some sweeping statement about all Fisheries Partnership Agreements with third countries, because many of them are virtuous, many of them are good and many of them are absolutely needed by those countries as they develop their new economies.

Mrs Murray asked specifically about the new FPA with Mauritania. Yes, we believe it meets a number of our objectives in terms of sustainability and conservation and placing a greater cost burden on vessel owners rather than the EU taxpayer. There are concerns that the conservation measures imposed by Mauritania, including the extension of a closed area from 12 to 20 miles off the Mauritanian coast, and the increases in licence fees may deter EU vessels from fishing. We believe that the new agreement meets the requirements on the key principles that we placed on our requirement.

I will finish on this one very quickly by saying that I think this is a really important part of the reform agenda. We have to get our own house in order within our waters, but we really have to get our own house in order in terms of how we fish other people’s waters.

Q89 Mrs Glindon: Will the public consultation on proposed areas for designation as Marine Protected Areas highlight the impact that designation will have on fishing communities?

Richard Benyon: Yes. Under the Marine Act, Marine Conservation Zones, which we will be announcing a consultation on shortly, allow Ministers to take into account the socioeconomic impact of those designations. Under the European designations of MPAs, there is less ability to take on those sorts of considerations. It was something that the last Government rightly imposed in the Bill, with my support as the Opposition spokesman. It was a concern to a number of people, but I think it was the right concern as we develop our marine conservation policy.

Q90 Chair: Thank you. Minister, just before we release you, because I understand you have to leave, could I just ask about something you said at the end of the session during the evidence on the Draft Water Bill? In oral evidence, you suggested that Defra had taken the decision to go down the voluntary route to obtain information from landlords to help tackle bad debt, so were not minded to implement the provision under the Flood and Water Management Act, which would make it compulsory rather than voluntary. We have been doing some work and even though it has been consulted on, we have not been able to find anything in the public domain that will confirm that the voluntary approach is definitely being taken forward. It would just be helpful if you could clarify with us now, or if you could write to say, where you have expressed and what route you are proposing to take for this voluntary route. You will recall during the evidence I did suggest to you that it would be very simple to put on a water bill a box that a vulnerable customer could tick, so that the fact they were in receipt of benefits could be shared with the water company. Could you just clarify where we are with this?

Richard Benyon: I will confirm in writing in detail, but I cannot say at this stage whether just ticking a box on a water bill would satisfy the sometimes rather onerous elements of the Data Protection Act. On the voluntary approach, I can see a regulatory approach having relatively little impact on a large RSL. They would have the means within their systems to do that, but still a very large percentage of rented accommodation is provided through smaller landlords and it would be quite a big regulatory burden for them. I am not quite sure how we would write this into law, but I am happy to clarify this to you.

Chair: It is already in the legislation, Minister.

Richard Benyon: In the Flood and Water Management Act, yes.

Chair: As you will recall we did not oppose it. I know, because I was the person doing so. It would be very helpful if we could have written clarification, which will enable us to complete our reporting in that regard.

I thank you and your team most warmly for being with us. We look forward to the annual fisheries debate in Westminster Hall tomorrow-I am sure that many of us will be there. I ask the Members of the Committee to remain so that we can carry on with our normal business. Minister, thank you very much indeed for accommodating us.

[1] Defra had not been approached about the proposed questions on flooding. The Chair subsequently wrote to the Minister to confirm that no approach had been made to the Department and apologised for the breakdown in communication in the Committee office.

Prepared 17th April 2013