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Even if we had control of our own waters, we would have to have the right conservation measures to balance conservation with the survival of fisheries. We would have to do that come what may. I alluded earlier to North sea cod. Even if we had not been part of the common fisheries policy, and even if I had not been the Minister who started the trend for bringing back devolution of decision making on the North sea alongside Scottish colleagues and others, we would still have had to have made that decision for the good of our fisheries in the long term. We need the focus to be on the conservation of stocks, which is, ultimately, good for recreational fishermen and commercial fisheries.

The Minister has a very difficult task. When he goes to Brussels, he argues for the UK—it is not as though we do not have a voice, and he is there alongside colleagues from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland—and he has to do a difficult thing: he has to represent fishing communities while taking account of the science. Yes, I understand that that is difficult, but my question to the Minister is why is the decision on bass such a departure from the science? That is the fundamental question. I understand the difficulties he has when he goes to Europe, but there is such a difference between what ICES and the science clearly says—science is never perfect, but it is pretty good to go on—and what the Government have come up with. That is what we need to hear today. This issue is not between recreational anglers and commercial fisheries—or it should not be, although sometimes it seems to descend into that—but about the balance between using the science effectively in negotiations and keeping the fisheries alive.

The fundamental question in my very short contribution is this: why is there a chasm between the science and the final outcome of the December fisheries negotiations on bass? The joy of the North sea cod result was that we had to strike a balance for more than a decade and we did it. Yes, fishermen were not happy, but they are a lot happier now that the cod is recovering and that they have bigger fish to land in their vessels. We need to do the same with bass and all other species as well.

The question that I leave the Minister is this: why is there such a gap? I have experienced the difficulties of fisheries negotiations, but he must understand that there is a chasm between what the science was telling him and the outcome. Is it because there was a huge pressure from the fisheries communities and the Minister gave way? I have certainly been faced with the situation in which we almost had to close fisheries off the west of Scotland and off north-east Ireland. We managed to pull away from that, but it was difficult. There is such a chasm now that I must ask whether the Minister has just dispelled the science and let rip.

4.20 pm

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): Cheshire is not known for its coastal communities, largely because it has none. However, it does have some very keen recreational fishermen. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) who said that the policy is crazy and that it is absolutely insane to criminalise recreational anglers for removing one or two fish from the sea while allowing commercial fisheries to behave in the way that has been described. It simply does not make sense. Speaking as someone who comes from the other side of

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the European debate to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne, I can say that this is exactly the kind of insane EU policy making that discredits the whole European Union.

I was slightly surprised by the sentiments expressed by the hon. Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), as of course there is a large degree of subsidiarity involved here whereby both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament have an ability to regulate their inshore fleet, to designate their own conservation zones and to apply their own conservation criteria. If those communities do not agree with the policy, the decision making over the inshore fleet is devolved, and, effectively, changes can be made.

The answer to this is not simply to leave the EU, because the reality is that there are many treaties between EU and non-EU countries that regulate the fisheries but that are not in the common fisheries policy. Those pre-existing treaties are one reason why the CFP has historically failed over so many years. They have caused many, many problems and undermined attempts at an EU level to try to resolve things. I have, however, considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) who talked about French boats landing three times the amount of haddock as her local fleet. It is a real problem and it is inherently unfair. It just seems to me that this whole area needs to be looked at again.

The real point is that if we do not protect sea bass, we will not have any fish to fish. ICES said that, on a scientific basis, no more than 541 tonnes of sea bass should be fished in the central and south North sea, Irish sea, English channel, Bristol channel and the Celtic sea. In the past year alone, the UK has landed 1,000 tonnes. That seems wrong.

We need to consider the time that it takes for sea bass to mature. It takes from four to seven years for them to reach a size to spawn. If the UK is landing virtually double the tonnage that has been recommended on a scientific basis for the whole region, is it any wonder that we are in crisis? If there is that opportunity for recreational angling to reinvigorate coastal communities in a different way and to boost tourism and provide that extra pound that circulates in the local economy with all the benefit that that brings, surely we need to look first at line-caught sea bass, rather than allowing netting or drift fisheries. The common fisheries policy causes a great credibility gap for the EU. My recreational anglers in Eddisbury see that hypocrisy and do not like being criminalised.

4.25 pm

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I shall be brief. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Being on the Backbench Business Committee, I learned a lot about seabass reproduction, when my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) regaled us all with the reasons why we should have this debate.

I am grateful to my constituent Chris Packer who wrote to me yesterday setting out the impact in Torbay, where there are about 3,000 recreational anglers. My constituency, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), is one of the most beautiful coastal parts of the whole country and has a thriving seafood industry, as well as a commercial fishery. I have the waters of Brixham harbour in my constituency,

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and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) has the harbour itself in hers, so there is a strong interest.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) that the question whether this is a “leave” or “remain” debate is a red herring. Whatever our position in relation to the European Union, we will need to have an agreement with other nations.

Mrs Sheryll Murray rose

Kevin Foster: I apologise to my hon. Friend. Her intervention will have to be very brief, and I will not take the extra minute.

Mrs Murray: If the UK were not part of the CFP, our UK Minister could make the rules that apply to our waters.

Kevin Foster: We would still almost certainly end up having to co-operate with the countries that border the channel and the North sea to ensure that we had a coherent fisheries policy.

There should be no distinction between recreational and commercial fishing. Instead, we should focus on the science and the methods. In my constituency the rod-and- line commercial fishermen came to lobby me. They catch relatively small numbers, and do so in a way that allows them easily to check the size of the catch they are landing and return to the sea immediately any fish that do not meet the requirements, meaning that they are likely to survive. If we debate whether this is commercial or recreational, we get into the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. In theory, a recreational boat could go out and have to return, whereas a commercial rod-and-line boat could be beside it, using the same method for catching. That is bizarre.

I welcome the debate. The importance of the industry should be recognised, not just on account of those who participate directly in it, but as part of wider tourism and visitor attractions, particularly for constituencies in Devon and Cornwall, and certainly for my own. I welcome the contributions we have heard so far. There are real concerns about the system currently in place and they have been well explained during the debate. Whatever system we have, we will end up with some restrictions. Nobody here today is suggesting that we should not preserve the stocks and build them up, but we need to do that on the basis of science and evidence. There has been a slightly false division between commercial and recreational fishing, when the important issue is what we are taking out and what methods we are using to do that, based on clear science.

4.28 pm

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I speak on behalf of the small-scale coastal fishing community in my constituency, based on the River Hamble in Warsash, which has been fishing the Solent for centuries. Records from 1235 show that herring, cod, plaice, sole and bass were once in plentiful supply. The Prior of Hamble used to send 20,000 oysters to the monks at Winchester every year.

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Today the local fishermen own small inshore fishing vessels, which I recently visited. They use a rod and line, and long lines to catch bass. Their families have been fishing the Solent for generations, but life is hard for them. They do not fish for recreation, but to earn a living. However, after taking account of their running expenses and the hours they work, they do not even earn the minimum wage. Now, they face destruction as a result of the six-month ban on bass fishing, the changes to quota sizes and the increase in the minimum landing size. They are a community on the verge of total collapse.

How did we get here? The quotas at the heart of the common fisheries policy have excessively affected British fishermen. Why our Fisheries Department ever allocated 96% of all quotas, no one can understand. The small-scale under and over-10-metre vessels received only a derisory 4% of the quota.

The common fisheries policy has caused the absurdity of discards. Healthy fish are thrown back into the sea, skewing the natural relationship between man and sea. For all of time, man has harvested the riches of the ocean harmoniously and intuitively. Then, the European Commission constructed a system so bizarre that it gave rise to the problem we face today: depleting stocks of fish. Instead of enabling the natural equilibrium, we have now imposed artificial, heavy-handed management measures and quotas. These have been in place for the whole of my life, and they are now causing our fishermen to catch and throw back fish that could otherwise feed people.

Let us consider cod stock. Once it was a staple of the British diet, but it was nigh on driven to annihilation. The huge total allowable catch reductions and the savage days-at-sea restrictions were big mistakes. At worst that meant that in the North sea, one cod would be discarded for every cod retained on board. That is at odds with all we do by experience, and it is injurious to the health of our oceans.

The common fisheries policy, for that is what I am describing, is one example of how pan-European interference can change—no, distort—what was previously a perfectly healthy model. The policy has been driven by a Commission addicted to drastic measures characterised by clumsy and blundering legislation. Bass now faces the same fate as cod stock. This knee-jerk moratorium on fishing for bass will kill off the fishing community in my constituency.

Set in the local context, the ban is too stringent. The Solent already has many restrictions as a result of UK and European protection designations. In Southampton Water, we have one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with fish stock nurseries and other obstacles for fishermen to navigate. That has made it impossible for them to fish alternatives, such as mullet and sole, which might otherwise make up quotas if bass is limited.

This small-scale, sustainable industry is suffering as a result of attempts to prevent overfishing by large-scale industry trawlers further out to sea in the channel. Those in the industry are receiving no compensation for their loss of income or to buy new equipment. They have nowhere else to turn.

It is not easy to reach agreement on matters to do with the European Union—something we are all very aware of at the moment. Although I will not stray into

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wider EU issues now, I can say that the way the Warsash fishermen will vote in the EU referendum is clear for all to see.

Lastly, I do not profess to match the expertise of those of my constituents who live, breath and work in the sector, but I ask whether extra measures can be taken to protect them from being annihilated by this deal. That would avert massive unemployment. Declining fish stocks will destroy our fishing industry. That will cost us fish and fishermen. As the precious stone set in the silver sea, Britain deserves more.

4.33 pm

Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am glad to be able to say a few words in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on his entertaining and energetic opening speech. He is clearly an enthusiastic angler. I have to say that although my late father was an angler, I have never cast a rod in anger myself. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s advertising for The Art of Fishing in Wadebridge—he was egged on by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker)—will stand him in good stead with his local communities.

As many Members have said, it is unfortunate that we have got to a stage where there is a dispute between recreational and commercial fishing, because that is in nobody’s interest. We must remember that this has happened because of the scientific evidence on depletion of the stocks. The situation is not new. It goes back to 2013, when ICES advised a 36% cut and was ignored, and then, in June 2014, recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality for that year. As a result, the stock has been in decline, and now these draconian measures are being brought in.

Sea bass is an important stock for recreational and commercial interests in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) rightly said, the reformed common fisheries policy now has a regionalisation element, and the Scottish Government do have some powers in this regard. In fact, they are now putting in place conservation areas, and they have introduced the Wild Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament. We have a great many interests in angling and deeper-sea fishing. On the estuary at Montrose in my constituency, there is salmon fishing, which is also relevant. There are disputes between the commercial salmon fishers at the estuary mouth and those who angle further up the river for these important fish. We have fishing in many of our rivers—the Tay, the Spey and many others. That brings in a great deal of tourism, and thus a great deal of money to the Scottish economy. It is calculated that while fishing brings about £500 million to our economy, aquaculture overall brings in about £1.86 billion, so it is a very important aspect.

Antoinette Sandbach rose

Mike Weir: If the hon. Lady does not mind, I really want to get on.

It is important that we do not get into a dispute between the two sides. I appreciate that anglers are very angry about some things, but we must also think of the needs of the commercial fishermen—the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) made an excellent point about that. It is about balancing these needs to get to a stage where both sets of interests are represented. I am sure that we can do that, but it needs a bit less

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megaphone diplomacy between the two sides and a bit more getting together and seeing how we can co-operate to ensure that we are not destroying our inshore fishing fleets.

The issue of pulling out of the EU is perhaps a red herring—no pun intended. The Minister will still have to make these difficult decisions, whether within the confines of reform of the common fisheries policy or in the context of UK-only policy. It is no easier either way when he has to look at the scientific evidence. The EU argument should not be relied on in this.

I grew up in the town of Arbroath, which had a very good fishing industry when I was young, but it has basically gone now. There is some crustacean—lobster and crab—fishing, and there are trip boats that take anglers out to fish in the North sea, but the large-scale fishing industry has gone. It is fair to say that in the past the Scots have had their difficulties with the common fisheries policy, but we are making progress with a new regime. It has meant that Scottish fishermen have made great sacrifices, but the fishing stocks are now beginning to improve, and we do not want to throw that away. There are difficult decisions to be taken all round, but let us not fall out about it—let us get the two sides together and see what we can do so that both can enjoy their fishing.

4.39 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing the debate and putting the case of recreational sea bass anglers so strongly. He spoke with great passion about his fondness for fishing, and he showed particular enthusiasm when he got on to the subject of lugworms. Several hon. Members have highlighted the need not only to conserve sea bass stocks but to restore them to sustainable levels. Hon. Members spoke about what the hon. Gentleman described as the “madness” of the situation in which recreational anglers are treated differently from the commercial industry. Questions have been raised about the extent to which the Government have caved in to the demands of the commercial fishing lobby and the long-term consequences of failing to take tough action. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) described the policy as insane, illogical and fatuous. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), who is a keen angler, said that the ecological case has been consistently put by the recreational side, but has not been listened to by the Government under pressure from the commercial fishing lobby.

Bass stocks across Europe are in trouble, and urgent action is needed to conserve and rebuild the remaining spawning populations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made clear, she can recognise an environmental disaster when she sees one. The decline is largely the result of commercial overfishing over the last 30 years, rather than of recreational sea angling. Increased fishing effort, targeting of spawning aggregations and juvenile fish, and loss of nursery habitat in estuaries are also factors.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kerry McCarthy: No. As has been noted, it is only in fairly recent times that sea bass has been commercially fished. The 2004 “Net Benefits” report by the Cabinet

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Office recommended that fisheries departments consider making bass a recreational-only species, although that was not carried through.

In 2014, ICES recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality across the EU for 2015, having previously recommended a 36% cut for 2014, which was not implemented. Bass landings by UK vessels rose by 30% in 2014, from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes. That was yet another example of expert scientific advice being ignored, with predictable consequences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who has a great deal of experience of the matter as a former DEFRA Minister, said, it is important that we show that we can work with the science. He questioned why there was such a chasm between the science and the policy that was adopted. For 2016, ICES recommended a 90% cut, and some expect that its next advice, due in June this year, will be to recommend a complete moratorium lasting several years. That is what happens when early warnings are not heeded and action is not taken.

The Marine Conservation Society recommends a full six-month moratorium, followed by more stringent monthly catch limits and a range of avoidance and selectivity measures. As the MCS says, current measures

“have not come close to the reductions in fishing mortality needed to allow the stock to recover to levels capable of sustainable exploitation”.

The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has argued that commercial fishermen cannot easily change gear. I have sympathy for that view, but they are in this situation because sea bass stocks have dropped to such a low level. The hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) made a similar point. I entirely accept her argument, but we are at the stage that if drastic action is not taken, the fish will simply not be there for people to catch.

The UK led in Europe on introducing the 2015 package of emergency measures to protect bass stocks, but it is estimated that these have reduced catches by only 36%. The European Commission accepts that the measures did not go far enough, but its 2016 proposals were watered down by Ministers at the EU Fisheries Council, with commercial sea bass fishing being closed for only two months of the year rather than the six-month moratorium during the spawning period that was proposed by the Commission. As the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, it was a stunningly bad deal.

Other Members have questioned the accuracy of the figures and assumptions used; why gillnetting is still being allowed; and the treatment of recreational anglers, who, somewhat perversely, will have to return all bass caught from April to June, but a commercial boat could come alongside and catch and kill the same fish.

It is clear that the current watered-down proposals will not do enough to protect sea bass stocks. The approach of making somewhat ad hoc, year-on-year decisions, which take on board ICES advice to some extent, but in some cases ignore it, is not a prescription for achieving a sensible long-term policy. It risks ignoring the lessons of previous stock collapses and forcing the introduction of a complete moratorium on all forms of bass fishing.

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Does the Minister accept that the measures to date have not achieved the desired outcome, and that further action is now needed at EU level? Does he agree that over-fishing inevitably has consequences, and that the faster that depleted stocks can recover, the better? Did the UK support the Commission’s call for a six-month moratorium, or were we party to watering down the proposals in the Council of Ministers? If so, does he now think that that was the wrong thing to do? Does he agree that it is important to take national action to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported landings?

I understand that the UK has been sent an infringement letter about the poor quality of its commercial landing records. We hear reports of huge numbers of unrecorded landings, a thriving market in black fish, netting rules that are regularly flouted, and a buyers and sellers exemption that allows unlimited, unrecorded sales of 30 kg transactions from licensed vessels to consumers. I hope the Minister can tell us what he plans to do about that, as well as about what the UK can now do to secure a sustainable future for sea bass.

4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): As someone who is not the fisheries Minister and whose constituency is stuck on the top of a mountain, I feel I am being drawn from my native rivers and well out from the pelagic realms into very deep water. My main responsibility has been to listen very carefully to this highly intelligent and serious debate. I will communicate all the arguments that have been made to the fisheries Minister and I will make sure that DEFRA takes them into account, responds to them in detail and takes action.

In the seven minutes I have left, it will not be possible for me to do full justice to all the speeches and interventions. May I say, however, that it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate? One of the most striking things about it, as one can see in the Chamber, is the great strength, good humour and, indeed, good looks of anglers. I have been very struck by the sense of generally energetic, tanned men, such as the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who is looking cheerful and bouncy. I have a general sense that this sport brings out a stress-free, cheerful life, and that it is to be praised. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) also contributed to the debate in an intervention.

As someone who is new to the debate about sea bass, it is striking that it is bringing to the surface the very serious tension between EU fisheries policy and UK policy, and between the interests of anglers and the interests of commercial fishermen. Navigating our way through that is quite tough. Very strong statements were made by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who particularly stressed her family connection with commercial fishing, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), who took us all the way back to medieval abbots, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), whose speech was perhaps more suitable for mobilising a brigade for war than for a technical discussion of maximum sustainable yields.

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The hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir) made us think about the role of aquaculture in relation to sea bass. One reason why sea bass is a very striking fish is because it is, or so it seems to an outsider, the next salmon—the next great challenge we face in the debate in the United Kingdom. It is clearly an unusual fish, as people found when they developed aquaculture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It struggles to get out of the microscopic eggs, it produces juveniles that have difficulty in tracking down their prey, and it has to create its air sack by rising to the surface and filling it with an oxygen bubble. In fact, the species suffered what was essentially an extinction event in the Mediterranean. We are now talking about the north-east Atlantic, but the Mediterranean sea bass was in effect eliminated during the 1960s and 1970s. Most of its presence there now appears to be related to farmed sea bass that have escaped.

That is why the challenge that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) made to us to focus hard on the science is so important. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) focused on biomass, particularly breeding or spawning biomass, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) focused on landings. The shadow Secretary of State pointed to the issues around tonnage and black fish, particularly the landing of 1,100 tonnes in 2014.

This is a serious subject and the science is at the core of the debate. It does not matter whether we are talking to commercial fishermen or the angling community: the question is, what is the state of sea bass? Of course, sea bass has been on an extraordinary rollercoaster since the early 1980s. We went from minimal tonnage to a single spike year in the 1980s in which we hit nearly 13 million tonnes of biomass. Very warm conditions seem to have created an enormous number of sea bass. Along with changes in our eating patterns, that created the phenomenon, which did not really exist before the 1980s, of commercial fleets going into the Atlantic after sea bass to feed these new tastes. A series of cold winters from 2009 onwards appear to have led to a serious problem in new juvenile production, when combined with the large levels of catching, as the shadow Secretary of State pointed out.

The best analysis that we can currently reach on the subject comes from ICES. We believe that we are catching about 5,000 tonnes and that that is about 30% of an 18,000 tonne biomass. However, if we look at breeding biomass, the figures appear to be lower. I see the hon. Member for Ogmore is looking at a piece of paper. Does he want me to give way briefly?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for a very detailed answer, which is focused on the science. The ICES evidence points to the necessity of an 80% cutback in the year ahead and a 90% cutback after that. Those cuts are massive and stringent. Will the Minister respond to the suggestion that we will actually be looking at about 20%? Is that accurate?

Rory Stewart: I notice that since the emergency of Daesh, people have really struggled to pronounce ICES. It is causing more and more of a problem. Foreign affairs and defence appear to be entering into fishing debates.

To answer the hon. Gentleman, the 80% reduction is a reduction from a current maximum sustainable yield, which we believe to be about 13%—that is the best

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science—from the current catch rates and landings, which seem to be striking at about 30%. The question clearly is whether the measures taken in December Council will achieve those targets. I will come on to that now.

The key thing is that most of us in this Chamber agree that we need a solution—in fact, everybody in the Chamber probably agrees that we need a solution—that achieves a healthy bass stock. Again, I am very much not speaking as an expert, as this is outside my field. The measures that were taken at the Council were, broadly speaking, steps in the right direction. I think hon. Members would agree with that. The most important actions that were taken—this relates to the question from the hon. Member for Ogmore about the 80% reduction—were those that related to the pelagic fleet. In particular, the measures on drift netting—not on fixed gillnets, but on drift netting in general—were important, especially in relation to pair trawlers.

One debate in this House is about what kind of impact those measures will have. Will they reduce by 70% or even more the amount that is caught, as one would hope, or does more need to be done? I think that we would also embrace the move from 36 cm to 42 cm. The reason for that, which I do not need to point out to the House, is that we will get more spawning stock because the animals will get to a greater age.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that in 2005, the UK fisheries Minister wanted to impose that increase just on UK fishermen? Now, it will at least be imposed on anybody who goes out from any member state to fish for bass.

Rory Stewart: That is a very good point, but it is important to remember that one reason why the EU dimension matters is that these fish are very widely distributed. I have talked about the Mediterranean variety, but they exist all the way from the Mediterranean right up to the north Atlantic. About 70% of the catches—it is hard to put a figure on this, but certainly the majority of the catches—in the north Atlantic come from French boats. It is extremely important, therefore, to the UK fisheries that an agreement is reached at the European level if we are to create a sustainable biomass and a maximum sustainable yield on catching.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), in a characteristically energetic, cheerful and engaged speech, attacked the specific conclusions that were reached in relation to fixed gillnets and, in particular, the 1.3 tonne limit and the two-month closure.

Let me move to a conclusion. There seems to be a consensus in the House that there is more to do and that we must consider our next steps, several of which have emerged from the debate. First, we must all agree that the huge achievement in the Council—I am sorry that more people have not pointed this out—was to get all member states to agree on the figure for the maximum sustainable yield. That is absolutely vital. By getting them to agree on a 13% take, we have a target for 2017-18 that we can use to leverage in exactly the kind of arguments made by my hon. Friend about the tonnage catch for individual boats. We must have those conversations throughout the summer and the rest of the year, and keep relentlessly focused on that target.

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Secondly, the hon. Member for Angus made a powerful point about ensuring that, through the regional advisory council network, we have people in a room who are seriously focused on an agreed target of meeting that maximum sustainable yield—as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall pointed out, that also extends to commercial fishing. The 25-year environment plan that DEFRA is introducing will provide us with an opportunity to lead a pathfinder that will focus on a marine area. Hopefully that will allow us to explore the kind of ideas that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall focused on in relation to striped bass and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham focused on in relation to Ireland, namely the potential social and economic benefit that can come from developing a sustainable bass angling industry.

This has been an impressive debate given the level of science, detail and constituency commitments involved. In defence of the deals that are being struck, we have achieved an enormous amount in addressing the biggest problem, which was the pelagic large drift and pair trawlers, and that is a big achievement. We have also achieved an enormous amount in getting agreement at European Council on the maximum sustainable yield, and that target will be vital. We have done that in a way that has attempted to respect the interests of commercial fishermen, and also to engage anglers. If we can achieve that target by 2017-18—and it will be tough—a lot of these issues can be revisited. If we do not achieve the right path towards that target in the coming year, we will have to revisit the catch for commercial fishermen. I call on the patience and understanding of the House as we address an issue that is important not just to this country, and that is the preservation of a unique iconic species: the branzino, the spigola, the lavráki, or for us, the bass.

4.57 pm

Scott Mann: I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this exceptionally good debate. I am pleased that the 900,000 sea anglers have had their voices heard today, and that we have had the opportunity to express their concerns. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made some interesting points about ecology, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) spoke eloquently about the benefits of coming out of the EU, and how we might be able to control our own inshore fishing fleet. My hon. Friend

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the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) always speaks eloquently about her inshore fleet, and I invite the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) to partake in a charter boat catch-and-release opportunity with Bass Go Deeper, a bass fishing company that works out of Cornwall.

What has come out of this debate is that we must follow the science, because without fish in the water there will be no recreational or commercial fishing. I thank the Minister for his response and for his idea of exploring how tourism could benefit from recreational angling. I urge him to consider the views expressed by hon. Members, as well as those of the angling community, and to fight as hard as he can in future weeks, months and years for the recreational angling community.

Question put and agreed to,


That this House believes that the recent EU restrictions on recreational sea bass fishing are unfair and fail to address the real threat to the future viability of UK sea bass stocks; and calls on the Government to make representations within the Council of the EU on the reconsideration of the imposition of those restrictions.

Heidi Alexander: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During today’s oral statement on the junior doctor contract, the Secretary of State for Health said, “Along with other senior NHS leaders…Sir David has asked me to end the uncertainty for the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract”. The Health Service Journal has this afternoon contacted the 20 senior NHS leaders the Health Secretary referred to in his statement, and at least five have replied to say that they do not support his decision to impose a new contract. I am concerned that in making this claim the Health Secretary may have inadvertently misled the House. Can you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how best the Secretary of State can correct the record?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, but she will appreciate, as the House will, that it is not a point of order for the Chair. She has a point that she wishes to draw to the attention of the House, and she has used this mechanism so to do. I am quite sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what she has said and that her concerns will be conveyed to the Secretary of State. Whatever the Secretary of State says in this House is a matter for him and not a matter for the Chair.

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Poppi Worthington

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Sarah Newton.)

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Before I call the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I should inform the House that as the coroner has now decided that the inquest into the death of Poppi Worthington should be resumed, the subject of this debate may, to some extent, be sub judice. Having carefully considered the matter and the public interest in it, Mr Speaker has decided to exercise the discretion allowed to the Chair to waive the usual restrictions on references to matters sub judice. However, I urge the hon. Gentleman and other Members present to be very careful in what they say and to take due account both of the resumed inquest and of the continuing possibility of a prosecution. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind in dealing with such a very sensitive subject, as will the rest of the House.

5.2 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will heed your very appropriate warning on these matters. Indeed, the precise nature of what can and cannot, and should and should not, be disclosed is an important issue in this debate, as I will go on to discuss. I want to thank colleagues who have been right behind the push to try to salvage some justice after the death of Poppi Worthington and to press for the changes that this investigation clearly must lead to, both in the way the police operate in these matters and in social services. I am grateful to the Minister for her time today in the meeting, and it is good to be able to follow on so directly with this public debate.

Poppi Worthington died in December 2012, when she was 13 months old. We are now in February 2016, so more than three years later I am still having to come to this House for answers. Indeed, it has been only weeks since it has been possible to discuss this matter in public, because of the extensive, deeply surprising and in many ways concerning injunction that was placed upon reporting this matter. That was only partially lifted by Mr Justice Jackson’s ruling last month.

I will briefly go through some of the key facts, before moving on to the questions I hope the Minister will answer. On 11 December 2012, Poppi Worthington was put to bed by her mother a perfectly healthy child. Eight hours later, she was brought downstairs by her father lifeless and with troubling injuries, including significant bleeding from her anus. She was just 13 months old when she died. It then took until June 2013 for the full post mortem to declare the cause of death as “unascertained”.

In August 2013—eight months after Poppi’s death—Paul Worthington, her father, was brought in for questioning. That was the first time he had been questioned by police. He had twice before been questioned in relation to different child sexual abuse allegations. Critical evidence, such as Poppi’s clothes and last nappy, had been lost or never gathered by police. The media have reported that Mr Worthington’s laptop was not requested by police at the time, and by the time they eventually asked for it, the device had apparently been sold and sold again and so was unavailable to the police’s store of evidence.

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In March 2014, a fact-finding report was delivered in private in a family court. Court records dated 18 December 2014 make it clear that lawyers acting for Cumbria County Council originally applied for a 15-year ban on the disclosure even of Poppi’s name. In the judge’s words, their case for secrecy included the claim that

“disclosure of alleged shortcomings by agencies might be unfair to the agencies”.

The coroner’s inquest in Barrow town hall took just seven minutes to declare her death as “unexplained”. That is less than a quarter of the time we have for this debate.

It took legal action from a variety of media organisations to force a second inquest, after the first was declared insufficient and therefore unlawful. I pay tribute to several people in the media who have pushed for this tirelessly, particularly Clare Fallon of “BBC North West Tonight” and the North West Evening Mail, whose Justice for Poppi campaign is still gathering signatures on the Downing Street website for the full and independent investigation that I believe is necessary, given the scale and breadth of the failings.

It then took until July 2015 for the High Court to order the second inquest. In November, Mr Justice Jackson in the family court released part of his original fact-finding judgment from the March before. This revealed that Cumbria police conducted “no real investigation” into Poppi’s death for nine months, despite a senior pathologist at the time raising concerns that Poppi might have suffered a serious sexual assault. It then took until this January—just last month—for Mr Justice Jackson to give his final, very clear verdict: based on medical evidence, he believed that Poppi had suffered a penetrative sexual assault before her death. It was only after this judgment that the second coroner’s inquest could get off the ground. It had been requested in January 2015 and confirmed in July.

We heard earlier this week that the second inquest would commence in March and that we would find out the timetable soon. Worryingly, the senior coroner has indicated that it might not even be concluded this year. Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has put together a report into failings by Cumbria police that names several officers. The report was finished last March—nearly a full 12 months ago—and leaked to the BBC, but the IPCC is currently still refusing to publish it. Similarly, a serious case review by Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board is being withheld, despite the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) making it clear that the publication of neither of these reports could prejudice the coroner’s second inquest.

In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing the evidence to see if a criminal prosecution is possible. The fact that it is in doubt is surely largely the result of the astounding failures by the police in their handling of this case. The clear question to the police, which must now be taken up, is why they did not act immediately after a pathologist raised the prospect of a serious sexual assault. Why did they not keep hold of vital evidence from the scene?

Those questions demand serious action from the force itself and from the Government. That brings me to the following serious issues: the nature of and justification

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for the refusal by the IPCC to publish its completed report; and the appointment and continued tenure of acting Chief Constable Michelle Skeer.

We are told that lessons have been learnt by the force, but we cannot judge because we are not permitted even to see the IPCC report into what went wrong. We do not know exactly why these failures occurred. We do not know if those responsible have been held properly accountable. Most importantly of all, we do not know if new systems have been put in place to stop this happening again.

I have written to the IPCC to ask for the release of its report. It refused on the grounds that it could prejudice the second inquest, the disciplinary processes that have yet to be fully undergone or a future criminal investigation. My case to the Minister today is that none of those three potential justifications holds any water.

Let me deal first with the idea that the report could prejudice the second inquest. The inquest, by definition of course, looks at the cause of death. It looks at the period of time up to death occurring. The IPCC report is concerned exclusively with the police investigation into that death, so there is zero overlap between those two periods of time. One cannot logically prejudice the other. While I understand that the Minister cannot command the IPCC, as it is currently constituted, to do anything—it is an independent body for justifiable reasons—I urge her to comment on her view of the logic of that case.

Neither is it legally possible to prejudice disciplinary proceedings, which are yet to get under way. That is my clear legal understanding based on evidence I have seen provided to the BBC. I would like the Minister to confirm that. The key failure we face is whether there is the prospect of mounting any criminal investigation at all.

When I was first able to question the Minister a couple of weeks ago after Mr Speaker granted me an urgent question on this matter, I called for a separate force to be brought in, given the manifest failures of the original investigation. I wanted a separate force to be brought in to take over this investigation. The Minister and I have been able to discuss this outside the Chamber and I understand that she does not yet have the necessary information to make a judgment on that, but part of the necessary information will be the IPCC report that is currently being withheld. Every day that goes by, the evidence trail gets colder, and every day without justice for Poppi is a day in which her killer, if she was unlawfully killed, is able to walk free.

Will the Minister confirm that she wants to see the report as quickly as possible, preferably through full and open publication? If that is not possible, is she prepared to ask for a private copy like that provided to the police and crime commissioner, who has confirmed that, although he is not allowed to refer to it publicly, he is able to use it to make judgments?

It has become apparent that the police and crime commissioner, Mr Richard Rhodes, had not received the report when he endorsed the temporary promotion of Michelle Skeer from deputy chief constable to acting chief constable after Chief Constable Jerry Graham was forced to stand down temporarily on the grounds of ill health. Regulations state that the PCC should be

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given an unpublished report only if it relates to the chief constable, but he was not made aware of the contents of this report, even though he was required to endorse the temporary promotion of a woman—this is clear, because the report has been leaked to and reported on by the BBC, and it has been shown to me—whom it directly names and criticises for her actions in this case. She is now overseeing the force’s path of improvement from the case, despite the fact that she was directly implicated in it.

Is the Minister as troubled as I am by this situation, and will she agree to re-examine the regulations and procedures, to ensure that this kind of thing cannot happen again? If a report relates to someone who may be promoted to the position of chief constable, the police and crime commissioner should automatically be given sight of that important evidence.

I have come to the conclusion that it is unsustainable for Michelle Skeer to continue in the post of acting chief constable, because that is to the detriment of restoring confidence in the police force and the process of change that it now needs to carry out. She was named in the report from which the police force needs to recover, and the manner of her appointment was flawed. The Minister will probably say that that judgment is not for her, but for the PCC to make. However, if the PCC reaches that view, will the Minister at least pledge to give him her Department’s assistance in finding an alternative acting chief constable while the permanent chief constable returns to health?

These are incredibly difficult and distressing matters. No professional intentionally allows such horrific cases to go without justice. Police officers go to work to prevent and to solve crimes, and social workers go to work to protect children, but that has not happened in this case. Although this is a difficult and complex issue, the Government face a binary choice: either they must be prepared to step in and do all they can to increase transparency and to remove the logjam and the cloud of secrecy hanging over the case, or they will end up being part of a system that perpetuates that secrecy.

5.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley): I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) on securing the debate, and thank him for the points that he, along with others, has raised about this deeply sad and troubling matter today and previously. He is an excellent constituency Member, and I know how hard he works for his constituents. The fact that he is continuing to campaign on this deeply troubling matter is a credit to him, and a credit to the constituents who elected him. I also thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the advice that you gave at the beginning of the debate. I shall bear your words in mind.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Poppi Worthington are extremely distressing and disturbing. I am sure that other Members who have read the press reports and court findings have found them as profoundly upsetting and moving as I have, and I am sure that we share a determination to try and discover what happened in Poppi’s case, Any failings in the police response, or the response of any other agency involved, must be identified, and action must be taken to ensure that they are never repeated.

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However, as I made clear in my comments to the House during a debate on this matter on 20 January, I cannot comment on this case in detail. Indeed, it has become even more crucial for me to maintain that position since the announcement on Tuesday by senior coroner David Llewelyn Roberts that the inquest into Poppi’s death will reopen on 18 March. I know that Members will share my primary concern that, in discussing this case, we should not inadvertently prejudice a much-needed judicial process. The House will understand that, to that end—whatever my personal views may be on the terrible nature of Poppi’s death—I am constrained by the ongoing proceedings, and am therefore unable to make any detailed comment today. I urge others, in the Chamber and outside, to consider and take heed of that approach.

Members will be aware of the allegations of police failings in the original criminal investigation of Poppi’s death in 2012, which have been investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC looked into whether that specific investigation had been conducted thoroughly and appropriately, and whether investigative opportunities to obtain key evidence had been identified and acted on appropriately. It is, of course, the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to assess the overall functioning of the force.

The IPCC’s subsequent investigation report was given to Cumbria constabulary on 1 April last year, so that it could consider the report and determine what action to take. I should point out that HMIC will have regard to the force’s response to the IPCC report in the course of its inspections. All forces are inspected annually on their overall effectiveness, and, in addition, HMIC has a rolling national child protection inspection programme which looks specifically at each force’s child protection arrangements.

I fully understand the level of public interest in Poppi’s death, and I fully understand why there have been calls by, among others, the hon. Gentleman for the IPCC report to be published immediately. I know that the IPCC has written to the hon. Gentleman to explain its position, offering to meet him to discuss the matter further. I have met IPCC officials to discuss the matter, and I understand its position. I appreciate that we must balance the interest of the public in these matters with the wider public interest in ensuring that the integrity of ongoing and any future proceedings is not jeopardised. The IPCC has made it clear to me that it will not release the report while disciplinary proceedings are ongoing. It has also told me that the second inquest may be a jury inquest, and that it does not wish to release the report until there is certainty about whether that is the case, because otherwise there might be prejudice in regard to the inquest.

John Woodcock: The Minister and I know that that is the justification, but does she at least understand my bafflement, given the entirely different timeframes that are being discussed, as I set out?

Karen Bradley: The hon. Gentleman and I discussed that point earlier. I sympathise with his position, but that is the IPCC’s position and its guidance. I should make the point that I want to see justice done and to uncover the failings. As long as the people who are able to find that out and make those decisions have all the

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information available to them, that is my priority. I do not want anything to jeopardise that and I do not want anything that means that justice is not done. As long as the people who make those decisions and who can get to the bottom of the situation know what happened, that is the priority.

John Woodcock: I thank the Minister once again for giving way—this will be the last time I intervene. I hear what she says on that point, but if she were to see the report in private would that be useful to her in making a judgment on whether another force ought to be brought in? Surely it would be useful for her to see that information in private.

Karen Bradley: I met the IPCC this week. It does not give reports out and has to wait for the appropriate moment. There is not a process by which a Minister can see those reports. It would not be appropriate for Ministers to see reports before it is appropriate for them to be released to the public.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s point, I should explain that there is no obligation for the IPCC to provide an investigation report to the police and crime commissioner as part of any due diligence exercise on a potential promotion candidate within a force. The IPCC’s obligation to provide that report to the police and crime commissioner applies only when it relates to the alleged misconduct of a chief officer for whom the PCC has a statutory responsibility. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the PCC having full sight of all information when an appointment is made. I have asked officials to look at whether anything can be done, because it could involve somebody going to a different force—they do not have to be within the same force—and it is important that PCCs who are considering a candidate for a chief officer role have all the information pertinent to the appointment when they make the decision. The hon. Gentleman asked about advice that can be given by the Home Office to the PCCs who are looking for new recruits. I assure him that any PCC who approaches the Home Office for advice on recruiting a new chief officer will receive that advice.

I stand with those who urgently want to understand what has happened in this case, but I also want to see justice served and the truth to be established. We must be careful in our haste to see justice done that we do not inadvertently prevent it from being done. In addition to the inquest into Poppi’s death and the ongoing disciplinary proceedings at Cumbria constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing the file on Poppi’s case to decide whether to launch a criminal prosecution. To avoid prejudice in any of those cases, the IPCC intends to publish its report after the conclusion of all the proceedings I have mentioned. That may disappoint some, but we must recognise the rationale for that decision.

The IPCC has investigated allegations of police failings in relation to Poppi’s death, but the criminal investigation remains a matter for Cumbria constabulary. I know there have been calls for that investigation to be reopened and for a fresh one to commence. It is of course open to the police to review the investigation, but that is an operational decision for the force that will need to be considered in the light of what, if anything, a review could realistically achieve. It is for the chief constable of Cumbria to consider whether the investigation should

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be reopened and whether another force should take on the investigation in order to maintain public confidence. Whatever my personal convictions, it would not be appropriate for the Home Office to intervene in this situation.

I once again thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue and extend the offer of continued dialogue and meetings. We all want to get to the bottom

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of what happened and to see justice done. I acknowledge that many questions have still to be answered in this terrible case. Like other Members, I want to see the outcome of those proceedings. I look to the outcome with interest, but I want them dealt with as speedily as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

House adjourned.