European Union (Amendment) Bill
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My response is that, as I understand it, it will be done by ordinary legislative procedure—that is, QMV by the Council—and co-decision.
Unilateral withdrawal from the CFP, which some have suggested, would do a number of things. First, it would leave the UK in breach of its treaty obligations. Infraction proceedings could then be commenced against the UK at the European Court of Justice and, if that Court were to find against us, we would incur a fine on a daily basis while the breach continued. Even more importantly, perhaps, withdrawal would not solve the fundamental problem of low fish stocks and the tough conservation measures required to restore them to healthy levels.
We have been in the lead—not alone, but in the lead—in pointing out that the common fisheries policy has not met its aims, but our answer is to improve the CFP, not to pull out of it. That is what we have been doing, first, by getting the instruments of the CFP improved in the 2002 review, and by working to secure better decisions since then under the improved mechanisms. The industry and others with an interest in fish stocks need to work together with scientists, government and our partners in Europe. I am delighted that the noble Duke was fair and reasonable, as he always is, about the operation of regional advisory councils, where the kind of co-operation I am talking about has begun. Those regional bodies represent a wide range of stakeholders, who provide advice to the Commission on the common fisheries policy and its implementation.
On which marine biological resources are not covered by the common fisheries policy; the policy is one tool with which to manage marine resources. There are others, which can afford protection to the marine environment, including the habitats and species directive and the marine strategy directive. The CFP does not cover issues unrelated to marine biological resources, such as oil exploration.
On discards, withdrawal from the CFP would not address the issue of discarding fish. Everyone agrees that that is a real waste of a valuable resource and no one wants to see it. Because of the mixed nature of a wide variety of UK fisheries, with large and small fish and various species of different sizes all swimming together, discarding would be an inevitable consequence of any limitation on fishing activity designed to protect particular stocks, whether under a CFP management regime or otherwise.
For that reason, we believe the focus of attention should be on working within the established mechanisms of the common fisheries policy to make fishing activity more selective, so that unwanted fish are not caught in the first place. The worst management measures that would lead to discarding would be no measures at all. The key indicator is fishing mortality, or the proportion of the stock removed by fishing—for cod in the North Sea that is, thankfully, now at its lowest since 1969.
There will be no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, and we are seeking targeted solutions. We have worked with the industry on ways to avoid North Sea cod but still allow fishermen to continue to fish stocks that are sustainable, such as North Sea haddock. We are currently operating a system that provides additional fishing days, which are otherwise restricted, to fishermen who adhere to closures to avoid spawning or young cod and are willing to change to gear that catches fewer young fish—and such gear does exist—or to introduce fishing plans that commit to significant reductions in cod discards. We are also funding a range of further work to assess the value of other options.