I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of fisheries.
It is helpful that the debate takes place before the European Union's December Fisheries Council. It gives Members an opportunity to express views on behalf of their constituents and on the UK approach. It also allows me to highlight key issues from the past year, to look forward to future challenges, of which there are many, and to hear views on other issues of interest to fisheries and the marine environment.
The year 2009 will be important for the marine environment, not least because of the introduction of the marine Bill, as well as the consultation on the improvements that we would like to make to the common fisheries policy. Both are key to the challenge of maintaining sustainable fishing while enhancing the protection of the marine environment. A sustainable fisheries sector is essential for delivering the Government's vision of
"clean, safe, healthy, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas".
It is right, at the beginning of the debate, to acknowledge that the sector faces genuine dangers every day. Some of those dangers are brought into people's living rooms when they watch television programmes such as "Trawlermen" and "Deadliest Catch", but they only scratch the surface of the challenges that our fishermen face every day. I am sad to report that seven fishermen lost their lives this year. Our hearts go out to the families who suffered those tragic losses.
Although it has been a difficult year for the fishing industry, with high fuel prices, especially during the summer, the fishing sector has continued to make a valuable contribution to our economy. Since 2006, UK landings of cod have declined by 7 per cent., those of haddock by 16 per cent. and those of herring by 17 per cent. However, landings of mackerel have increased by 30 per cent., those of nephrops by 8 per cent. and those of crabs by 11 per cent. The total value of landings of fish from UK vessels in 2007 was £645 million—an increase of 6 per cent. on 2006. That is largely a result of a rise in the value of shellfish landed, which is up by 15 per cent. on 2006. Exports of fish and fish products had a value of £922.7 million in 2007. The industry provides employment for 12,700 fishermen, and sea angling—an important sector—makes a significant contribution to the UK economy.
As well as providing jobs in local communities, fishing supplies us with food and is part of our heritage. It is socially and culturally important, for local communities and our island nation, and it provides recreation for many anglers. Managed effectively, fishing can be sustainable. However, if we get the balance wrong, we could threaten vulnerable species and cause irreversible damage to marine ecosystems and the resources on which everyone—from fishermen and sea anglers to consumers—depends.
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. The multiplier effect on communities inland through the producer chain is significant. If I gain some inspiration during the debate, perhaps the figure will spring to mind and I can give him the accurate figure, but it is not there at the moment. However, I will try to get back to him. He is right to say that the impact goes beyond the coastal communities.
We need to continue working towards a more sustainable approach that protects our marine habitats and species and ensures—to pick up on the hon. Gentleman's point—a viable and profitable future for our fishing industry and all the sectors that depend on it.
As the Prime Minister said on
The Bill also includes proposals for modernising inshore fisheries management in England by replacing sea fisheries committees with inshore fisheries and conservation authorities—IFCAs. They will have a clear duty to ensure that exploitation of sea fisheries resources is undertaken sustainably, by taking account of the impact of fishing activity on marine ecosystems, along with other considerations. They will also be responsible for sensitive ecosystems, such as estuaries and sea bed habitats, and for enforcing designated marine conservation zones—MCZs.
I believe that management of the inshore area is best carried out by bodies with local knowledge. The IFCA model relies on local decision making to solve local problems. IFCAs will have members from local authorities and other key local stakeholder groups, as well as the marine management organisation, Natural England and the Environment Agency. They will have stronger enforcement powers than sea fisheries committees, and we are significantly increasing funding so that they can deliver their new responsibilities effectively.
My hon. Friend refers to the suggestion that local people should make local decisions. Will that include the local fishing industry, including, for instance, the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association—or NUTFA—for the 10-metre groups, and will the industry be involved in the decision about quota division within the powers that he is proposing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the local sea fisheries community and industry, such as his own in Hastings, must be part of the process. The issue of quotas is slightly different, however, and is tied up with the longer-term reform of quota management and the common fisheries policy. However, in respect of the marine Bill, a key part of local decision making on sustainable fishing in local areas is having the buy-in and the engagement of the sea fishing community. However, I will return to the issue of quota management and make some wider comments later.
In view of the Minister's plans for the management of inshore fisheries, can he reassure me and my constituents that the current geographical arrangements for sea fisheries committees will be respected? The boundaries are working well and do not need to be tampered with. Can he also reassure the House that the plans for the future management of inshore fisheries that he has described will chime in with the negotiations, which he is no doubt already engaged in, on the future of the CFP beyond 2012?
Yes on both counts. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there has already been a great deal of discussion and debate about the number and geographic spread of the new bodies and how they tie in with the existing bodies. I hear what he says. We have not reached a conclusion yet, but we are cognisant of the representations being made. We want to ensure that the way in which we localise the system means that we have the most effective structure. His comments about how that fits in with the wider reforms and the wider forward programme are absolutely right.
The proposal is not isolated, but fits into where we see the management not only of fisheries, but of sustainable fisheries and conservation, which are paramount, so the answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes on both counts. We will consult on the future number of IFCAs and their membership structure in the new year. I believe that the proposals will deliver strengthened inshore fisheries and environmental management, so that more effective action can be taken to conserve our marine ecosystems and achieve profitable and sustainable fisheries in the sector, which I know hon. Members in all parts of the House share an aspiration to deliver.
The inshore fleet is a vital part of the UK fishing industry. "Fisheries 2027" sets out a vision of sustainable access to fisheries for small-scale fishing vessels and recognises the value of the inshore fleet. The fleet faces a number of challenges. We have consulted on a package of measures that will constitute the first steps in moving the fleet on to a more sustainable footing. Our current proposals focus on targeted decommissioning to release quota back into the fleet, combined with proposals to cap effort and quota stocks at current levels.
I assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that, after listening to the consultation and the input of various hon. Members, I am prepared to take hard decisions now, to ensure that we can support the inshore fleet in becoming economically and environmentally sustainable in the long term. I am considering the responses to the consultation, including the contributions of hon. Members, and continue to meet representatives of the inshore fleet. I intend to announce my decision within the next few weeks.
I hope that the Minister realises that some fishermen who had entered into commitments to buy replacement vessels are now finding that the licence quota brokers are increasing prices, and this at a time when the Department is advising people to take only licences with a substantial track record. That is making life pretty difficult for those fishermen who have so far borrowed money with difficulty for a commitment that is now being stretched even further.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point, which has also been made to us by stakeholders in the under-10 metre fleets and others, including hon. Members. We are cognisant of the issue. However, I stress again that some of the challenges that lie ahead in putting the inshore fleet on a sustainable footing—not only for the next 12 months, but the next two, five and 10 years, and longer hence—will need not only a considered view, but a definitive view on the shape, structure and size, in order to make things work. We all share the aspiration of providing the fleets around the entire UK coast—in Wales, where I live, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland—with an assurance that what we will put forward will ensure a profitable and sustainable livelihood for them and their families and also effect our commitment to a sustainable use of the seas.
I have been a consultee to the document that the Minister has cited, as have many of my constituents. There is enormous concern that he is proposing to apply the 300 kg limit on quota species in a very short reference period. Does he not recognise that the fact that many inshore fishermen target non-quota species when there are obvious difficulties with the prosecution of quota species has created a period for which the track record is not accurate? It will be very unfair on those fishermen if the Minister proceeds with his proposal.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman makes a strong point on behalf of his constituents, which has also been put forward as part of the consultation and in more recent dialogue with the under-10 metre fleet and other stakeholders. I am aware of those concerns and others, and although he is tempting me to bring a decision forward, I stress that I will try to make note of those concerns and offer a set of proposals that will balance conflicting views on the way forward for the under-10 metre fleet.
We continue to work closely with colleagues in the devolved Administrations, including on wider quota management and enforcement issues, to ensure both that we have the best arrangements in place for all parts of the fleet in all regions of the UK and that the UK can continue to meet its obligations to Europe.
As we develop and implement our fisheries policy, we will also take more account of the needs of recreational sea anglers. Next week we will publish a summary of responses to our consultation on the draft recreational sea angling strategy for England. The strategy provides a framework and measures for the development and enhancement of sea angling. We are currently revising the strategy with key stakeholders and I will launch it early in the new year.
Let me turn to the important issue of the upcoming review of the common fisheries policy. The review offers an opportunity to deliver improvements in the management of European fisheries. I want the UK to play a key role in shaping the reform agenda. The CFP needs a stronger focus on delivering outcomes that secure both the conservation of fish stocks and long-term economic viability for fishermen and the associated industries. We need a more stable regulatory framework, with more emphasis on long-term management planning and better stakeholder involvement. We support moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, with stronger regional management. At the same time, we want to establish principles to ensure a consistent approach across the European Union. I welcome hon. Members' views on how we should seek to change the CFP.
Turning the regional advisory committees into regional management committees is the obvious outcome that would deliver that stakeholder involvement, in the context of much longer-term strategic management of the seas by those affected. What is the Minister's reading of the thinking in Europe and in the European Commission on building up regional advisory committees' strength?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. As he will know, we are among the most supportive of the role and the potential role of the RACs. I recently spoke at the meeting of the North Sea RAC. The contribution that RACs can make to the sort of reforms that we are taking forward is singularly impressive. I also know that they are aware of our support, among that of other EU nations, and of the growing strength of bodies such as the North Sea RAC, which I single out at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman says, we think that there is immense potential for them to play a major part in a regionalised strategy. We have some way to go, but we are making inroads into persuading fellow Europeans of the same approach. I welcome the support of the hon. Gentleman and others in following that trajectory.
Common fisheries policy reform is working towards achieving long-term sustainability. The European fisheries fund is a key tool that is available now to secure a sustainable and profitable future for the UK fishing industry. I am very pleased that the Commission has approved the UK operational programme and that the scheme is up and running. The EFF now provides more than £100 million for UK fisheries to improve sustainability and provide marketing and technology to help the fleet adapt. We are working closely with the industry to make best use of EFF to benefit fisheries across the whole of the UK.
Our dependency on imports of fish is growing. In the EU, we import about two thirds of all the fish we eat and up to 90 per cent. of white fish, so we have a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of global fisheries. At the forefront is the fight against illegal fishing, which is a major threat to the sustainable management of global fish stocks, to marine biodiversity and to the livelihoods and security of coastal communities, particularly in developing countries. The UK has long taken an international lead in combating illegal fishing.
With strong UK support, the EU has recently introduced new measures to address the incentives and poor governance that drive IUU—illegal, unreported and unregulated—fishing and to help prevent illegally caught fish from entering the EU market. The new rules, which come into force with UK support in 2010, will require action from both importers here and third-country exporters. We are working closely with the European Commission, other Government Departments and our own industry to ensure that the new rules are effective and enforceable.
The major event coming up is, of course, the December EU Fisheries Council, where next year's catch levels and other management controls for a wide range of commercial fish species will be decided. We will, as usual, be guided by the scientific advice, but we also need to take account of the impact on the social and economic viability of the fishing industry. We will aim for a framework that provides long-term stability in the fleet.
Some of the negotiations with Commissioner Joe Borg and others have reflected what is sometimes described by our stakeholders as a gap between the scientific evidence and what they observe. There are always at least two sides to the story—and sometimes more. We are sometimes told that we could walk across the North sea on cod, but cod stocks are still very fragile. Our arguments are based on the evidence from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, but they reflect not only the science, but what we are told by our own fishermen as well.
I caution the Minister about paying too close attention to people who think they can walk across the North sea—whether it be on cod or otherwise—as they may not provide the most reliable source of advice. I want to press the Minister on the question of science. His predecessor, to whom I would like to pay tribute, visited Shetland in the summer and acknowledged that it was unacceptable to be relying on science that is effectively two years old. That is how old the raw data are before they come before the Commission or the Council for decision. Will the Minister carry on the work that his predecessor undertook to start in finding a quick and dirty analysis of the scientific evidence so that it more accurately reflects the position as it stands today?
Yes, indeed. Because of this time lag that affects even the most accurate and comprehensive scientific data, we certainly need to find ways to work on the evidence that we know exists out there in the fisheries; we need a quick and dirty method of achieving that. Officials are engaged in that process. The UK is very advanced in its scientific evidence: England has its Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and Scottish colleagues also have a very good scientific base. As to the hon. Gentleman's point about walking across the North sea on cod, I was recently reading a fantastic history book on fisheries, in which it was said that back in the 15th century, it was possible to go into the rivers of Newfoundland, pitch an axe into the sea and it would stand upright because of the density of fish. We sometimes take that as the fishermen's tale. As I said to Mr. Goodwill, our actions will be based not only on the best scientific evidence, but also on what we are seeing.
In respect of cod discards, many MPs were fortunate enough yesterday to receive a briefing from the fishermen federations. One question raised, to which no concrete answer was given, was about the level of our cod discards. An anecdote was mentioned about a fishing trip that dumped 300 boxes of cod. Does the Minister have an idea of the tonnage of the boxes of cod discards in UK waters by UK boats over the last year?
I will try to provide an accurate answer later rather than mislead the hon. Gentleman now. I am seeking some inspiration, but I will come back to him on that. Discards is an important issue and the people most concerned about the problem are actually the fishermen themselves, who absolutely abhor the idea of having to throw dead fish back into the sea. Equally, the housewife or house husband going through the supermarket does not like the idea—they are much more aware of it nowadays—that their fisheries could be predicated on the idea of throwing dead fish back. That issue has been the thrust of our negotiations, and I believe that we making some ground.
I will take one final intervention, but then I have to make some progress, as so many Members want to speak.
I am grateful. Is the Minister aware of the concerns of the west of Scotland nephrops fleet—that it might be forced to use a Swedish grid, which it says is incompatible with the vessels and gear that it uses? It believes that the introduction of that grid, which has not been properly tested, would devastate the industry. Is the Minister aware of that, and will he consider the alternative proposal made by the west coast nephrops fleet of increasing the square mesh panels up to 160 mm?
The hon. Gentleman helpfully gives me the opportunity to provide some of the detail of progress in the negotiations. Yes, I am aware of the problem and we are discussing possible solutions with the fleet. It is a critical and difficult issue, so I do not want to raise expectations about what can be delivered, but we need to assure the fishing fleet that we will work with it and look into the available alternatives in order to find an answer. As I say, this is one of the most difficult areas of the negotiations, and let me try to explain why briefly.
I have talked about our relationships with the devolved Administrations, who are key to our progress in the negotiations. I am currently working with my Fisheries Minister colleagues to ensure we maximise the UK's influence on these key negotiations and speak with one voice. We have already identified and agreed priorities with all the relevant stakeholders and I discussed them with Commissioner Borg earlier this week before the negotiations began. He was left in no doubt about the importance of the issues, including the one raised by the hon. Gentleman a few moments ago, to the UK and he knows that we are looking for changes to the Commission's proposals to reflect our views.
I would like to congratulate the Commissioner and the presidency on the very successful conclusion to the first stage of the negotiations at the November Council yesterday—although we have more to do. The issues include North sea cod and whiting; cod recovery; nephrops and west of Scotland white fish—the main headline priorities—and we have already made some progress on all of them. For example, at yesterday's Fisheries Council, we reached agreement on a revised cod recovery plan.
I recognise that the cod recovery plan is a big and significant ask for the UK industry, but it should significantly improve the prospects for the long-term sustainability of cod stocks and the likelihood of substantially increased future fishing opportunities. This also gives us a good basis for seeking a more realistic allowance for catching North sea cod for next year. That will be decided as part of the European Union negotiations with Norway next week.
What we all want to see—what I want to see—is more cod landed and sold, and fewer caught and thrown away: more landed, fewer killed. We are committed to taking more action to tackle wasteful discards, because no one, least of all our fishermen, wants to see widespread discard in a fish species. We are devoting significant resources, including the expertise of scientists and gear technologists, to help fishermen to deal with the problem.
The Minister is approaching the nub of the matter. One of the original Commission proposals was for what was effectively a trade-off between reduced effort and increased landings. Such action is generally considered counter-productive, and would not survive a cost-benefit analysis. What progress did he make on that specific issue yesterday?
What we hope we achieved in yesterday's negotiations, and will develop during the December Council, is the provision of incentives for fishermen to employ intelligent methods of cod avoidance that will be rewarded by additional days at sea. That constitutes significant progress on the part of the Commission, and is an improvement on the relatively crude measures involving simply a reduction of effort, or days at sea. As soon as we emerged from the negotiations, I spoke to fishermen's representatives from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They realise that this is a big ask, but, although it requires a fundamental change in their style of fishing, it will deliver rewards to those who use proper cod avoidance measures.
Would not one of those crude methods be any method that damaged or reduced the west coast Scottish langoustine and prawn TAC? Why should we introduce cod recovery or cod protection schemes when it is clear that other methods could be used which, while not damaging that important fishery, would also do something to help stocks of cod and associated species?
I should be happy to discuss that and, perhaps, other ideas with the hon. Gentleman after the debate. There is certainly more to be done, and we need to explore all the possible options.
I shall continue for a moment, if I may.
The west of Scotland white fish position is particularly difficult. We need to be realistic about it, and tell the truth about it to our fishing fleets. There are poorer scientific predictions for cod, haddock and whiting this year. However, we do not believe that blunt cuts in the respective TACs are the answer. We will be arguing for more appropriate management measures, along the lines of those that we are suggesting in the North sea under the cod recovery plan. They would include closures where and when needed, and the use of more selective gear. They will be developed with the industry, whose buy-in will be essential to the success of any initiative. I plan to visit the area next week—I know that Ministers in the Scottish Executive are doing the same—to meet the fishermen concerned and explore the potential for such solutions at first hand.
Nephrops, which was mentioned earlier, is a very valuable stock for the UK and for the fishermen who rely on it. It provides an important outlet for fishermen to reduce fishing pressure on cod and other vulnerable species. In some areas, such as the Irish sea—the Irish delegation was with us throughout the negotiations—it is a mainstay for the local industry. We will therefore resist unreasonable cuts in the TAC. We are considering other potential priorities in the light of the Commission's recently released proposals, and I should welcome views on what those should be.
The Minister is being extremely generous in giving way to Members in all parts of the House.
On the east coast of Scotland, off Berwickshire in my constituency, there is great concern about the proposals relating to nephrops. A particularly bad year of untypical weather has imposed huge additional costs on the fleet in the form of higher fuel bills, and the proposed cut bears no relation to what it believes to be the sustainability of the nephrops stock. Will the Minister assure us that he will not accept the current proposals? Given that the approach to the science is under review, should we not in the meantime maintain our present quota and effort arrangements?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the east coast fishermen whom he represents that we will continue to resist proposals that would have a significant impact on them. We have to work with the science, and we acknowledge what has been said about the time lag in relation to it and to observation of what is actually going on. I do not want to deploy all my cards now. However, I hope that the success we have achieved in the current round of negotiations, and the willingness of Commissioner Joe Borg and his officials to listen to well-argued views on the way forward for various areas of our waters, will continue to be reflected in the ongoing discussions, and I have no reason to doubt that they will be.
I am grateful to the Minister. A good many constituency interests are represented here today, and he is being most generous. As the subject of the east coast of Scotland has been raised, may I draw to his attention—perhaps unnecessarily—the village-based fishing industry in Pittenweem in my constituency, which is based substantially on nephrops? Will he take account of not only the effect of some reduction in what is available to be caught, but the effect of displacement of effort if other fisheries elsewhere are curtailed? There is real anxiety among those who fish in Pittenweem that they may find themselves subject to—if the Minister will forgive the inelegance of the phrase—something of a double whammy.
I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said on behalf of his constituents, and will factor it into my deliberations.
I must make progress, or I shall annoy you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Ultimately, in my view, the UK Government's role is to be at the forefront of the agenda on the marine environment and sustainable fisheries. I am pleased to be leading the delegation in December. I recognise that the decisions that we make then will directly affect the livelihoods of fishermen and fishing communities, as well as the marine environment. I do not underestimate the challenge of the negotiations, but I want to work with all concerned for a package that is fair to the UK, safeguards fish stocks, maintains a sustainable fishing industry and protects the marine environment, not just for the next year but in the long term.
I pay tribute to all who have lost their lives in the fishing industry over the past year. We should never take the seafood and fish on our plates for granted, and we should not forget the dangers that our brave fishermen face every day in the seas and oceans to bring us that vital food source.
I welcome the new Minister to his post and to his first annual fisheries debate. He is the third Minister I have faced across the Dispatch Box in the past three years. We have a new Minister in a reformed Department, with some of its climate change responsibilities removed, so now is the right time for some much needed and long-overdue fresh thinking and decisive action on behalf of fisheries.
The Minister has just returned from negotiations in Brussels. I recognise that the parliamentary time available for this important debate is limited, but it would have been helpful to Members to have had a little more time in which to digest the decisions that have been made in the past couple of days and to consider the decisions that will be made next week in the second round of the EU-Norway negotiations.
The revisions of the cod recovery plan that were decided yesterday are an encouraging step in the right direction. Shifting the focus away from Brussels and towards local solutions to reduce cod mortality by 25 per cent. is good for the industry and the environment. We have seen in Scotland the progress that can be made by taking a more flexible approach that rewards fishermen. I urge the Minister, when he returns to Brussels in four weeks' time, to set the 2009 quotas for our fishing fleet and to press for more flexibility in the common fisheries policy and for quota levels and days at sea that reflect that.
We have to ask the Minister what side of the argument he will favour. Does he accept the scientific advice presented by ICES—the very same advice that has called for zero catches of cod west of Scotland and in the North sea and has labelled the cod recovery plan as
"not consistent with the precautionary approach"?
Or does he agree with the fishermen who, in relation to some stocks, have disagreed not only with ICES, but with the recommendations made by the Commission? Does he agree with the case advanced by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation that the Commission's proposals for langoustine nephrops could jeopardise catches worth £65 million to the industry and that new proposals are needed? Or will he accept the Commission's recommendations?
There are so many conflicts between the Commission's proposals, the views of the scientists it relies upon and the experiences and views of our fishermen on the stocks that they see. These will remain unresolved until some progress is made on understanding what is in our seas. The Commission is calling for a 25 per cent. cut to cod quota, but over the past three years, vast quantities of cod have been discarded. According to the Government's own figures, between 2005 and 2007 almost 5 million cod were discarded by English and Welsh vessels in the North sea and a further 10 million from Scottish vessels. Annual discard rates have ranged from 40.6 per cent. to 83.6 per cent.—that is over four times more fish thrown back dead than landed. I will comment more on discards later if I may, but it is difficult for the Commission and the Government to tell our fishermen to take further cuts in quota while, at the same time, the crazy rules that they have laid down are forcing fishermen to discard thousands of tonnes of fish each year.
As I said, the revised cod recovery plan is encouraging. Strong accurate and reliable scientific advice that is trusted by the fishing industry is needed now more than ever before.
I hope that I have chosen an opportune time to intervene. In this culture of waste in which cod and other fish are thrown away, does my hon. Friend feel that many of the skills in the fishing industry on land in terms of quality control can be easily lost? I represent an urban seat where local purveyors of fish and chips are saying that they are concerned about the quality of fish that is arriving. McDermott's, an important provider of fish and chips in my constituency, finds that the loss of quality-control skills may be linked to the culture of waste within the system.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the depth of feeling about the tragedy of discarding. No matter where one lives in the UK, one is never more than 70 miles from the sea. We all want to see a sustainable future not just for our fish stocks, but for our fishermen and for the people who work in related industries, be they fishmongers or fish and chip shop owners. Everybody needs that sustainable future. I do not believe for a second that we will be able to deliver a sustainable future if we throw vast quantities of valuable fish back into the sea. That is why I urge the Minister to think carefully about the quality of the science, because it cannot be right to disagree with the fishermen and with the scientists. Being somewhere in the middle can never be correct. That was the answer the Minister gave when he was asked about dealing with the ICES recommendations.
We can be quite categoric that although we are always led by the science, as has been observed by hon. Members, there are time lag issues with science and real-time observations. In fact, we have some innovative ways of analysing in real time what is coming into the nets. We will be led by that and we have some expert advice in DEFRA, the Scottish Executive and elsewhere. That is the point we will argue. We must act in the best interests of a sustainable marine environment, but take into account the livelihoods of the fishermen as well.
I am glad that the Minister intervened at that point because that was not what I understood him to say earlier, which was that he was going to accept that there were limitations on the science and that he was going to take into consideration the needs of the entire fishing community. There must not be incompatibility and that is the problem we face at the moment. This is the only area where I believe DEFRA ignores the principle that everything should be based on science.
May I caution the hon. Gentleman against setting up some false conflict between the fishing industry and the scientists, because I do not think that the fishing industry would thank him for that? Does he accept that the problem with fisheries science is not that it is necessarily wrong, but that it is very often old because it is based on data that are two years out of date by the time it is put into use? Rather than setting fishermen against scientists, is not the real challenge to establish the better involvement of fishermen in the scientific process and to get an earlier analysis of the raw data?
The hon. Gentleman is right but it does not really matter if the data are old and therefore incorrect. It is the recommendations that come from the data that affect our constituents and the fishermen. If the data that the recommendations are based on are out of date or incorrect, we need to improve the scientific delivery of that recommendation that leads to the quota suggestion made by the Commission. We have to get the science up to date so that there is no dispute.
I do not agree that the fishermen think that ICES is doing a great job. They do not. There are genuine concerns about the quality of the data that come through to the European Commission, on which the Commission bases its total allowable catch recommendations. That needs to be tightened up.
We have seen cuts to the Government's budget on fisheries research. During the fisheries debate last year, I questioned the then Fisheries Minister, Jonathan Shaw, about the plans to reduce the budget for CEFAS. At that time, the Government had appeared to confirm that CEFAS would receive £30.9 million for 2008-09, falling to £28.8 million by 2012-13—a cut of £2.1 million or almost 7 per cent. When we presented these figures, the then Minister rose to intervene and proudly defended the Government's cuts, explaining that the Government thought it
"essential that science has long-term stability" and that they had
"agreed 10 years of funding for CEFAS".
He added that his Department had worked hard with
"our scientists at CEFAS to ensure that there is long-term sustainability for all the important work that they will undertake—rather than things being decided year by year".—[ Hansard, 6 December 2007; Vol. 468, c. 1037.]
That is all well and good, but just three months later, in a written answer, the then Minister confirmed that CEFAS faced further cuts, with its budget for 2008-09 being slashed by a further £1.2 million to £29.7 million. He went on to say that subsequent years were still "subject to approval." Perhaps the new Minister would like to intervene to let us know if there has been a further change in CEFAS funding. The truth is that, within just three months, not only was CEFAS's budget slashed, but the Government's promises for providing long-term sustainability for fisheries science were left in tatters.
Accurate science and understanding of our fish stocks are lacking and nowhere is this more evident than the assessment of the 47 finfish stocks of most interest to the UK.
It is of course very important that there is certainty in funding for the future. Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that, should a Conservative Government come to power and make the cuts being promised at the moment, the fisheries budget will be protected?
There will be no spending commitments from me at any time; I have my Whip listening. However, the hon. Gentleman's point is critical. I hope that one of our top priorities will be to defend the scientific nature of fisheries research. Until we can do that, it will be extremely difficult for any Minister of any party to go to Europe and argue with certainty that the scientists are right. We have to put the work in and make sure that they are funded properly. I cannot say more than that because obviously I do not know what sort of budget we will inherit, but I agree that we need to think seriously about it, as a Conservative Government are very likely to take office—I certainly hope so, anyway.
The hon. Gentleman expresses his hopes and aspirations for what might be a priority within a Conservative Government, when or however that might come about. He is right that the 2008-09 budget for CEFAS has been reduced from £30.92 million to £29.72 million, but I caution him against overstressing what he describes as a slash in the budget. We have managed the budget with CEFAS, which has continued its expertise in science with the security of a 10-year commitment, which I am sure a future Conservative Government at any time would honour.
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong about that commitment, because I have a copy of the written answer saying that subsequent years are still subject to approval. I hope that he is right, however. I think that Members across the House agree that the science is worth having and protecting, and we will need to make sure it is funded properly. When, as I hope, the Conservatives win the next general election, we will start to make sure that the cupboard is no longer as bare as I suspect it will be at that time. I will save my criticisms of that until Monday, however, when we will have the chance to talk about the pre-Budget report.
Returning to the importance of CEFAS, in 2006 we were informed by Ministers that there were 16 finfish stocks for which no assessment of safe biological limits had been made. By last year, the number had increased to 18. It is difficult for Ministers and the EU to make policies affecting fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on these fish stocks, when the science is so uncertain. The same assessments have also concluded that between 2006 and 2007, the number of stocks outside the safe biological limits increased from 13 to 14 and that the number of stocks within safe biological limits has fallen by one third, from 12 in 2006 to nine in 2007 and eight in 2008. Those are worrying figures. The Government must work with their European counterparts, scientists and fishermen to ensure that we have a more comprehensive understanding of the state of our stocks.
On ICES and the production of scientific advice, we know that there is a time lag between the data used by the scientists being collected and the current state of the stocks that the fishermen see, but there are other question marks over the methodology used. An ongoing priority for the Minister must therefore be to improve the scientific understanding we have of the state of our fish stocks.
One of the most important factors that distort our understanding of fish stocks is discards and the horrendous levels of discarding that plague our seas. Millions of tonnes of healthy fish—much of it edible and the remainder suitable for fishmeal—are being thrown back into the sea dead. Fish that could have ended up on a plate, contributing to achieving the recommendation to eat two fish portions a week, are of no economic or environmental value when discarded; and, if not caught by commercial fishermen, that fish could have helped to repopulate stocks or have been caught by recreational sea anglers. The effects of discarding and high-grading severely restrict our knowledge of the state of fish stocks, catch compositions, the presence of spawning grounds and the numbers of juvenile fish. The EU estimates that in the North sea, 40 to 60 per cent. of all fish caught by trawlers is discarded.
The UK Government have estimated discards of a number of stocks, and the figures are shocking. The discard rate for North sea plaice last year was 74.7 per cent.—more than 1.1 million fish. For haddock, the figures were 72.9 per cent. discarded from Scottish-registered vessels and 38 per cent. from English and Welsh vessels—more than 50 million fish. For west of Scotland cod, the discard rate from Scottish-registered vessels was 89.8 per cent.—up from 62.3 per cent. from 2005, just a couple of years earlier.
In mixed fisheries, such as those surrounding our shores, however targeted the technology, there will always be an element of unwanted by-catch, but present levels of waste are utterly insane. A clear and concerted effort is needed from the Government, the European Commission, scientists and the fishing industry to work together to rid our seas of this terrible waste. If discarding is tackled, we may be in a position to catch less fish but to land more, which would be beneficial to the environment and fishermen alike.
The revisions to the cod recovery plan are a positive step to reduce cod discarding, but more needs to be done. Unfortunately, the Government have very little policy or strategy to rid our seas of discard. The Government's approach has been merely to have the aspiration to "minimise" discarding within the next 20 years. That was revealed in the summary of responses to the consultation on the marine "Fisheries 2027" vision document and requests that action be taken to end discarding. The view of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is clear:
"The draft vision aims to minimise, rather than eliminate, discards."
That lack of political will from the Government is astonishing when we consider the repulsion everyone feels for that immoral practice.
Last year, the EU made a welcome commitment to reduce unwanted by-catches and end discarding on a fishery-by-fishery basis. By tackling discards, our fishing industry would be able to land more fish than it does at present, while at the same time catching less fish and ensuring that stocks are flourishing in a sustainable manner.
Absolutely. The eliminator net has recently been rechristened the Ruhl net after the fisherman who invented it. However, constructive incentives and encouragement are needed to enable fishermen to change their gear. At present, that does not happen. Fishermen must have incentives to upgrade to fishing gears that are more sustainable and catch target species more effectively. Scientists and decision makers must have the knowledge and understanding to set realistic quotas, and catch composition and by-catch limits that are representative of the state of stocks in our seas.
With fuel prices peaking as high as they did earlier this year, it is essential that our fishermen are able to make the most of the time they spend at sea. On these matters, where the Government lack vision and ambition, it is the Conservative party that has the commitment and determination to end discarding and to support our fishermen and the marine environment.
Fishermen in the 10-metre and under fleet feel the full effects of discarding and would welcome any opportunity to land more of their catch. In the past two years, they have been hit particularly hard by the Government's dithering and incompetent mismanagement of our fisheries. Having been allocated just 2 to 3 per cent. of the UK's annual quota— [Interruption.] I see the Minister laughing at that, but that is the way it has been, and I sincerely hope he will change it; he has all our hopes resting on his shoulders. Having been allocated just 2 to 3 per cent. of the UK's annual quota for around three-quarters of all vessels, they have had to live day by day, leasing quota and depending on the Government's quota swaps and donations from producer organisations. For almost two years, they have suffered from being allocated an insufficient amount of quota for their needs.
Instead of developing and growing the inshore sector, as the "Net benefits" report recommended almost five years ago, the Government have left thousands of fishermen and their families facing an uncertain future. The "Fisheries 2027" document describes the situation in 2027:
"Access to fisheries continues to be available to small-scale fishing vessels, even if in some cases that is not the most economically efficient way of harvesting the resource."
However, unless the Government take action now—they have had two years to think about what to do—there may not be many small fishing vessels left in 2027.
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the important subject of the under-10 metre fleet, which I shall return to in my closing remarks. Is he proposing that we take a significant chunk of quota from the offshore fleet and give it to the under-10 metre fleet, and has he discussed that proposal with the over-10 metre fleet?
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until the end of my speech to get the full answer to that, but let me tell him this— [Interruption.] I am coming to it. There are opportunities to reallocate quota that do not necessarily cost the Government, such as The Hague convention quota, which last year we saw allocated to the over-10 metre fleet. If I were part of the under-10 metre fleet, I would want any quota addition.
We must not forget that the under-10 metre fleet has found itself with this shortage of quota because of changes brought in by this Government. It is not right to throw the under-10 metres fleet to one side simply because it is a difficult challenge. If we are going to reallocate quota, we must recognise that quota is property and therefore any reallocation must— [Interruption.] I am answering the Minister's question; I do not need him to help me. If we are going to deal with this problem, we must make sure we recognise the value of quota to the people who own it, but we must also recognise that a lot of quota is not used. More can be done, therefore, and every time we ask about what more the Government can do on alternative quota allocation, the first thing they say is, "We're doing a lot already." It is not working.
I recommend that the Minister speaks to the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association— [Interruption.] Good; I am glad that he has spoken to it, because it has a lot of ideas that would help him. It is not right at this stage to say to anyone owning any property that a Government will take it away, but it is right that the Government look at what can be done to make sure that the under-10 metre fleet get a fairer chance. For instance, we would like the discard pilot policies to be applied to the under-10 metre fleet. This would allow it to land more of the catch, and potentially go over quota, but with EU permission. That would make it wealthier, because it would be able to get more money for what it caught and it would mean there was less discarding.
The hon. Gentleman has put on the table one interesting proposal—the exercise of The Hague preference. It is used to examine the economically vulnerable activities of some of our communities, including the under-10 metre fleet, but it may also be applicable to other parts of our fisheries that are under pressure. He is representing the views of that fleet, and I have recently met both that fleet and Members of Parliament who advocate its views. One of their key arguments is that it is disadvantaged because it has lost out historically to the over-10 metre fleet, and it wants that to be redressed by quota being pulled back from the over-10 metre fleet. Will he make it clear whether he sees pulling quota away from that fleet and giving it to the under-10 metre fleet as an option? I would be interested to hear his answer.
Unless there is an increase in quota, the distribution of quota must be a financially agreed decision. One of the problems that the under-10 metre fleet faces is that it simply cannot afford to buy or rent the quota that it needs. I do not see how that can be solved with a magic wand, so the Minister will need to negotiate on it. This depends on the price of fuel and the price of fish, and on what quota is available, but plenty of under-10 metre fleet fishermen feel aggrieved when what they call "slipper skippers" sit at home renting out their quota while they are throwing perfectly valuable and commercially useful fish back into the sea. My plea to the Minister is to take this matter seriously. I am delighted that he has already met the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association and that he continues to work on the issue, because it will not go away and it is extremely important.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that quota is property in the ownership of the over-10 metre fleet. I understand from my constituents that it was always given to them. It may have acquired a value since, rather like carbon credits have, but is not the answer that this belongs to the nation? Thus, there is no reason why we should not take the nation's property and distribute it in the fairest and most reasonable way possible. Why does he insist that it is property and, therefore, should not be subject to appropriation?
That is not a particularly difficult question. When people live off a set of rules, which a quota essentially is, if one takes away their ability to earn a living, one should compensate them. There is a question as to whether or not that is feasible, and the Minister must deliver on that challenge. That partly relates to what we are allowed to do with the money within the fishing industry. The challenge is a difficult one for him, which is why I am pressing him to do what he can for the under-10 metre fleet. Obviously, as things change, we hope that the opportunity to do more for the under-10 metre fleet will increase. A lot could be done, and I have touched on one or two suggestions. This is by no means an easy thing to solve, but it is important, because the arrangements are disproportionately skewed against the smaller fishermen, who are largely constrained by the weather rather than by the size of their vessels' engines or the type of fishing that they do.
There is an important lesson to be learned from Scotland. The Scottish Executive tried to change the rules on quota, but, overnight, they took away from fishermen the value that they could borrow against to run their fleet. It is very important that no damage is done to the industry by undermining the value of quota.
That is absolutely right. We must never forget that quota is property, and that this is about livelihoods—I hope that I have been clear enough about that.
The struggle facing the under-10 metre fleet first arose on the watch of the then Minister, Mr. Bradshaw, who promised action and a set of proposals by this time last year. Those were supposed to be part of the Government's quota management change programme—QMCP—which has since been abandoned after the Scottish Executive pulled out. Nothing of substance was forthcoming. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, when he was Minister, went further, producing a paper of proposals early last year and a consultation document late in the summer. The consultation closed last month, but we still await a timetable from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on when any implementation of the proposals will take place. DEFRA's marine programme for 2008-09 mentions the consultation on the short-term package for the under-10 metre fleet, but gives no indication of when the measures are to be implemented.
As well as a timetable for delivering the changes, we would welcome seeing more details of the Government's proposals for supporting the 10 metre and under fleet. We know that they are planning to spend £5 million on decommissioning, but we do not know what the level of interest is from the larger vessels that take up a substantial amount of the pool allocation. It is also unclear what will happen if the scheme is over-subscribed or under-subscribed. Although DEFRA has indicated that from
Moreover, this is a problem for which the Government are responsible, as they underestimated the quota allocations for the 10 metre and under fleet in the first place. As well as making progress in the coming months on their short-term measures supporting the under-10 metre fleet, the Government need to make their proposals clear for the long-term reform of quota management. We were supposed to have proposals from the Government under the QMCP set out last year. The plan to
"publish a public consultation document in 2007 and implement changes from 2008 onwards" is still advertised on DEFRA's website, but no proposals have been forthcoming and no changes have taken place.
In fact, it was not until the Minister answered a written parliamentary question that I tabled last month that it became clear that the QMCP had now been scrapped due to the withdrawal of the Scottish Executive. Why did it take the Government so long to wave the white flag and concede defeat? Now, in the aftermath, more than one year since the Government kicked this issue into the long grass and tried to forget it, new proposals appear to be resurfacing. Hidden within DEFRA's marine programme plan for 2008-09, commitments are given to establish a quota reform task group in this financial year, with a decision being made about the direction of long-term quota reform next year. Given that much of the work on quota reform was apparently completed by last year and that, when he was the Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford claimed that the Government were ready to consult on proposals last autumn, they need to explain why we will need to wait yet another year to see their plans for the future of quota management.
Also buried within DEFRA's marine management programme is the Government's plan to hold this year a
"consultation on the principles of quota separation".
Just last year the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford proclaimed that in respect of Scotland or England he had
"seen no evidence that separate arrangements would be of benefit to the fishing industry".—[ Hansard, 21 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 865W.]
He also stated that there were
"no current plans to discuss quota management with Ministers in the devolved administrations."—[ Hansard, 6 February 2008; Vol. 471, c. 1284W.]
These unclear messages on the future of quota reform are not helpful to the fishing industry. I hope that the new Minister, either in his summing up today or in writing, will provide an explanation for the sudden change in Government policy and give us all some clarity about the future of quota reform.
Decisions about the future management of this country's quota must be made on the basis of doing what is best for our fishermen, not on the basis of what is politically expedient or the Government in Whitehall capitulating to pressures from the Scottish Executive. DEFRA and the fisheries administrations in the devolved Administrations need to work closely together and not oppose each other using fisheries as a political football, with our fishermen and the marine environment sidelined.
Perhaps it is fair to say that I do not have the same track record with the Scottish Government as the Labour party, so I hope that, given Richard Lochhead's experience, it would be possible for us to work extremely closely and constructively together. However, everything that I have ever read, particularly in Fishing News, suggests that he is the driving force behind all quota negotiations—I suspect that that is an exaggeration. I hope that that answer helps the hon. Gentleman.
Now, more than before, the fishing industry needs long-term stability to help it through these tough times. Not only will the fishing industry have to face the continuing effects of the economic downturn and credit crunch, but, as we saw earlier this year, it is very vulnerable to sudden steep rises in fuel prices. Between 2007 and 2008, the price of diesel fuel doubled from 31p a litre to a peak of around 60p a litre, forcing many vessels to stop fishing, jeopardising the medium-term viability of a quarter of the fleet and raising the possibility, as stated by Seafish, of substantial increases of between 7 and 50 per cent. in the retail price of fish. Although fuel prices have reduced since then, relieving some of the pressure on our fishing industry, we need to ensure that the fleet is better prepared in the event of future increases, especially in view of the fact that fishermen from other member states were receiving direct help with their fuel costs through the de minimis aid payment, putting our industry at a competitive disadvantage.
These remain turbulent times, and we need to ensure that our fishing fleet can adapt to use more fuel-efficient engines and make the most out of every journey. It was therefore deeply concerning that the fishing industry in the UK had to wait longer than others in Europe for DEFRA to submit its European fisheries fund operational programme to the Commission for approval. We are indeed very fortunate that it appears unlikely that the UK will face any penalties for its late submission, but our industry has suffered as it is only since September that it has been able to apply for EFF money. Vital funds to help improve the sustainability of the fleet have been delayed due to Government incompetence.
I recognise that during the summer changes were made at a European level to the EFF with the intention of offering more support to fishing vessels in view of the crisis brought on by the fuel costs. However, that is no excuse for the delays that the industry has had to endure. Furthermore, the Government have yet to reveal to us their plans for the fleet adaptation scheme to which they signed up in return for the changes to the EFF.
We heard from the former Minister, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, that member states would need to submit a fleet adaptation scheme to the Commission and reduce capacity by 30 per cent., but the British fleet has already had substantial reductions since 1997. A third of fishermen have lost their jobs, the number of fishing vessels has fallen by around 20 per cent. and the industry, particularly in Scotland, faces severe reductions as part of the last set of CFP reforms. Given that the NFFO has already expressed concerns about the viability of the fleet adaptation schemes and the funds available, it is essential that the Government give a guarantee to the fishing industry that any plans developed will be well thought out and commenced in collaboration and co-operation with the industry.
In addition to the commercial fishing sector, we must never forget the contribution made by recreational sea anglers. Figures from 2004 show that there are at least 1.1 million recreational sea anglers, contributing £538 million from 12.7 million anglers' days, supporting 19,000 jobs. Some 4 million people in total are involved in all forms of angling.
Last year, the Government announced their draft recreational sea angling strategy and put it out to consultation, which concluded at the end of March. Although the Minister has confirmed in a written answer that DEFRA may publish a revised strategy by the end of the year, we have not been given any indication of the measures that the Government plan to introduce or the time scales involved. Those who are involved with angling have little reason to trust the Government as they have already been badly let down by Ministers. The sea angling lobby should not forget the way in which Labour has treated its members. They were promised an increase in the minimum landing size for bass. Then the Government committed a last minute U-turn and scrapped those proposals. "Net benefits" contained a promise that efforts would be made to see whether bass could be designated for wholly recreational use. In Labour's angling charter, it was promised that bass would be
"designated and managed primarily as a recreational species" to
"return best value for the UK".
Now the Government appear to be dithering again about taking action to support the nation's sea anglers and bass fisheries. Promises have been made to review the measures that can be taken to support bass fisheries, such as the introduction of bass nursery areas and netting restrictions, but sea anglers are being left to wait for action. The current Minister has stated that research is being undertaken and a report is due to be published in 2011 on whether there should be restricted catch areas to benefit anglers in certain coastal and inshore sites, and measures to improve bass survival. That report is three years away. How much longer after that will sea anglers have to wait for a comprehensive package of measures to support bass fisheries and sea angling?
"the publication of the Bass Management Plan" and had
"agreed to a programme of implementation."
Those commitments, along with its angling charter, are now left in tatters.
The impression being given to sea anglers is that when Ministers are not ignoring them, they are breaking promises and paying them little more than lip service. Sea anglers have a vital role to play in managing our marine resources in a sustainable manner. I hope that the Minister will join me in paying tribute to those involved in promoting sea angling and merging together with other angling groups to form the Angling Trust. I also hope that he will be listening very closely to the Angling Trust. His predecessor ignored the views of anglers when he authorised a one-third increase in the rod licence fees for disabled and elderly anglers—hitting some of the most vulnerable in our society hardest. Now, with the marine Bill coming forward and the reform of the sea fisheries committees, their contributions will matter and must be valued.
The hon. Gentleman obviously missed the comments on the sea angling strategy that I made in my opening remarks. His comments are so shot full of inconsistencies that I hesitate to pick just one. However, given his protestations on behalf of the under-10 metre fleet, does he recognise that bass is also important to it, and that there might be some difference between its representations and those of the sea angling fraternity?
The Minister has to decide which side he is on —[ Interruption. ] No, the promises were made in Labour's charter for angling: they were not made by me. They have been broken by the Minister's party and by his predecessors. It is a nice try. Of course bass is an important species for the under-10 metre fleet—it is not allowed to catch anything else. It is entirely down to his party's mismanagement of that fleet's fishing opportunities that it has that lack of choice.
Many organisations have pinned their hopes on the Government delivering the marine Bill in the forthcoming Session. I pay tribute to the Wildlife and Countryside Link, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and others for their endeavours in keeping this issue high on the political agenda and reminding us all of the importance of that legislation. I also welcome the many contributions received from marine-based industries, including those involved in the fishing industry, angling, marine aggregates, shipping and submarine cables. They all want to do their part to ensure that our marine environment is utilised in a sustainable and productive manner. It is imperative that all interested groups are constructively involved as the marine Bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get things right.
We all expect the Bill to be in the Queen's Speech and the Government to make the necessary amount of parliamentary time available for us to debate the legislation. The former Minister, the hon. Member for Exeter, promised that we would have a "real" Bill in this current Session and we hope that DEFRA will manage to deliver this time. It would be an absolute travesty if the Government once again failed to give us the marine Bill, which they have spent the last four years promising. I look forward to working with the Minister on the Bill, as it is much needed legislation which we all support in principle.
We all want to see a more integrated system of marine spatial planning. A streamlined licensing system is long overdue. Reform of the sea fisheries committees is needed, and there must be provisions in place to safeguard and protect the marine environment from harmful practices. More than 44,000 plant and animal species depend on the marine environment and, when it comes to protecting these species, we must not have years of dither and delay, as we saw with Lyme bay and the pink sea fans. It is easy to make the case for more effective measures to protect marine life. Let us take, for example, the inshore bottlenose dolphin, whose numbers are estimated to be as low as 500 to 600. It would be a tragedy if those numbers declined further.
Although we are supportive of the Bill, the Minister will face some tough questions over the next year about the legislation and Conservative Members will scrutinise the proposals very closely. DEFRA has already failed to live up to its promises to protect the marine environment and to develop marine protected areas. Two years ago, in its 2007 marine and fisheries business plan, it promised to identify potential, multi-purpose MPAs but, earlier this year, the then Minister confirmed that no such sites have yet been formally identified. If DEFRA simply missed its target to identify some multi-purpose MPAs in two years, how long will it take to introduce plans for all our seas and measures to protect them?
There are also question marks over the Government's commitment to funding the identification of areas that need protection. We all appreciate the present financial situation, but the minutes of the September board meeting of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee were worrying. The JNCC is responsible for identifying a set of marine conservation zones by Easter 2011, but it is still awaiting a decision on its funding for 2009-10 and 2010-11. Until the Minister sorts out the JNCC funding arrangements, it will be left to work with its hands tied behind its back. We would all like to see in the marine Bill a commitment from the Government to a time scale on measures such as marine conservation zones, policy statements and plans. Well intended measures are one thing, but delivering them is another. As we have seen with the Animal Welfare Act 2006, ministerial promises about secondary legislation are easy to break when there is no commitment in primary legislation.
We will also need greater information on the proposed marine conservation zones, the areas likely to be affected and the impact that they will have on marine-based industries. Many fishermen are concerned that no-take zones will be introduced with little consultation with them, and that they could be introduced in areas where it might be more practicable to restrict activities and practices rather than bring in blanket bans. There are also anxieties that the introduction of marine conservation zones, and other measures, beyond the six nautical mile limit will be of limited benefit due to the current CFP.
Under the present regulatory system, foreign fishing vessels with historic rights between the six and 12 nautical mile zone are subject to controls that the UK Government introduce only if the European Commission approves. That is why the Government were able to ban UK vessels from pair trawling, but not those from other EU countries, thereby weakening any benefits to dolphins and porpoises that the UK ban would bring. In view of that, we would like to be reassured that any measures introduced by the Government or the proposed inshore fisheries and conservation authorities that go beyond the six nautical mile limit will apply to foreign vessels, and that the Government will press the EU to recognise that.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill suggested that
"the Government should negotiate the removal of historic fishing rights in UK waters with EU Member States to ensure that enforcement of nature conservation regulations are universally applied to UK national and other Member State fishing vessels in the six to 12 nautical mile zone."
The Minister should certainly consider that in relation to the post-2012 CFP reforms, because there is little point in introducing measures that foreign fishermen can ignore and that leave UK fishermen at a disadvantage.
The relationship between the provisions in the marine Bill and two other flagship pieces of legislation—the Planning Bill and the Energy Bill—is also unclear. When it comes to marine planning on certain developments, including harbour facilities and those connected to energy, the infrastructure planning commission could override the views expressed by the proposed marine management organisation. According to the draft marine Bill:
"The MMO is to carry out its functions with the objective of making a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development."
However, it will be impossible for the MMO to fulfil its role as the champion of the marine environment when decisions are made outside of its remit and before it has even been established. We have already seen in the last few days the Department for Energy and Climate Change announce the outcome of the 25th round of offshore oil and gas licensing applications. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who signed up to support the marine Bill will be disappointed to see the measures weakened before they even get on to the statute book or come into force.
The Minister has plenty to think about as he heads back to Brussels next month to get a fair deal for our fishing industry. He has also taken on this role at a very challenging time. He has been in the job only for a few weeks, but he has much to do over the next few months. The marine Bill must be forthcoming. We must see real progress on quota reform and help for the 10 metre and under fleet, and steps must be taken to end discarding. Efforts must be made to improve our scientific understanding of the seas, fish stocks and the marine environment.
The squabbling between Whitehall and Holyrood that has done so much damage to the fishing industry on both sides of the border must cease. The sea angling strategy must bring genuine benefits to anglers and rebuild the trust that has been lost in recent years, and the Minister must outline the Government's approach to CFP reform. I wish the Minister luck in his post, but in the past year the Government have stumbled from one blunder to another, with the fishing industry paying the price and the marine environment suffering. Indeed, the Minister must stop squabbling.
I welcome the Minister to his first fisheries debate. While the Opposition spokesman, Bill Wiggin, was speaking, I was counting how many annual fisheries debate I have attended—I think that this is my 16th, so I am one of the grizzled regulars. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that his was the possibly the shortest Front-Bench speech from the Government side. At the same time, I think that we heard the longest speech from the Opposition Front Bench. Although the Minister took about half an hour and the Opposition spokesman 46 minutes, I must say that the Minister had a lot more to say, and he took more interventions.
I also congratulate the Minister on the commitment that he has already shown to the industry, and in particular on the fact that, although he is in his early days in the post, he is grasping the nettle and recognising the need for a sustainable industry. That lesson has been hard to learn for many of the people involved in the industry, but we are now making substantial progress, and I wish my hon. Friend well in the December Council meeting and in the meetings with Norway over the next week.
What the Minister said about his objectives for the December Council meeting highlights the need for the fundamental changes to the common fisheries policy that we all want to see. I and other colleagues have attended these debates for many years, but the pork barrel discussions that we used to have are old hat and unacceptable in the modern day, particularly in the light of the importance of the industry not only to the economy but to the well-being of our people. Fish is a fundamental and valuable food product.
The Minister mentioned the cod recovery plan, and we welcome the progress that has been made on that this week. Mr. MacNeil—I cannot say the constituency name in Gaelic—mentioned the meeting that the all-party fisheries group had yesterday with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, from England and Wales. It was clear that the leaders in the industry wanted the Government to succeed in their negotiations, and it is important that they should do so. Everyone recognises that we need flexibility, and many colleagues have raised the issue of the science, and the time lag involved in the application of the science to the discussions.
It must be recorded strongly by those of us with Scottish constituencies that the Scottish industry has made a remarkable amount of progress in the past few years. There have been fundamental changes from the days when fishermen were regarded by all of us as the last hunter-gatherer species on these islands. Now, we see them as pragmatic, able professionals who regard the sustainability of the industry into the long term as much more important than today's catch. That represents a huge culture change, and it is one that must be recognised.
Many changes have been introduced and accepted—and pioneered, in many cases—by the industry. They include changes in the way the industry operates, especially relating to the real-time closures of fishing grounds, and to the reporting processes that have been introduced and accepted throughout the industry, which I hope will now be rolled out to the rest of the fishing industry in Europe beyond the UK. The industry has also been prepared to accept technical and gear changes, and it has been experimenting with all kinds of different ways of catching fish, and with new methods of allowing the fish that we do not want to catch to escape from the nets. The industry must be commended for all that.
As colleagues have said, it is important to recognise the importance of local management. Unless the people who work in the fishing industry feel that they have a real stake in the process, we shall not make the progress that we need to make, and we shall not make it fast enough. One of the handicaps of the way in which the common fisheries policy has operated over the years is illustrated by its bureaucratic, centralised approach. This has alienated people and led to many of the problems experienced by the industry. Thankfully, we do not see so much black fish now, for example. That was a particular by-product of the lack of local control. If everyone has a stake in the industry, we can make genuine progress.
These debates on fisheries are usually a lot shorter than this one, and many people try to get their interventions in, just in case there is not enough time for them to make a speech. That has happened many times in the past, but today we have a decent amount of time, which is important.
The issue of discards has been raised already. In our discussions with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, we heard some fairly shocking figures. Most of the evidence is anecdotal, but the representative from the SFF said that he had spoken to the skipper of one boat who had thrown overboard 300 boxes of perfectly marketable cod. That is disgraceful and unacceptable. I am a little disappointed at what I understand to be the Government's position on this. They are prepared to look at ways of minimising discards, but they are not going to change their policy on discards—or, at least, on the landing of non-quota fish. That seems to work well in Norwegian waters, and I urge the Minister not to exclude any option while we are looking for a solution to the problem.
My biggest concern in my constituency is not to do with the catching side, as one of the sad changes over the past 30 years or so is that boats registered in Aberdeen now tend to operate out of other ports. My main interest is in the processing side of the industry, for which the discard problem also creates a massive difficulty. Processors feel a huge amount of frustration because discarded fish are lost, with the result that obtaining sufficient raw material is their biggest problem. Over the past few years that has led to fish being imported from other parts of the world such as Canada and the Baltic. The ditching of our own fish is causing real distress and concern to the processing industry.
I want to say something about employment in the processing side of the industry, and then add a little about employment in the catching side. All of us with processing facilities in our constituencies know that the industry would be in difficulties without the influx of migrant labour—certainly, there has been a considerable flow of people from eastern Europe into Aberdeen.
Skilled labour is more important in the smaller companies because they do their own filleting and so on, whereas the larger companies use machinery for filleting and more of their labour is unskilled. Rough estimates suggest that the influx accounts for between a fifth and a quarter of the smaller companies' work force, with the proportion being slightly higher in the larger companies. Even so, the total number of people employed in Aberdeen has fallen from between 2,000 or 2,500 to around 1,000: about a quarter of them are from eastern Europe, although some Chinese workers are also employed.
There are many problems with recruitment in Aberdeen, especially of local labour. In years gone by, many young people in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Aberdeen, South would have done training and apprenticeships and then pursued a career in the industry. Nowadays, however, the industry is not attractive, and the young people who would have gone into it prefer to work in Tesco or Sainsbury. The jobs are cleaner and the people who do them do not smell when they meet their girlfriends at night. In some cases, the wages are better as well, with the result that the industry faces major problems with training and recruitment in the future. It cannot continue to depend on migrant labour.
A constant grievance in the industry is that, whenever there is a crisis, the catching side gets funding that is not so readily available to the processing side. There was a massive decommissioning of vessels a few years ago to sharpen up the industry and help it to make progress towards its present sustainability, but at the time processors were also going through a number of transitions. There were new water regulations, certainly in our area, because of European directives and local requirements, and new food standards regulations also impacted really heavily. However, there was no sign of support, even though the processing industry supports a huge number of jobs throughout the country. These are important issues for us.
I know that we have a lot of time this afternoon, but I shall try to deal quickly with the other issue that I want to raise. Earlier, I mentioned the employment problems in the processing side of the industry, but employment difficulties in the catching side are also causing increasing concern and some difficulties. I hope that I have sufficiently praised the Scottish industry for the way it has adapted to become sustainable, but I am not patting it on the back in this particular case.
Historically, the fishing industry in Scotland—and, I am sure, the rest of the country—has recruited from the towns and villages where the boats were based. Recruitment was local but fishing vessels travelled far and wide in their search for fish. Nowadays things are slightly different. I mentioned the influx of migrant labour into the processing industry. In my area, the north-east of Scotland, the oil and gas industry has been with us since the mid-1970s. In fact, since the mid-1960s people have searched for the oil. Those industries offered Scottish fishermen alternative employment, some directly in the industry, others on supply or stand-by vessels, which are mandatory for every offshore platform.
As I say, in the past few years, there has been a significant influx of immigrant labour, particularly from eastern Europe, in the processing side of the industry. All those workers are subject to British employment laws. They are entitled to the minimum wage and the same health and safety and other protections. They pay tax and national insurance on their earnings. However, in more recent years, there is strong evidence of an influx of immigrants who are being exploited by the fishing industry and who may be operating in this country illegally.
The International Transport Workers Federation, a body that represents trade unions in the transport industry around the world, recently published a report entitled "Migrant Workers in the Scottish and Irish Fishing Industry". If the Minister does not have a copy, I will send him one. The report charts the growing number of workers from countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia who are now working in the Scottish and Irish—mainly Northern Irish, although some are in southern Ireland—industry. It gives a number of examples from the past two years of how the trade operates. I will not go through those examples, but they include cases from Fraserburgh and Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland, Ullapool and Mallaig on the west coast, and Irish examples, particularly around the port of Killeen.
Workers sign contracts in their home countries, and those contracts are used by the agents with whom the workers sign up to obtain transit visas. My understanding is that transit visas are issued to allow people to travel through a country. The ITF has found that in the fishing industry, it is normal for the applicant—in most cases, the employment agent—to claim that the individual will be operating out of the UK port, and will be fishing in foreign waters, usually in Norway. In most cases, only UK waters are fished, so there are inadequate checks on how the transit visas are used. No money changes hands between the vessel operators and the foreign worker. Money is usually paid by the agents in the home country. In one example, a group of workers were paid €241 a month, although they had been promised €800 in the contract that they signed. They were required to work a 20-hour day, and the ITF calculated that that meant that in some cases they were receiving as little as 20p an hour.
In many cases, no accommodation is provided. The fishing trips could last as long as three months, with very few days of rest in port. The ITF found that no record of hours of work and rest were kept in most of the cases that it examined. In most instances, no safety training was given and health and safety requirements were generally ignored. In addition to facing poor working conditions, the foreign workers were afterwards left to find their own way back to their home country, whether they had come to the end of their contract, or whether there was an ill-health issue.
The ITF found that in many cases, where no accommodation was provided for workers, workers were required to stay on the fishing vessels between trips. In one recent case—it is still going through the legal processes, so I will be careful what I say about it—two Filipino crew members and a Latvian died in a fire on a vessel. I understand that some of the lessons learned are quite serious for the way such migrants will be treated; however, I shall not go into that here. I understand that so little information was held on the individuals who died that it took more than a week to identify the bodies. The owners of the vessel did not have information on who those people were.
When I discussed the situation with the ITF inspector for Scotland, Mr. Norrie McVicar, who is based in my constituency in Aberdeen, he advised me that the ITF estimates that there are about 1,000 immigrant workers—that is a huge number—mainly from Asia, working in the Scottish and Irish industries. The bulk of them are in Scotland. He has had frequent meetings with Filipino workers in Fraserburgh, particularly following the fire and the deaths. He estimates that there are about 400 such workers in Fraserburgh alone.
I am told that the situation for migrant workers in Fraserburgh is so desperate that the local community, through the Fishermen's Mission, distributes clothes. Many of the migrant workers are not used to the Scottish climate, and some arrived in Aberdeen, Inverness or other points of entry dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, because that is what they are used to wearing in their home country. They just were not prepared for the Scottish climate. Because of their low wages, they have no money to buy more suitable clothing. I pay tribute to the people of Fraserburgh for their continued compassion for migrant workers in their town and to the Fishermen's Mission.
I know that transit visas are not the Minister's direct responsibility, but it is clear that the transit visa system for non-EU migrant fishermen is being abused. The ITF has been in touch with the local immigration authorities in Scotland, and I have sent a copy of the ITF report to the Home Secretary and asked her to look into the matter. The ITF has a good track record on dealing with such issues around the world, and it has procedures to assist fishermen and other seafarers to get compensation for the non-payment of wages. The report makes it clear that it has been successful in some cases, even in the Scottish fishing industry.
Fishermen are being employed at rates ranging from 50p to £1.50 an hour. Any other worker in the UK is entitled to the minimum wage, which is several times both of those figures. I have asked local minimum wage enforcement officers to investigate that situation and particularly the nature of contracts between vessel owners in Scotland and employment agents. It is difficult to understand why, when there are so many unemployed people in the north of Scotland, particularly around the coastal villages, and a ready supply of workers, including fishermen, from the EU, it is necessary to bring workers from the far east with questionable legal status. If normal procedures were being followed, work permits would not have been granted in the cases cited in the ITF report. In that case, employers would be paying national insurance and be subject to minimum wage regulations, and the workers themselves would be paying NI contributions and tax on their earnings.
The evidence amassed by the ITF suggests that a form of trafficking and serious exploitation of workers from developing countries are taking place in Scotland. Most of those workers never complain and simply accept their lot. It is important to say that the majority of fishing boat owners do not employ immigrant fishermen, but those who do are exploiting the vulnerable, breaking the law—certainly in relation to immigration requirements and possibly in relation to health and safety and the minimum wage—and failing to comply with international human rights treaties. Their behaviour is a stain not only on the fishing industry but on our whole country.
The comments by Mr. Doran will cause immense concern in all parts of the country, especially fishing communities. I was brought up on an island and now live in a fishing community. In my experience, such communities care about individuals and value fair treatment. I hope that his comments are heard elsewhere in government and that action is taken.
I welcome the Minister to his new job and congratulate him on having got up to speed very quickly on a brief that is not only complex but challenging. I also pay tribute to his predecessor, now the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Jonathan Shaw, who did not have long in the job but who made a significant impact. If he had been given a longer opportunity, he would have achieved a great deal more.
As is traditional, the Minister opened his remarks this afternoon by reminding us that this year, as every year, men engaged in the fishing industry have lost their lives, and he was absolutely right to do so. We should remember the contribution made by the emergency services, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the coastguard to dealing with those incidents.
It is perhaps opportune to reflect that the editorial in this week's Fishing News is entitled "Making safety a habit":
"The dangers at sea can be sudden and disastrous. Efforts by the industry to raise awareness of safety issues through training are in part an attempt to change long-established habits among many fishermen based on the belief that the worst will not happen to them. But the coastguard and rescue services know from experience that fishermen who are not as well prepared as they could be for the unexpected seriously reduce their chances of survival."
Most tellingly of all, it goes on to observe:
"Fishermen's safety is also compromised by the financial pressures imposed on them by the endless restrictions that push them to work at the margins of safety to stay in business."
It is worth reflecting on what the Fishing News editorial says, because, as the Minister is new to the job, it is important for him to understand not just that he is taking on a job that involves an immense amount of detail, with talk of quota, total allowable catches, transferable quota and the rest of it, but that the decisions that he makes as a Minister, and of which he will be a part next month when he goes to Brussels, can be, in a very real sense for many men working in the industry, life and death decisions.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a Fishing News item about a boat that sank off my constituency, and I should like to draw the House's attention to the work of Dr. John MacLeod of Lochmaddy, who won a Fishing News award for his work on life-saving equipment—workable life-saving equipment—that can be fitted to fishermen.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having brought that fact to my attention; I was not aware of it. He is right to highlight the very important contributions that are made by so many people in so many different ways.
One issue concerns not only fishermen in my constituency, but fishermen who go to work in the northern North sea from all parts of the country. I hope that the Minister will take on board what I am about to say and make representations to the Department for Transport on behalf of those fishermen, because last Friday afternoon it was announced that the back-up helicopter that is stationed as part of the search and rescue service at Sumburgh airport is to be withdrawn, so that cover can be provided by CHC Helicopter Corporation, which has the contract on the south coast of England. We, here, have the luxury of debating in the relative comfort and safety of the Chamber, but I am told that at home in Orkney, a fierce wind is beginning to blow from the north. That is by no means unusual in the northern isles in November. Although CHC's attitude towards the provision of its services and the removal of the back-up may not be in breach of its contract, it certainly is in breach of the spirit in which CHC was intended to perform its functions. I very much hope that all arms of government will be employed to bring that point home to it most forcefully.
As ever, the fishing industry has had an eventful year. Earlier this year, the Minister's predecessor acquired a fair degree of unwelcome attention and some heat in respect of fuel costs. The fishing industry will always employ a particular argument about those costs, and I hope that, given that some of the political heat has been taken out of the issue because fuel prices are now lower, work will now be done on the role of fishermen as market takers rather than as market makers. It is always easy to say that some should receive special consideration, but, when an industry is in a particular position, as the fishing industry is because it cannot pick and choose where and when it sells its fish, or the price, special considerations must apply. Such work must be done now while the fuel issue is not as contentious as it has been.
It is remarkable how we in this debate always focus our attention on the December European Union Fisheries Council, but it is particularly opportune that we have the debate today, because, in my experience, the real decisions are made not at the December Fisheries Council but at the EU-Norway negotiations. I have never understood why we do not pay more political attention to those negotiations, because they seem to be the absolutely crucial ones, and the December Fisheries Council is simply left to carve up what is agreed. The EU-Norway negotiations are particularly important this year, not least because of the attitude of the Norwegian Minister with responsibility for fishing and the Norwegian Government in general. I hope that there is an element of grandstanding in some of what the Norwegian Government are saying. They talk about a total discard ban and a land-all policy for fish caught in Norwegian waters.
I suspect that there is an element of grandstanding. The Norwegian Government say that herring are their first priority in respect of banning discards; that may be grandstanding because those who know about these things tell me that there is very little, if any, discard of herring, so achieving that total ban should not be as challenging as it first sounds. However, it is clear that this year Norway is giving discards a political importance that they have not had in the past. Ultimately, I hope that that will help, although I also hope that we will not be left having to sweep up bureaucratic and unhelpful measures as a consequence of grandstanding. I would like there to be direct political—rather than official—input into the EU-Norway talks. I know that, in principle, the talks are conducted by the Commission on behalf of the EU, but talks of such importance should involve politicians rather than officials.
Others have spoken about discards. We have to get on the record the fact that the fishermen are those who hate the level of discards most. Discarding is not a consequence of naked greed; fishermen do not go out and hoover up everything that they can lay their nets on. It is a consequence of the disparity between the quota level set and the fish to be found in the sea. In summer this year, the Minister's predecessor visited Shetland. Josie Simpson of Whalsay, who has a long history and pedigree in the fishing industry and fishing politics, told the Minister that he had never known a time in his life as a fisherman when the gap between the quota and the reality had been so wide. That fact is behind the significant discards that we are seeing.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that the science does not reflect what is in the water today; it might reflect what was there a couple of years ago, but life has moved on significantly. That is why I keep coming back to this plea to the Minister: whatever is given to ICES to inform its advice, the decision making must be based also on information from the industry itself—after all, people who work in the industry see what is in the sea—and on scientific advice at an earlier stage that has been analysed rather more crudely. There is always the opportunity for that "quick and dirty approach", as I call it, to be quality-controlled through measurement against the refined product, which is all we get at the moment. If that shows a broadly consistent position, we should know that the initial analysis has been reliable.
I want to say something about specific issues that the Council will face when it meets next month. The Minister spoke at length about west coast white fish. It is pretty clear that there are significant issues about some of the stocks on the west coast; that is accepted by the industry itself. I would, however, suggest that the blunt instruments to which the Minister referred—the draconian closures that are currently up for discussion—are no sort of solution. They will simply take a bad position and make it worse. If we are going to look to the recovery of threatened stocks to the west of Scotland, we must be prepared to take a longer-term perspective than has so far been suggested as appropriate. If we learn the lessons of the past seven years from the cod recovery programme, we must see that the situation will not improve overnight.
The Minister was absolutely right to say that there must be buy-in to any proposals that offer the eventual solution. My hon. Friend Mr. Reid referred to the scepticism about the Swedish grid, particularly among white fish and nephrops fishermen. I emphasise the importance of ensuring that those concerns are listened to and taken seriously so that we do not end up with a solution that is imposed merely because officials take it as the best view. Will the Minister also bear in mind the fact that if we have a closure programme of the sort that is suggested, it will affect fisheries in every area? These grounds are fished principally by the handful of white fish boats that remain in Orkney and by boats on the north-east coast around Banff, Macduff and Fraserburgh. They will not stop fishing just because of closures on the west of Scotland—they will take their effort elsewhere and the impact will be felt by others in different parts of the country.
People working in the Celtic sea area are particularly concerned about the application of a days-at-sea solution, and we can all understand why that is the case. I urge the Minister to do all that he can to resist that and to preserve the position, as far as is possible, in fisheries such as monkfish, megrim and hake. In respect of the Irish sea, we are, yet again, hearing this year about the urgent need for a review of the cod recovery measures. Until we have that review, those in the industry and scientists are fairly clear that what is needed is the preservation of the current level of cod total allowable catch and the days-at-sea regime.
In my parliamentary experience, it would not be a fishing debate if we did not say something about North sea cod. This is no longer quite the poisonous issue that it once was, but it remains a source of concern, not least because of its impact on discards. The current management plan for North sea cod suggests a 15 per cent. increase in the total allowable catch. Compared with the position of a few years ago, that is a remarkable achievement, and we should not underestimate its significance. However, there is scope for the UK to press for more. The more cod TAC that we can get, the less of a problem there will be with discards. The ICES advice, with all the caveats that we have applied to it, says that it would be possible to have an increase of up to 80 per cent. of the North sea cod TAC while maintaining the spawning stock biomass at the minimum safe size of 70,000 tonnes. I should place it on record, for the avoidance of doubt, that I am not calling for an 80 per cent. increase, but as an exercise in arithmetic I am trying to show the Minister that there is scope for significant flexibility in future.
I am delighted to hear the Minister speaking now, in 2008, about the next round of reform of the common fisheries policy. We last saw any significant reform in 2002, so this will take us to 2012 for the next round. The 2002 reforms were, in many ways, quite timid. The creation of regional advisory councils was welcome, and the North Sea RAC, in particular, has functioned very well. They have shown the potential for regional management. I hope that at the heart of the UK's pressure on the issue will be a move for control of the fishing industry to shift from Brussels to the communities most closely affected. As my hon. Friend Sir Robert Smith said, we would like to see a move from regional advisory councils to regional management councils.
We have to be mindful of the need to preserve elements of the common fisheries policy that are to our significant advantage, such as the concept of relative stability, The Hague preference and the six and 12-mile limits—and I make a special plea for the Shetland box. A lot of creative and imaginative thinking was being done in the fishing industry from 2000 in the lead-up to the December Council in 2002 that introduced the changes. I hope that the process we are starting will lead to a similar increase in creativity and fresh thinking on fisheries management. As long as that takes place, and that sustainability and the fishing industry are at its heart, it can only make these debates more profitable in years to come.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, to his new post, in which I am sure he will be very successful. This debate is the annual celebration of the fishing MPs. We look forward to it all year—some of us do not speak in the House at other times, because we are saving our words of wisdom for this debate. It is more important to us than Christmas. In fact, once it is over, we can probably go home.
My hon. Friend follows a number of successful and effective Fisheries Ministers. Theirs is a proud tradition. I always say that as I welcome each one, with a note of jealousy in my voice because it is not me doing the job, which is the most important job in Government as far as we, the fishing MPs, are concerned. He will help to shape the future of our industry, and the best advice we Back Benchers can give him is to hug the industry close. The most successful Ministers are those who have kept in closest touch with the industry. It is interesting that the Fisheries Minister in the devolved Government in Scotland has been very effective because, in a smaller nation, he can be closer to a big industry than is possible in the more impersonal environment of British politics. I welcome our new Minister again, and say to him that his success is our success.
The Minister's description at the start of the debate of a prosperous industry was a little deceptive. Takings are up because of inflation and because we have switched species. As white fish catches have gone down, they have been replaced by shellfish and nephrops, or langoustine as they call them in Scotland now—is that the Scottish dialect word for nephrops? Returns have therefore been kept up, but the value of landings has declined 24 per cent. in real terms since 1998, 30 per cent. of the jobs have been lost since 1996 and there has been a 43 per cent. decline in the number of registered fishing vessels since the early 1990s. It is a history of decline, which we need to remedy and reverse.
What has caused that decline? I am sorry that the Conservative spokesman, Bill Wiggin, did not give us his usual diatribe about the common fisheries policy, because it would have been apposite. The decline is almost entirely due to the common fisheries policy, which was imposed by Ted Heath. He used to sit in debate after debate trying to defend the betrayal of the British fishing industry that he carried through in 1972, which unfortunately tied our hands.
We must recognise that the common fisheries policy has been expensive for Britain. There is no use ignoring reality and pretending that it will go away. If we calculate the total EU catch to be 5.3 million tonnes of fish and its value to be £5.6 billion, with 70 per cent. of fish caught in British waters—what used to be exclusive British waters—and we deduct from 70 per cent. of £5.6 billion the £645 million that is the value of landings in this country, we are left with £3.3 billion. The fish are caught in our waters, though not by our vessels—thereby not providing employment in this country—and sold in Europe. That is the effect of the common fisheries policy. We have been swindled, and the policy was devised for that purpose.
I shall keep the flame of antagonism alive, even if it burns lower on the Conservative Benches— [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene—or throw the books that he is moving at me for treading on his ground. I shall keep the flame alive. I am glad that the Scottish National party is beginning to take up the torch that I have been carrying for several years. [Interruption.] Yes, I, too, read the article to which Mr. MacNeil is pointing. The cavalry is on the horizon, coming to my rescue.
The policy, which is supposed to be about conservation, has been deeply damaging to it. Instead of making things better, it has made them worse. It has become tighter, clumsier and messier. The position is straightforward. In Brussels, we have approximately 40 bureaucrats in what is now called DG MARE— I thought that the title referred to a new director general when I first heard it. The main acquaintance of those 40 bureaucrats with fish and fishing is acquired in Brussels fish restaurants, where they eat the best of the world's fish. I am sure that the officials at the Commission believe that things are going well for fishing because they are served such delicious fish in Brussels restaurants. The best service that we can do this country is to close the Brussels restaurants so that the bureaucrats can no longer eat their fish. Perhaps then they will begin to think that there is something wrong with fishing. I even begin to think that it is all their fault.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the Scottish Government's view of the common fisheries policy. He may also have seen in Fishing News one of the more robust fishermen's organisations, Mallaig and North-West, echoing that scepticism. As the headline says, the CFP must be scrapped.
Feelings about the common fisheries policy ran high and hostile in the 1970s. They have attenuated somewhat since then, but the feeling is kept alive and fishermen know, if other people do not, the cause of the problem.
It is impossible for a small group of bureaucrats in Brussels to legislate for and regulate fishing vessels over 45° of latitude or to legislate for vessels of all sizes, from small vessels of under-10 metres to huge, powerful fishing vessels. One code of regulation cannot cover everything. The problem is that, because legislation and regulation are done in a remote fashion from Brussels, the measures have to be broad brush. That is why control is preferred through total allowable catch and days-at-sea limitations. Effort can be reduced by cutting down the days at sea. Control is also exercised through decommissioning—cutting down the number of fishing vessels, thus limiting the fishing effort. The bureaucrats prefer broad, crude controls to the more sophisticated controls that are necessary to deal with a complex industry that covers many waters with different production and many species of fish. One policy, developed in Brussels, cannot cover everything.
Is it not also the case that a number of countries that participate in those negotiations do not have a fishing industry—or even a coastline, for that matter—and are perhaps therefore willing to negotiate away fishing interests for their agricultural interests, which are under consideration at the same time?
That is correct. That can also be the case for the Fisheries Commissioner, but fortunately Commissioner Borg comes from an island. He therefore has some knowledge of fishing and has been effective in that role, but that is not always the case.
The problem is that we need regulation that involves the industry instead of regulation that is imposed from the top down, as it is now. We should hand power down to the industry and let it regulate itself, determine its own catches and how to achieve them, and set its own objectives and define its own way of getting there. The more we hand power down to the industry, the more effective it will be.
Having come here when Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister, I have seen the changes to the fishing industry over a long period. When I came here, the fishing industry was big and fished mainly in Icelandic, Faroese and Greenlandic waters. The industry was involved in distant water fishing with big vessels and the owners were very powerful. Indeed, the industry was run like the mafia: the owners would come down to the House of Commons in a train of state and tell us fishing MPs what we should do and say. We were sent regular briefings and a newspaper, as well as offers of fish to keep us going through the long winter nights in the House.
That was succeeded by a period in which the big boys pulled out and the industry began to operate on a much smaller scale, although it was difficult to manage or organise and much of it was extremely angry. Today, the fishing industry has totally changed, at long last. The industry now wants to be involved. It does not want to be bureaucratised, but it wants an influence over its own fate. The industry wants a say and is prepared to accept regulations, provided that it is consulted during the formulation of those regulations on how to maintain the catches. The industry can be consulted through the RACs, which are an innovation that Brussels needs to listen to more—it listened very well in the first year, but it is listening less effectively these days—rather than simply imposing things.
I must express my disappointment at the European Court of Auditors report on DG MARE, which the court clearly wanted to merge with the Environment Directorate-General, because the report is totally hostile towards DG MARE for the wrong reasons. The report says that the common fisheries policy has been a failure—we have been saying that in this place for a long time, so I am glad that the realisation is dawning in Brussels. However, the report also says that that is because the fishermen cheat and are irresponsible and disorganised and because nation states fiddle the results and do not police the policy adequately. That is exactly wrong. The policy fails because it is a centralised policy that cannot be imposed on a multifarious industry.
We have to recognise that the European Court of Auditors report has got the wrong end of the stick. That is best illustrated by the emphasis that we have placed this afternoon on discards. The scale of discards is worrying—the Opposition spokesman gave us some horrifying statistics about that. The issue receives enormous publicity, as well it might when valid, good-quality fish are discarded and when the cod that the fishermen cannot land is just chucked overboard—dead, useless—so that they cannot make a return on it. Fishing boats are expensive to run, but there the fishermen are, chucking saleable fish overboard.
The problem arises because the quotas fixed by the Commission and the stocks—presumably determined by the scientists, but often inaccurately so—are out of kilter. Until we adjust the two, there will be discards. However, applying rigid quotas in a mixed fishery, which is what we have, makes discards inevitable, so we need to develop a way of dealing with them. The more quotas are reduced, the greater discards will become. That is an inevitable law of fishing, but the Commission does not recognise it. The more we reduce cod quotas, the more discarded cod there will be.
The only way round the problem is to get flexible measures, which the industry has pioneered. It is amazing that after all these years in the centrally controlled common fisheries policy, it is left to the industry to develop new methods of management that are more effective in conservation terms, but are more difficult to implement because of the laggard nature of the CFP.
The sort of measures pioneered by the industry include cod avoidance plans. A Jubilee fishing vessel in Grimsby, for example, has adopted a cod avoidance plan—in other words, fish in areas where it is possible to avoid catching cod. That is one way of conserving cod, but some kind of reward is needed for fishing that way, and the reward has to be extra days at sea, to make sure the system works.
Another method is using different mesh sizes or new gear. There is some American gear called "the eliminator"—it is not named after Governor Schwarzenegger, who was the Terminator—and it looks very promising. It has been trialled by Arnold Lockyer in Scarborough and deserves to be trialled more extensively. It will allow people who have caught their cod quota to carry on fishing for haddock or whatever, using this selective gear. Conservation can also be managed by area closures.
The hon. Gentleman mentions area closures. Does he endorse the industry-led efforts to close the Trevose grounds—very important juvenile and spawning grounds—that have resulted in a noticeable increase in stock and a reduction in effort control? It is worth emphasising that it was an industry-led proposal. It is important, because in a mixed fishery, it is impossible not to catch some of the stock whose landing the European Commission is keen to prevent.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I did not give way at first as I expected to hear an interjection in a Scottish accent, so I was somewhat confused geographically. He is absolutely right that the industry has been conscientious in developing that sort of area measure, with which, I believe, the future lies.
We can promote conservation by having observers on fishing vessels—and if we cannot have an observer, we can have closed-circuit television. It is interesting that the industry is up for both of those developments and is making proposals to develop them, but acceptance by Brussels has been very laggardly. Today's industry wants to conserve stocks and sees the importance of sustainability, which is obviously a way of keeping the industry going, yet it has been restricted by the common fisheries policy, which is supposed to be about conservation.
I shall not go into too much detail over what to look for in the negotiations, as other Members have done it better. The first prospects were gloomy—I read in Fishing News a headline saying, "EU wants big cuts in TACs for 2009". It goes on week after week. I am glad that the ICES proposals were published in advance and that they are now open to debate and discussion, because the industry needs a say on the science as well. There is a long-standing misunderstanding between the fishing industry and the scientists, particularly about where the checks are done. The scientists seem to want to trawl in the same place with the same can of trawl gear that they trawled with last year, whereas, as far as I know, fish move around. The fishermen know where they are, but the scientists appear not to. That distorts the results. I think that the ICES figures were first published in June; they were gloomy.
We began with a prospect of gloom and cuts, but I think that that was rather misleading. We ought not to be inured to cuts, and I do not think we should accept the cuts that are being forecast. We should involve the industry in the science and in developing quotas through the RACs. The gloomy prospects have been alleviated by a sensible decision about the Celtic sea. The proposal for a cod recovery plan has been rejected—thank heavens, because it would have had a knock-on effect on catches of other species. However, we are still left with the proposal for a 25 per cent. effort cut, which I think is too abrupt. It is difficult for an industry, much of which is on the margins of profitability, to survive a further cut. As other Members have pointed out, the British fishing industry has already suffered massive cuts, and it is time to call a halt.
I want the North sea cod catch to be enlarged to the limits of the ICES proposals, because the smaller it is, the more discards there will be. I hope that, through the Government, we can encourage the use of cod avoidance plans. The Government have a responsibility to help and finance the industry's search for new methods and new ways of planning, as well as its requirement for training and safety measures. They were laggardly in giving us de minimis finance to cover fuel costs. However, they can help the industry in lesser ways by financing more research and observers, and the development of a new fishing strategy, in the build-up to the 2012 review. Without going into all the arguments over species, I would argue for more and closer co-operation between Government and industry, and a delegation of power from Brussels to the industry, via the RACs.
The fishing industry is the main agent of conservation in the oceans. It ensures the preservation of natural balances and the sustainability of catches. It must, therefore, be included in the consultations on where marine conservation areas are to be. At present it feels excluded: it feels that decisions are being made without involving it sufficiently. If fishing is to be excluded from marine conservation areas, however, that must mean all fishing. We cannot allow British fishermen to be excluded from British marine conservation areas while European fishermen are allowed to assert their right to fish for quotas within British areas. There must be one law for all—it must be common, if we are to have a common fisheries policy at all.
It is always a great pleasure to follow Mr. Mitchell, who is far and away the best Fisheries Minister that the Government never had. Perhaps there is still a chance for him. I think that he would do an excellent job. He is very knowledgeable, and it is always a pleasure to listen to what he has to say.
I want to say a few words about the Wash and north Norfolk inshore shell fishery, and then a few words about the wider national fishing situation. The Fisher fleet at King's Lynn is extremely important. There are smaller fleets at Brancaster and Wells, and to the north-west there is the Boston fleet. The Wash and north Norfolk fishery is one of the world's premier shellfisheries, and is renowned for brown shrimps, cockles, mussels, whelks, crabs and of course lobsters. There is a significant number of jobs. Over 70 boats operate out of these ports. The Minister can tell us the figure when he winds up, but I estimate the multiplier to be between 10 and 15. For every job offshore, there are 10 to 15 jobs onshore in processing, packing, servicing, engineering and ship repairing. There is the one shipyard in my constituency for every job offshore.
May I make a very quick intervention? Filled as I am with inspiration since the hon. Gentleman's earlier intervention, I can say that the figure is roughly 1:10. For every job in actually catching fish, there are probably another 10 created on land.
I am grateful to the Minister. I said between 10 and 15, so I was not too far out.
At a time of severe economic downturn, when every job is extremely valuable, these jobs in my constituency are extremely precious and we must cherish them. This is an historic fishery, iconic in many ways. It is symbolic of King's Lynn's status as a maritime and former Hanseatic League port.
Many challenges face this fishery—more now than I have known for many years. The Minister talked about how well the shell fisheries were doing, but he was referring to 2007 figures. Brown shrimps, for example, are now selling for £1.50 a kilo; last year they were selling for £10 a kilo. The cockle season for 2008 has been a disaster, down 40 per cent. Mussels are now selling for €450 per tonne; last year they were selling for €700 a tonne, with transport costs included. Many of the variable costs have gone up. My hon. Friend Bill Wiggin mentioned red diesel, which went up as high as 70p a litre, making it quite prohibitive.
I want to talk briefly about wind farms. Centrica now has Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms under way; they became operational earlier this year. It now has consent for the 250 MW Lincolnshire farm. Before too long in excess of 500 wind turbines will be operating in the Wash and along the Norfolk coast. As someone who is a vehement opponent of onshore wind farms—I have always said that the place to put them is offshore, where one can secure a degree of critical mass and economies of scale—I should say that there are important ramifications for fisheries.
The latest planning proposal from Centrica will involve two buried sub-sea cables through the Wash, which will connect up to the national grid. I am pleased to say that Centrica has agreed that 11 km of onshore cables will be buried. As far as fish are concerned, the jury is out. There will be some conservation advantages, as the area around the turbines will be an exclusion zone that will not be able to be fished; indeed there will be an opportunity for some of the shellfish to breed and regenerate with no fishing taking place.
There are many concerns about the main cable and the lack of access to mussel beds during the cable laying. There will also be an area of the Wash and the offshore Norfolk shell fishery that will be out of bounds for the foreseeable future, certainly for the life of these turbines. It is important that we are able to find out the exact size of the area affected.
I also think that proper compensation should be paid to the fishermen in my constituency. I have every faith in Sam Laidlaw, the relatively new chief executive of Centrica, and his renewables team, who have made it clear that there will be compensation for fishermen who lose out as a result of these renewable power developments. Obviously, to have a commitment to pay compensation is important, but we need the talks to continue and for a conclusion to be reached so that the fishermen in my constituency know exactly where they stand.
I wish to touch briefly on a technical matter, which the Minister may be well briefed on—in fact, I am sure that he has heard of the ross worm, or Sabellaria spinulosa, reefs. The ross worm is a marine worm that builds tubes from sand and shell fragments, and the reefs are made of large dense conglomerations of Sabellaria tubes. They are important because Sabellaria reef is on the list of habitats requiring protection under the EU habitats directive. That directive led to the creation of the Wash and north Norfolk coastal special area of conservation, and further protection was granted by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster will know because he was interested in that legislation's passage through this place. The Wash is, of course, also a site of special scientific interest.
These reefs are important for their high biodiversity value; they support a large number of different species. The reefs are under threat and have declined in number, however. The fishermen concede that they have been damaged by demersal fishing operations. Natural England has concluded that the Wash reefs are an outstanding example of the habitats and it is determined to offer more protection. It is keen to prohibit the use of tow-fishing gear in certain areas.
There is widespread local agreement that that important type of habitat should be protected, which is why the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee has outlined four possible closure areas, and a byelaw would close those areas to demersal trawling and dredging. The total area will be 2,765 hectares, and the largest areas are the Lynn knock and the Lynn deeps. Some of these areas are hardly fished at all, but others are heavily fished, and although there is widespread support for the conservation measures, I have concerns. Where there is fishing within important SSSIs such as the Wash, it is necessary to strike a balance between commercial activity and maintaining conservation and habitats and other associated challenges. I am concerned that there is no compensation, and I wonder whether the Minister might look at that. I am also concerned that the review framework will be on only a five-year basis.
There is a possible way forward, however. I am concerned that we might rush into having a byelaw that could lead to a very damaging impact on the local fishing fleet. Under the proposed marine Bill, there will be no-take areas, so why not put the byelaw proposals for the Sabellaria reefs on hold until the new Bill has been enacted? The new and more powerful inshore fisheries and conservation authorities have been mentioned, and they will have substantial influence and more power than the existing sea fishery committees. It would make sense to wait until those bodies have been established, and then take a long, hard look at the reef problem. I know that this is a technical area, and I can see that the eyes of some Members in all parts of the House are glazing over, but this is important to my constituents. [Interruption.] I am glad that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, is nodding in approval.
I have looked at the marine Bill, and I share my party's general stance of welcoming the proposals and looking forward to their being enacted, but I do have some concerns. Sustainable fisheries management is the Government's overriding policy objective, of course, but that requires high-quality fisheries management and top-class law enforcement procedures. That is currently the role of the Marine and Fisheries Agency, which has a good record. There is high morale, as shown by the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee in my constituency, and the staff are motivated and committed. However, although the MFA has been going for only two and a half years, it is now due to be replaced by the new marine management organisation. I am concerned that hard-working fisheries officers who cover fisheries in my constituency could lose their civil service status. They could lose their immunity and privileges as Crown servants, and so be exposed to litigation, lawsuits and damage claims.
We are also facing significant transition costs. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents some of my constituents, estimated those costs to be between £22 million and £26 million. Considerable disruption will be caused and morale might be damaged, and I would have thought that this was the worst time to undermine the effectiveness of fisheries officers, given that there are so many other challenges to meet.
Without trying to depart too far from the bipartisan nature of this debate, may I say that this Government's record on delivering transition and the transfer of functions to new bodies is appalling? One need only consider the different bodies that they have created over the years to realise that. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is one such example. One would have thought that the individual parts going into it would have resulted in substantial savings, but the reverse has happened—the new body is bloated and extremely bureaucratic, and it is costing far more.
I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, when he scrutinises the Bill from the Front Bench, to take great care on the new structures being put in place, to try to control those costs and to examine the points that I made about the status of the officers in question, who do such excellent work in promoting the Government's agenda on sustainable fisheries. Above all, I ask him to ensure that we have fair and consistent law enforcement.
The common fisheries policy worked tolerably well when we had a Common Market of nine countries, but I do not see how it can go on working in its current form in an EU of 27 countries. The policy is bureaucratic, ineffective and not fit for purpose. A number of hon. Members have pointed out the scandal of the discard of healthy, edible fish. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster graphically illustrated that it is unsustainable and immoral. We want great changes to the EU fisheries policies, because the CFP has been a disaster, environmentally and economically. Radical reform will be needed, which is why I support my hon. Friend when he says that he is determined to push for such an agenda.
The Minister also talks of reform—long-term management, better regional management and a consistent approach across the EU—but we have heard that all before. I was in the House in the 1980s and 1990s, so I heard successive Conservative Fisheries Ministers say exactly the same thing—they still carry the bruises of trying to tackle the issue of reform. Over the past 11 years, Labour Ministers have gone into bat in exactly the same way. They have achieved a certain amount, but nothing like enough. I welcome the Minister's personal commitment, but because of what has happened I am a sceptic and I fear that he will fail, as his predecessors failed, unless he opts for something far more radical.
We need significant reform, so why not start with repatriating control of the six to 12-mile zone? That would send a strong signal that we mean business in terms of supporting our fishermen. We need a completely new and fresh approach, and I do not feel that this Government are able to deliver it. That is why I support the approach outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, and why I wish him well. This radical reform can be delivered only by the official Opposition when they come into government.
All colleagues have probably had that sinking feeling when a constituent comes in on a Friday afternoon and says, "You're my last chance." In a sense, I am that constituent today, saying it to the Minister on behalf of the fishermen of Hastings and Rye. Year after year, we have the same debate—I suppose the good thing is that we have a new Minister every year to whom we can express our views. I hope that the enthusiasm that the current Minister, my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, has brought to this task and the expertise that he is already displaying will ensure that he attends this debate next year, when I hope he will receive our congratulations on the results that he has achieved, particularly for the under-10 metre fleet in areas such as mine.
I am unashamedly parochial. The fishing industry is very important, but more important still is the fishing industry in Hastings and Rye. For historical reasons— and like other ports around the country—Hastings and Rye depend on their fishing fleets, not only for what they bring in economic terms but for what they bring to the history of the towns. I do not want to overstate the point, but my constituents are at their wits' end about what to say to make the difference and encourage and embolden my hon. Friend to make the changes that will allow the industry to continue.
It is not putting it too strongly to say that the under-10 metre fleet is now in a critical state—on the edge of the precipice. If nothing is done, the industry will fall below the critical mass necessary to sustain itself, with all the consequences that will have. I do not want to repeat everything that I have said in previous years, as I am sure the Minister is well enough briefed to know the arguments that we make every year, often repeated from the year before. Suffice it to say that that the fishermen of Hastings and Rye are part of a tradition that stretches back at least half a millennium. Some of the families who are still holding on can trace their ancestry back to the 18th century and earlier. They are proud not only of their profession, but of their towns, and I am too. Ports such as Hastings and Rye would be diminished beyond recognition without the active participation of a fishing industry.
It is therefore mystifying—and I genuinely do not understand this—why the arguments that have been put forward on behalf of the under-10 metre fleet do not lead to changes. I admit that I am biased and not objective about this issue, but those arguments are so cogent and obvious that I do not understand the problem. I know that the Minister has not long been in post and, like his predecessors, is a courteous and thoughtful colleague, but warm words and understanding are not enough. This time we need decisions that will allow the fortunes of my constituents and others in the under-10 metre fleet to flourish.
It is no coincidence that although Hastings still provides the largest beach-launched fleet in Europe, that fleet now has just 27 active participants, down from 44 just a few years ago. The young men have left the industry. I heard just yesterday of three grandfathers who have decided to pool their efforts in a single boat—each previously traded on their own—because that way they can make just about sufficient to supplement their pensions. That is not the way to run a profession or secure its future. There are wives and children to feed and mortgages to pay, and the paucity of provision that has been offered to the under-10 metre fleet in terms of quota is insufficient to maintain viable businesses.
Things have to change and perhaps I can explain a little more about some of the issues that so frustrate and anger my constituents who are so ill-treated by the system. The Minister will be aware that some 50 per cent. of the employment in the UK fishing industry is in the over-10 metre sector and the other 50 per cent. are employed in the under-10 metre sector. He also knows—although I will repeat it so that it cannot be misunderstood—that 97 per cent. of the quota is committed to the over-10 metre sector with less than 3 per cent. to the under-10 metre sector. I understand that within the channel and nearer to home the percentages are greater, but those are the bald figures. It is disappointing that so far our Government have not been able to change those figures, and it has become clear this afternoon that the Opposition would not make that change either. Somebody has to step in and do something. Direct action may be the next step, but let us leave that point for another day.
Until recent years, our conservation-minded small boat fishermen could eke a living as the quotas were not so strictly enforced. Estimates were made but that was it. Then came the buyers and sellers regulations, which mean that every fish is now measured. Of course, previously people were probably taking more than their strict permissions allowed, but they were getting by. Now that is no longer possible. In consequence, the quotas in the under-10 metre sector as converted to licence conditions are wholly insufficient, as has been the case for the past several years.
Essentially, the campaign is to ask the Minister to transfer some small part of the quota that is enjoyed by the larger producer organisations to the under-10 metre sector. I do not buy the idea that such property is incapable of transfer. The quotas are nationally owned assets, and they can be distributed by the Government in any way necessary. I understand that people who have borrowed money on their boats and the like in anticipation of future quotas must be taken into account—we must be sympathetic—but when one sector has 97 per cent. and the other 3 per cent., it is not a valid argument. Perhaps only a 2 per cent. transfer would save the under-10 metre sector and make very little difference to the larger boats—the difference would not be of sufficient importance to affect their viability.
I repeat: I simply do not understand why the Minister receives advice that such a provision is impracticable. Every Minister receives that advice, so there is a common trend and the outcome is always the same. The problem is that the advice will lead inevitably to legal action by the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association, a newly formed representative group. Although such action will be taken with great reluctance, the organisation simply does not have an alternative. That is the position.
I appreciate that the Minister is worried that simply transferring quota to the under-10 metre sector would encourage the owners of latent licences to take to sea, and thus have no real beneficial effect on the full-time professionals to whom I referred. In the over-10 metre sector, the Department has removed capacity by decommissioning, so my plea is for the same thing to happen in the under-10 metre sector. The capacity has been reduced in the over-10 metre sector, but the quota has remained, thus aiding it. I have been told that just £5 million would be sufficient—let us remember that we spent £160 million in the over-10 m sector—to purchase the licences of a significant number of the latent boat owners and still leave the quota behind in the under-10 metre pool. I can tell the Minister how to do it: simply, he goes to findafishingboat.com, where he will find that the totality of the licences on offer would cost less than £5 million. Consequently, a significant number of latent licences could be taken out of capacity.
I am not entirely convinced that an increase in quota would revive the interest of existing dormant licence holders. Why would it? There would have to be a significant increase in the number of fish available to bring back most of the boats that are out of service. Already, the under-10 metre sector licences have gone down from 7,000 to 3,000 by aggregate penalties, meaning the 10 or 20 per cent. reduction in catch potential when boat licences are aggregated. That is a natural process. Be that as it may, if there is a belief that reducing capacity is important, using findafishingboat.com could be a cheap answer.
At one time, there was the additional problem of owners of 10-metre boats who decommissioned moving to the under-10 metre sector. I am pleased to tell the Minister that the experience of my constituents is that that no longer happens. That is not surprising, because even those people could not make a living.
The fishermen in my constituency are upset that the Government seem unable to hear their pleas because, I am reliably informed, their French counterparts—the inshore fishing fleet of France—receive not 3 but 40 per cent. of a bigger cake. How can it be fair that in France the inshore fleet receives 40 per cent. when ours gets 3 per cent.? True, the French measurement is not strictly the same as ours, because its inshore fleet is not limited to under-10 metre boats, but the starkness of the comparison needs to be considered.
What is more, the French are simply not keeping to the rules. The port of Boulogne sends out fish price lists, and I have a copy here from August; the evidence is available. In it, the various fish available to the British market from the port of Boulogne are listed and priced. Under the heading "Cod: Gutted", there are no prices. There are simply the words "Plenty on black market!". The audacity of the French to note the availability of illegal, black market cod in that way without receiving any sort of reproach is a matter that I want the Minister specifically to take up. It is indicative of what our fishermen say is happening. Obviously, most of the evidence is empirical, but the fact remains that the small fishermen of France are surviving well and the small fishermen of the UK are not. There must be a correlation there. It might well be that the French and others are simply failing to enforce the rules that Brussels suggests.
The issue of cod has already been debated. I welcome the announcement by my colleague the Minister that certain technical measures may well be the answer, and I hope that they will lead to a quota increase, which is what fishermen in Hastings and I have been calling for. For now, however, there is no cod left to collect this year. That means that, this week, 90 per cent. of my constituents' catch was thrown back. That is an even higher figure than those we have already heard. The science makes it clear that the cod is there, particularly in area 7D, but, because it cannot be landed, it is being wilfully destroyed under the discard rule. There is no other word for that but "wicked". It is wicked to destroy fish in that way.
I want to explain why this is being done wilfully on the part of the Department, and why something needs to be done about it, at least for area 7D. Back in 2006, area 7D—the part of the channel in which the fishermen of Hastings and Rye fish—had a cod quota for the under-10 metre fleet of 214 tonnes. In that same year, area 4C in the southern North sea—the next area along—had a quota of 204 tonnes. If area 7D had a larger quota then, surely it should have a larger quota now. Because of the recovery of stock in the North sea, however, the quota for area 4C in 2008 has increased almost twofold to 385 tonnes, while in area 7D, the under-10 metre fleet may now catch only 53 tonnes. So while the North sea quota has doubled, the area 7D quota has been reduced by 75 per cent. That is simply not on.
On inquiring, I learned that the reasoning behind that decision, apparently made without any science, was that area 7D was being treated as part of the Irish sea—anyone who has visited Hastings will know that it is nowhere near Ireland—rather than part of the North sea, which is just round the corner. How can officials get things that wrong? They only need a map to be able to tell where it is. Of course, the science also tells us that the stock in area 7D is North sea stock, not Irish sea stock. Will the Minister deal specifically with this point?
I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's frustration. He asked how the officials could have got things so wrong. Whether they did or did not, will he acknowledge that, whatever they did, Ministers approved it? Is he not frustrated that his Ministers, who have been in power for the past 10 years, are going along with officials whom he thinks have got it wrong?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention but, as Mr. Bellingham said a moment ago, officialdom has been advising Ministers of both persuasions for many years, and it would seem to those of us who represent the fishing industry that they have all got it wrong. Perhaps that has been the only constant advice that has been coming through, although not from the current officials; they change, but I guess that the books remain.
The hon. Gentleman says that everyone has got it wrong, and by his definition that must mean both officials and Ministers. Why does he think that Ministers cannot see, as a result of his debating skills, that they have got it wrong and should do something about it?
My ambition is that my hon. Friend the recently appointed Minister will get it right. That is why I am making this plea today, but the problem is that decisions have been made over the years that appear illogical. No answer has been given to me or to my fishermen constituents as to why that should be, so I cannot think that the situation that I have just described can be anything other than a cock-up. The idea that Hastings is in the Irish sea and not the North sea is clearly wrong.
I must try to watch my blood pressure, but I am not the only one who is angry. My fishermen friends are falling over cod, and it is not surprising that they are very angry. Those fish should be on our plates, not rotting at the bottom of the sea after being discarded.
Someone said a moment ago that it was perhaps too much to suggest that one could walk on cod in the North sea. I do not know about the North sea, but there are shoals of cod in the English channel. I am told that they cannot be avoided because they are so plentiful, and that that is why 20 boxes have to be thrown away at a time.
I want the Minister to look right away at the problem that I have described so that the same mistake does not occur next year. We are in the North sea and not the Irish sea. The science is on my constituents' side, and I simply do not understand why we should allow that error to continue.
Finally, I return to the issue of the share-out. In area 7D and along the channel, the under-10 metre fleet is entitled to just 31 per cent. of the cod catch, whereas the over-10 metre producer organisations receive 69 per cent. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for all these numbers, but he will have seen some of them in correspondence and I am sure that his officials will get the rest from Hansard.
An even more startling figure than the share-out proportions is that 93 per cent. of vessels in area 7D, and 86 per cent. of the work force, are in the under-10 metre sector. I repeat that they receive only 31 per cent. of the share-out, but members of the over-10 metre sector do not fish the 69 per cent. that they get: instead, they sell on the rights. They do not own those rights, which are simply the gift of the British Government, yet they sell them on, to the disadvantage of my constituents.
One of my constituents went out this week and said that he brought back seven sole and half a box of plaice but discarded 30 stone of cod. Another constituent discarded a quarter of a tonne of cod, and all those fish are dead at the bottom of the sea. If my hon. Friend the Minister wants to find a solution—and I think that he does—he must listen more to Paul Joy and his colleagues in NUTFA.
In fact, after I wrote my speech, the Minister met NUTFA and other representatives of the under-10 metre sector. I thank him very much for that, as I know that he is listening, but he must act as well. We must tell the European Commission that the French need to play to the same rules as we do, because the price list that I earlier called an incitement is a step too far.
Perhaps the best way of listening would be for the Minister to do what he suggested earlier and delegate to the industry responsibility for the division of quota as well as for the other technical matters to which he referred. Any industry body making those decisions should consist of the over-10 metre producer organisations, as well as representatives from NUTFA and the under-10 metre sector. Perhaps the industry would be better placed than anyone else to make those decisions.
I should like to think that I will have the opportunity to take part in this debate again next year. I hope that Hastings and Rye will still have a fishing fleet next year and so qualify me for that opportunity, but the abyss is coming ever closer. That is not scaremongering: we are at the end of the line, and this year we need answers, not comment or discussion.
I wish my hon. Friend the Minister well in his further discussions in Brussels. If he would like the rest of us to join him, we would be very happy to catch that Eurostar.
I shall be brief, because there are just four things that I want to say, and two of them follow from what Michael Jabez Foster has said. The fishing community along the Northumberland coast, although much smaller than it used to be, remains a significant contributor to the economy of the area and, importantly, provides families with a livelihood, so we need to address its concerns.
The main problem that the local fleet has faced this year in Northumberland, as in so many other areas, is the enforced discarding of prime white fish because of lack of quota availability. This year is shaping up very much like last year, with prawn fishing giving very poor returns, but the grounds awash with whiting and cod. Even the smallest under-10 metre trawlers are having to dump about 150 kg of cod and 300 to 400 kg of whiting per day, regardless of what gear they use. For that, they get as little as 100 kg of prawns and 100 kg of haddock. The fish that the fishermen are out to catch are effectively swamped by the fish that they cannot land and have to discard. They regard discarding as an unethical practice, damaging to fishing stocks and to the housewife who could buy the fish. That is not what local fishermen, and their forefathers, went into the industry to do. However, that proves that there is a lot of cod and whiting there.
Of course, as my hon. Friend Mr. Carmichael pointed out, discards are a major issue in negotiations with Norway. It is a practice that Norway has consistently tried to avoid in its policies. It is a rather strong position to assert that future arrangements that are negotiated should not allow for large amounts of discard.
I referred to the second problem earlier in a brief intervention on the Under-Secretary—the issue of purchasing quota or licences when capping arrangements are under consideration. Skippers who have replacement vessels under construction are having great difficulty sourcing relevant licences within budget. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposes a two-tier system, allowing only those vessels with substantial track records to fish from the pool, so licence brokers have put up prices by as much as 60 per cent. The individuals concerned had made binding financial commitments to vessels before the consultation proposals came out. The effect of the consultation has been a serious increase in prices. The advice being given to the men is that they ought to go for only those grossly over-inflated licences at very high prices. That poses a difficulty for those who simply want to maintain a small, viable fishing fleet in the area.
The third point that I want to mention to the Minister concerns the consequences of the recent floods on the breakwater at Amble, which is part of the harbour on which local fishermen depend. We had most disastrous floods in Northumberland just a couple of months ago. In a debate that I introduced on
I asked for at least a preliminary indication of understanding and sympathy from the Department. Clearly, it cannot approve projects until they are fully costed and put in front of it, but I wanted some understanding, and I have not yet heard from the Minister on that. I do not expect him to respond to that point in the debate today, but I hope that he or one of his colleagues will write to me quickly, indicating that the Department understands the problem and is prepared to give it sympathetic consideration. The issue is important both to the fishing industry and the leisure marina, which is the other contributor to the harbour. In days gone by, Amble was a coal port. That, of course, is all over, and it is the fishing industry and the leisure industry that depend on, and have to sustain, the harbour works that make it possible to operate from Amble.
My fourth and last point, which has been referred to by one or two other hon. Members, is on the changes to the structure of sea fisheries committees. Most of the changes are welcome, and what is proposed looks like a sensible way to proceed. However, it is quite clear that in Northumberland there is no appetite at all for a body covering a larger area than the 70 miles of coastline that the Northumberland sea fisheries committee currently covers. We are anxious for the Government to take account of that. Indeed, the Minister himself gave the most powerful of reasons why the Government should do so, when he said—I think that I am quoting him fairly accurately—that fisheries are best managed by people with local knowledge. That is the situation in Northumberland, and in the sea fisheries committee; it is a situation that we want to carry into new, stronger and better arrangements. I hope that the Minister will take that point seriously, and will consider those four matters, along with the many others raised in this important debate.
Thank you for calling me to speak in our annual fisheries debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I welcome the Under-Secretary to the Front Bench. I am sure that he will hear a great deal from me and my neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, on fisheries.
Today, I do not want to focus on the normal fisheries issues. I note that the Minister paid tribute to those who were lost at sea when he opened this afternoon's debate, as did Bill Wiggin. I want to pay tribute to a stalwart campaigner on behalf of Britain's fishermen and fishing industry, Dolly Hardie, who passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 88 in Diana, Princess of Wales hospital in Grimsby and whose funeral was held on Monday.
Dolly was of the sea. Her family were born into the fishing industry in Grimsby. Indeed, her father lost his life at sea during the second world war, when trawlers accompanied other vessels across the Atlantic. Dolly's husband Bill was a skipper, and her son is also a skipper. She took up the fight on behalf of the fishermen of this country, particularly in relation to distant-water trawlermen. She campaigned to get those trawlermen compensation after they lost their livelihoods following the cod war. She never gave up and was a true fighter for the cause, and she recruited my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby to that cause. When I was a newly elected MP, she was one of the first people to come to see me, because she wanted to ensure that I was onside in that great campaign.
Eventually, we got the Government to agree to compensate those who lost their livelihoods. It later transpired that there were problems with the scheme, and not everyone has received their full entitlement yet, but we hope to resolve those problems.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Dolly Hardie, who was a wonderful fighter for the fishermen of Grimsby. There will be a great gap in the new Minister's life, because he will not receive letters from Dolly Hardie telling him how to run his Department, how to run the fishing industry and what to do about the fishermen.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for that intervention. Considering that he worked alongside Dolly for far longer than me, it is vital that he has put that on the record. When Dolly received her MBE from the Queen, the Queen pointed out that it is most unusual to award a woman an MBE for her services to the fishing industry. Dolly would have had a little chuckle to herself to see that I am the only woman Member in the Chamber today speaking up on behalf of the fishing industry.
That got me thinking about the contribution that fishermen have made over the years to the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy today. At the beginning of the debate, we paid tribute to those fishermen who lost their lives in the past year. A few weeks ago, I dare say that we all attended memorial services on Remembrance Sunday. An enormous number of men from areas such as Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes lost their lives at sea during the first and second world wars. We often think about the number of people lost in the trenches, but when a ship went down all hands were usually lost. Hundreds of names are inscribed on memorials and in churches in Grimsby, Cleethorpes, the surrounding villages and, no doubt, around the coastal areas of Britain.
The trawlers were an easy target, and many hundreds of people lost their lives. Even now, the profession is dangerous and carries a high death rate, so, today, I pay tribute to them for everything that they have given this country, and, as I said earlier, I pay tribute to Dolly Hardie, one of the best fighters for fishermen in this country. She was Hardie by name and hardy by nature, and we in our community will truly miss her.
I, too, welcome the new Minister to his role. We seem to get through Ministers fairly quickly, perhaps because they get burned out by the frustrations of trying to negotiate using the sensible points that Members from all parts of the House make—points which it is sometimes hard to get through to the European Commission.
This debate is a depressing re-run of other debates that I have attended over the years. The same issues come forward again and again, and, again and again, the issues are not addressed when an agreement is made. We talked at length about discards, a measure that is supposed to conserve stocks, but actually results in their destruction. Fishermen from Whitby and Scarborough in my constituency tell me that the problem is not just that they discard fish that are under-sized or of the wrong species, but that, now, an increasing number of fish of a perfectly legal landing size are discarded so that larger fish with a better market value can be landed instead.
We heard how the industry has declined over the years. The Minister's figures demonstrated that while the number of fish being landed had declined, their value had gone up, but that did not compensate for the massive increase in gas oil over the summer, which made it difficult for many skippers to decide whether to put out to sea. The situation has been made even worse by the big subsidies that the Spanish and other European Union competitors have received. The fact is that the common fisheries policy has failed: it has failed in recovering stocks, it has failed our fishermen and, in many ways, it has failed to preserve the marine environment. We should look to Iceland and Norway, although not, as the First Minister of Scotland suggests, as a model for financial services.
I should like to hear a word of criticism that the hon. Gentleman might have about financial services in Norway.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I would not criticise Norway. When I was in Glenrothes, however, there were comments about how an independent Scotland had been compared to Iceland, with its successful financial services industry.
Iceland and Norway certainly lead the way in conserving fish stocks, and ideas such as landing everything, and technical measures such as long-lining or better nets all deserve consideration. Talking to a skipper in Scarborough yesterday, I was absolutely appalled to discover—the Minister may well wish to confirm this figure—that this year, 18,000 tonnes of cod have been discarded. Even worse, given that we in Yorkshire take money very seriously, that is valued at £5.4 million—income that could have gone to our fishermen.
Quota increases need to be understood in the context of many years of reductions. For example, a boat that originally had a quota of 100 tonnes is now down to about 18 tonnes, and a 15 per cent. increase would raise that amount only to 20 tonnes, so the situation is still very difficult. We have heard about how, in the opinion of some fishermen, it may be possible to walk across the North sea on the backs of the cod, but we also hear from some scientists that there is hardly a fish left in the sea, so the Minister has a very difficult job in trying to define a route through those two different points of view.
One of the problems is that the scientific vessels understandably use the same gear and go to the same part of the sea when they go out to do the research, and they do not catch any fish. In September, interesting work was done out of Whitby. One of the scientific ships, the Cefas Endeavour, went out for a semi-pelagic trawl—that is, a trawl just off the bottom—along with the Our Lass II, one of Mr. Arnold Locker's vessels, which was using its own gear. When the vessels came back, it was discovered that the scientific vessel had caught only 8 per cent. of the number of fish caught by Mr. Locker's vessel. Mr. Locker's vessel had caught more than 10 times as many.
Moreover, the Cefas Endeavour did not catch any juvenile fish—fish of less than a year old—but Our Lass II caught 10 boxes' worth, weighing 400 kg. The disparity cannot even be put down to the power of the vessels, because the Cefas Endeavour has a 3,000 hp engine, whereas the engine of the Whitby-built Our Lass II has not much more than 500 hp. When the same experiment took place in January, the scientific vessel caught 15 per cent. of the fish caught by the Whitby vessel. The Minister should draw conclusions from that research; when fishermen say that there are a lot of fish out there, they are often not going out of their way to mislead people on purpose.
Andrew George raised a point about the 10-metre vessels, and I want to raise the same issue. Many of the boats that operate out of Whitby and Scarborough are now primarily lobster and crab vessels. There are good stocks of shellfish out there and prices have been good although, as we have heard, they are not so good now. That is due to the increasing cost of credit and the cost of transport—many lobster caught in Whitby are transported to Spain, and that has resulted in prices being depressed. By the way, given that prices are low, now may not be a bad time to introduce a new V-notching scheme for lobster.
As I said, many of the vessels do not go out primarily to catch white fish, but they do catch cod. They catch cod during the summer because they use static lobster pots, which catch some cod. During winter, they put out gill nets at slack water to catch white fish as well. So from November to Easter the vessels catch cod. During the summer they and the merchant do not have to declare a catch of less than 25 kg, but during the winter catches of such fish are an important aspect of their work.
As I understand it, the Minister is trying to root out quotas that are not being used and are preventing latent capacity. He needs to be careful in considering the vessels that do not catch a lot of white fish, because the fishermen involved are still full-time workers to whom white fish are important although they catch shellfish most of the time. There are also the genuine part-timers who do not necessarily rely on fishing for their primary income. The amount of fish landed by such vessels is already looked at, but there should also be analysis of the accounts to see who the full-time fishermen are. That would be useful. We should not eliminate the full-time fishermen who have turned to shellfish catches because of the uncertainty about cod stocks.
Fishing is important to my constituency, not only because of the people out at sea but because of the jobs onshore. The quay at Whitby has a new shellfish holding facility and that is helping us develop our export markets—not only lobster and standard crab, but the velvet crab that we previously had difficulty holding in good condition for export. There are also jobs onshore in processing. Recently, I visited Whitby Seafoods, famous for Whitby scampi; the company processes 3,000 tonnes of fish annually and has a £15 million turnover. Interestingly, unlike the processing plants in Aberdeen, every single one of the 130 staff at the Whitby Seafoods plant is a local person. The company is being developed positively by the Whittle family.
There is also a boat building facility at Parkol Marine Engineering; perhaps when the Minister finds time in his busy diary, he will come to Whitby. We will show him some of the success stories as well as the difficulties faced by fishermen in Whitby. I shall be delighted to stand the fish and chips myself. Parkol is now on vessel No. 25, and it is truly leading the field, exporting many of its vessels north of the border. Its current vessel is a twin-rig trawler for Mr. John Clark. It is continuing the long tradition of shipbuilding in Whitby, stretching back to the days of Captain Cook.
Every port that lands fish must have an ice factory. Because of the dwindling amount of fish being landed in Whitby, the economic viability of its co-operative fishermen-owned ice factory is in some doubt. We need to consider that fact carefully. It was particularly frustrating this summer when a French vessel was landing whiting, which our fishermen could not go out to catch, and its crew did not buy any of our ice because they had ice-making facilities on board.
I look forward to the introduction of the marine Bill. What are the Minister's views about recreational fishing in marine conservation areas? We do not want commercial fishing in an area where fish can spawn and where we can conserve that vital environment. Conservation is at its best in on-land areas where, for example, shooting takes place. I hope that the Minister will consider that recreational fishing, which also plays an important part in the economy of Whitby and Scarborough—with people going out on day trips, and even longer trips—should be allowed to take place in those areas, obviously with certain controls.
Finally, let me pay tribute to the work of the RNLI. We have two lifeboat stations in my constituency. Many of the people who crew those boats are fishermen, but many are land-based. When we have disasters out at sea or ships in difficulty, they are never hesitant to go out and rise to that challenge.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his new role. Although I have only been in the House since May 2005, he is the third Fisheries Minister with whom I have spoken in these annual debates. The hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) both had difficulty pronouncing the name of my constituency, but I am certain that the new Minister will have no difficulty whatsoever. He has brought a good tone to the debate that is appreciated on both sides of the House.
My constituency is an island and a maritime constituency, whether that relates to merchant seamen away for weeks, or sometimes months, oil workers in the North sea or, closer to home, fishermen around the islands, some of whom fish much further afield. Given that the population of my constituency, which is, in effect, the Outer Hebrides, is the smallest of any parliamentary constituency—although geographically it is probably one of the largest, being the length of Wales; my office is 150 miles from my house—I have known many of these fishermen for quite a while, some of them since before I came into Parliament; indeed, I attended primary school with some of them.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, the main concern in my constituency is the threat to the sustainable and successful Scottish langoustine, or prawn, fishery. The original plans, as they emerged from the Commission, seemed to involve closing the west coast fisheries. I hoped we were moving away from those plans, which were rightly described as draconian. According to John Hermse of Mallaig and North West Fishermen's Association, such a closure would have meant the tie-up of a staggering 400 boats from Kinlochbervie southwards. Duncan McInnes of the Western Isles Fishermen's Association has pointed out that that would include 50 boats in my constituency alone. If that were done, it would be a "Ravenscraig". It would be worse than a major commercial bank failing in the City of London. It would be utter devastation. For fishermen, it would be a choice of curl up and die, or disobey whatever regulation or rule had been imposed. I was pleased to note the Minister's words earlier.
Some strand of alarmist talk emerges from the EU annually. That does the EU and, particularly, the common fisheries policy, no favours whatsoever, and it is annoying and alarming for those of us who are involved. The EU CFP has little credibility anywhere in the world, and such pronouncements do not help it in any way, shape or form. Mr. Mitchell pointed out that we are giving away £3.3 billion in the value of UK fisheries that are transferred elsewhere in the EU. That might be one of the reasons why the Scottish Fisheries Minister wants to get out of the common fisheries policy—a large part of that £3.3 billion will come from Scotland.
Western Isles fishermen feel that there should be a roll-over of the prawn quota—the total allowable catch—this year at the same level, which is also the position of the Scottish Government. According to the Western Isles Fishermen's Association, the TAC has been set using some of the most up-to-date surveying work, which employs television surveying. Scientists say that stocks are healthy, so there is no scientific justification for a cut. I am glad that the Minister said that there will be no blunt cuts. Scotland has been leading the way on the use of selective gear and real-time closures.
I am glad that the Minister plans to visit the west coast of Scotland soon, and I invite him to Stornoway for a number of reasons. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, the Minister should hug the industry close, and he is more than welcome to come to Stornoway to try to do that. There is an airport close to the harbour, so it will be quite easy for him to get in and out; there is a large fishing vessel fleet of the type we are talking about; and as it is my constituency, I will ensure he gets a very good welcome.
After I intervened earlier, the Minister said that he would like to discuss west coast issues with me after the debate, and I appreciate that. It is an example of the tone that he has brought to the debate, to which I referred earlier. It is a tone of co-operation, allowing us to work through the problems as they emerge. If he goes to Stornoway, fishermen might point out the nature of the Swedish grid, which is emerging as a possible solution to some of the difficulties that have come out of the Commission. Fishermen feel that those have been unsuccessful in Denmark, and that they might even be dangerous. I do not know whether they are or not, but I feel it would be remiss of me not to pass that information on to the House, as safety concerns are paramount in the fishing industry. It is an industry that really does not need any more dangers.
The industry in Scotland has led on conservation measures. Fishermen are already recommending 110 mm rigid panels 15 to 18 metres from the cod end. I am sure that the Minister already knows those details, but it is important to put them on the record. Any species recovery effort on the west coast must use a recovery plan and not result in the displacement of fishermen or the culling of fishermen's jobs.
Another conservation measure that has emerged in the fishing industry in the islands—the Minister referred to the importance of local solutions to particular difficulties—was touted to me by one of the fishermen I mentioned at the outset, a man who was in primary school with me. It is a call for a restriction on horsepower in the Minch to about 500 hp. Donald Archie MacNeil, a fourth cousin, has been instrumental in calling for a horsepower restriction. He was probably the first person to mention it to me. The Western Isles Fishermen's Association supports it, as does the Mallaig and North-West Fishermen's Association. Processors in the islands support it as well, and given the breadth of support, I hope that the Minister will consider the idea. Bigger and faster boats give the fish less chance to escape from the net when they are trawling. The prawn fishermen of the Western Isles have come up with their own solutions, and I hope that they will be listened to.
We come back to the problem of discards. When I was a child, and perhaps long before that, discarding would be termed a sin, plain and simple—a waste. We need accurate data on discarding. We still need to know what the cod discard was last year. Discards have been blamed for some changes in the eco-system. The bonxie, or great skua, has grown in numbers and is devastating the populations of many other seabirds. According to a report in The Scotsman a couple of weeks ago, that rise in numbers could relate to the tonnes and tonnes of fish that are discarded at sea. It seems that they are not just rotting in the sea; something is feeding on them, and it could be the bonxie. Anyone who has seen this ferocious bird knows that it will attack anything, including man. It would be galling if the practice of discarding were not only causing fishermen to lose money, but causing extra damage to nature as well.
I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to the specific west coast issue of the dogfish—the spurdog, which also turns up in many shops as rock salmon. Dogfish is not a targeted fishery in the west coast of Scotland. It has a TAC of 739 tonnes, but, crucially, no landing can include more than 5 per cent. dogfish. Consequently, between October and February, many dogfish, which end up in nets—that cannot be avoided—are dumped. According to fishermen, probably only 25 per cent. of the annual TAC is caught, so many tonnes of fish which do not even exceed the quota are dumped. If the Under-Secretary could tackle the 5 per cent. rule, that would go some way towards making the improvements that fishermen want.
Scottish fishermen have welcomed the cod recovery plan, although it is challenging and I still have reservations about its science, and, as Mr. Carmichael said, the age of the science. I hope that it will enable more fish to be landed, if discards are tackled and real-time closures are included. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Minister, has described it as "trailblazing", and I am sure that all hon. Members wish it well.
We anticipate further problems from Europe with the special areas of conservation around some of the islands at the southern end of the Hebrides. A deaf, bullying and bureaucratic Europe appears to steamroller them out, with little consideration for local opinion. It is almost de rigueur for Europe to devise such proposals, regardless of local feeling and the damage that could be done to an already fragile economy. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take cognisance of local communities' concerns, make representations in Europe about them, and note that, for centuries, we in the Hebrides have balanced our needs with nature's needs and nature's power, which we know only too well.
There is another problem in the islands, which I will demonstrate to the Under-Secretary if he comes to Stornoway. Perhaps he can use his good offices with the Treasury to address it. Fishermen in some ports pay duty on the fuel as they buy it and have to claim it back, which leads to cash-flow problems and several other difficulties for them. Establishing the principle of all fishermen accessing duty-free fuel would be a great and welcome help to the fishing industry. It would probably cost the Treasury nothing and save some extra bureaucracy.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned helicopters. The change to the Sikorsky S-92 has meant several limitations. Safety is important and, from time to time, helicopters have to come to the aid of people who are fishing, so we want to ensure that the current helicopter is as good as previous one.
I have mentioned the nephrops quota, roll-over, conservation measures, real time data, gear, horsepower and discards.
I sense that the hon. Gentleman is reaching a conclusion and before he sat down I wanted to congratulate him on a measured speech, which is remarkably lacking in a partisan tone. On reflection, does he believe that some early, unilateral initiatives, such as the moratorium on quota transfers, were perhaps a mistake, in that they were partisan? If they were not a mistake, what does he believe that they have achieved?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He knows that a consultation is going on and that the results will appear soon. However, he understands that fishing in Scotland is community and family oriented. We want to maintain the fisheries quota in Scotland—I hope that he agrees that it should not be lost to Scotland. The SNP Government have done the responsible thing in seeking ways to keep that quota in Scotland, close to the communities and families that especially benefit from it, so that their birthright is not lost.
I mentioned discards of cod and especially dogfish, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider that. I wish him well in his negotiations. Outside the Chamber, we have always got on personally since I arrived in Parliament—I hope that that is not a career-hampering endorsement. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that there was little partisanship in my speech, but I have left it for the very end—I assure hon. Members that it is gentle partisanship, however. I want the Minister to imagine being at the top table in Europe with his friend the Fisheries Minister from an independent Scotland, alongside the Irish Minister, and to think how much stronger the voice from the British Isles would then be.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and the approach that he has taken in his job.
My constituency is on the west coast of Scotland, just south of that of Mr. MacNeil, and many of the problems to which he referred have been raised by the fishermen in my constituency, too. The current Commission proposals for 2009 could put the entire fishing fleet in my constituency out of business, other than those vessels using only creels or pots. The Commission's proposals are to ban fishing on the west coast inside the 200-metre contour line unless certain conditions are satisfied. However, as nearly every fishing vessel that operates from a port in my constituency fishes inside that line, the effect would be devastating on the industry and the wider community.
The condition that the Commission has proposed which causes the problem is the one that I raised with the Minister in my earlier intervention, namely that if vessels were allowed to fish within the 200-metre contour line, the Swedish grid would have to be incorporated in the fishing gear. However, hardly any effort has been made to assess the effectiveness of the grid in the conditions off the west coast. The Clyde Fishermen's Association is concerned that it will prove impossible to incorporate the grid into its members' fishing gear. The problem appears to be the grid's rigidity when fitted to vessels of the type used off the west coast.
New ideas such as the Swedish grid should not be introduced unless they have been thoroughly tested and proven to work safely under the exact conditions in which they will have to be used. I was encouraged by the Minister's response to my intervention and wish him well in his negotiations in Brussels. I hope that he will be able to block the regulation, because the grid simply has not been properly tested.
The Clyde Fishermen's Association has put forward an alternative proposal, which is to increase the size of the square mesh panel from 90 mm to 160 mm, which would allow the cod to escape while still catching nephrops. That is the same objective that the Swedish grid is supposed to achieve, so I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to the Clyde Fishermen's Association's alternative proposal. The Clyde fishermen fish for nephrops, whose stock is healthy. The Commission's reason for introducing the Swedish grid is to prevent cod by-catch. However, previous studies have shown that the cod by-catch when fishing for nephrops off the west coast is negligible. Increasing the square mesh panel to 160 mm would achieve the same ends as the Swedish grid, but unlike the Swedish grid, it is proven technology. I therefore urge the Minister to do all that he can to block that untested proposal.
Another concern of the Clyde fishermen is the proposal to cut the nephrops total allowable catch by 15 per cent. The proposal seems to be based purely on average landings from recent years and not on any scientific evidence that the nephrops stock is in danger. However, basing the future TAC simply on landings from previous years is a badly conceived principle—it is known as the "use it or lose it" principle—and should be rejected. A TAC should be based on scientific evidence. I also understand that there is a proposal on the table to reduce the fishing effort by 25 per cent. However, in view of the healthy nephrops stock and the insignificant cod by-catch, there seems to be no justification for that proposal, so it, too, should be opposed.
Let me turn to the effects of the credit crunch on the fishing industry. I was on the isle of Tiree in my constituency a couple of weeks ago and spoke to fishermen there. They fish for velvet crabs using creels. There are several boats based on the island so, bearing in mind its smallness, they provide employment to a significant proportion of people living there. The same applies to many other remote communities around our coasts. The crabs are exported to Spain, but the effect of the credit crunch has been to halve demand, which clearly puts at risk jobs on the island of Tiree and in many similar communities. The velvet crab market seems confined to Spain, but this is a good, healthy British food, caught sustainably in British waters, and we should encourage more people in this country to eat more such food. I thus urge the Minister and his DEFRA colleagues to mount a campaign to persuade people in Britain of the benefit of eating British crab—a healthy food, caught sustainably, as I said—and at the same time to save jobs all round the British coast.
Finally, I turn to the future of the common fisheries policy. I was encouraged by the Minister's approach. We need to move from regional advisory committees to regional management committees and I certainly wish the Minister well in following that approach. I also wish him well in the December Council. As I said, I am encouraged by the approach he has adopted; all power to his elbow.
It looks as though I am the last to speak in this debate before the concluding speeches start. I commend the Minister for his approach to his new brief on his first outing at the Dispatch Box. It is also an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Reid, who has always been assiduous in his support for fishermen in his area. My constituency is not quite as widespread as that of Mr. MacNeil, although it extends some 80 miles from west to east and most of it is on the sea.
My first point is about the nature of the debate. In taking interventions, the Minister was apologising for the extent of his speech, but when we debate fisheries matters here, there is an argument for trying to find a different structure and perhaps for having a debate closer in style to that of a scrutiny Committee. This is a debating Chamber, not a speechifying Chamber, and I believe that it is the interchange between Members and the Minister that provides the greatest value. Frankly, I would not mind significantly curtailing my own speech—I will try to keep this one as brief as possible—in order to give the Minister even more time. I managed to intervene only twice on the Minister and I would have been happy to get in a few more times in order to encourage him to address the most important issues that need debating.
I want to cover some of the big picture stuff. The Minister mentioned the common fisheries policy reform for 2012, and I am keen to debate the issue in Government time, particularly when we have an opportunity to crack the inshore issues. We in the UK are always keen to ensure that we have the opportunity as a nation to manage our fisheries within the 12-mile limit. I understand that the French are putting forward proposals to do the same. I hope that we will have an opportunity to address inshore issues and the 12-mile limit.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the UK has the capability to manage its fisheries in a 200-mile limit?
That is a question for another debate. I want to keep this debate within the realms of reality, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. Let us stay on this planet for the moment.
My next point concerns regional management. As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, there has been a strong push towards converting regional advice to regional management. I hope that the Minister agrees that cracking that and cracking the inshore issue are two important tasks that need to be addressed in the future negotiations.
I mentioned a few inshore issues earlier. The Minister responded by saying that hard decisions were needed on the management of the under-10-metre sector. I hope that those decisions will result from listening to what the sector has said during the consultation. Many representations have been made, and there are extreme and serious concerns about the way in which the Government may be implementing controls and regulations.
I also want to say something about the marine Bill. I intervened on the Minister earlier to ask about the proposals for the alteration of sea fisheries committees and for inshore fisheries conservation authorities. They are welcome in many respects, but I am anxious for him to take account of the importance of maintaining the geographical coverage and boundaries of the present sea fisheries committees. My constituency, unlike other parts of the country, contains two of those committees.
There was a good illustration of the importance of separate sea fisheries committees a few years ago, when the Isles of Scilly took action, through both fisheries management and a marine conservation measure, to control the extent to which scallop dredgers were scouring the sea bed in their area. I doubt that that important conservation measure would have been introduced if the matter had been considered on a wider basis, beyond the Isles of Scilly.
I hope that the Minister will not concern himself only with resources. Sea fisheries committees share professional capacity and resources and operate reciprocal measures in a sensible way. For instance, the Cornwall fisheries monitoring vessel is shared by Devon and the Isles of Scilly. I hope that he respects that arrangement.
This point may have been raised earlier in the debate, but unfortunately I was unable to be present until now.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the unease among those who currently work for the Marine and Fisheries Agency but are to be moved to the marine management organisation. Anyone who has not yet picked that up ought to do so, because there is widespread unease. The Public and Commercial Services Union is campaigning on the issue, and the Government ought to take cognisance of it as well.
I want to say something about the under-10 metre regulations, and in particular about the concern about the period between July 2006 and January 2008. For 12 consecutive months, a 300 kg limit has been used as the measure for each species. That is the measure against which it is decided whether a vessel is entitled to fish a particular species. It is a question of maintaining a quota rather than fishing within a 300 kg limit. What worries many in the under-10 metre sector is that, especially as the measure is retrospective, it could have a number of consequences, which might be unintended but would certainly be inequitable. Inevitably, a large number of fishermen during that period will have fished non-quota species, many of which have been mentioned: bass, crab, lobster and gurnard. The Minister must understand that a lot of those fishermen are catching as a by-catch many of the quota species as well. In Cadgwith in my constituency, there is a cove fishing community with eight boats and 12 men working all year round that is essential to the economic viability of that community and it could be seriously undermined by these proposals. Whole communities may be seriously affected. It may seem small beer in the whole scheme of things, but for that community it will be significant.
For the very low impact fisheries such as mackerel handliners, there are serious concerns as well. They have been told by the Department that the 300 kg limit would not apply to mackerel handliners but in fact the secretary of the South West Mackerel Handliners Association, David Muirhead, was told in a letter only last week that the limit will apply to mackerel handliners. If we wanted an example of a stone age, low impact fishery, the mackerel handliners would be the best case in point.
I hope the Minister will take into account that the proposals to control the leasing of quota, particularly in the under-10 metre sector, will not save any fish. Now, in that sector, fishermen are catching fish and then leasing quota to allow them to be landed. In future, they will still catch the fish but they will discard them. I hope that he will take some cognisance of that as well.
It was proposed from the south-east sector originally that the best way of eliminating latent effort is for the Government to buy up licences, not to decommission the vessels. The boats could then become pleasure boats or something else. I hope that the Minister will look at that as an alternative to the measure that is currently proposed. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are keen to establish a good fiscal stimulus in the economy. What could be a better fiscal stimulus than buying the licences of the under-10 metre sector?
I do not wish to detain the House, but in relation to the offshore sector in an area such as mine, the use of the blunt instrument of quotas needs to be looked at. I think that the Minister said that about 70 per cent. of fish are imported into this country. Let me tell him that the majority of the fish caught in Cornwall are exported to elsewhere in Europe—to France, Spain and elsewhere. We have a mixed fishery. The impact of the quota system on the mixed fishery, given the relative stability tenets that have affected the western waters, means that our fishermen are discarding a tremendous amount of fish. The proposals for the allocation of quotas for this year, particularly cod and other fish, will not save a single fish. Those fish are being caught anyway and will be discarded. I hope that the Minister looks carefully at that.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar — [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not be able to articulate many of the place names in my area, although we are fellow Celts. He mentioned spurdog and porbeagle sharks—they are also in my area—being given a 100 per cent. cut in TAC. That will not save a single spurdog or porbeagle shark. They are caught as a by-catch and are not a targeted fishery. It is quite insane to go ahead in the way that the Commission seems to be proposing.
The upshot of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that spurdog discard will be great, and anything that is caught will be discarded.
That is absolutely right.
I wish the Minister well in his future negotiations, and I hope that in the new year he will give the House an opportunity to debate in Government time the common fisheries policy and the inshore fisheries. If he is to make some hard decisions, we need to debate them in this House.
That was a very good contribution to end on, and I personally would welcome the opportunity, through the usual channels, to talk in the new year about some of the issues in common fisheries policy reform that are fundamental to our long-term vision and the implementation of sustainable fisheries measures.
The breadth, scope and expertise of today's contributions have shown that this has been a valuable debate. It has highlighted some of the immense challenges in the industry, such as those to do with the under-10 metre fleet, the larger fleet, longer-term reform, and global issues and our responsibility to international management of the seas. I am very grateful to all Members who have contributed; I shall try to deal with as many points as possible, and I apologise if I fall into my normal approach of going off like a machine gun to get through them. If I do not deal with every issue, I promise that I will continue a dialogue on them with Members. I must have taken a dozen or more interventions when I spoke earlier; I would have taken more, but I also wanted to hear Members' full contributions.
Let me deal first with the contributions of other Front-Bench Members, and the interventions on them. Science has been a theme in our debate. There has been much comment on the different views on the state of the fish stocks between science and fishermen. I take on board the point that there should not be any difference. We are trying to get the most accurate interpretation so that when we go into the negotiations, we are not playing catch-up but are presenting the most authoritative science to the Commissioner in a well argued way. That is, in fact, why we have done well in the negotiations we have just had: he has been convinced not only by what we have been saying based on the findings of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and others, but by what our fishermen have been reporting. I am keen to improve understanding of the science, however, and my Department has now established and supports the continuation of the fisheries science partnership, which promotes joint working between scientists and the industry, and that is starting to feed in to ICES advice. I want that to continue.
I will certainly continue to look at all the available science, including that from ICES. We should not denigrate the work that ICES does, because it provided a strong bargaining position as we went into the negotiations; it helped us in many ways. We always look to improve the science, however, and to work with the industry, and I hope that shows.
The issue of the multiplier across the industry was raised. We estimate that for every job directly in the fisheries there are at least 10 in wider onshore employment. Employment in the fish-catching sector stood at 12,700 at the end of 2007, the corresponding figure for the fish-processing sector is about 15,000 people, and almost 28,000 jobs are directly involved in the fishing industry. We estimate that there are a further 110,000 jobs in sectors that exist directly as a result of the fishing industry, such as shore services and gear manufacture. That is a substantial number of jobs, and it is why we are having this debate today. This is not only to do with conservation of the seas; small and larger communities inland depend on the fishing industry.
The debate has, by and large, been unpartisan, and I intend to keep it that way and to continue that spirit in my ongoing discussions. The Department was, however, accused of lacking ambition in a number of ways, not least on discards. However, I say to Bill Wiggin that what we are doing on discards—what the Scottish fleet is doing on that—is what has helped us to get to our current position, driving forward in negotiations with Commissioner Borg and winning the argument about how to proceed in an intelligent way and achieve sustainable fisheries. We are not complacent and we do not lack ambition, and when we go into common fisheries reform we will drive forward again. We have come out of these negotiations with the big ask for the fisheries of a 25 per cent. mortality drop, but that is coupled with advances in the way we tackle discards, and I know the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that that is the way forward. The Government are not lacking ambition, and we will make progress with his support and that of other hon. Members.
The scale of the discards has been discussed by several hon. Members. In 2007, North sea fleets discarded 23,600 tonnes of cod. As I mentioned at the start of this debate, that is a disaster not only for people who hear those figures but for the fishermen, who do not want to discard. Some of our pilots, not least within the inshore fleet, have taken a more innovative approach to dealing with discards, based on landing what one catches and the close monitoring of those vessels. When I have met those involved, I have found the response to that encouraging. They see our approach as the way forward, and we will build on it. We have run two discard pilot projects in recent years, the first of which was on the north-east coast prawn fishery—a copy of the details of that project is in the House of Commons Library. The second was a joint project on the Irish sea involving the UK and Ireland, and we could talk more about that. We are seeing that our approaches are successful and that they are helping us.
A number of hon. Members rightly raised the issue of the displacement of effort. We need to examine it, as it no use putting in place measures that just move the problem along. A general reduction in effort, which we are examining under the revised cod recovery plan, should ensure that the displacement of effort for which there is scope does not occur. These restrictions limit an effort by these vessels whether or not they are catching cod, and that principle becomes interesting when we consider what we do with other fisheries.
I am dealing with some of the issues raised in interventions, so let me turn now to the eliminator trawl. That new trawl, which was developed in America, keeps cod out of the net but retains other white fish. It has been trialled effectively in the North sea, and some vessels continue to use it effectively. I know that Scottish colleagues are looking at variations of it that are better suited to hard ground. The eliminator may have some of the answers, and it is one part of the solution.
ICES' advice on the Irish sea, North sea and west of Scotland nephrops is for cuts of 13 to 26 per cent. The initial Commission proposals are for 10 to 15 per cent. cuts, although, again, the full hand has not been revealed. I said at the outset where the Government intend to head on these negotiations with the Commission. The fundamentals must relate to balancing the needs of the stocks—not only next year, but in the long term—and the fisheries. I shall remind the Commission of the socio-economic impacts of blunt cuts.
I have discussed the timing of scientific advice, so I shall skip over that now. Fleet adaptation schemes were also mentioned in an intervention, so I should say that they are optional; they are not a requirement in order to access European fisheries fund money. However, we are working closely with the industry to examine how best to maximise the impact of the EFF money available for fleet adaptation. There is more to be done, but we are doing many of the right things on that.
I turn next to quota management and its reform, both now and in the long-term. Officials and Ministers are of the opinion that this is part of a longer view. The review of the common fisheries policy, and of quota management within it, is the beginning, not the end, of reform. The hon. Member for Leominster asked what happened to the quota management change programme. That programme commenced in May 2005, but the Scottish Executive formally withdrew from it in September 2007, bringing an end to that process. A lot of good work was done and that has not been lost; it will provide a crucial input into future decisions. This is not the end of the process and, as has been mentioned, we need to deal with both current and long-term issues of quota reform and quota management within CFP reform.
I wish to set out the background to this matter. In the "Net benefits" report of 2004, the Government published a set of 33 strategic recommendations for the UK fishing industry. They were worked up into 12 action points, of which six have been successfully implemented and six are ongoing, including key proposals on reforming the management of access to the common fisheries resource. That was being taken forward by the QMCP, in conjunction with the four UK Administrations. We are currently developing a project, as part of the CFP reform agenda, to consider how best to reform access to fisheries in the longer term. That is ongoing.
The issue of marine coastal zones was also raised. It is correct that, under the marine Bill as it stands, we could ban only UK vessels from fishing in marine coastal zones, but the point is that the European Union is requiring all member states to identify offshore special areas of conservation, or SACs. We will have leverage to seek reciprocal arrangements with other member states to respect each others' protected areas. We will find a way through this problem. Being in Europe is sometimes complicated, but it gives us the right outcome eventually. We will work through it, with support from hon. Members.
I turn now to individual contributions. I thank Mr. Carmichael and others for their welcome to me. It is good to receive their thanks today, as this is a challenging job, but with their support I will get through it. The hon. Gentleman highlighted the role of emergency services and talked about the back-up helicopter at Sumburgh airport. I can tell him that we have tried to obtain clarification of that issue. We understand that recently the back-up reserve S-92 helicopter based at Sumburgh has been redeployed to the Solent to provide night-time cover for the AW139 helicopters that have been undergoing modification. I am advised that the situation will be resolved tomorrow, and the AW139 helicopters will return to full night and day search and rescue duties. If I can help with any other aspect of that matter, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get in touch and we can take it from there.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned fuel costs. I am glad that they have been returning to normal, and I have discussed that with my officials. Hon. Members have also mentioned fuel duty. The fishing industry is exempt from paying fuel duty, which places it in an advantageous position compared with other businesses and sectors, but it is not Government policy directly to subsidise fuel costs, including for commercial fishing vessels. Such subsidies can lead to over-capacity, distort business decisions and act against the long-term interests of the industry. Not least, they can be discriminatory and unsustainable. However, there is plenty of assistance available for the fleet, and I should mention that the European fisheries fund can grant aid to projects to improve fuel efficiency on board vessels. In addition, several initiatives are planned to help the industry to adapt, such as the fisheries science partnership and the challenge fund, and a capping and decommissioning scheme for the under-10 metre fleet, which has been mentioned already. That is an investment of £4.6 million in the industry by DEFRA, in addition to the £38 million EFF money for England.
When I brought up the issue of fuel, I was not looking for subsidised fuel but for fuel that would be duty-free at point of sale.
I understand and note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot give a commitment on that.
On the EU-Norway issues that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, I can assure him that we are fully engaged with them, both officially and ministerially. Our offer to the Commissioner and colleagues in other member states is active engagement; we are at their disposal. In the light of what we are talking about and as we head towards December, the EU-Norway discussions are critical. They sometimes get overlooked, but they are pivotal, not least in terms of what will happen to TAC adjustments.
The science suggests various approaches, and the presidency may take one view and other member states another. We certainly take the view that in order to incentivise the fleet to avoid discards and to adopt intelligent approaches to sustainable fishing, we need what we have termed a "substantial" increase in TAC. The incentives should favour landing more cod, but killing less. We do not want fish to be dumped over the side. We will continue to make progress on that, and I am glad to hear from many hon. Members that they too want to see that happen.I already mentioned science, so I shall simply say, on wider CFP reform, that a focus on regional input is absolutely right, and it is how we intend to drive the matter forward.
Mr. Bellingham represented the concerns of his constituents well, and talked about the shellfish fisheries in the Wash, which he described as historic and iconic. He referred to the Hanseatic League. It is not my strongest period of history, but I understand that it might have been a precursor of the European Union. He also talked about the impact of sub-marine work for offshore wind farms. A close eye needs to be kept on that, but I noted his balanced and commendable approach to the need for renewable energy.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the delicate Sabellaria reefs, which are constructed by the Sabellaria worm under the sea. They should be protected under the EU habitats directive. We are aware of them, and I appreciate his concern.
The hon. Gentleman and others mentioned their support for further, wider, radical reform of the CFP. The Commission is minded to do that, as we are, and we need to actively engage with it. He was sceptical whether we could deliver. I do not want to be the Obama of fisheries, but I will say this, "Can we do it? Yes we can." That is a commitment.
I know that we are not supposed to use props, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will leave a copy of "Managing our marine resources: licensing under the Marine Bill", which we have just published, on the Table. The document might help to answer some of the hon. Gentleman's questions.
Sir Alan Beith mentioned discarding and the under-10 metre fleet, and sought an answer about work required as a result of flooding in his constituency. I have asked officials to ensure that he is written to promptly. He and others asked about the changes in the size, shape and geographic spread of sea fisheries committees. I will return to the matter. I said in my initial answer that we will seek local stakeholder involvement, including that of the existing sea fisheries authority, when we consider the matter to ensure that we get things right.
Mr. Goodwill talked about discards, oil prices and the need for the best, most up-to-date science. We are agreed on the latter, and the Government will work on obtaining it.
The hon. Gentleman spoke articulately about the under-10 metre fleet. NUTFA, which is going from strength to strength, and others have stressed to me that the focus should be on the working vessels, not the slipper kippers. That is where the focus should be, and where mine will be. A sustainable future means livelihoods for the fishermen who currently fish around our coasts, and taking tough decisions on how we avoid simply dragging back fishermen to sea who have been sitting on licences. We need to find an intelligent way forward. That could mean that I lose my sudden popularity for a short time, but I am committed to ensuring that when people look back in six and 12 months, and two years and five years, they feel that we made the right decisions for the long-term sustainability of the under-10 metre fleet.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the invitation to Whitby—it was the first invitation I had today. I am sure that I will take it up at some point, when we get past the negotiations in December.
The hon. Gentleman's support for marine coastal zones was welcome. Recreational fishing will certainly have a part to play in that, because the essence of the marine conservation zones and marine planning will be local stakeholder engagement. That is how we see the project driving forward—it will not be a top-down approach. I join him in his tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for all its work.
I can tell Mr. MacNeil that I will indeed work with the Scottish Government—with Richard Lochhead and his officials—to work through the difficult issues in the Scottish fisheries, especially in the area that he represents, to get the best, most sustainable arrangements. I agree that we need to avoid what could be alarmist signals to the fleet. We actually need practical, rational discussion on the science and what we are observing, and on what we believe to be the solutions.
I do not want to engage the Commission in tabloidese negotiation. We actually need to get up there with our officials to see what is happening, and then talk through the matter with the Commission. Indeed, we have something of an undertaking with it to look at the matter. We will see what we can deliver. My officials are intimately engaged with Scottish Executive officials in trying to put the expert opinion and the views of stakeholders before the Commission. We have a long way to go, and I do not underestimate the challenge that we will face in the final stages of the negotiations, but we will try to win the very best deal available.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned dogfish, and issues of conservation in the southern Hebrides. We have noted those points and, if necessary, we will write to him with further information. I also thank him for his invitation to visit his constituency. It is a beautiful part of Scotland, both for work and for pleasure, and I look forward to taking him up on that, some time in the future.
Mr. Reid mentioned the Swedish grid, as did other Members. We are cognisant of his concerns on the matter, and we are looking into it. He also mentioned the "use it or lose it" approach. That is an approach that we will continue to argue vociferously against, as it is not the right way forward in the negotiations, or in the longer term.
Andrew George talked about the under-10 metre fleet in some detail. I have heard the concerns that he has expressed, and we will act. He also talked about the reform of the sea fisheries committees. I think that I have already dealt with that matter, but I thank him for raising it. However, to follow up on that point, the Bradley review proposed that the current 12 sea fisheries committee districts might be reduced to about six, but I have not suggested that that number is right. I will decide on the future number of inshore fisheries and conservation authorities in England, following full consultation with the sea fisheries committees, with Members, and with other stakeholders, early in 2009. We will have an opportunity to look at that matter.
I can see that I am going to be doing a lot of travelling in the next few months. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that invitation.
I have mentioned the quality and passion of the debate today. The contribution by my hon. Friend Mr. Doran reminded us of his long-standing expertise and his contribution to these debates over many years. I welcome that, and I thank him for welcoming me to my new role. He made a very balanced and considered speech. He mentioned longer-term CFP reform, and rightly said that we needed to move away from pork barrel politics. We need to have much more to do with long-term sustainability, in relation to the profitability of the fisheries and to the conservation of the seas. I should like to repeat a point that is worth repeating, by clarifying that, in the current round of negotiations, our Government's approach is to land more and to discard less. We shall continue to take that approach. The discussions between the EU and Norway will be important in that regard, and a figure of between 25 and 30 per cent. has been mentioned in relation to increases in total allowable catch, but we will have to see. We have to achieve the right incentives for the fleet.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the important issue of the immigrant work force and transit visas. He illustrated his point with the example of people who were working 20-hour days for €240 a month, with no health and safety provision and, in some cases, no accommodation. I am happy to continue to discuss that matter with Government colleagues here and in the Scottish Government, but it is an important issue that we have already recognised. The Border and Immigration Agency and the Department for Transport are leading on this issue, with input from others, including DEFRA. It is a serious issue, and we are acting on it. My hon. Friend also talked about training. I do not have time to go into that point now, but I will happily write to him with more details of the training arrangements in our fisheries.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell for his warm welcome. I should also like to thank him and other hon. Members for their kind words about my predecessors, who have put a lot of effort and passion into this role. I hope to continue in that vein. My hon. Friend's advice to me was to stay close and to hug the industry, although I am sure that he did not mean it literally. I will be doing that, however; I have hugged many a fishermen already—not literally—and I am enjoying the experience. He called this the most important job in government and I know that he will relay what I say to my right hon. Friend in No. 10, but it certainly is a very important job. It is very exciting, because many elements of the agenda can make a real difference.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby made a passionate case for the reform of the CFP. Perhaps he wanted us to tear it up and start again: I am not sure about that, but we are committed to its fundamental reform. I welcome his encouragement and support for the role played by RACs in providing industry input into longer-term CFP reform.
My hon. Friend Michael Jabez Foster said that he was unashamedly parochial, but that is nothing to be ashamed of at all and, as always, he made a strong case for his constituents. He has lobbied effectively and hard for his under-10 metre fleet, and continues to do so. He urged me to make the necessary changes and I will do so, using his input and listening to his constituents and others. He rightly said that warm words will not be enough this time and that we need decisions, and I agree. Although my decisions may not always be popular, I will use input from people in this Chamber and elsewhere to make the right decisions for the long term. In this role, I might sometimes be more unpopular than popular, but this is not a popularity contest. I also thank him and others for the representations that they have made.
Turning briefly to quota allocation, I know that members of the under-10 metre fleet feel that the original decisions were very unfair, although they were based on the best information available at the time. However, things have moved on and the composition and fishing patterns of the inshore fleet have changed. The Marine and Fisheries Agency works hard to maximise the quota available to the inshore fleet, but the current system is not sustainable, which is why we have proposed a package of measures to address that.
The key message is that capping will have to be an essential part of any decommissioning scheme because it will help ensure that the benefits are not diluted. We have made no final decisions, but, to end the uncertainty, I will communicate them within the next couple of weeks. We are committed to supporting the inshore fleet so that it is economically and environmentally sustainable in the long term.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye also mentioned black market cod. On my charts showing the amount of cod gutted, the words "plenty on black market" are highlighted. The problem arose during the closure of the channel cod fishery, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to my attention. The MFA was alerted to it, and immediately contacted its opposite number in France to ensure that the necessary action against illegal activity was taken. We will continue to monitor the situation and to liaise across the channel. If there is any further evidence of such trading, I know that my hon. Friend will provide it so that we can take action as well.
I hope that I have dealt with most of the questions that were raised this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said that the debate comes around like Christmas for many hon. Members, and that everyone can go home happy afterwards. I know what he means, but I shall not be going home. With support from my officials and devolved Ministers, and with input from fishermen, non-governmental organisations, other stakeholders and hon. Members of this House, I shall be going back into negotiations.
We will keep an eye on the EU-Norway talks, but we will bear it in mind that decisions made in this Chamber—or in warm, air-conditioned offices in London, Brussels or elsewhere—have an impact on the livelihoods and lives of fishermen, their families and communities. I shall bear that in mind with every decision and step that I take along the way.
There is no better way to end my comments than by referring to the contribution from my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac. She talked about the campaigning role played by Dolly Hardie. She was laid to rest only this week, and our condolences go out to her family, her son Billy Hardie and her daughter Jane Bacon. Dolly Hardie was a fastidious campaigner over many years for fishermen and for fisheries, and hers was truly a life lived in and for fisheries and their communities.
In her contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes also reminded us of the number of fishermen and mariners who have given their lives in times of both peace and war. We owe it to them, and to Dolly Hardie and her campaign, to deliver a sustainable future for the fisheries. That is a huge ask, and some tough decisions will have to be taken. However, I am committed to that task and, with the support of the House, I will try to ensure that it is achieved.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of fisheries.