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[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Backbench Business — Fisheries

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:13 pm on 2nd December 2010.

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Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:13 pm, 2nd December 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am conscious that there are a number of other Members who wish to contribute and that we need to give the Minister an opportunity to respond to the points that have been made, so I will try to be as brief as possible.

I congratulate Dr Whiteford on securing the debate, and I associate myself very much with her comments about the Fishermen's Mission and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which does a superb job protecting people around our coastline. I am almost unique in this Chamber today in that, as far as I am aware, there is no fishing fleet in Rutherglen and Hamilton West; indeed I would be surprised to find that there was. Perhaps it is the same in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Bain, who is on the Front Bench.

I was keen to contribute to the debate as someone who, 10 years ago, worked in the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Having attended a number of Fisheries Councils in that capacity, I genuinely wish the Minister well for the negotiations later this month.

As many hon. Members have said, the need for reform of the CFP is a long-standing issue, and one that has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House for a number of years. In some ways it is disappointing that, almost 10 years since I last had some degree of familiarity with fishing issues, so many of them have not changed much. That speaks to the compromise that sometimes seems to happen in European negotiations, particularly when fisheries issues and other issues are played off against each other. It is one of the less attractive features of how European issues are sometimes discussed and negotiated.

I am sure that the Minister will do all that he can to stand up for the fishing industry and to look at CFP reform as the opportunity presents itself next year or in following years. I am sure that he will make the case to colleagues in other Departments that fisheries should not be considered to be at the margins of European discussions, because they are vital to a range of communities that are well represented today and to the sustainability of both stocks and an industry that is a key economic contributor in several places. The Fisheries Council meeting in December is also important because it will come ahead of those negotiations on the CFP and therefore is a crucial opportunity to set the standard. I think that it will be used more widely as a barometer for where the debate on the fishing industry is going.

There is an important balance to be struck between the sustainability of stocks and the sustainability of communities and industries. I am sometimes depressed by the way the debate is characterised. Other Members have suggested that there can be almost a caricature of scientists against fishermen, but I know from my discussions with representatives of the fishing industry that that is by no means a fair reflection of where the industry is. There are other measures that the Government should look at when trying to marry those two objectives, because the overall policy goal, by and large, is shared.

Looking further at how we move from the sometimes cumbersome system of total allowable catches to catch quotas and the consequent reduction in discards is an important part of that. Early trials of on-board monitoring for fisheries in England and other areas have produced positive results, but that needs to go alongside rule changes as well, because one without the other will not allow that system to work properly if it is adopted. I hope that the Minister will take that stance in his discussions and meetings later this month and in the next few months.

I have had the opportunity at the last two DEFRA Question Times to raise with the Minister the mackerel quota dispute with Iceland and the Faroes, which other Members have mentioned. I appreciate that he made it clear on both occasions that the unilateral approach was unacceptable and that he shares the views of many who have expressed concern about how that situation has arisen and the fact that it is not resolved. I take this opportunity to implore him again to do everything he can to try to resolve that issue. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan made clear in her contribution-she obviously has a strong constituency interest-there needs to be a negotiated settlement, but one that is acceptable to the people whose livelihoods depend on that fishing.

The need for reform of the CFP is widely accepted, but it is difficult to achieve. I appreciate that the job that the Minister will have to do over the next few months is difficult, and I am sure that he will have picked up from the debate that there is a great deal of support for him and a recognition of the difficult nature of that job. I hope that those discussions on CFP reform will look at regional fisheries management. I know that there are issues about the extent to which such management is a regional matter and that the Scottish Government have expressed the view that it should be done at a Scottish level and not below. There needs to be appropriate flexibility in moving to regional fisheries management. However, the credibility that will come from that will help the Minister in the task that he faces. It will also help to move to longer-term management plans, which I think have a key part to play. Every year, just before Christmas, there is an opportunity for the wider media finally to pay a bit of attention to the fisheries industry, but they do so in a way that is caricatured almost as a "stay up all night, and who yawns first loses out" approach, which is not helpful. We should move to a much more sustainable position.

I would also like the Minister to respond, if he can in the time that he has, to three further points relating to fisheries that are of concern to people to whom I have spoken in recent months. First, regarding the future of the under-10-metre fleet, I know that work was being undertaken by the previous Government and I hope that that work is continuing under the current Government. Secondly, does the Minister intend to use the Hague preference during the negotiations later this month? Thirdly, what update can he give us in relation to the attempts-attempts that began under the previous Government and that I hope will be continued under this Government-to protect blue fin tuna? That is a very important international issue, stretching outside of EU issues and involving fisheries more widely. Moreover, what discussions has he had, or is he planning to have, with his Maltese, French and Italian counterparts?

Given that other Members wish to speak, I will curtail my remarks there.