Common Fisheries Policy (Reform) — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 10th September 2015.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:00 pm, 10th September 2015

I am slightly disappointed to see the Chamber thinning at the rate that it is, but I am resigned to it. This topic has not suffered from a lack of debate over the years, certainly not during my time in the House. As we can tell from the number of Members leaving the Chamber, this issue matters a lot to a small number of communities and to a smaller number of people in a wider range of communities. My constituency of Shetland, in particular, is one of those communities where it does matter a lot.

In 2014, we in Shetland alone landed in the region of 78,000 tonnes of fish or shellfish with a value of £76 million from local and visiting boats: 24% of all fish landed in Scotland in that year. In fact, the amount of fish landed in Shetland is greater than the amounts landed in ports in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. Some 30% of our local economic product comes from fishing or fish farming—the seafood industries taken as a whole. I tell hon. Members that so that they can understand. Talk about common fisheries policy reform can often be quite jargon-heavy and a little bit dry and academic, but for us, as a community, it is anything but that. The fishing industry defines us as a community and underpins just about everything else that happens within our community.

Indeed, across all sectors of the industry, more traditional models of boat ownership and operating exist in Shetland than in other parts of the country, from where they have perhaps disappeared. We retain fishing as a family industry, where generation after generation will want to go to sea and make their living as fishermen. That came home to me in 2002, as a fairly new Member of Parliament elected in 2001: we had the December Council result, which was probably one of the most difficult for the industry to manage that people can ever remember. The week before Christmas, when the House had gone into recess, I went home to Shetland and had to address a mass meeting of the local fishermen’s association in the mission in Lerwick. It was as bleak and grim a meeting as I have ever seen; a week before the end of the year, not knowing what was going to happen come 1 January, the rug had been pulled out from underneath these men’s feet and they had no idea how they were going to manage the deal that had been landed on them. No other industry would manage itself, or allow itself to be managed, in that way. It was in that 2002 deal that the seeds of reform were sown, and we have seen significant progress since then.

In 2000, before I was elected to Parliament, I attended a conference in north-east Scotland, where Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association was one of the speakers. He said that the further a skipper is from his home port, the less he cares about conservation of stocks. That has stuck with me ever since. I have always taken that as being the justification for regionalisation and bringing control of the industry back as close as possible to the communities most directly affected by it.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what was said at that time has been borne out, given the plundering of tiny fish that the Spanish pursued after its accession?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That was very much the context of the day. My only rejoinder to Mr Park’s statement would have been that the same was also true of Ministers and officials: the further removed they were from the management of stocks, the easier it was for them to impose unworkable deals that caused an enormous range of difficulties in practical terms. I exempt the incumbent Minister from that; he has always demonstrated a tremendous willingness to engage with industry and has a good working understanding of it.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great problems of the common fisheries policy is that even the regional organisations are too large? If local fishermen realise that if they conserve fish they can get them at another time, they are more likely to go along with the measures. The trouble with the common fisheries policy is that there are too many fishing, from too far and wide, who are really not concerned about conserving fish now—they know very well that, if they do, somebody else will get them before they do. That is one of the worst problems of the CFP.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There is not much that I disagree with there. The essence of the problem that the hon. Gentleman highlights is that fisheries management is something done to the industry and to the communities affected, rather than being something that they feel they have any ownership of, or are able to influence. Although there have been an enormous number of problems with the regional advisory councils, they have been a source of enormous progress and benefit and are certainly infinitely preferable to what we had before they were established, when everything was done in Brussels with simply no opportunity to challenge it.

How we have been able to build partnerships between fishermen, conservationists and scientists, through the regional advisory structures, is exceptional. That has been taken on by various people. I commend the Minister’s predecessor, Richard Benyon, for the work he did in the lead-up to landing a reformed common fisheries policy, because that developed the first iteration of the regional advisory councils to the point where they might even become regional management councils. That is the first point that I would like the Minister to take on. The advisory councils themselves are best placed to author the next iteration of their development. With the history of joint working and the body of expertise within the councils, that could now be done to improve and speed up the present rate of change.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

The right hon. Gentleman wants regional management councils. How would he do this under the current treaties and regulations? We are never going to get rid of the equal access to a common resource while other countries want access to our waters.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

One reason why I love being in debates with the hon. Lady is that she always anticipates my next point. That is exactly why I think this is a timely debate. However, before I touch on that, I should like to make a brief reference to one other aspect that hinders the work of the regional advisory councils and everybody else involved in fisheries conservation. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and all the scientists involved in it are required to use data that, by the time they are implemented, are about two years out of date. One of the biggest difficulties with our total allowable catch and quota system is that it will work only if it accurately reflects the amount of fish in the sea at any moment in time. For that reason, if the data are two years out of date, there will eventually be a difference between what fishermen are told is in the sea and what they actually find in their nets. That then results in a downward spiral, where the fishermen have no respect for what the scientists tell them, and the tax and the quotas do not reflect what the fishermen find.

The problem will become particularly acute as we implement the next stage of the discards ban; it has always been difficult, but it is now positively urgent that we deal with it. There must be some way in which an early, quick and dirty analysis can be done so that the data can be used in as close to real time as possible.

The reason why I sought the debate, and why I am so pleased we have a good turn out, is the very point raised by Mrs Murray. I hope Members will forgive the pun, but we have been pushing water uphill a lot of the time in reforming fisheries management and the CFP. That is because of the constitutional architecture within which the CFP, in its various iterations, has had to sit: the various treaties, the acquis communautaire, the principle of common access, which the hon. Lady mentioned, and the Lisbon treaty, which enshrined the principle that the conservation of marine biological resources, as only the EU could call fishing, was to be a sole competence—something about which I felt so strongly that I resigned from my party’s Front Bench when the issue came to a vote.

We have had to live with all those matters, because it has been next to impossible to find our way around them. If we proceed piece by piece, we will reform neither the policy nor the constitutional architecture that sits around it. Now, however, we apparently have an opportunity to bring about reform. The Prime Minister has said that we are to have a referendum on a reformed European Union, and the issue before us is one of the areas of community policy and responsibility that is absolutely ripe for reform. The CFP has not worked for fishermen, fishing communities, conservationists or scientists, so this is surely the time to take a blank sheet of paper and say, “We can do this differently.”

When we talk about regionalisation and regional management, we should say, “Those can be written into any new or changed treaty.” When we talk about the principle of common access, we should be honest about the fact that it had its roots in the very earliest days of the community. It was perhaps understandable for a community of six nation states, but for a community of 28 member states—not just around the North sea, but stretching right across Europe, and including many that are actually landlocked—it makes no sense whatever.

I cannot see many people in Europe, beyond the confines of the Commission perhaps, wanting to argue against such reform. The CFP has badly served all the member states and all the various interests affected by it. It has affected particularly badly the communities that I and others in the Chamber represent. We now have an opportunity, and I suspect that the Government would find it rather easier to make progress and to deliver positive change in this area than they might in some of the others that the Prime Minister has listed as priorities.

My request to the Minister is a simple one. On behalf of the House and the various fishing communities represented here today, will he make the need for reform and for tackling historic anomalies that have caused so many problems in Europe a priority for negotiation with other member states? In that way, he could deliver a change that would make an enormous difference to the industry and to the communities we represent, which would serve us all better as a result.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall 3:15 pm, 10th September 2015

Mr. Walker, I know that you have an interest in the angling fraternity, as well as the fishing industry, and it is a delight to be serving under you.

I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing the debate. He has been involved in fisheries for a long time, although not quite as long as I have. When he sums up, I hope that he will reassure me that the Liberal Democrat party is now looking to secure a little more national control over our fisheries, because its position has never been really clear. Perhaps he could reassure us that it has changed its stance somewhat.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and Cornish colleague, the Minister and to his predecessor, Richard Benyon, who have worked tirelessly on securing quota entitlement, which has allowed fishermen to continue to eke out a living in the short term.

We hear an awful lot about the UK’s financial contribution to the European Union, but one of the UK’s greatest contributions over the last 43 years has been the contribution of around 80% of European fishing waters. I have lost count of the number of occasions on which the House has debated reforming the CFP. It might benefit some Members if I set out the historic timeline, but I do not intend to go into detail, because we would be here until next week.

In 1970, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the original six member states introduced a policy of equal access to a common resource. I have always been suspicious of the reason for that, given that an agreement called the London convention had been reached in 1969, restricting access to UK territorial waters. I believe that there was a reason why the original six member states decided to come together to draw up regulation 2141/70, which includes article 2 on equal access to a common resource.

The 1972 treaty of accession, which the UK signed up to, included a derogation for the six and 12-mile limits, which, at that time, was our territorial sea. The UK was allowed sole access within the three and six-mile limits, but it had to open up the waters between the six and 12-mile limits to certain vessels that had traditionally fished in them. That was 40-odd years ago, and those vessels are not fishing any longer, but we still have to have other member states’ fishing vessels coming into the waters between our six and 12-mile limits. There is an anomaly there.

In 1976, member states declared a 200-mile median line limit. For those who do not understand what a median line is, I should explain that it is the line drawn—for example, down the channel—where there is not 200 miles each side to land masses. Despite the best efforts of Ireland and the UK, which argued at first for the 12-mile limit to be extended to 100 miles—they subsequently reduced that to 50 miles—the EU insisted that we settle on a 12-mile limit.

The CFP management system of total allowable catches and quotas was settled in 1983, more than 10 years after our accession to the EEC. Historical fishing activity was used to share the total allowable catches among member states, with those for each stock dictated by scientists and historical landing data. The UK gained very low quotas in many areas, while other member states benefited. In area VII, on the south-west coast, the UK got 8% of the cod and 12% of the haddock, while our colleagues across the Channel secured something in the region of 60% of the stock. The 12-mile limit restrictions were continued for 20 years and there was a mid-term review in 1992, but nothing changed. In 2002, there was a further review. Regional advisory councils were set up, but they had no power to change regulations, and they still do not. Sometimes that has been sold to us as the answer, but it is not for the UK fishing industry. The regional councils were large and burdensome and, as my hon. Friend Neil Parish mentioned, they were of course trans-European.

In 2012 there was another review. Throughout the time I have been talking about, we have seen the UK fishing fleet being reduced to a shadow of its former self, together with the UK share of the fish stocks found in the UK sector of the EU pond, which are 80% of it. Enough is enough. It is time for our fishing industry, which makes a disproportionately large contribution to the economy of many coastal communities that rely on fishing, to get the recognition it deserves. No one more than I and my family knows the real price paid by the brave men who put to sea to bring such a healthy source of protein to our table.

In 2003, the then Leader of the Opposition and right hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, Michael Howard, said:

“The CFP has been a disaster for the British fishing industry and we want to withdraw from it and establish national control—and that is what we will do.”

On 9 December 2003 the shadow Secretary of State said:

“By any measure, the CFP has been a disaster for the British fishing industry, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition reaffirmed on Sunday that ‘we are committed to a policy of withdrawing from the Common Fisheries Policy and restoring national control for our fishing industry’.”—[Hansard, 9 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 1000.]

Unfortunately, the party in question remained in opposition and so could not deliver that promise; but I believe that the only answer for our fishermen is to regain national control. Forty years of senseless destruction are enough. Britain’s fish stocks are our responsibility. It is our duty to protect them and the communities dependent on them.

I notice that there are some hon. Members from the Scottish National party present. If one of them makes a speech, perhaps they will clarify their policy, which I am confused about. In 2003 the SNP MEP Ian Hudghton said that equal access to a common resource was fundamental to the common fisheries policy, and that no one could change it. Yet I remember that in the early days of my involvement in fisheries policy Alex Salmond, who was then the Member for Banff and Buchan, promoted a private Member’s Bill to restore national control.

I am asking my hon. Friend the Minister, and the other right hon. and hon. Members who are present, to join me in asking the Prime Minister to include restoration of national control over our 200-mile/median line limit in the negotiations when he goes to Europe.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

I agree that, as we are now looking to renegotiate many of our arrangements with the European Union, the common fisheries policy is one that is ripe for reform, and for our taking back much of our national control. That would be good not only for our fisherman but for conservation and fishing management. Those fishermen would know that fish that were retained would be there for them to catch another day. At the moment, they think, “Let’s take them before the Spanish, French, Belgians or anybody else come to get them.” There is a lot to be said for taking back much greater national control and for pushing our limits back out to at least 12 miles, if not further. We should control our own waters. I would urge the Minister to urge the Prime Minister to go for that renegotiation.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

My hon. Friend has served the fishing industry in this place and, I believe, as a member—I believe as chairman—of the fisheries committee in the European Parliament. He served them well.

Of course we are not saying that we should tell all foreign fishermen not to come into our waters. We should allow fishermen from other member states limited access, but on our terms. In 2003 it was reported that the then Leader of the Opposition claimed that Prime Minister Tony Blair had missed an opportunity by not using the draft European constitution as a means of tackling the fishing issue. That was a failure for our fishermen. Unfortunately between 1997 and 2010, when my late husband was fishing, he was under far more pressure than he had ever been before, because he felt ignored.

We must now call on our Prime Minister to rectify the situation, so that our Fisheries Minister, who has done a fantastic job so far, can have real power in controlling British waters.

Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Social Justice and Welfare) 3:27 pm, 10th September 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this afternoon’s debate, and bringing the important issue of reform of the CFP to the House.

About 80% of the UK’s fish landings of key stocks, by weight, are landed in Scotland, much of them at Peterhead and Fraserburgh in my constituency, and at Lerwick in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland; so we have a shared interest in defending the Scottish fleet and the onshore industries that depend on it. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I represent some of the most fishing-dependent communities in Europe. Peterhead and Fraserburgh are home to an exceptionally diverse fleet. We have a substantial part of the white fish fleet, a large part of the pelagic fleet, a sizeable nephrops fleet, and a host of larger and smaller inshore fisheries around our coast. We also have numerous and significant onshore industries, which employ thousands of my constituents.

I would be guilty of great understatement if I were to say merely that the common fisheries policy has not served our fishermen well. The unambiguous consensus is that the CFP has been a disaster. The truth is that it has been disastrous for our fishing industry for the past four decades. Over the years, we have seen a pernicious combination of wanton neglect and political ineptitude and bureaucracy undermine our fleet and cause enormous, untold damage to our fishing communities. The CFP has also been the major driver of the degradation of our marine environment, to the extent of forcing fishermen to throw good quality fish overboard into the sea, creating the massive problem of discards that we are only now starting to tackle.

I have waxed lyrical many times in the House about the shortcomings of the common fisheries policy. I was a little surprised that Mrs Murray thought that there was any ambiguity in the SNP’s critique of the CFP. I think we have been robust in outlining what we see as its shortcomings.

Members will be pleased to know that I do not intend to rehearse all those points in this short debate. When looking at reform of the CFP, we have to ask ourselves how we got here. Like the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, I am keen that we remember exactly what happened in the 1970s. It has not been a happy history, but if we have any hope of reforming the CFP, we need to understand what happened. The truth of the matter is that the Scottish fleet was sold out right from the very start of the UK accession process. Back in the early 1970s, when the Heath Government were negotiating the UK’s entry to what was then the European Economic Community, they decided that fishing was, in the words of official Government documents, “expendable”. They signed an accession treaty in 1972 committing the UK to a European common fisheries policy that established exclusive competence over fisheries and enacted legislation that enshrined the principle of equal access to our waters—that common resource that was alluded to earlier—and that has bedevilled us all ever since.

The steep decline in the fortunes of fishing communities right across the UK can be traced back to that moment in history. The deal that was struck was frankly not in the interests of our fishermen or our fishing communities. It has created untold problems over most of my lifetime. We can acknowledge that the CFP has changed a lot since the 1970s. It has been through various incarnations. There have been successive derogations of one sort or another, but the most problematic parts of the regulatory architecture remain intact to this day, including the problematic regulation 2141/70—the equal access regulation—and they still put barriers in the way of progress. We should not be shy of saying that the CFP has proved itself again and again to be an unworkable policy.

It is really only with the most recent round of reforms that we have even begun to move towards a workable common fisheries policy, and that is largely due to the introduction of the regionalised model, which has for the first time brought fishermen and other stakeholders into the process. Having the industry at the table is a big step forward, and it is helping to create an approach that is more sustainable economically, socially and ecologically, but I will be interested to hear the Minister’s views on how the regional advisory councils can develop and be strengthened going forward.

The great irony of this conversation is that, aside from the CFP itself, being part of a single European market has brought good opportunities for our fishing and processing industries, whether that has been through the development of healthy and lucrative export markets or though the ability to address labour shortages thanks to the free movement of people, goods and services throughout the EU. The wider social benefits accruing from EU membership have also benefited people in fishing communities.

The Government have, however, now stated their intention to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership ahead of the proposed referendum, so there is an unprecedented opportunity to right the historic wrongs of the CFP. At the heart of today’s debate is a very simple question for the Government on the priority that they will put on renegotiating the EU’s exclusive competence over fisheries and the regulation that enshrines equal access to a common resource. It is the single most useful thing that could be achieved. While it would not repair the structural damage that has been done to our communities over the past 43 years—most of my lifetime—and we cannot pretend that that has not happened or turn back the clock, it would nevertheless go a long way to removing some of the barriers to the future sustainable development of the industry.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the fishing industry can expect out of the renegotiation process, and I hope that he will address that in some detail. I also hope that the Government will grasp the opportunity to demonstrate that the fishing industry is a valued industry. The industry is inherently sustainable. It provides healthy food and sustains thousands of livelihoods. It supports our exports, yet remains one of the most dangerous occupations in our economy. I hope that the Government will give the industry the priority it deserves and push the reform right up its agenda.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 3:34 pm, 10th September 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I am grateful to Mr Carmichaelfor securing this debate. The issue that I wish to focus on is the allocation of fishing resources—the quotas. There is a pressing need to address the current inequitable distribution, whereby smaller inshore boats continue to get a raw deal. I particularly wish to look at that from the perspective of Lowestoft, which is in my constituency. The port of Lowestoft was once the fishing capital of the southern North sea, but it is now a very pale shadow of what it once was. If fishing is to have any future at all in ports such as Lowestoft, we need to address the quotas, which have very much become the elephant in the room.

The reformed common fisheries policy that came into effect in January 2014 provides some sort of framework for addressing the issue, but progress has been slow in implementing its provisions. The situation is becoming urgent and needs to be sorted out quickly. As we have heard, we need to consider using the forthcoming renegotiations of our membership of the EU to obtain further reforms so as to enable a once great industry to have a sustainable future around the whole coastline of the United Kingdom.

In years gone by in Lowestoft, one could cross the water, from one side of the Hamilton dock to the other, by walking from boat to boat. Today, the dock is virtually empty of fishing boats. In the past four decades, Lowestoft has been hit hard by over-fishing, wrong decisions by politicians and the vulnerability of the very make-up of the industry, where the large trawlers helped to sustain the smaller boats. The existing quota system has played a major role in removing the larger trawlers, and we now have a situation where the seven affiliated vessels in the Lowestoft producer organisation have a fixed quota allocation of 79,097 units that is landed elsewhere. That is an enormous amount of fish. It was previously landed in Lowestoft, underpinning so many fishing and ancillary businesses. Dutch vessels fishing British quota have an annual turnover of £48 million, yet only 1% of the fish they catch is landed in the UK.

In recent years, the small boats—the under-10s—have had a raw deal and they have been hanging on by their fingernails. The root cause of their plight is the fixed quota allocation system introduced in 1999. As the under-10s did not keep records of their catch in the 1994 to 1996 reference period, the quota they received was a best estimate. That was subsequently shown to be a major underestimate, for which they have been paying ever since. There have been attempts to address the situation, but as Jerry Percy of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association has pointed out, the under-10s are starting from such a low level of quota in the first place that an additional percentage simply based on past allocations is of little, if any, use.

Since 1999, the situation has got worse. The way the system was devised has meant that the producer organisations have been able to hold or acquire fixed quota allocation units knowing that they can retain them if they do not use them. They can sell or lease them to the under-10s on their own terms, at their own whim and fancy. It conjures up the image of the under-10s taking on the role of Oliver Twist, holding out the bowl for more fish, only to be denied by an overbearing Mr Bumble. Moreover, where reallocations have taken place, they have been profoundly unsatisfactory, as they have neither been permanent nor predictable, and they have invariably taken place towards the end of the fishing season.

The 2007 decommissioning scheme exacerbated the problem, creating more “slipper skippers”, with vessel owners entitled to retain the fixed quota allocation units, even when their vessels had been decommissioned. A system has thus developed whereby the under-10s do not have enough quota to make a living and are in effect dying a slow lingering death, while quota held by the producer organisations is not being used. Attempts by the Government to encourage gifts of unused quota have often come to nothing.

While the Marine Management Organisation allocates catch limits on a month-to-month basis to each vessel in the under-10 metre pool, in practice what often happens is that the vessels end up with high levels of one species when it is not available and low levels for others when they are abundant. Reallocations of quotas from the producer organisations to the under-10s do take place, but, as I have said, they are neither predictable nor permanent. Such a month-to-month, hand-to-mouth existence is not conducive to building a business. There is an urgent need for a reallocation of quotas in favour of the inshore fleet so that the under-10s can deliver benefits to the communities in which they are based.

It is against that backdrop that the Government must focus their attention on the needs of the inshore fleet, including the one that still fishes out of Lowestoft. While nationally under-10 metre boats comprise 77% of the UK fleet and employ 65% of the total workforce, they receive only 4% of the total quota available. Currently, under-10 metre boats fishing along the Suffolk coast receive what has been described to me by one local fisherman as a “miserable share of catch”. The inshore fleet can bring significant economic, environmental and social benefits to the ports out of which it fishes. Unless it is provided with the means of doing so, with a sensible amount of fish to catch, it will continue to dwindle. That would be a real tragedy for many coastal communities.

The reformed CFP, which came into effect in January last year, provides the regulatory framework under which to carry out the much-needed redistribution of quotas. Article 17 not only allows for such a reallocation, but actually requires it. There is a legally binding commitment to encourage the sustainable fishing that is carried out by the inshore fleet, which has the least impact on the marine environment but maximises the economic and social returns to coastal communities such as Lowestoft. Not much has happened regarding putting the article 17 provisions into practice. We await the outcome of Greenpeace’s successful application to the High Court for a judicial review of the Government’s failure to implement the requirements effectively.

I appreciate that a judicial review might delay matters, but it is important that the UK does everything possible to address the current plight of small-scale coastal fishermen. There was an undertaking to provide the under-10s in England with approximately 25% of the English—not just the under-10s—quota uplift that will result from the implementation of the discard ban in 2016. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give us an update on whether that undertaking will be kept to?

I urge the Minister to do all he can to adhere to article 17. If he does, real benefits can be brought to fishing communities such as Lowestoft. That said, we must also have in mind the needs of the fishing industry in the forthcoming renegotiation of our terms of membership of the EU. We should be looking to prioritise access for low-impact fishermen in UK waters within the 12-mile zone. In carrying out any renegotiation of our terms of membership of the EU, the Government should consider: an effective repatriation of the 6 to 12-mile zone for UK fishermen only; a review of the historic rights of other EU member states’ vessels in our waters; and a review of relative stability, the grossly unfair historical share-out of access to fish stocks that the UK lost out on when we joined the Common Market.

The Government must deliver on the pledge to reallocate the UK’s inland water quotas to smaller, locally based fishing communities. There is a need to give communities such as Lowestoft a long-term vision of a future in which fishing-based businesses can have a realistic hope of a reasonable living, invest in their businesses with a degree of confidence and, most importantly, create and sustain jobs. The inshore fleet must have proper representation on advisory councils. Skippers of inshore boats must receive an increase in their monthly catch limits so that they are no longer beholden to producer organisations for handouts. Quotas should be held only by active fishermen who bring real benefits to their local communities, not by either foreign vessels or non-active fishermen who hold quotas only as an investment. Any renegotiation of our future membership of the EU should include as a priority demand the reclaiming of the UK’s territorial waters in the 6 to 12 nautical-mile area so as to allow fish stocks to be properly protected, with primary access being given to local fishermen who depend on those waters for their very survival.

It is important that we grasp the nettle now so as to give many fishing communities such as Lowestoft the opportunity of a viable future. I sense that if we do not do so in this Parliament, the fishing industry in many ports around the United Kingdom will disappear.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood 3:45 pm, 10th September 2015

I thank Mr Carmichael for securing this debate and enabling me to make my first contribution in the House to a debate on the fishing industry, which has been important to my constituency, particularly the town of Fleetwood, for many years.

Currently, seven fishing vessels over 10 metres in length and 55 under have Fleetwood registered as their administrative port, with all the over-10s and approximately a third of the under-10s also making Fleetwood their home port. That is a far cry from 1929, when the Fleetwood fishing industry provided direct employment for nearly a quarter of the town, and far more indirect employment. At its peak, 70,000 tonnes of fish were landed in Fleetwood by British and foreign vessels, but that has steadily declined: in 2013, the Marine Management Organisation recorded just under 9,000 tonnes of fish landed via the Fleetwood Fish Producers Organisation. Those 9,000 tonnes have, however, the considerable value of approximately £24 million.

The fishing industry in Fleetwood does not rely only on fish landed in Fleetwood; a significant and growing processing industry draws on fish brought into Fleetwood over land. The development of a new fish park is a sign of the ongoing importance of fishing and a welcome investment in jobs and skills in the town. I was pleased to welcome the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner, to my consistency this summer for a public forum on the future of fishing in Fleetwood. The issues raised at the meeting were many and varied, but central to them was the need to maintain and increase fish stocks and to ensure that our small-scale domestic fishermen get their fair share of the quota under the common fisheries policy.

Our local under-10s fishermen pointed out that there are environmental constraints on their maximum catch—the wonderful weather of the north-west—but that the current quota arrangements were seeing some fish stock quotas exceeded before the fish even reached our local waters. Also, because of delays in how the catch is recorded, the current arrangements do not properly address overfishing.

Small-scale fishing enterprises comprise the overwhelming majority of the fishing fleet—77% last year—and employ the vast majority of people in the industry, yet they get only a tiny proportion, around 4%, of the overall quota. That means that the viability of many small-scale fishing businesses is jeopardised. But these are the people who provide the most jobs in the industry and fish in the most sustainable ways.

Greenpeace and the New Under Tens Fishermen’s Association have come together to highlight five key actions that they believe are needed to ensure both the viability of the small-scale fishing fleet and the sustainability of the fishing industry. The recommendations include the redistribution of quotas to the under-10 metre fleet, the restoration of fish stocks, the protection of the marine environment, the prioritisation of access for low-impact fishing in the UK’s 0 to 12 nautical-mile zone, and the regionalisation of fisheries management.

As it stands, the fish quota is largely controlled by a powerful minority. Recent reforms to the common fisheries policy have created measures that reward those who use more selective and low-impact fishing methods, but the responsibility now lies with implementation. Member states and our own Government must act to ensure that small-scale fishermen get their fair share of the fish quota, because it will be better for jobs and better for the environment.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby 3:49 pm, 10th September 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I join colleagues in congratulating Mr Carmichael on securing this debate.

My constituency, Great Grimsby, was once the fishing capital of England. Our fish dock was built more than 150 years ago and, at its peak, received around 600 trawlers. I recognise the comments made by Peter Aldous about walking across the trawlers; the story in our local community is that people could walk perhaps a mile out, from trawler to trawler. It is sad that the demise of the fishing industry means we can no longer see that. Our town still celebrates the proud history of the industry, hosting this week the World Seafood Congress—the first time that has been held in the United Kingdom. It is perceived as a great success, so I congratulate all who were involved in its arrangement.

Today, the industry, from catching to distribution, is still worth £1.8 million to the local economy, but it would be wrong to over-romanticise what was, and still is, a difficult, dangerous and sometimes insecure industry. We cannot simply blame the European Union for the loss of jobs in the industry over the past four decades, as some have tried to do. Of course, not everyone thinks that the common fisheries policy has worked for them, but it is overly simplistic to lay all the industry’s problems at the EU’s door. The policy’s inception came when the industry was already in decline due to shrinking fishing stocks, environmental concerns, which were not necessarily known about previously, and other factors. The sharpest fall in the employment of fishermen came before Britain joined the EEC, between the years of 1948 and 1960.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

The hon. Lady is basing her remarks on her area. Does she agree that many of the long-distance fishing vessels in her area fell on hard times due to the loss of access to fishing opportunities in the waters around Iceland?

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will come on to the 200-mile limit later on. I defer to her superior knowledge of the smaller fishing fleets and boats that are pertinent to her constituency.

Since the cod war, Iceland has lost more fishing jobs than Britain. The number of people employed in Iceland’s fishing industry has halved since the 1980s. That is why it is misleading to use the common fisheries policy as reason to exit the European Union—although I note that today’s comments have focused on renegotiating the policy and withdrawing from the restrictions. UKIP has tried to sell people in Grimsby the myth that we would return to 1960s levels of fishing if only we were no longer burdened by Europe’s regulations. That is simply not true. We need not to hark back to the past, but to secure a real, sustainable future for the industry, which will only come from working with our allies in Europe.

With that in mind, there is much to welcome in the recent reform of the common fisheries policy. Changes such as the decentralisation of management and decision making are certainly steps in the right direction. Fishing is a diverse industry, particularly when the whole continent is considered. No catch-all policy can work without exceptions. There has also been a feeling that decisions on everything in the industry have been made for fishermen by people who have never been on a fishing ship in their lives. Moving away from that will restore confidence in the process and ensure better decisions. A more localised approach, as mentioned by Mr Carmichael, working from the bottom up with industry, regions and nations, allowing those people most affected by the decisions to have a real role in making them, is surely the best way of doing things.

Some will say that we should follow that logic to the inevitable conclusion: opt out of the CFP and the EU altogether and make all our decisions at the national and regional level. Yet we have to face the challenges of sustainability of the industry and of stock levels together. Breaking apart will only make that harder. It is necessary that some overview and decisions are taken at a macro level—that’s macro, not mackerel. We cannot have a free for all where each nation tries to outdo the other on fishing levels. That is recognised by Governments, whether they are in or out of the EU.

We should not allow the lie to spread that withdrawal from the EU would somehow allow our fishing fleets to do whatever they wanted, regardless of the effects. Norway, despite being outside the EU, still has to negotiate shared management of the seas within Europe. Were we to leave Europe, there is no guarantee that we would be able to negotiate a more generous quota share than is allocated to the UK today. We would also have no influence over the future of the common fisheries policy, but the seas we fish would still be affected by it.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

This is the first occasion that I have participated in a debate with the hon. Lady. I am delighted that she is here as successor to Austin Mitchell, who took part in these debates for many years but in a very different manner.

On Norway, the sensible regional management of the North sea would involve the coastal states that are members of the EU and Norway. The point about the current EU architecture is that that is simply not possible. With a different constitutional architecture, there could be genuine regional management involving Norway and EU member states.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

Order. Before the hon. Lady answers, I just want to say that I will call the shadow Minister at 3.8 pm and there is one more speaker. I would like to get the SNP speaker in as well, but I will be calling the first Front-Bench spokesman at 3.8 pm.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

I am happy to have further discussions regarding the right hon. Gentleman’s point.

Turning to the discards ban, those in the fishing industry to whom I speak seem to agree that it is one of the most significant changes to the CFP since its creation. They tell me that the big picture of the fishing industry is currently positive after a painful few decades, but the uncertainty around the landings obligation is their biggest concern right now. Clearly, discarding usable fish does not make economic or environmental sense. Moving away from a system that creates the perverse outcome of thousands of unused fish being thrown back overboard is certainly a move in the right direction. It is also vital for preserving and rebuilding stocks.

However, in 2012, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reflected the feeling among many in the industry when it argued that an immediate ban could lead to further unintended consequences, which would not necessarily solve the issue. The example the Committee gave at the time was of the landings obligation simply moving unwanted fish from the sea on to the land, presumably to be discarded in another way.

I therefore welcome the efforts of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Marine Management Organisation and indeed the Government to find potential uses for undersized fish that are unsuitable for human consumption—fish oil, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and so on. It is no good replacing one form of discard with another, so we need to ensure that the catches have markets. It is important that the Government and the EU work with the industry throughout the staged implementation of the discard ban. They must ensure that the rules are responsive to the evidence gathered over the next five years, which will be particularly important with regards to mixed fisheries. Some in the industry are worried about the prospect of fleets being prevented from going out halfway or two thirds of the way through the year, leaving people unable to work and earn. That is a concern in many of our already struggling coastal communities. Can the Minister say how that potential situation is being avoided?

Another unintended consequence of the landing obligation that was raised with me by the chief executive of Port of Grimsby east is the issue of transportation of unwanted fish once they are landed; I believe he has had previous discussions with the Minister on that matter. While Grimsby has a fishmeal plant to which unwanted fish can be taken, ports elsewhere have to shoulder the cost of trucking the discards to fishmeal plants or landfill sites. Can the Minister clarify where the responsibility lies for the cost of that transportation?

Photo of Calum Kerr Calum Kerr Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Environment and Rural Affairs) 3:58 pm, 10th September 2015

I congratulate Mr Carmichaelon securing this important debate. As someone new to these Chambers and new to some of my portfolio, I found the dialogue positive, engaging and constructive. The comments have been high quality and I am sure that all of us—not least the Minister—will reflect on the many interesting points.

Fishing is of huge importance to Scotland. The Scottish fishing zone makes up more than 60% of UK waters and accounts for 80% by weight of landings of key stocks, as we have heard. The marine industry is also of significant importance to Scotland and the UK’s economy. In 2012, it was worth an impressive £4.5 billion to Scotland, and directly and indirectly employed no fewer than 45,700 people.

None of that is a surprise to the hon. Members present in the Chamber. We all understand the importance of the industry. Scotland has a long and proud history as a fishing nation and we remain a leading player in the sector. Clearly, therefore, we should be a key participant in the EU’s fishing discussions and policy formulations. The Scottish Government are a strong supporter of the industry and fight for our fishermen in Brussels.

The Scottish Government work hard to win backing from our European partners to minimise new burdens and to maximise the catch. I am pleased that our reputation is as a co-operative and responsible fishing nation, which allows us to exert influence over the outcomes of international fisheries negotiations. I encourage the UK Government to engage our Government in Scotland as much as possible, especially because of that record of success.

We must, of course, pay testament to our fishermen, who have invested in the long-term recovery of stocks—cod, in particular—by agreeing not to over-catch. That self-denying ordinance has been painful, but in the northern North sea it has worked, and worked well. The Scottish Government argued for and secured agreement among EU member states for a phased introduction of the landing obligation in 2016 in order to avoid a “big bang” approach for our fisheries. That has been helpful, but Scotland’s record on discarding is already making good progress.

In the North sea, combined discards of cod, haddock and whiting have fallen from 40% of the catch in 2008 to only 18% in 2014. Of course more needs to be done, but we should be satisfied and pleased with progress. All in all, the picture in much of the Scottish fishery is a positive and encouraging one. A vital natural resource is being restored, and that is good for the environment, for conservation—and, of course, for our fishing and food industries.

The common fisheries policy is the cornerstone of Europe’s fisheries management. It was designed to cement the sustainability of the EU’s fishing stocks by managing them as a shared resource, but historically it has not been effective, as it has paid out large subsidies against a backdrop of declining stocks and poor resilience. Today we have heard some worthwhile contributions about the CFP’s inadequacies.

Earlier this year, DEFRA revealed that 32 stocks of fish species were being fished at maximum sustainable yield, a figure that was up from 26 in 2014. An EU publication has also highlighted that as many as 75% of EU stocks are being overfished, compared with a worldwide average of only 25%. That is unacceptable. To put it bluntly, the common fisheries policy is not working. It has been extended, as Mrs Murray explained only too well, beyond its original limits. We want to see a framework that delivers meaningful regional fisheries management and gives fishermen a greater say and greater involvement in their own industry.

Despite our deep cynicism about the CFP, we travel hopefully. At an EU level, we believe in negotiation and in moving things forward by persuasion and partnership. The Scottish Government have approached reform constructively and have worked successfully to win key concessions on reform of the policy. Ministers have championed the move to a regional fisheries management approach in order to enable tailored measures to be identified and implemented on a fisheries-by-fisheries and region-by-region approach. Over time, that will mean that those working in the industry will have greater say and there will be less of a top-down, one-size-fits-all model dictated by the EU.

In our dialogue today, we have heard a number of important suggestions and ideas about how we can improve the common fisheries policy. Despite some differences, even over the EU itself, we have consensus on the need for reform and on the huge opportunity presented by the renegotiation that we understand the Government to have under way.

This Minister seems to be my favourite Minister at the moment, because he replies to all my written questions, so I am delighted that he is present today. This area is new to me, but someone does not have to have worked in it for all the years that some of our predecessors have to understand its importance or that we need change. Not only do we need change, but we have an opportunity such as we have not had before. I urge the Minister to consider all the points made today and I look forward to hearing his proposals.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

I hope that the two Front Benchers will allow our mover of the motion a minute to speak at the end of the debate.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:05 pm, 10th September 2015

It must be your benign supervision, Mr Walker, but every debate that I attend when you are in the Chair involves a remarkable degree of consensus. This debate has been good-natured and exceptionally well informed. I put that all down to you, sir.

I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate about an industry that has been in decline for far too long. I pay tribute to the courage and sheer hard work of our fishermen, who brave the dangers of the coastal seas and the open oceans to bring fish to our tables.

No one present can remember the time when our fish stocks were at their most productive. Old postcards show harbours crammed with fishing boats, about which Peter Aldous—for Lowestoft—and my hon. Friend Melanie Onn were trading stories. Sepia photos show giant fish dwarfing the men who caught them, and those who represent fishing communities today have heard the stories of quaysides buried in haddock and cod—but they are stories from their grandparents. The truth is that the UK fishing industry was at its most productive not a few decades ago, in the 1980s or before, but more than 120 years ago, in the 1880s. The peak year was 1889.

Today, even with satellite navigation systems and sophisticated mechanical gear, not to mention sonar and metal-hull vessels, our fishermen have to work 17 times harder to catch fewer and smaller fish than people did in the age of sail and steam in wooden-hull vessels. Decades of poor fisheries management have led to a collapse in the productivity of our fisheries and a continual loss of jobs and livelihoods. For every hour spent fishing today, fishers land only 6% of what they did 120 years ago.

In June this year, the Commission set out its proposals for fishing opportunities for 2016. This debate will be able to inform the Minister’s contribution to that consultation and, I trust, will shape the recommendations and suggestions that the UK has to make to the Commission by 1 October. The fishing opportunities for 2016 will operate under the objectives of the new CFP, which was so ably set out by former Commissioner Damanaki. In particular, it will aim to bring fishing mortality—what the Commission refers to as

“the impact of fishing fleets on the stocks”— into line with the levels required to allow stocks to rebuild to biomass levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield, or MSY, and to do so in the shortest possible timeframe.

The Commission wants to achieve good environmental status in European seas by 2020 and to reduce the impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem, as set out in the marine strategy framework directive. The Commission proposals for fishing opportunities are based on the available scientific advice that it receives from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and other scientific and technical bodies. Where no such advice is available, the Commission has stated that it will apply the precautionary approach in line with the CFP objectives.

The Minister knows that I have had occasion in the past to challenge his Department’s failure properly to apply the precautionary principle on a number of fronts. I trust that he will be able to provide assurance to the House today that the UK will argue on the side of the Commission against increasing total allowable catch for those species for which the science is less than secure, and that he will not risk giving a green light to overfishing.

With that in mind, it is worth noting that 2016 is the year in which the landing obligation for demersal fisheries in the North sea and the Atlantic EU waters comes into force, bringing an important part of the EU fleet in the north-east Atlantic under the obligation to bring, retain on board and land all catches. The discard ban, as it is more popularly known, will ensure that quotas for stocks falling under the landing obligation take into account catches rather than landings. That has been controversial with fishing communities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby outlined, but it will enable everyone to get a far better picture of precisely what is happening with the stock as it has to be landed and recorded. If we are to proceed on the basis of sound science, as all parties say they want us to, the landing obligation will improve our capacity to properly assess the biomass and health not only of the target species that people like to eat but of the whole marine ecosystem. That is fundamental.

Many hon. Members are aware of the issues that the landing obligation creates in the short term for fishing boats beset by the problems of choke species. Fishers can find themselves unable to pursue a stock for which they have remaining quota because of fears of catching a stock for which they have no quota or no quota left. Various suggestions have been made as to how to resolve that problem, including quota leasing and even transferring 10% of quotas from year to year. Will the Minister outline the Government’s preferred way of addressing those real, live issues for fishermen up and down our coastal waters?

After the reform of the CFP, a taskforce was set up to solve the inter-institutional deadlock on multi-annual plans. It finalised its work in April 2014 and concluded with a framework to facilitate the development and introduction of multi-annual plans under the CFP. The new generation of multi-annual plans should include targets for MSY, with deadlines, for the stocks that define the fisheries. The plans may, in addition, introduce ranges of exploitation rates considered to be in accordance with MSY.

On the basis of the taskforce conclusions, the Commission just last week tabled a proposal for a multi-annual plan covering Baltic sea fisheries that includes proposed target values and deadlines for achieving MSY. The proposal for 2016 sets the total allowable catch from the Baltic sea’s 10 main commercial fish stocks for EU fishermen. This year, for the first time, the TAC for plaice has been set in line with the MSY approach, bringing the total number of Baltic stocks covered by MSY to seven out of 10. For seven out of 10 stocks, the available data from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has allowed the Commission to propose catch limits at sustainable levels for more stocks than ever before. The EU aims to achieve MSY for all fish stocks by 2020 at the latest.

Under the proposals, the TAC for all stocks except salmon would decrease by about 15% compared with 2015 and would be set at approximately 565,692 tonnes. The catch limit for salmon, which is measured in pieces rather than tonnes, would increase by 6%, to 115,874. The Commission proposes to increase the catch limits for herring in the western and central Baltic, as well as for main basin salmon and plaice. Decreases for the remaining stocks either reflect the natural fluctuations within the MSY range or are linked to the improved perception of stocks’ status as a result of recent data revision. The European Council will discuss the Commission’s proposal at its October meeting. Will the Minister indicate whether the UK will be supporting this new and more scientifically rigorous approach to quota setting at that meeting?

Other proposals are under discussion with stakeholders for both a North sea and a western waters demersal mixed fisheries plan, and a multi-annual plan for the Atlantic pelagic fisheries is under consideration. In preparation of its proposals for these plans, the Commission has requested that ICES provide MSY ranges for the stocks concerned where quotas are fixed by the Council for use in the management of mixed fisheries under plans. I understand that ICES has provided such ranges for an important number of those stocks. Will the Minister advise us as to whether he has had the opportunity to examine that scientific evidence and advice? If so, will he be minded to accept it and argue that it should be respected when the Council meets in October?

The Council has achieved significant progress in setting TACs in line with MSY over the last few years, from five in 2009 to 36 for 2015. That has resulted in an increase in the number of stocks that are fished at levels corresponding to MSY to 26 stocks in 2015. The Commission has made it clear that it believes it is necessary to continue along that path for 2016 and 2017, and to create the conditions for achieving MSY as soon as possible, and by 2020 at the latest. It therefore intends to propose total allowable catches in line with achieving MSY in 2016.

The Minister will be only too well aware, however, that there are those who would like to ignore the science and look for short-term gain by arguing for an uplift in TAC. Will he confirm that he shares the Commission’s view that it would be unacceptable to delay the objective of setting TAC in line with MSY beyond 2016 unless doing so would imply very large annual reductions in quotas that would seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fleets involved?

A few weeks ago, as my hon. Friend Cat Smith has already said, I had the pleasure of visiting Lancaster and Fleetwood and discussing the challenges facing the fishing community. It is a perfect example of the sort of local community I spoke of at the beginning of my remarks. The glory days of the past, when Fleetwood was a major fishing port, are no longer, but for those still carrying on the great fishing tradition of their grandparents the dangers of their trade seem not to have diminished at the same pace as the rewards have.

I was privileged to go out with one of the under-10 fleet there and discuss with skippers the problems they face. I thank them for the robust honesty with which they shared their fears and concerns about the challenges facing their industry, and pay tribute to the way in which many of them have embraced wider net gauges and other progressive ways of restoring biomass.

On behalf of those skippers, I want to ask the Minister one final question. It echoes the remarks of the hon. Member for Waveney—I will call him my honourable friend—whose admirable speech was absolutely spot on, on so many fronts. The Government won a significant court battle that established that the UK fishing quota was the UK’s to dispose of, and that we could effect a redistribution of quota that took little away from the offshore fleet of larger vessels but could be of significant benefit to the smaller under-10 fleet that is the mainstay of fishing ports such as Fleetwood. When will the Minister begin to exercise that right and redistribute quota to the under-10 fleet so as to redress the balance and make it easier for these brave individuals to carry on the livelihood of their grandparents?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:17 pm, 10th September 2015

I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate. I know that the fishing industry is of huge importance in his constituency. I welcomed the opportunity that I had last year to make the long journey to visit his constituency and meet industry representatives.

I will try to cover as many of the points raised by hon. Members as I can. However, I will first give my reflections on my job from the two years that I have been Fisheries Minister. The marine environment is incredibly complex. No man-made policy designed to manage it and deliver sustainable fisheries will ever be perfect. The science will never be perfect, and we will never be able to pick up every interaction between different elements of the marine environment. If we want sustainable fisheries, there is no alternative but to have some kind of catch limit on vessels and some kind of quota system. Whether we were in or out of the common fisheries policy, we would have that quota system, just as Norway, the Faroe Islands and other states pursue catch limits, and we would still have arguments with other countries about allocation of fish stocks and seek reciprocal access arrangements.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked about forums for discussion with countries such as Norway and Iceland. Those forums exist. The coastal states meeting takes place each autumn, where we argue about, for example, the allocation of mackerel quotas in his part of the world. There is already an EU-Norway agreement that precedes the discussions at the December Council.

We should all pay tribute to the great work of my predecessor in this post, my hon. Friend Richard Benyon, who I believe made some important breakthroughs on reform of the common fisheries policy. Unlike the negotiations on reform of the common agricultural policy, which were very difficult and where we made little progress, even I, a strong Eurosceptic, recognise that good progress was made on CFP reform.

Four key things were delivered. First, there was a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably—to fish at MSY by 2016 where possible, and everywhere by 2020. Secondly, there was the discipline of a discard ban to ban the shameful practice of discards. Thirdly, in order to help deliver the policy and make it a reality, there was the regionalisation of policy making, so that nation states multilaterally agreed between themselves how they should manage the waters in which they have a shared interest, with the role of the Commission reduced to simply rubber-stamping those agreements at the end. That is really important. Although it is sometimes difficult to get member states to reach those agreements, it forces them to work through their differences, and these are the countries that actually have an interest in an individual fishery.

The final important element in making the discard ban work, as a number of colleagues have alluded to, was the introduction of flexibilities in the quota system. Those flexibilities include the ability to bank and borrow quota from one year to the next, which has been extended, and an inter-species flexibility, so that if a fisherman runs out of quota for one species—say, haddock—he can count some of his cod quota against haddock within certain limits. There were exemptions involving survivability on certain flat fish, for instance, and a quota uplift to take account of the fact that fishermen are no longer discarding. The deal to the fishermen is, “Stop discarding the fish and we will increase your quota by the amount that we estimate has been discarded previously.”

We should also recognise that good progress has been made. Contrary to what Barry Gardiner said, the most recent assessment shows that we now have 32 stocks being fished at MSY. That is up from 26 in 2014 and from only around 13, if we go back around a decade. That progress is starting to feed through into benefits for the fishing industry. In relation to the north sea, last year’s December Council was much easier, and there were recommendations for increases. In fact, in certain species, such as cod and haddock, there is a similar situation this year, so where we have shown restraint, we are starting to see benefits accruing to the fishing industry. I always try to get this point across to fishermen: “If you show restraint now and allow stocks to recover and achieve that maximum sustainable yield, you are safeguarding your own financial future, because you will have more fish tomorrow.”

We have made good progress with the regional groups. A number of people have mentioned the importance of getting the industry involved, and I confirm that there is an industry regional group. The regional groups have been successful in developing the discard plans, both for the pelagic species, which is now in place, and for the demersal landing obligation, which was submitted in May. Following on from that discard plan, we now have the multi-annual plan for management, for instance, of the Baltic area, and we will shortly be beginning work to take forward ideas for our own plan. Therefore, good progress has been made, and as we made clear in our manifesto, our primary objective during this Parliament is to ensure that we get the hard-won CFP reform properly implemented.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland commented that some of the science is out of date, and it will not surprise him to learn that I hear that all the time from fishermen. The reality is that we always try to make sure that we have the most up-to-date science. At last year’s December Council, we brought scientific results that were collected during the month of November/December straight to the Council. ICES always tries to project trends, so when it publishes its advice for a particular Council, it is not as dated as people suggest, because it factors into that the ongoing trends. I sometimes hear fishermen say that it goes where the fish are; that it goes to the same part of the ocean each year when it does its surveys. That is true, but some kind of basic yardstick is needed, which is consistent from one year to the next, so there is a control. In addition to that, we put scientists on actual fishing vessels, so that they can see fishing activity and the stocks that fishermen are landing.

The right hon. Gentleman and a number of colleagues asked about the renegotiation and the Prime Minister’s plans to renegotiate our relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister probably would not thank me if, here in a Westminster Hall debate, I were to add something to his renegotiation list, but I will say that, in common with the CAP, we have regular reforms of the common fisheries policy. They happen every 10 years. The next one is due to commence around 2019 and to be implemented from 2022, so there is a natural timetable for the next reform of the CFP.

Although our focus now is on making the existing reform work, I can say that the next reform might look at a couple of areas—it is too early to say whether it will. The first is to move from the rather arbitrary single-stock quota system to something a bit broader that recognises that biomass would be a natural step forward from MSY—but that is difficult to achieve. The second is, as my hon. Friend Peter Aldous and a number of colleagues mentioned, to look at the issue of relative stability. The reference period for the quota system that we have was set between 1973 and 1978. It is undoubtedly dated. However, we should not enter that venture lightly, because many other countries would believe that they have a claim for more fisheries, and we always have to be cautious that we are not unlocking something that would leave our industry at a disadvantage. They were set in that way at that time to end disputes about who should have access to what.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will carry on, if I may. My hon. Friend Mrs Murray gave us a very detailed history lesson, and I will not challenge her historical knowledge of these things. However, we should recognise, as the shadow Minister said, that fish stocks were in a really bad place in the 1930s. We had suffered overfishing. Although we hear now about the discard ban and how the common fisheries policy created that, the truth is that as long ago as 1942, George Orwell was complaining about the discarding of fish. The fish stocks were basically saved by the second world war. We then had a period of plenty for the fishing industry during the ’50s and ’60s, but we then needed to move on to a quota system.

Along with a number of other colleagues, my hon. Friend mentioned the issue of access. She is right that when we joined the EU there was equal access in the 12 to 200- mile, or median, line in our waters, but access to the six to 12-mile line was for countries that had access agreements prior to accession. It is also important to recognise that we have access to other European countries’ waters. If someone were to talk the French industry, they would find that it complains, usually to the fishing Minister, about British access to, for instance, the bay of Biscay and the baie de Seine, which is important to part of our fleet. We also have access to waters in Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made a very important point about the under-10s, which I recognise. We have consulted on top-slicing 25% of the quota uplift for stocks and allocating that to the under-10s, on the basis that at the moment, they have to discard quite a lot of the fish that they catch because they do not have enough quota. He is right that during the reference period in the late 1990s, there was patchy reporting, which means that the under-10s do not really have a fair deal at the moment. We have already taken on Mr Bumble, as he would have it, and we have had legal challenges with the producer organisations to realign some of the quota. We will be doing more on that as well.

Melanie Onn raised the issue of choke species, among other things. The flexibilities that we have in the common fisheries policy can, I believe—if deployed correctly—deal with those problems. We start by not having every species covered from year one with the discard ban, and with the key species that define the fishery. For instance, in Scotland, fishermen often cite hake. Hake does not define the fishery in the North sea, and it is a species that would be returned to later in that window, closer to 2020. However, I was pleased to meet her, along with my hon. Friend Martin Vickers earlier, with representatives from fish processors in her constituency. I recognise its importance there.

Calum Kerr mentioned relations with the Scottish Government. We are fully engaged and work very closely with my opposite number, Richard Lochhead. He attends trilaterals with the Commission at December Council and we will be working closely together, leading up to that.

Finally, the shadow Minister asked lots of questions that I cannot answer in full now, but he also asked about the precautionary principle. Of all the countries in the European Union, the UK has the strongest history of relying on and arguing the science, so we do have a science-led approach to fisheries management.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:29 pm, 10th September 2015

That was an impressive canter by the Minister through the issues raised in this debate. I have only one point that I want him to take away. I accept and welcome the progress that he has outlined in reform of the common fisheries policy. He has my support and the support of my family—well, my family certainly, but also my party. [Laughter.] He has our support in moving towards the next stage of CFP reform. The truth is that that strengthens, rather than weakens, the case for reforming the constitutional architecture on which the policy base sits. That is the architectural framework that really has to reflect the policy that we now have. There is an opportunity here and I do not think that the Government should be resistant. They could become heroes at the end of the day.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Sitting adjourned.