Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

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Andrew George: I shall make a few brief remarks, because I am pleased that the Minister has said that we will have further opportunities to debate the issue as the Commission's proposals firm up.

Having examined the documents, I was struck by the European Scrutiny Committee's comment in paragraph 17.8 of its 13th report. It says:

    ''Like many similar communications, this document tends to be repetitive and couched in somewhat general and unfocussed terms, making it difficult in places to identify precisely what action is envisaged.''

One problem about debating the future of the common fisheries policy, especially having heard the speech by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), is that the papers are immensely unfocused. Despite the welcome terminology, which talks about regional structures for the delivery of the management of a fishing policy, and other welcome statements in the Green Paper and other associated papers, a great deal more is needed to add flesh to the bones of what is broadly a pleasing document.

In our previous sitting, we were able to question the Minister on the record about specific aspects of the Government's approach to the next stages of the negotiations. That was a welcome opportunity, but the debate that we need to have will largely have to be deferred until we receive the detail that we all want.

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The hon. Member for Congleton suggested that there was much speculation as to what we can and cannot do. I should like to see evidence of the way in which that will be developed. The primary issue is that the industry would welcome the continuation of relative stability for Britain. There is a settled will at least to retain the six and 12-mile limits and, if possible, to extend them and the role and responsibilities of sea fisheries committees to manage inshore.

As the Minister knows, the Liberal Democrats were the first party to make a clear proposal for—[Interruption.] It was not for renegotiation. I do not know where the hon. Member for Congleton found her quote, but she will have dug it up from somewhere.

Mrs. Winterton: I dug the quote out of a debate on 6 December. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not remember saying:

    ''I hope that the Minister will ensure not only that we get strong and effective renegotiation of the CFP, but that we have a clear UK strategy on where the industry is going and how it will get there.''—[Official Report, 6 December 2001; Vol. 376, c. 527.]

From the hon. Gentleman's own lips did the good words fall.

Andrew George: I accept that I am guilty of using slack language, but the hon. Lady well knows that I did not intend my speech to be interpreted as it has been. I would never, of course, question the accuracy of the Hansard reporters, but whether or not my speech was recorded accurately, my intention at that stage in talking about common fisheries policy reform was to discover how we were taking the policy forward beyond 2002. If the hon. Lady wants to interpret my words in a certain way to satisfy a particular end, that is up to her.

5.52 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

6.07 pm

On resuming—

Andrew George: When we adjourned I was raising the issue of regional management and addressing the misinterpretation of some words that I used. There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to see regional management methods delivered in a future common fisheries policy. There are many opportunities where it would make a great deal of sense to engage the fishing industry in a shared approach to managing the stock. The principle of giving the industry some say in the way that stocks are managed must surely help us to get across the message that those stocks must be managed for the benefit of the industry as well as of the country as a whole. The industry will begin to recognise that with power comes responsibility: if it messes up the way that those stocks are managed, it will have to take some responsibility for it too. The industry rightly says that fishing suffers from too much politics. Perhaps we should establish a political system that enables fishermen to take greater control. We should work towards a devolved system of management, if we can achieve that with the support of other European countries. I am pleased that the Minister broadly agrees.

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Mr. Hoban: Can I clarify what the hon. Gentleman considers to be regional? I get the impression that he considers Cornwall as a region that could be used for this management. Yet the Green Paper refers to regions in a slightly difference context. It refers to the North sea as a region. That would require the involvement of a number of different countries. Paragraph 5.1 talks about regional councils being open to the participation of interested representatives and officials from other member states. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the accountability of the management of those blocks will be weakened by the involvement of representatives from other member states?

Andrew George: I am grateful for that question. It is clear in the Liberal Democrat party's policy papers and in statements in which we have been able to expand on the issue of regional management that that is not about regions. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Cornwall is a region and should be seen as one. I consider it as one, although many people in Cornwall consider it to be a nation. For the purposes of fishing and the management of fish stocks, however, we cannot create artificial bureaucratic boundaries. Fish do not necessarily recognise the same boundaries as human beings do. They do not have the same sense of identity and nationality.

Clearly, if fishing regions are being established, they must be based broadly on natural regions such as the North sea, the western approaches and the Irish sea. The important point is that the areas can be managed internationally. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify that many of the regional boards or regional management committees that I would like to be set up would inevitably have representation from all member states with a stakeholder interest in the proper and effective successful management of fish stocks in that fishing region.

The Minister, in reply to an earlier question, clearly said that in most regions, including my region—the western approaches, or area 7 to give the larger area—that approach would inevitably result in interests from several other member states having to be represented. I want that to be explored. I hope that the Minister feels that he is going from Parliament and this country into the negotiations backed by a great deal of enthusiasm from the industry and from interested politicians, all seeking a successful outcome on the establishment of a devolved structure.

I had no original intention of speaking for a long time on that matter and shall now simply highlight the other issues that I believe are important in future negotiations, including, as I mentioned in the questions, seeking a satisfactory outcome for the future of low-impact fishing methods. As the Minister well knows, mackerel hand liners have recently been accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council. That may be a good basis on which to define low-impact fishing methods, and to seek the agreement of other fishing nations that in some circumstances low-impact fishing methods could be taken out of the quota system altogether.

I know that the Minister does not favour that, but it is worth exploring. It may encourage fishermen to

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decommission or to reduce capacity in other sectors, if they can see a means to withdraw from those sectors, but continue to be engaged in the fishing industry by pursuing an activity on which there are no or few restrictions, because we know that the method, so long as it is pursued properly, is low-impact. I earlier gave the example that a week from a purse seiner is the equivalent of a year from the whole fleet of mackerel hand liners in Cornwall. That underscores the significance of low-impact fishing methods.

The Minister has not always been enthusiastic about multi-annual quotas or thought it appropriate to introduce them. He knows that I have pressed that issue because the industry continually complains about the problems of eleventh-hour brinkmanship and the way in which annual total allowable catches and quotas are decided. I hope that he will go into future negotiations seeking a clear indication of the direction in which quotas will be going not only over the next 12 months, but over 24 and 36-month periods. That would allow fishermen to inform their bank managers and others such as investors and owners of the exact direction in which the sector will be going over a long period of time on the basis of indicative quotas, rather than, as is often the case, informing them a month before the commencement of the next fishing year.

I have made my points about the Shetland box, and I am pleased that the Minister will be pursuing the issue, which will be retained in the Green Paper.

On enforcement, there are still major issues to be resolved, but I encourage the Minister to seek agreement between Britain and other member states to avoid a situation contained in one of the papers, which suggested a European-based inspectorate for the purposes of enforcement and the management of, for example, the multi-annual guidance programme. He knows that I have always felt that those issues should be resolved by member states through bilateral agreements. British inspectors could go and spot check other member states' inspectorates at their ports on an agreed number of occasions. That would provide the appropriate sanctions and methods of scrutiny to establish the kind of confidence that the industry in this country wants in the way in which fishing industries are monitored and legislation is enforced in those countries. I hope that that can be pursued.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) rightly pointed out that many of the papers, and much of the justification for European involvement in third-country agreements, are based on the economic self-interest either of Europe or its individual member states. It is important that we establish a basis by which that approach is compliant with Europe's development and international development objectives. That is not clear from the way in which the papers are written or the direction in which policy is going.

Finally, the Minister is keen that more selective catch methods should be explored in the Green Paper, especially where technical measures can be introduced to avoid either other methods of effort control or capacity reduction that decreases or eliminates by-catches. The few months ahead will be challenging, and I hope that we shall have further opportunities to

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debate the issues, particularly as we get further details from the Commission about what will be contained in the Green Paper.

6.18 pm

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