Publications on the internet
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE
TUESDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2011
MR DAI HAVARD, AMBER RUDD, HEIDI ALEXANDER, ALISON MCGOVERN,
DR EILIDH WHITEFORD, STEVE BAKER, MR DENIS MACSHANE,
JASON MCCARTNEY, MR FRANK DORAN AND AUSTIN MITCHELL
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 1 - 31
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.
Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.
Taken before the Backbench Business Committee
on Tuesday 6 September 2011
Natascha Engel (Chair)
Mr Peter Bone
Mr Philip Hollobone
Mr George Mudie
Mr Dai Havard, Amber Rudd, Heidi Alexander, Alison McGovern, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Steve Baker, Mr Denis MacShane, Jason McCartney, Mr Frank Doran and Austin Mitchell made representations.
Q1 Chair: Before we start with the representations-we will do the Defence Committee first-I wanted to say a few words about e-petitions.
I do not know if any of you are aware of e-petitions but, during the recess, the Government launched the e-petitions website, which replaced the No. 10 website. At the same time, it was said that as soon as an e-petition reached 100,000 signatures, it would be passed over to the Backbench Business Committee to see whether we wanted to schedule a debate-we are supposed to be judging.
This is the first meeting since then that we have had as the Backbench Business Committee, so we have not actually discussed it. We knew about the petitions website and that there were lots of teething problems. I think that everyone really supports the idea of e-petitions and public engagement, but quite a few problems have risen their head. So what we want to do, certainly for this sitting-before we make a proper decision on how to deal with the petitions-is to establish that someone from the Back-Benches has to come to us and make an e-petition part of their bid for a debate.
We have only one slot of time, and that is provisional, on 15 September in the Chamber. We do not have any time in Westminster Hall until we come back in October. We want to be very definite that, unless someone comes to us, we are not just going to fill that slot on 15 September with an e-petition that has reached 100,000 signatures, because there are already two petitions to have reached that number of signatures. I am just making sure that we know that that is how we will do it for this sitting. After the public session today, we will have a discussion about how to deal with it, because all of us really want to make sure in the long term that e-petitions work, but that they work properly.
If we could have the Defence Committee representatives, please. Thank you.
Mr Havard: Thank you, Chair. How would you like me to proceed-shall I just launch into it?
Q2 Chair: You have been here before, haven’t you?
Mr Havard: No.
Q3 Chair: What we are after is for you to let us know-we have one slot on 15 September, which is an up to six-hour slot in the Chamber-whether you want the whole six hours, what you want to debate, why you want to debate it, why it is topical and how many supporting Members you have.
Mr Havard: First, can I say that I am here as the Vice-Chair of the Defence Committee today, because the Chair, who sends his apologies, is representing the Committee at the international conference of Chairs of Defence Committees from different countries, which was long-planned? That is why I am appearing before you and not him.
We sent you a submission, which I do not intend to read through because you will have read it yourself, but I would like to make reference to it, if I may. I want to address your points about topicality. It is pretty straightforward as to why a discussion about the British armed forces and their involvement in the world might be topical at this time. There are many aspects that I might use to illustrate that, both the ones that we put in the written submission to you and some that have come along since. Since we wrote it-a lot of this stuff was about June and July-we have subsequently had comments about reserve forces, redundancies are of course being applied and there is a lot of debate about basing and all sorts of things domestically. There is also the bigger international picture, including the announcement about equipment, helicopters, the involvement in Libya, continuing training and so on.
The agenda is broad, and it is patently obvious why it would be valuable to have such a debate. I would like to say that it would be valuable to have a debate that Parliament has for itself-to both inform itself and to inform the public-and that is not circumscribed by the Government. The burden of my argument, however, is that we have come to you to ask for a full session debate, if not on 15 September, then early in the next Session.
In the previous Parliament, as some of you will remember, we used to have five Adjournment debates throughout the year that seemed to be part of a normal process of allocation. We do not have those any longer, and it is now a whole year-12 months-since there has been a general defence debate in the House. It is important that Back Benchers have the opportunity to speak, because at the moment their only opportunities are governed by the Executive through the process of statements, which, as you know, is valuable in itself, but does not fulfil what is required, certainly given the breadth of interest.
Q4 Chair: Before you go on, I will bring the others in, but clearly there is a full-
Mr Havard: I was just about to finish-may I?
It is unlikely that we will secure a debate another way. I just want to make it clear that we published a report on the defence and security review; we are not expecting to have a report from the Government in answer to that until some time towards the end of October, so if we go through the Liaison Committee process for a debate, we cannot do so until we have that reply and it is very unlikely that we would have any form of debate available to us through that process until the end of the calendar year. That is why we have come to you now, because it is important that there is a debate as early as possible. Thank you.
Chair: I will bring in the others, but I will just put on the record that one of the very first things we decided was that, although there were lots of debates that were traditionally held a couple of times a year, we wanted to look at everything on its own merit against other competing priorities. So we decided that the five defence days that, as you said, existed every year would-as long as you come to us and make a case for why it is important to have defence debates-have to compete against all the other set priorities. I just wanted to put that on the record.
Would anybody else like to ask any questions?
Q5 John Hemming: You have no motion.
Mr Havard: No. We felt it was inappropriate to come with a dividable motion, which is why we have produced no motion. We could produce a motion that is general in its application, but we did not think that it was appropriate to have a motion on defence that divided the House. It is not for us to make policy; there is the Government to govern. We felt it was inappropriate for other broader reasons that the House showed itself as being disunited on some of these questions.
Q6 John Hemming: The reason why I make that point is what we try to do is ensure that Chamber time itself is reserved for things that have a dividable motion, because there are issues that cannot be dealt with without going to the Chamber.
Mr Havard: That is our dilemma. It would appear that we have no other way. We feel responsible as a Select Committee to get the debate in Parliament about the things that we are doing as part of our scrutiny process, and we are therefore in a bind. But we do not feel it is appropriate to come to you with a dividable motion on this one.
Chair: I think it is a bit more nuanced than that. It is not the fact that we only have dividable motions in the Chamber; it is that we have so little time to allocate and we have such a lot of people wanting that time that if there are motions in relation to which the whole point is that Members want to vote on them, it makes it difficult to schedule anything that does not have that.
Q7 Mr Bone: You say in your submission that there is a major and very critical report on a national security strategy and a strategic defence and security review. I assume that that report made a number of recommendations.
Mr Havard: It does, yes, and a number of conclusions.
Q8 Mr Bone: Would it not be appropriate to bring forward a motion with those recommendations for the House to decide whether it wants to adopt them or not?
Mr Havard: The problem with a report on the defence and security review is that it is part of the broad spectrum of things that apply in relation to what we are asking for, which is a broad debate about the UK armed forces and the Ministry of Defence. There are certain issues contained within that. We would have to invidiously pick one thing out of a whole list of different things, otherwise we would just have a motion that presumably said that we think the Government should implement all our recommendations. That is why we are waiting for the Government’s response to that report. We will not have that until the end of October, so we would be pre-empting the rest of the parliamentary process that runs for Select Committee reports if we chose to use the device that you said we might. We would have a bit of a problem in doing that at this particular point, even if we wished to do so. We do not in general feel that if we are to have a general debate on the breadth of the importance of things and a range of things available for people to raise about the armed services and the Ministry of Defence that dividable motions are for us.
Q9 Mr Bone: Can I just follow up on that? You appreciate our point. We would like to grant everybody the time but, of course, it is very limited.
Mr Havard: I know, Mr Bone, you have a particular view about that.
Q10 Mr Bone: One option is to have a general debate. The other option is to have a specific debate when the Government have replied to your report, with a motion produced after seeing what the Government says, so that the House can take a view on the matter. Which would you prefer?
Mr Havard: It is not my individual preference. I am representing the Committee here. The Committee at the moment would say that our preference still is that we would not have dividable motions. Having said that, as I said, if we took your argument, we would not be able to come back to you until probably some time just before Christmas. We would still have the problem that it has been 12 months before we have had any proper opportunity for Back Benchers to have a debate on defence.
I will certainly take it back to the Committee and it may be something that we consider about that report. It may be that the Government themselves will promote a debate on the report because, when it comes to the SDSR, there is supposed to be an annual review. We are unclear about how that annual review will take place, what form it will take, how the Government will report and when there will be a debate. So there may be a debate on that specific issue in any event, but none of that is under our control. Our concern is about the opportunity for Parliament to have an immediate discussion about things that we think are of particular importance to it now.
Q11 Jane Ellison: I just want to make a quick point: you said there had not been opportunities for debate, but there was obviously a Government Bill-the Armed Forces Bill-that went through the House and on two occasions it did not use all the time allocated to it. The business actually ended early. We looked this up as a result of previous challenges we have had from the Committee that there has not been time to debate these matters. I am a bit concerned about your confidence level given that that debate in Government time ended early on two occasions. What is your confidence level that a six-hour debate will be taken up?
Mr Havard: The Armed Forces Bill is a particular type of Bill that comes round every five years and is narrow in terms of its application in comparison to what we are suggesting. It would not deal with defence procurement, for example. It would not deal with all the questions there are in terms of basing, the strategy about the deployment and formation of forces. It is more about the terms and conditions and the legal base and so on for armed services, and where they knit with the rest of the processes of the law and society. It is narrow in that respect. It is not something that we did; that is subject to a Joint Committee. The breadth of the work that we do is clearer greater. We want a broader debate.
Q12 Mr Mudie: You have a choice, Dai. You either make a decision now and take your chances, or you go and think about it. It is a new world, and this is Back-Bench time. Departments have got to get used to that; what they had in the past is now being filled with colleagues, as you see all round you. If you want to take a decision now, tell us, and we will decide on that. I would say that if you’re not going to have a motion, you are going to be up against very strong competition from Back-Bench Members whose time it is and who have issues that they want voted on.
Mr Havard: You have laid out our problem. We have tried to raise these issues in other quarters and with the Department. We are a Back-Bench Committee like you, elected by the House to look after the interests of the Back-Benchers. We are saying that we cannot discharge our responsibilities properly, in terms of being able to give you, the Back-Benchers, the opportunity to have the discussion, because we have no mechanism by which we can make it available to you, and the Government are not co-operating in doing that, frankly. We have no other process than to come to you and alert you to the fact that it is necessary that a full-session discussion on defence takes place, because it will have been 12 months before Back-Benchers have had the opportunity to say what they want to say about it. We are not going to be able to do it in any other form for another six months or more, unless at some point you can find time for us to have that debate on the Floor of the House in the main Chamber.
If that is not next Thursday, or a week Thursday, then other things will come along, such as a White Paper on the defence industries and technology and other things early in the autumn, and the Government will make more statements, but Back-Benchers will not have the opportunity to have that broad debate, unless you as the gatekeepers of the process help us to get that for them.
Chair: Thank you. We are clear about that and we have a very full submission. Thank you for coming and making that representation. Could we have Amber Rudd and Heidi Alexander? We have quite a few people in today, so I am going to bash through the next ones, if that is all right. Don’t think I am being rude.
The subject is now famine in east and central Africa.
Amber Rudd: That is how it has been labelled, but we are actually proposing something much broader than that and potentially more controversial. We feel there should be an opportunity for Members to engage in a debate on what can be done to prevent famines. The area that we are really keen to focus on is food security. It is evident that the Government and the people of this country have done a great deal to help the people suffering from famine in east Africa, but we want to see whether there is an opportunity to show our support and whether there are things that Members of Parliament, who represent the voters of this country, are considering in order to stop this happening.
August has been a very busy month for national and international events, but just so everybody is aware, the famine is getting worse. The UN made an announcement yesterday that further areas in Somalia are going to suffer. The drought is expected to continue. I believe that we need to take the opportunity to address people’s concerns and position this Parliament back to giving a voice to the very good ideas and thoughts that other Members have. Since Heidi Alexander and I talked about this just before recess, we have had a huge amount of support. Forty people have already voiced their support, and that was from our first conversations.
Q13 Chair: Are you after a Chamber day or Westminster Hall? Have you got a votable motion, or is this a general debate?
Heidi Alexander: We have a votable motion, the draft of which has been circulated. There may be some controversy, because the Department for International Development has obviously outlined its priorities, in terms of wealth creation in the developing world, the focus on fragile states-perhaps those that have been prone to conflict-and obviously, enhancing the lives of women and girls. We believe very strongly, however, that more of a focus on agriculture, or perhaps on shifting expenditure-DFID’s bilateral and multilateral aid expenditure-on to supporting farmers and agriculture, could have a greater impact on improving the lives of those in the developing world. We think that ultimately humanitarian emergency food relief must always be the last resort and we, in the developed world, have a role through the money that we spend through aid programmes, as well as a thought-leadership role, and the role that we have in foreign policy terms in respect of developing world Governments.
We have five of us here who are all very keen to have the debate. In the audience, there are other people who are waving their hands now to demonstrate the level of our support.
Amber Rudd: We think that there are so many different elements that could come into this, which is why it would be of such appeal to other Members of Parliament, who would want to speak.
Q14 Chair: Is this a debate that you specifically want on 15 September-so, next Thursday-or is it something that you would be willing to wait until October for?
Amber Rudd: We will take what we are offered, but we would be delighted with 15 September.
Q15 Mr Bone: Everyone seems in favour of your motion; is there anyone who is likely to speak against it?
Alison McGovern: As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I think it is fair to say that with the publication of some of our reports and discussions, there has been controversy. When DFID matters are discussed on the Floor of the House, people often speak against the principle of our aid intervention or against the practice. It is not clear that there is unanimous agreement about what is done, and this debate is designed to allow that discussion to happen openly in Parliament.
Dr Whiteford: Just to add to that, the whole issue of food security has been very much on the back burner for a number of years, and, as was said earlier, it is not a big focus of DFID’s current approach. I think there will be plenty of controversy.
Q16 Chair: Thank you very much, unless there are more questions. That was very succinct.
Could we have Steve Baker on human rights in Kashmir next, please?
Steve Baker: Madam Chair, thank you very much for this opportunity. As you can see, we have all-party support for this request. I would like to suggest a three-hour debate in the main Chamber with a votable motion.
The purpose is to discuss human rights in Kashmir, but in particular, in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It is topical because Amnesty International recently produced the report, "India: A ‘lawless law’: Detentions under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act". It is also topical, because it follows closely the Third Reading of the Bill on TPIMs yesterday, so there may be some related points there.
It is relevant because, of course, Kashmir is one of the world’s fault lines, and many of us have large Kashmiri populations in our constituencies. We look forward to the census results, but in my constituency, we think that perhaps as many as 15% of constituents are Kashmiri, and other colleagues are talking about similarly large numbers. We think we need this debate because since the partition of Kashmir, there has not been a full debate on Kashmir. There was an Adjournment debate in 1993, and in the recent debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan my colleague, Mr MacShane, mentioned Kashmir, and particularly relations between India and Pakistan and how that bears on the situation in Afghanistan. The purpose of the debate is specifically to discuss the report and human rights in Kashmir, and to have the opportunity to discuss the wider situation and have a votable motion that recognises the report and urges the Government to use all possible diplomatic efforts to further the cause of self-determination in Kashmir.
Q17 Chair: Will you read out the motion for the purposes of the record?
Steve Baker: I am going to have to tone it down slightly to get Government support.
Q18 Mr Bone: Sorry, will you say that last bit again?
Steve Baker: I will seek to tone this down slightly in order to secure the Government’s support. It is my intention to secure Government support. I expect people to speak against the motion, because there are those who particularly wish to further the interests of India. What I have tabled at the moment is, "That this House notes the human rights abuses taking place in the region of Kashmir; acknowledges and endorses the conclusions of Amnesty International’s report, ‘A Lawless Law’, and urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to press in the strongest diplomatic terms for immediate action from all interested parties to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict."
I propose to take note of the report, rather than to explicitly recognise human rights abuses, which I think the Government would find too partisan. In any event, I expect colleagues who wish to support India to speak against the motion and to defend this law.
Jason McCartney: I have 7,000 Kashmiri Pakistanis in my community, and in November I went on a private visit to Dadyal and Mirpur in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The issue is a running sore, and we have been working hard behind the scenes on a cross-party basis. There are 40 or 50 MPs who are active in Parliament on the issue of Kashmir. The Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Attique Khan, was in Parliament three months ago, and people are desperately looking for close links to the United Kingdom. We would appreciate an opportunity to debate the matter in the House.
Q19 John Hemming: Would you consider adding to the motion relating to the UN investigation?
Steve Baker: Yes, by all means. I first drafted this motion before the recess. Over the course of the recess, I reflected on the situation in Kashmir and realised that we are talking about two nuclear-armed nations with which we have a colonial legacy. It is not my intention to play politics with that legacy. However, I want the strongest possible motion to enable the Government to take the backing of the Commons and further the cause of Kashmir. It seems to me that for far too long, the issue of Kashmir has been a running sore. We are all trying to find those triggers that help make concrete progress for Kashmir.
Q20 Chair: We have got one slot on 15 September. I do not know whether you are aware of this, but we are allocated very little time by the Government, and there are lots of competing issues. I appreciate that you have a votable motion, but this is not necessarily a debate for 15 September-or is it? Is there anything that makes it imperative for it to be debated on 15 September and means that it cannot wait until October?
Steve Baker: First, we need only three hours-I think we can get enough colleagues to fill three hours reliably. Secondly, the longer we leave it, the more dated the report becomes. It came out in about May or June, and I would like to get it debated as soon as possible.
Mr MacShane: The UN General Assembly is meeting next week and Kashmir is on the agenda-it has been permanently on the agenda one way or another since 1948.
Q21 Chair: Next week, when? What date?
Mr MacShane: It is three weeks long. The UNGA meets throughout September, so it would be appropriate if there were a parliamentary debate. It is probably the biggest single, self-contained diaspora, plus descendents. It is much bigger than the Jewish community, with which I do a lot of work. There are different Indian communities-Sikh, Hindu, Gujarati and so on-and they do not really get a fair share of parliamentary time. It is a burning concern, and it would show Parliament reaching out to that part of the Muslim community. It is important for the House of Commons to be seen to be doing that in a responsible way. There will be counter-arguments. Some 70,000 people have died since 1990, which is far higher than the death toll in the middle east, for example, which gets an enormous amount of parliamentary coverage and publicity.
Q22 Mr Mudie: If you are after a three-hour debate, and you grasp that you have strong competition for September, with two e-petitions on the table, would you be willing to consider a Westminster Hall long debate in the first instance? It is what we often give people if the issue has not been to Westminster Hall. You can have a long debate there and see whether there is opposition. There is nothing in the motion that is very provocative. You could make the same points to a Minister in Westminster Hall. The chances are, depending on my colleagues’ decision, you will probably get an opportunity sooner that way.
Steve Baker: That is a good point. Many of the things that we have set out, particularly those on reaching out to the community, could be done through a Westminster Hall debate. One of the things that I have picked up in the past couple of years working with Kashmiris-
Q23 Mr Mudie: Does that mean that you are turning it down? We have got the importance of your point. The issue is, bluntly, that you have strong opposition. You would have a greater chance with a Westminster Hall debate. Are you turning it down?
Steve Baker: The answer is yes. The reason why the answer is yes is because we want a motion which says to the Government that now is the time to listen to Kashmiris.
Q24 Chair: Thank you. I thank you for that very succinct presentation. Can we have Frank Doran please?
Mr Doran: Thank you Chair. I wrote my letter to you on the basis that I am the secretary of the all-party fisheries group. I have got two of the officers of the group with me, Eilidh Whiteford and Austin Mitchell, who is our chair.
The fishing industry is extremely important. It employs something like 30,000 people directly in the industry and is responsible for just less than 2% of the country’s GDP. Its importance over the decades is recognised by the fact that the Government gave us a one-day debate every year. Since the early 1970s, that debate was held just before the annual fisheries council of the European Union, which determines the quotas and is a crucial part of the industry’s calendar.
I know that we have suffered like lots of other areas. We heard earlier the discussion about some of the defence issues, where there used to be one-day debates. The difficulty with the fishing industry is that we are not such a high-profile industry. It is mainly a rural industry, and it is a vital industry right around our coast. In Scotland, we have the largest fishing fleet in Europe. It is crucial in the part of the country that Eilidh and I represent. It is also a major employer in other parts of the country, such as Humberside, as Austin can tell you in much more graphic detail, where it is a major employer. It is an important industry for the whole country.
I am not just making a plea on the basis of our history, because there is an important event taking place at the moment, which is that the common fisheries policy is under review. Earlier in the year, the Commission released its initial report on the changes that it wanted to make. That got quite a lot of attention, because of the issue of discards. There are a number of other fundamental issues for the fishing industry. We think that this issue is important enough to merit a full one-day debate in the Chamber. That is not only because we used to have it historically, but because this is an extremely important issue for all the people who work in the fishing industry and those communities around every part of the country that depend on the industry. The common fisheries policy will set the template of the industry and how it operates for decades to come. It is an important enough issue to merit a one-day debate.
Q25 Mr Hollobone: Do you have a motion?
Mr Doran: This is the first time I have been to this Committee, and I did not realise that I must come with a motion. We would want to table a votable motion pointing out the failures of the current common fisheries policy and the need for change and for more regional management, which is a key aim of the Government. This is not an area where there is great conflict between parties. There is a lot of agreement, and we are an all-party group. We will produce a motion along those lines.
Q26 Mr Hollobone: I appreciate and respect your fighting for the fisheries industry. I absolutely recognise why you are doing that, but if you stand back and look, fisheries has not done badly under the new regime. We had a three-hour debate in Westminster Hall, and we also had a motion on the Fish Fight campaign, which attracted a great deal of national interest. There was also an urgent question on the common fisheries policy just before we broke up. There is every chance that you would get an urgent question on that just before the summit. I appreciate and absolutely understand why you want more time, but against all the competing priorities on which the Committee must make a decision, fisheries has had quite a bit of parliamentary time this year.
Mr Doran: Before my colleague comes in, may I say that this is about the future of the industry? I agree on many of the issues that you have talked about-for example, the urgent question on the CFP, which was an opportunity that none of us expected, because it wasn’t planned. I had to break arrangements so that I could be there, so we didn’t have the opportunity for proper consideration and debate. The matter is of such fundamental importance to the whole national industry that it merits a debate in my view.
Dr Whiteford: I think you should be aware that the amount of time allocated for questions to DEFRA Ministers has been significantly reduced in recent months at a time when both the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy are being negotiated in the EU. In that context, the squeeze on time for us to scrutinise and question what the Government are doing about fisheries and agriculture has made it precious. The CFP negotiations in Europe are critical, and they will set the framework for decades. The industry is under huge pressure at the moment, which is why we need proper time to air the issues in debate.
Austin Mitchell: May I add to that as chair of the all-party group? We have 17 members, and the matter is now at a crucial stage. Fishing has always been an industry that has not received attention in parliamentary debates or from the Ministry. It is the issue that fell off the back of a DEFRA truck as far as we are concerned, but it is now reaching a crisis situation, and the European Commission is asking for replies to their proposals for reform of the common fisheries policy. That reform is, in our view, inadequate and we need to put our case and to consult with the industry on it. Ministers must put their case for their proposals in the reform, and that will be a particularly difficult political issue.
The second crunch issue is that we are now defining marine conservation areas that conservationists want to use as a means of restraint on catches and fishing. That would be a patchwork quilt of controls, particularly across the North sea, but all round the coast, and they would be very difficult to operate. Those two issues, which come together in the discards matter aired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, on which the Commissioners made proposals that may be unworkable, provide urgency for a debate. We had one last year in Westminster Hall, thanks to the Committee. We are asking for a debate before the ritual December debate just before the Fisheries Council. It is important to develop those views now.
Q27 Jane Ellison: You partly covered what I was going to ask in response to Mr Hollobone. I was slightly surprised when I read your letter that you didn’t even refer to the quite long debate-I think it was at least three hours or half a day-on fish discards. I attended the whole debate, and a surprising number of MPs from landlocked and non-fisheries constituencies attended, which struck me as a good thing. I’m a new Member, but my understanding is that some of the past fisheries debates largely attracted Members with obvious constituency interests, whereas that debate broadened out considerably and educated many of us. You did not even refer to that, and it struck me during that debate that some of the issues, from a non-expert’s point of view, were brought up during that debate. As Mr Hollobone has said, I do not feel that, as a subject, fisheries has been hard done by in the time that we have allocated. I suppose I am also interested in a second point about what the debate is, or is it actually the fact that you want to put views on the record? Is there a debate with two sides that will go back and forth across the Chamber?
Mr Doran: I did not mention a three-hour debate for the simple reason that I think we still feel a sense of grievance. I think a lot of the other people who are used to having one-day debates in the Chamber feel the same way. That is not your fault; that is the way that the Government have unloaded an awful lot of baggage and used this process.
Traditionally-I hate using that word-the annual debate was an annual report from the Minister. The Minister went through, with figures and statistics, the events in the industry, and, of course, it focused on the people who were mainly interested in the fishing industry, and you could pick all the ports off. In terms of the time that is allocated for debating a substantial industry that is of growing importance in the country-you just need to look at health advice to see how important the fishing industry is and at the whole issue about the marine environment. Those are all major issues, as Austin has mentioned, and we do not think, despite what you and Mr Hollobone have said about the amount of time we have had, that there is sufficient time for the industry.
This is a special time. This will be our only opportunity to have a proper debate in Parliament about the consequences of CFP reform and the Government’s approach to it, and for the representatives and organisations in the fishing industry to give their input. From that point of view, it is a crucial debate.
Dr Whiteford: Clearly, the debate on discards has been one that has been driven very strongly by the media in recent months, but, if you will pardon the pun, it can be something of a red herring when you are looking at the strategic development of the industry. What is very important at this juncture is that we look at that strategic development and how our fisheries will be managed over the next 10 or 15 years. That is why looking at the causes of the discarding, rather than looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope, is so important.
Q28 Mr Mudie: Two things: first, will you produce a motion for the debate? Secondly, what is the latest-it would be helpful for your case if you weren’t arguing for 15 September-that it would be useful to have the debate in view of the December meeting?
Mr Doran: If the Committee is agreeable, we would like the debate before the December meeting, which is usually in the week running up to Christmas. We would, therefore, ideally have debated all the issues that were to go before the Council by the beginning of December, so we are in that sort of territory if a day is available.
Q29 Mr Mudie: But you would hope to have a motion that the Government would have to consider and, hopefully, finesse their approach to the negotiations, so you would probably want it late November or early December.
Mr Doran: That sort of time, yes.
Q30 Mr Bone: On the type of debate, if it is just getting on the record the views of Members, and particularly the group, you do not have to be in the Chamber for that. If you had a motion that would instruct the Government to withdraw from the common fisheries policy if they did not do this, that and the other at the forthcoming negotiations, it would have to be in the Chamber. I am not quite sure from the conversation which route you are looking at: getting your views on the record before the Government go to the meeting to influence them or actually being more up front.
Mr Doran: Some of our members would like to have a motion urging withdrawal from the common fisheries policy, and probably the EU, but I do not think that there is majority support for that. Some crucial issues need to be addressed, and the most important, certainly in my view, is devolving management from the Commission to the regions, and, for this purpose, Britain is a region. Eilidh would like Scotland to be a separate region, but that is another issue. It is on those sorts of issues that a motion approved by the House would strengthen the Government’s hand in raising them and winning the battle in Europe.
Austin Mitchell: You will notice that Frank gave no names on the high density of people who are hostile to the common fisheries policy, but that is the point. We can develop a motion that sets out our concerns, particularly about the increase, which we want, in local control, local influence and the influence of the industry itself on the fisheries policy, rather than something dictated from Brussels and handed down on tablets of stone. There are two issues: one is the arrangements, which will be made at the December Council, as they traditionally are every year, about catches, allocations and quotas, but more important is influencing the Government’s response and developing a response from the fishing industry to the proposals from the Commission on revising the CFP. That is the basic issue. How do we get a policy that will be more acceptable and more workable for this country for the next stage of the CFP?
Q31 Chair: We are clear on your proposal, but, before the end of this two-week session, could we start looking at a proper motion, so that we, as a Committee, are clear about what it is that you want? That would be really helpful.
Mr Doran: I will send it to the Clerk.