Representations heard in Public

Questions 1 - 13



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Backbench Business

on Tuesday 4 November 2014

Members present:

Bob Blackman (Chair)

Mr David Amess

Mr David Anderson

Oliver Colvile

Mr Nigel Evans

John Hemming

Ian Mearns


In the absence of the Chair, Bob Blackman was called to the Chair.

Mr Frank Doran, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Austin Mitchell, Sheryll Murray, Jim Shannon, Peter Aldous and Dr Eilidh Whiteford made representations.

Chair: Welcome. Unfortunately, Natascha is not very well, so she has asked me to chair the meeting this afternoon. Could we take Frank Doran, Margaret Ritchie and the fishing industry application, please? Feel free to spread around the ends of the table.

Mr Doran: We are trying to cover the UK fishing industry. We’ve got most of it here.

Long-serving members of the Committee will recall that we have been coming before this Committee ever since the process was changed. We used to have a Government one-day debate on the fishing industry, which is an extremely important industry. More than 1% of GDP is linked to it and it is an essential industry in many rural parts of the country. Each year at this time we-the communities and the representative bodies of the fishing industry-prepare ourselves for the European Council fisheries meeting, which takes place at the end of December. Our request is for a debate-we would prefer to have it in the main Chamber, but we would settle for a debate in Westminster Hall-before the Christmas recess, so that we can discuss with the Minister responsible for fisheries how the Government will play the Council and the position they will take. It would give us the opportunity to influence those decisions. For all of those reasons we ask for a debate.

I have one extra request this time round. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby has been our chairman for many years. After 38 years at the coal face, he is standing down at the next election. Although I have applied for this debate in my own name, as the secretary of the fisheries group, we would like him to be the lead speaker and for the debate to be given in his name, if that is acceptable to the Committee. I don’t know whether I have breached any rules. I should also add that Margaret Ritchie is a co-sponsor and we would expect her to wind up the debate.

Ms Ritchie: We welcome this opportunity to make the case for a fisheries debate to represent the areas within the UK. I have two fishing ports in my constituency of South Down. We very much want to influence the negotiations on TAC or quota allocations that happen annually in Brussels, to protect both the onshore processing and the offshore catching sector. We also want to emphasise the other issues to do with marine conservation zones and offshore renewables, which can have an impact on the catching sector, and the income that comes into fish producer organisations and fishermen and the processing sector.

Sheryll Murray: I don’t think it is a strange thing to anybody here to hear that I have been involved in the fishing industry for about 35 years. I can perhaps bring to the Committee a little more than my colleagues; I know how important this is to fishermen and the fishing industry throughout the UK, having been the first woman chairman of a fish producer organisation, married to a commercial fisherman, and involved in the industry. If we were granted the debate, the time and the duration are more important than the venue, if you were only able to offer a short period of time in the Chamber compared with a longer time in Westminster Hall. It is essential that fishermen throughout the United Kingdom, from Shetland to Cornwall, can see that their voice is being represented. I cannot emphasise enough just how important this is to the fishermen around the coast.

Jim Shannon: I make the same request. All the regions are united politically and regionally in our request to the Committee. Frank mentioned having the debate in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber. I think the subject warrants a debate in the Chamber because of the immensity of the issue. The previous time the debate was in the Chamber, which was last year, it was oversubscribed, with participants from across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There were different viewpoints.

It is important for the Minister to get a grasp, if that is the right way to put it, of all the issues that we-individually, regionally and as constituencies-have in relation to the debate in Brussels. We all have our annoyances about Europe and the bureaucracy, but on this issue you will find a united front. The debate warrants a full afternoon in the Chamber, if that is possible, so that the Minister will be galvanised to support us when he goes to Brussels.

Q1 Chair: I speak on behalf of a constituency where we consume the product of the fishing industry, so we have a particular interest. Before I bring in other people, I have a couple of questions. First, is it the intention to have a motion to debate, or is it a general debate? It is not clear from the application.

Mr Doran: I think it is likely, as in past years, to have a general debate.

Q2 Chair: That’s fine. The other issue is that for a three-hour debate, we would normally expect 15-plus speakers. I am sure that you will not have a problem getting that number, but at the moment we do not have that list of names. We have the list of the seven of you but we would expect to see more people on that list. Would you supply that information to the Clerks in advance of the debate for clarity, because we have limited amounts of time? There is not a particular problem with that.

Mr Doran: indicated assent.

Q3 Chair: The other issue is the timing of such a debate. As you made clear, the discussions with our EU colleagues will take place in December. Is there a particular, optimum week in which you would like to have the debate?

Mr Doran: I think probably earlier in December rather than later, so that we can influence discussions.

Q4 Oliver Colvile: First, thank you for coming. Secondly, you can certainly add my name to the debate, because I represent a constituency where there is a large amount of fishing activity. It is incredibly important to me to try to help the industry as much as I possibly can. It is unfortunate that the debate had to come to the Backbench Business Committee, rather than being given Government time. It would be incredibly helpful if we could try to ensure-if we are going to allow the debate to take place-that it is held in the Chamber of the House of Commons, because it is incredibly important. It is a totemic issue in the south-west and in the peninsulas. Thank you for bringing this forward.

Q5 Mr Anderson: Frank, you said you preferred early in December. If we couldn’t fit you in-the date is the only thing we are going to decide, not the merits of the case-and we went right to the wire, to the last week before recess, would you be able to live with that? We will try to avoid that if we can.

Mr Doran: That would be a bit late in the day to influence ministerial decisions-if we can influence them. It has to be before the December Council.

Q6 Mr Anderson: I understand that. We finish on the 18th or 19th of December. I would not want to keep it till then, but if that is the only way we could do it, is it pointless? That is what I am asking you.

Mr Doran: It wouldn’t help us. Like everyone else, we wouldn’t want the last one before the recess.

Dr Whiteford: On that point, it is worth bearing in mind that there is a new Secretary of State at DEFRA, and we have not had any opportunity to engage with her in Parliament on fisheries since her appointment. Given the importance of the December talks, it is important that she hears from parliamentarians before she goes to them and establishes a negotiating position.

Peter Aldous: Chair, as you know, we come from all corners of the four nations and from different political perspectives, which illustrates the strength of the case. As has been said, it is appropriate that the debate is before the European Council meetings to give us an opportunity to draw particular issues to the attention of the Ministers concerned.

I would just add a couple of other points. First, this is the first year after an ambitious reform of the common fisheries policy, which got fairly universal approval, but it would be appropriate to highlight how it is bedding down. Secondly, last year’s storms did something that has perhaps been missed. When there are storms, fishermen cannot take to sea, which means they do not earn a livelihood. We have all had cases of fishermen’s families who have really struggled hard over the last year, and the debate gives us an opportunity to present that case as well.

Sheryll Murray: It is not just last year’s storms. At the moment, some major fisheries are closed in Devon and Cornwall. It is really important to give those fishermen the recognition they deserve. I have been there myself for so many years-in the run-up to Christmas, you can’t get out to sea and earn a living. We really need to reinforce the backing that the House gives the Minister in the negotiations.

Q7 Mr Amess: Frank, I support everything Oliver said, so I shall be No. 9 on your list. We were able to accommodate you last year-I think it was around this time. You are a formidable bunch of politicians-there is nothing fishy about any of you-and I think this will be a remarkable occasion, with Austin retiring from Parliament.

Sheryll Murray: Absolutely.

Q8 Ian Mearns: I must admit that I think this is a very timely application. As people will be aware, a vessel from the Tyne was lost this weekend. It was a Fraserburgh-registered vessel, but it was sailing from North Shields. Three of the crew died, including the captain, who was from Newcastle upon Tyne. So the debate is very timely, and it is a salutary reminder of what a dangerous industry this is to work in. I very much welcome this application.

Q9 Mr Evans: Well, you don’t get much more landlocked than the Ribble valley, but fairly well everybody there eats fish.

Ian Mearns: You’re angling for something, aren’t you?

Mr Evans: The issue is important. The interesting perspective for this Committee is that if this is an annual thing-and it should be; at least one debate a year should be dedicated to fishing-maybe we ought to look at giving it almost a fixed date, which would be before the meetings in Brussels, to stop you having to go through this process. Clearly, with 6,000-plus people in the industry, it is important that we get a debate in the diary as soon as possible. I have just one question for you. You said you wanted early in December, but if it was some time in November, would you accept that?

Mr Doran: We will take whatever is available. That has to be our position. But December is when papers are being put together and decisions are being made, and that would be the optimum from our point of view-anything in the first two weeks of December.

Sheryll Murray: Could I just add that I don’t think the Commission’s proposal on the TACs and quotas is due to be published until the middle to end of November? The industry representatives need time to mull over what is being proposed before they can make representations to us.

Q10 Chair: To answer Nigel’s point, when this Committee was created, Parliament used to have a series of days allocated to defence, fisheries and so on, and they were all rolled up into the time allocation for the Committee. It has been a frustration at some of these meetings that we get this sort of request, where there have previously been annual debates, but that is the process we need to go through.

If there is nothing else, thank you very much for the application. We will look at it together with the other applications and will contact you as soon as possible.

Simon Danczuk, Zac Goldsmith and Tessa Munt made representations

Q11 Chair: Over to you, Simon

Simon Danczuk: Thank you, Chair. I will start by saying what a pleasure it is to be before the Committee. I also thank my hon. friends for Wells and for Richmond Park. We are requesting a debate on progress with the historical child sex abuse inquiry, which hon. Members may be familiar with.

We started this process of applying early last week, and it is fair to say that there has been quite a bit of water under the bridge since. We still think it is very relevant, particularly because of what the Home Secretary announced yesterday. Having a debate about this could feed into the consultative process that the Home Secretary talked about, so in terms of timing, ideally it would be preferable to have the debate before Christmas.

It is also important to note that the inquiry has got off to a wobbly start. There is much to be discussed, not just who will chair it but, as important, the terms of reference, which many survivors of child sex abuse have raised concerns about. It needs to be discussed whether it is on a statutory footing and what the geography of it is-whether it includes Scotland, Northern Ireland, Crown dependencies. Those are all issues that have been raised by various stakeholders and constituents who have an interest in this. Some of that got aired yesterday following the Home Secretary’s statement, but that was not a debate. It would be advantageous to have more discussion and debate for hon. Members, because they could have some input into shaping how the inquiry goes forward.

There is clearly a lot of public and media interest in the subject. Constituents are certainly raising the subject with most Members of Parliament. More than 100 MPs signed a petition to support the setting up of the inquiry, so hon. Members clearly have an appetite to take part.

I think that is most of the points that I want to raise. We are quite relaxed about whether it is in the Chamber or Westminster Hall, but I think there is enough interest to warrant a 90-minute discussion.

Zac Goldsmith: I am here to back Simon’s call. The value of this is to have a process that is as transparent and scrutinised as possible. The people who have been affected by these historical and not so historical cases of child abuse have already been victims of conspiracies. That is the reason we need the inquiry in the first place. Their willingness to invest faith and belief in the process is paramount. If they don’t believe it and it does not have credibility, there is no point doing it. Our view is that this needs to be as transparent and open as possible and to bring as many people along for the ride. I think this is a healthy part of that process.

Tessa Munt: As you may or may not know, I am a PPS so I am not meant to have my name on a piece of paper like this. I am here to be supportive. However, I do think the more heads that are applied to the process, the better the ideas that come out of it. There will be more discussion and more options for people to get to the point where we can establish some sort of good practice when looking at inquiries or panels like this.

Q12 Chair: Can I just check with you? You said in your application 90 minutes or three hours. Would you accept, for example, a Tuesday morning slot in Westminster Hall, if that was available sooner, rather than having to wait?

Simon Danczuk: Yes, absolutely.

Q13 Mr Evans: I was just wondering. The statement we heard yesterday was well attended and lots of people across the House asked questions. Do you think, if you were given three hours, that it would easily be taken up by Members in debate or would you play safe and just take 90 minutes?

Simon Danczuk: It would depend. On a Tuesday morning, it probably would fill three hours. It would depend on the time. If it were a Thursday afternoon-you know better than I do, but it might be more difficult to attract as many speakers.

Chair: Thank you very much. We recognise the importance of the issue and have been involved in some of the discussions.

That concludes the public business.

Prepared 10th November 2014