Thursday, 27 September 2018

Scallops

Last week, we finally reached an agreement with the French over the contentious issue of the scallop fishing grounds in the Bay of Seine following weeks of tension and long negotiations.
Scallops are not subject to tonnage quotas in the way that, say, cod and haddock are. Instead there is a limitation on the days at sea that larger vessels over 15 metres long can spend fishing for scallops.  Smaller vessels under 15 metres are not subject to these effort restrictions. There has long been a disparity between the amount of days at sea that the UK and French fleets have access to. The French fleet have access to around double the effort allocation than the UK fleet under the so called "Western Waters Regime" because of the methodology used to distribute allocations when the system was established. It is a familiar story with the Common Fisheries Policy and we see it on many different stocks where we don't really get a fair share of fishing opportunities.
Some years ago, the French authorities put in place a long-closed season on their fleet for fishing for scallops in the Bay of Seine, partly to protect the stock during the spawning season early in the summer but partly to maximise the economic value of scallops since the market in France is much stronger later in the autumn. However, those restrictions are a national measure so do not apply to fleets from other countries like the UK and Ireland. The contested grounds are around 18-20 miles off the French coast, so they are not even in French territorial waters and other countries have a legal right to fish there.
The genesis of the clashes this summer was the collapse of a long standing voluntary agreement between the French and UK fleets. Since 2012, a deal has been in place. The French industry agreed to give 10 percent of their effort allocation to the over 15 metre UK fleet and in return, the over 15 metre UK vessels agreed not to fish in the Bay of Seine area during the closed season that the French observed. It was a sensible and pragmatic agreement. The French fleet have more effort allocation than they need or use and by transferring that to the UK fleet, the closure in their main fishing ground was observed voluntarily.
The deal collapsed this year because the French fleet insisted that the closure also apply to smaller under 15 metre vessels as well as the larger ones. This was not something that the UK industry was able to deliver since the Under 15 metre fleet did not need nor therefore benefit from any transfer.  The small vessels only account for about 6 percent of the catch. As a result of this impasse, the whole agreement fell through and the UK fleet therefore resumed fishing in the contested grounds leading to the skirmishes at the end of August.
There were a number of attempts to get the negotiations back on track. I had numerous discussions with Stephane Travert, my French counterpart to try to identify a way forward. We then hosted a round of negotiations in London followed by a second round in Paris. In the end, finding a way to make a deal work that would bind the smaller vessels proved too difficult. It would have required quota on other fish stocks to be swapped and then leased to try to raise a financial compensation package and that is always a harder and less certain deal to bank. By this time of the year, the weather starts to deteriorate so the value of unused quota can become less certain.
However, we got there in the end. An agreement was put back together for the over 15 metre vessels that is similar to the one that has been done in previous years. It means that the larger vessels will abide by the closure and in return will have the transfer of days at sea so that when the fishery does open they have the ability to fish. I always maintained that it was better for all sides to stand back up the conventional agreement that has stood the test of time than to have no agreement at all.
A number of commentators have inevitably attempted to link this dispute to Brexit.  However, it is an entirely unrelated episode. There was a similar dispute six years ago that led to the previous agreement. I have always said that, whether we are in or out of the EU, we will still negotiate with our neighbours and agree shared approaches on shared stocks, just as we do with Norway and the Faroes now. Fisheries policy is as much about international relations as it is anything else and always has been. After we leave the EU, there will still be annual discussions and agreements. The difference is that when we leave the EU we will be an independent state and we will conduct those negotiations on our own behalf rather than having to abide by what the European Commission decides.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Securing a brighter, better, greener future

Last week I introduced a new Agriculture Bill in parliament which will be debated later this autumn. Leaving the EU means that we have the chance to design the first independent agriculture policy for almost half a century. The last time we introduced such a wide-ranging Bill was in 1947. 
The current CAP accounts for almost 40 percent of the EU budget, and its influence is all pervasive. Some 80 percent of legislation affecting DEFRA comes directly from the EU and it is stifling. EU rules frequently make trying to do the simplest of things complicated and often impossible. The UK has argued for change over many years but the system has remained quite dysfunctional. Trying to design a one size fits all policy for twenty-eight different countries all with very different landscapes and agricultural structures has never made much sense. 
For far too long, our farmers have been held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the CAP. The lion’s share of money has been allocated based on the size of individual land holdings, not the contribution farmers make to society. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%. 
The new Agriculture Bill which I introduced last week marks a decisive shift in policy. We can now begin to reward farmers properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. We can now better appreciate the value farmers bring as food producers. It will help grow more high-quality food in a more sustainable way – and it will ensure public money is spent more efficiently and effectively. 
At the centre of the Government’s proposal is a new system that pays public money for public goods – those goods from which we all benefit but the market alone does not provide. The Bill will allow us to devote public money to enriching wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving the quality of air, soil and peat, raising standards of animal welfare and planting trees to help manage and mitigate the effects of climate change. 
A new Environmental Land Management system will be developed over the next few months and years and will be rolled out from 2021. The government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards. 
We are also introducing new powers to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain so that farmers can get a fairer share of the value of the food they produce. If farmers received a fairer share of the price their food sells for they wouldn't need subsidy. Finally, we are making provision to award Grant and investment to farms to help them reduce costs and improve their profitability. 
Despite all the arguments about Brexit, working on future policy with the freedom to innovate and think things through from first principles has been incredibly liberating for a department like Defra which had had to shoulder so much of the burden of EU membership over decades.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Cornwall’s Pasty and Mining Heritage

Last weekend I attended the annual Pasty Festival in Redruth, where we celebrated the international home of the Cornish Pasty. Luckily the weather remained warm and sunny and it was great to see a large number of people at the event. 
The Cornish pasty is recognised across the world. When Cornish miners fanned out across the world, they took the pasty with them. I remember a former colleague from Australia telling me about the Cornish festivals that used to take place in the town where he grew up. We have also developed great links with Real Del Monte in Mexico. I have met representatives of the town on several occasions, including local pasty makers. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time. 
Today the Cornish heritage is evident in some of their architecture and in their love of pasties (or pastes). Last Saturday, like many others, joined in the festivities and made a pasty of my own. Apparently, my attempt was not bad for a beginner and my pasty actually looked like a pasty you would buy from the shop! 
When I first became an MP, the Government announced that it would put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Along with my fellow Cornish MPs, I battled to ensure this didn’t happen. Thankfully, common sense prevailed. It was partly this debacle that led to the idea of a pasty festival in Redruth. 
Last week I also visited Moseley Museum at Tumblydown Farm in redruth. They have a really good museum at the Farm that showcases Cornwall’s mining heritage and has a variety of attractions for both children and grownups alike. From model train layouts, to exhibits about the mining experience, outdoor train rides and even a tea room, there is plenty for all the family to do. 
Cornwall has a unique culture and an industrial heritage to be proud of, with Redruth playing a particularly important role as one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution and as the centre of the Cornish diaspora across the world. In its prime, Redruth was at the heart of the tin mining industry and there were many feats of engineering developed in Cornwall at that time. 
After the decline in the fortunes of tin mining in the late nineteenth century, there was a huge exodus to the new world with Cornish tin miners founding the industry in Australia, California, South Africa, South America and Mexico. As a result, today there are some six to eight million people making up a worldwide Cornish diaspora and the vast majority of them can trace their family roots back to Redruth. 
Across Cornwall we are lucky to have a number of reminders that point us back towards our heritage. From our mining heritage commemorated at the new Redruth Town Archives to our pasties and international connections. In such a fast moving world it is often refreshing to be able to pause for a moment and remember all that has gone before us.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

This week

I very rarely use this column to comment on another political party. Generally, I prefer to focus on topical issues whether they be local or national. In addition, there is no doubt that every political party has its share of problems from time to time, I don't pretend otherwise so I tend not to point the finger. 
However, the resignation this week of the respected Labour MP Frank Field is a sad moment for our politics and a poor reflection on current events in the Labour Party. I have known Frank Field for almost twenty years. He was briefly a Minister under Tony Blair but was too independent minded so he got moved out. In the time since, he has carved out a position as a highly respected and, yes, independent minded, MP. While he has always been a passionate Labour politician, he was also always willing to work with MPs from other parties to try to deliver on issues. I first worked with him when he was one of a group of fifty Labour MPs who refused to toe the party line on joining the euro and he campaigned to keep the pound. Years later, he campaigned alongside many of us to leave the EU too. He has also been a passionate campaigner on issues such as poverty and has led some respected work on policies to help food banks. He has met representatives from the local food bank here in Camborne. 
Frank Field cited a culture of "nastiness, bullying and intimidation" that had taken hold in the Labour Party in recent times. He is not the first to raise the alarm at these tribal and aggressive tactics. Earlier this summer, in Cornwall, two leading Labour members, Anna Gillett and Penny West resigned from the party after saying that some activists in the local party had been using bullying tactics. In March, Tim Dwelly, the former Leader of the Labour Party in Cornwall also quit the party over bullying. The same story is being played out across the country. Lifetime Labour supporters and activists who have given years to helping in elections have been forced out and made to feel unwelcome as a new culture of factionalism, intolerance and aggression has taken hold. 
We had a glimpse of this in the 2017 General Election. The local hustings that took place were often hijacked by orchestrated heckling and shouting. Often local residents were made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at such events and left early. The Labour Party has had to continue wrestling with these factions ever since. 
The tone of the debate in the 2017 election has caused a parliamentary committee to recommend new laws to try to stop bullying and intimidation of candidates. We live in a difficult time when politics is very polarised and divided and when we are trying to unite the country behind the decision to leave the EU, while putting in place a new partnership based on friendship and cooperation. I have always had great respect for the volunteers of all political parties who go out to knock on doors and deliver leaflets during elections to try to advance the cause they believe in. Our democracy could not function without them. However, whatever our political views, whatever party we vote for at elections and whether we voted to leave or voted to remain, we must always cherish free speech and treat one another with respect, even as we disagree and engage in vigorous debate. That applies within parties as well as the debate that takes place between parties.