At a time when we hear so much about healthy eating and when our school children are being encouraged by Jamie Oliver to eat more nutritious foods, fishing has a much broader place in our society then being a source of employment and an economic resource. We are told to eat at least two portions a week and we should be supporting our fishermen by making sure that those two portions are caught by British fishermen.
The Fishermen's Association works hard to represent fishing interests and over the last ten years has done a tremendous job highlighting the very serious issues UK fishermen face. I personally have the utmost respect for you in fighting for British fishermen against considerable odds as well as the Government. You want to 'Save Britain's Fish' and this is something that my Party and I want to do as well. I am sure that we all want to see healthy fish stocks supporting a strong and profitable UK fishing industry and we all know that the status quo needs to be changed.
But I have come here fully aware that at the moment many of you are unhappy with the Conservative Party's position on fisheries and this is something which I will be addressing later in my speech.
However, what in my opinion is quite clear and something which we can all probably agree on is that the interests of the fishing industry have not been safeguarded or represented by this present Labour Government. Moreover, both you as representatives of fishermen and my Conservative colleagues and I want to change things for the better. I therefore think that it is very important that the Conservative's Fisheries spokesman and the Fishermen's Association forge close ties and I hope that we can work together to tackle the challenges facing the UK fishing industry.
From Labour we have had consultations, promises, gimmicks and reports - but little action. In the last two years alone, we have had Number Ten's "Net Benefits" and documents from Defra titled "Securing the Benefits" and "Charting a New Course." On top of this, since Defra was established in 2001, they have produced their "Five Year Strategy" as well as "Seas of Change" and "Safeguarding Our Seas". It works out that while the Government and Defra have produced at least one significant document a year relating to fisheries. Since 2001, 2,500 of your colleagues have lost their jobs and there are now 6,000 fewer UK fishermen then there were back in 1997 when Labour came to power.
For nine years Labour has dodged decisions on fisheries. For nine years, while they've sat back you in the industry have faced incredible challenges, hardships and threats to your livelihoods. And for nine years Labour has let you down. Last year, when the UK held the Presidency of the EU there was so little done to achieve the changes necessary to better support UK fishing. Under Labour fishing has been neglected and marginalised.
While the Prime Minister may have changed the Defra team in the summer, their fisheries policies have if anything, sadly been moved even further down the Government's list of priorities. In May the Prime Minister wrote to Secretary Miliband to outline the challenges ahead for Defra. In a five page letter fisheries did not even get a single mention. And in June Secretary Miliband's eight page reply also ignored fisheries.
The fisheries industry in Britain is worth £540 million a year and supports 12,000 fishermen and 14,000 other jobs. Communities like those in Fleetwood - who I had the pleasure of meeting last month - and in Grimsby, Aberdeen, Ayr, Brixham and so on value our fishing industry and deserve better from a British Government than to be put back behind farming and climate change on their list of priorities. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Labour Government has ignored the fishing industry and I will not make this mistake.
Labour has been incompetent, indecisive and ineffective - not too mention reckless towards your livelihoods - but what you and your colleagues want to know from me is what the Conservative Party is doing differently and how would a future Conservative Government set about creating the right circumstances for a flourishing UK fishing industry.
You may be asking yourself that if the Conservative Party values UK fishing then why is it reviewing its fisheries policy which fishermen seemed to like and support. The Conservative Party lost the last General Election and because we want to return to power - and govern this country far better than the Labour Government of the last nine years has done - we have to review our policies and make the changes necessary to be more relevant to the British public. Whether the issues relate to taxation, immigration, law and order, the environment or fisheries, we are looking at all of them again so that when we return to Government Britain will get a better deal. No other Opposition Party has done anything like this before and we are doing it so that we can better represent the people of Britain and that includes fishermen, their families and their communities.
Our 2005 General Election manifesto stated: "because fisheries would be better administered at the national level, we will negotiate to restore national and local control over British fishing grounds. We are determined to ensure national control in this area." Let me assure you that the Conservative Party will still fight for greater national and local control over our fisheries. There seems to be a very strong consensus that this is the best way forward to create both economically and environmentally sustainable fisheries and it is something which fits in with Conservative beliefs. One of our core principles is giving power to communities and people so that they are free to exercise it in their best interests. This is in our "Built To Last" document which will provide the guiding principles for our next manifesto.
Most of you probably think that withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy is what you want because of the problems facing your industry and the damage to your livelihoods. I have met with Commissioner Borg, specifically to discuss "discards" but also we discussed at length fisheries policies with him and, to be frank, while he made some interesting points, I was not very impressed and left feeling disappointed. I let him know that the CFP was failing our British fishermen.
Nevertheless, he admitted that Spain would inevitably get most of the money as it has the largest fishing fleet and I was left with the impression that Member States were not determined to achieve a sustainable and profitable industry for generations to come.
Poor marine and fisheries management, a quota system that discriminates against British fishermen and discards are all matters that I agree we are right to feel aggrieved about and on these points the abandonment of the CFP is quite understandable.
Indeed, whether you are a fisherman or an environmentalist it is sickening to think that because of the CFP's quota system some 2 million tonnes of fish are being thrown back into the sea each year. When we consider that marine resources are scarce and precious, and that the livelihoods of 26,000 Britons are depended on fishing, we can all see what a dreadful and disastrous waste discards are.
With evidence like this David Cameron has, like his predecessors, continued to acknowledge that the CFP has failed to deliver a fair deal for Britain's fishermen and let me assure you that he wants to improve the present situation. Moreover, the Conservative Party wants to examine the bigger picture and that is why it is important that the Quality of Life Policy Review considers all of the options.
Changing the CFP, or even withdrawing from it completely, will not necessarily in itself make UK fishing thrive and be profitable. I know that your secretary Mr Roddy McColl estimates that withdrawal will add another £2 billion to UK fishing. That may be the case. However, we would still need to manage our marine resources. We would still need to have a sustainable and profitable system in place. We would still need to co-operate with other neighbouring states and we would still have to address the other causes of the problems within the fishing industry. While the effects of the CFP touch upon so many other areas of marine management policy and it is sometimes difficult to separate them, there are significant changes that could be made outside of the CFP.
As well as looking into the problems associated with the CFP - and some of the questions in the Policy Review ask what changes to the CFP and regulatory structures are needed to deliver a successful fisheries policy and whether fisheries management should be devolved to a national level - the Policy Review will also examine other fisheries issues. The important relationship between science and fisheries is being looked at, for example, as are technological improvements. We need a wide range of sustainable policies for a sustainable fishing industry and I am confident that only a Conservative Government can deliver this.
I know that in politics people want answers straight away. Some of your members have written to me in recent months because they want to know what the Conservative Party's fisheries policy for the next election will be. I am also keen to see what options the policy review will present but am aware that for them to do the best job possible and develop the most appropriate policies, we need to give them reasonable time to do it. Moreover, we also need to give them the evidence and I very much hope that members of the Fishermen's Association will take part and give their views. I have already forwarded some of your members' views to the Policy Review.
The Quality of Life Policy Review believes that "Delivering the right marine, coastal and fisheries policies is one of the most challenging tasks of our times and one that we believe should be closer to the top of the political agenda." I also believe that to be the case and I am sure that you do as well.
I started my speech by referring to the role that fish play in a healthy lifestyle and I think that this is very positive for the fishing industry. Gradually more and more people are turning to fish and adding it to their diet. With the popularity of fish consumption growing we need to work together towards achieving a growing and sustainable future for UK fisheries. That is why it is so important that we work together to ensure there is a strong British fishing industry so that the public can eat British fish and fishermen like you can all reap the rewards.