Jon Cruddas debates with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There have been 4 exchanges between Jon Cruddas and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Mon 22nd July 2019 Degraded Chalk Stream Environments 3 interactions (1,009 words)
Wed 12th December 2018 Thames Water Reservoir at Abingdon (Westminster Hall) 6 interactions (783 words)
Thu 11th February 2016 Recreational Sea Bass Fishing 3 interactions (989 words)
Wed 3rd December 2014 UK Sea Bass Stocks (Westminster Hall) 2 interactions (1,451 words)

Degraded Chalk Stream Environments

Jon Cruddas Excerpts
Monday 22nd July 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Charles Walker Portrait Mr Walker
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22 Jul 2019, 7:56 p.m.

I entirely agree. I know Paul Jennings well; he is one of the greatest friends any chalk stream could have. He is a conservationist of the highest order, and he deserves our full congratulations and respect for the tenacity that he has shown in ensuring that the issues that afflict so many of our chalk streams are kept somewhat in abeyance on the Chess. However, I am afraid that even he would admit that he has not always been successful in doing that.

As I was saying, in the past 10 years there have been five dry events in the Upper Chess. In the 20 years prior to that, there were three. Drier years mean more abstraction, and things are only going to get worse. Affinity Water serves the home counties north of London, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) will know. Affinity has no reservoirs. It only abstracts waters from the chalk aquifers—that is the only place it can get its water from. As we know, the aquifers it abstracts from are those that feed the rivers that are currently dying. Affinity currently serves 3.6 million people. In 20 years’ time that number will be nearer to 4.5 million people. Where on earth is the water going to come from? If we go on as we are now, the water will come out of the aquifers and we will not have a single chalk stream running in Hertfordshire or Buckinghamshire. That is not an exaggeration; that is where we are at.

Affinity has tried, within the constraints that it is operating under—bearing in mind that it has no reservoir. It reduced pumping at one pumping station on the River Beane by 90%, which was actually a very brave thing to do. Yet that part of the river has not started flowing again because the long-term damage to aquifers that have been used and abused for the past 30, 40 or 50 years is so extreme that it may take decades to recover.

It is not just abstraction that kills rivers; it is also what happens after the abstraction. If companies are abstracting water from chalk streams, they either dry them out—and that does kill them—or they reduce the flow. When there is low flow in a river, it cannot get rid of pollutants; pollutants concentrate. A river that is flowing well can move pollutants on down it, dilute them and dissolve them. This does not happen when a river is being extracted to death. So what is the next consequence of extraction? We get topsoil run-off, which just sinks to the bottom of rivers and depletes them of oxygen. It sticks to the chalk at the bottom, destroying any oxygen that can get into the chalk for the small invertebrates that live in it. Then there is phosphorus from agriculture and sewage works, which causes oxygen depletion from algal blooms and eutrophication. Basically, we have environments that cannot support life, or which support limited life, because there is no oxygen. Agricultural pesticides wash in off the fields, destroying biodiversity and wiping out invertebrates and the fly life that comes from them. Then there are the many septic tanks up and down the country that are unregulated and leaking into groundwater that finds its way into rivers. The challenge is immense.

As I said, this is an environmental crisis of a monumental scale that we are failing to address. Fundamentally, we need to reduce abstraction now. Thames Water, which I have worked closely with at times, has done that on the River Chess and the River Cray, but it wants to do more—and quite frankly it needs to do more. So what is Thames Water doing? It is making efforts to reduce leakage, and those are to be welcomed and applauded. It can introduce metering, promote water efficiency, and go into schools to educate children as to the importance of water, but, at most, these efforts will reduce consumption in the area it serves from 142 litres per day to 136 litres per day. That is just not a significant decrease. It is an important amount of water, but at 3.5% it is not going to save the day. Thames Water estimates that by 2045 there will be a shortfall of 350 million litres of water a day between the amount of water available and the amount needed.

There is only one game-changing solution to this crisis, and that is to create more storage capacity, which we do by building more reservoirs. I think that the last major reservoir we built was the Queen Mother reservoir for the east and south-east of England in 1974, so we have grown the population by millions but we have not put in any additional water storage. If we want to save our chalk stream rivers, of which we have 85% of the world’s resource, then we really have to build reservoirs. The spade-ready reservoir that has been on the books for 12 years but has been blocked by a well-organised group of 20 people is the Abingdon reservoir in Oxfordshire. That is a game changer. If we get the Abingdon reservoir built, that starts to create the capacity we need, but at the rate the population of London and the south-east is growing, we will need more than one Abingdon—we will need two or three Abingdons. Until we start capturing water at the times of plenty and using it during dry periods like we are experiencing now, we will remain in trouble. We will be in a position where our own environmental record falls well short of where it should be, and we will limit our ability to change the way that other countries handle their natural resources, because they can look at us and say, “What on earth are you doing? You are in no position to lecture us.”

I could go on at great length, but I am not going to. In fact, I may have already gone on at great length, but this subject warrants some exploration. Finally, I would like to thank the Angling Trust, particularly Martin Salter—a former Member here—and Stuart Singleton-White, for the amazing document they have published, “Chalk Streams in Crisis”. It really is an extremely good, but somewhat depressing and sad, read. It is a call to arms. If we are to be taken seriously, we have to make changes to the way in which we approach our valuable and precious ecosystems. One of the most valuable and precious is our chalk streams, and, as I said, we have a lamentable record in this area.

Jon Cruddas Portrait Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
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22 Jul 2019, 8:03 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on his thorough, wide-ranging and very informative speech. I, too, was exercised to come to this debate having read the report by Martin Salter that he referred to. It is a fantastic piece of work that all Members should have a look at.

The hon. Gentleman is a passionate and long-term defender of our river system. I simply want to make a couple of technical points. To clarify, by contrast to him, I am not and I cannot self-identify as a fisherman. I have stood by a few chalk streams with him occasionally, but that does not make me a fisherman. However, just like him, I am worried about how we preserve the unique biodiversity and international reputation of our threatened chalk streams. My chief concern is the degradation of our river systems due to water abstraction and what this tells us about some wider public policy concerns that we should all share in this House, irrespective of whether we are advocates of fly fishing in chalk streams.

It seems to me that the basic issue is quite simple: how can we protect our natural environment and chalk streams without making alternative sources of water available? The fundamental issue is how we can make more water available. As has been said, we have unique resources in this country. England has 160 of a total of 210 chalk streams in the world, and southern England has several of the greatest chalk streams on the planet. Yet today many of them are in an appalling state. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, no water is moving through them—there is no flow—and year on year the situation is getting worse. It is literally happening in front of our eyes: our unique river system is dying through a lack of water. I recently saw some data that suggested that only 14% of the rivers across England are now considered to reach good ecological standards. That is an environmental catastrophe, as the hon. Gentleman said.

The question is, why is it happening? Without doubt, our climate is changing, but this crisis is not about drier winters, hotter summers and drought: that does not give the whole picture. That is why this seemingly narrow conversation about chalk streams has much greater significance in terms of wider public policy issues and concerns. How do we achieve the provision of new water? The supply, distribution and quality of new homes is a central issue, as are the role of the water companies and patterns of regulation. These are all issues that—dare I say?—flow out of this debate about chalk streams. The demand for water, especially through new house building in the south east, has dramatically increased. For example, it is estimated that in my part of east London—in Barking, Dagenham and parts of Havering—there will be some 50,000 new units in the next 10 to 12 years. That is an awful lot of house building, and the question is, where will the water come from? Nationally, we seem to be moving towards a consensus of at least 300,000 extra units a year, which returns us to the question where the water will come from.

I, too, read the Thames Water briefing that was sent out at the back end of last week. It said—I think the hon. Gentleman mentioned these figures, which caught my eye—that accounting for climate change, population growth and environmental regulations, there will be a daily shortfall of some 350 million litres a day by 2045, and that will, in turn, double in the following 50 years. So this is an environmental catastrophe that is being played out day to day across the country.

A failure to provide new water means that water companies extract water from our rivers, which cannot cope and subsequently die. That appears to be the basic reality. The rivers are further undermined when excess sewage is discharged into them, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Time and again, the water companies have been fined, but they just take the hit. The point that he did not make is on how the water companies free-ride their ecological responsibilities. For example, last week it was brought to my attention in The Guardian that Ofwat has reduced the fines on Southern Water from £37.7 million to just £3 million for thousands of pollution spills, wilful misreporting of data and cover-ups. How will this type of leniency and—dare I say?—criminality be changed in terms of their behaviour, which is degrading our river systems?

Objectively, it seems clear to me that we need new water infrastructure, leakage reductions, smart metering, education and desalination—those all have their place—but the reality is that we do not have enough reservoirs. I think that the hon. Gentleman said that the last one was built in 1975. He can correct me if I am wrong, but I thought it was 42 years since we built a reservoir in this country. If we join the dots, the policy does not add up. How can we satisfy growth in London and the south-east without such new infrastructure? If this is not confronted, the current crisis that our rivers face will intensify and they will never recover.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, Thames Water has announced plans to bring forward the Abingdon reservoir, with construction starting in 2025, but I gather that this has been beset by problems. It would be good to hear where we are with that project and any other proposed infrastructure projects, not least because the responsibility lies with several different authorities: the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority, the Government and the water companies. I will end on that point, but I repeat that tonight’s short and apparently narrow debate has great significance, not just for those who fish in our unique chalk streams, but for everyone who is interested in how we will meet the demands of a growing population without further degrading our river systems and wider environment. That is something that should be beyond party politics, and something on which we might all agree.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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22 Jul 2019, 8:10 p.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for his remarkable and important efforts in this area.

In my constituency, we have eight chalk streams: the Upper Rhee, the Rib, the Ash, the Quin, the Beane, the Mimram, the Lea—near Bayford, where I think my hon. Friend fishes—and the Ivel. There has been some progress with the Beane and the Mimram following the WWF campaign “Rivers on the Edge”, of which Martin Salter was a strong supporter and about which we had debates in this House. There has been a 90% reduction in abstraction at Whitehall pumping station near Watton-at-Stone, and the Fulling Mill pumping station at Welwyn Garden City was completely decommissioned; that represented some success.

As my hon. Friend said, however, the condition of the northern part of the rivers is very dry. The Upper Rhee is dry, and there is a lot of concern about the Rib in the Standon area and north of Standon. The situation is similar with the Ash and the Quin. The Beane at Walkern, north of Watton-at-Stone, is short of water. There is a campaign in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) about the Mimram. The Lea is low, and the Ivel springs in Baldock are so dry that people regularly write to me to express their concern.

It is worth thinking about what the unique chalk stream environment is like. My constituency has small hills, between which are the chalk streams, and they create a unique environment with unique flora and fauna. Nestling in the environment provided by these ecosystems are flowers such as saxifrage, as well as small English crustaceans and the water vole. Tewinbury nature reserve is a very good place to measure the activity of flies and little creatures, and that is a remarkable thing to do. I pay tribute to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, which does so much to support that.

Thames Water Reservoir at Abingdon

Jon Cruddas Excerpts
Wednesday 12th December 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Mr Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con)
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12 Dec 2018, 4:57 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered plans for a Thames Water reservoir at Abingdon.

I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before you, Mr Stringer, and to raise this important subject. Obviously, it is the perfect day for a Conservative MP to open a debate about digging a very large hole.

It may interest Members to learn that, for the last 20 or 25 years, there has been a proposal to build a large reservoir in my constituency. It is known as the Abingdon reservoir, which reflects the name of the constituency of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). However, it would be situated in my constituency, near the villages of Steventon, the Hanneys and Drayton. This is a very large piece of land—probably one of the largest pieces of open land in the south-east of England. There have been various thoughts about what might be built on that land, including, amazingly, an airport and a garden city. However, the reservoir has been the most enduring proposal.

I am neutral about whether the reservoir should be built. On the one hand, I am a nimby, and it would make my life a lot easier if a reservoir was not built in my constituency; on the other hand, I recognise that it is potentially a large and important piece of infrastructure for the south-east of England. One thing that I am firm about is that the reservoir should not go ahead unless the need for it has been properly examined. I was successful the last time construction of the reservoir came close to happening, in 2010. I called for a public inquiry, which we secured, and which rejected the need for a reservoir. For me, it is unarguable that there should be a second public inquiry if Thames Water, which is behind the proposal, comes up with a proposal for a reservoir.

At the moment, Thames Water is developing its statutory water resources management plan, which the regulator requires of water companies to allow them to put forward proposals that will ensure a secure water supply and protect the environment. The reservoir is being presented by Thames Water as a solution for long-term water shortages. I will rehearse some of the arguments for and against the reservoir, and then ask the Minister a number of questions.

I do not think anyone would disagree with Thames Water, or indeed other stakeholders, that there is severe pressure on water resources in the south-east. As I am sure many people in this room who are knowledgeable about this subject know, it is a great irony that we live in quite a rainy country but that we still have great pressure on water resources and do not have as much rainfall as required. Thames Water estimates that by 2045—in another quarter of a century—it will need to find an extra 350 million litres of water per day to supply the population in London and the south-east. It is working with other companies as part of the Water Resources in the South East group to look at the long-term needs of the wider region and the best options for strategic water supply. According to Thames Water, the reservoir option will improve its resilience and that of Affinity Water by creating a regional storage and transfer hub.

Thames Water bases its estimate of the extra 350 litres a day on a population increase forecast of 2.1 million over the next 25 years, which translates into an extra 1.3 million houses, and on climate change projections—for the avoidance of doubt, I am not a climate change denier, and I accept that climate change will absolutely have an impact on water supply in the south-east. Thames Water forecasts that, by 2050, our summers may be an average of 3° hotter and 18% drier. The Environment Agency’s welcome tightening of regulatory oversight also makes it harder to extract water from rivers and underground sources.

There is perhaps a slight contradiction: on the one hand, there is great concern about a reservoir in my constituency, but on the other hand, my constituency is home to some of the chalk streams of south-east England, including Letcombe brook. I have two little-known facts for hon. Members about chalk streams. One is that 85% of the chalk streams in the world are in the south-east of England, while the other 15% are in Normandy because they are part of the same chalk ridge that was once fused together when we were members of the ice age version of the European Union. My other little-known fact is that somebody who is passionate about chalk streams is the former lead singer of the Undertones, Feargal Sharkey, whom I got to know when he was head of UK Music and I was the Culture Minister responsible for music. I spoke to Feargal this morning and he made a point that I will bring up in my conclusion: a reservoir has not been built in the south-east since 1976.

To make a wider and less reservoir-focused point, there has not been investment in water storage for some 40 years. Increases in housing and population, climate change and tighter environmental regulation will result in average daily consumption per person rising from 1,300 litres to roughly 1,400 in the next few years. I should also say that one of the arguments that came up when a reservoir was debated almost 10 years ago was the desire to see Thames Water do more to tackle leakage. London suffers from having Victorian infrastructure; we lose an enormous amount of water through leakage. I am pleased to see that Thames Water wants to reduce leakage by 15% by 2025 and 50% by 2050, but that will still not be enough to supplant the increase in demand for water.

Thames Water says that it has looked at several options, including water transfer from the River Severn; making more water available from the remaining power station at Didcot, where the coal-fired power station has been closed down; water transfer from the midlands via the Oxford canal; and a reuse scheme at the Deepham sewage works. However, it has reached the conclusion that the reservoir is the best option and that the site in my constituency is the best of the 50 sites it claims to have surveyed.

Obviously, Thames Water wants to emphasise some of the benefits that might come to my constituents, including nature conservation, new natural habitats, opportunities for recreation such as fishing and walking, and the opportunity to reduce abstraction and save our vulnerable chalk streams. It is also keen to lay to rest the accusation that it is undertaking this infrastructure scheme in order, frankly, to line its own pockets. Apparently, any reservoir would be constructed under the same financial arrangements as the Thames sewer, with a separate company and additional money on our bills for some 40 years until the construction cost has been paid off.

My constituents, particularly those local to the site, have certainly not taken Thames Water’s proposals lying down. I pay tribute to Brigadier Nick Thompson, who led the Group Against Reservoir Development in its first battle when there was a public inquiry, and to Derek Stork, who now leads GARD. Given that this is happening in my constituency, I am pleased to say that the average resident has quite a bit of ammo behind them; Derek is the former head of technology at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, so he is no slouch when it comes to looking at the issues with his colleagues.

GARD points out that filling the reservoir would take three years and cause immense damage to the local community, the landscape and archaeology. The reservoir would have walls 25 metres high and would take 30 days to drain in an emergency. Building it would be enormously disruptive to the local community and would take something like 10 years, with all the resulting lorry traffic and disruption.

My constituents have already been affected by the very serious matter of planning blight. For example, many landowners have not modernised their buildings in the past 20 or 30 years; their land is still being used mainly for farmland because the threat of a reservoir has been hanging over them. They require certainty. Last year, a constituent was unable to sell their home, and I had to bring Thames Water to the table to purchase it. Many others who live near the site find that it is having an impact on their house prices and the opportunity to sell, and some of them face negative equity.

What concerns my constituents is not just the building disruption, but whether the case has genuinely been made. They have taken on some of Thames Water’s assumptions: they think that its population forecast and usage projections per person are unrealistically high and, although they are certainly not climate change deniers, they challenge its forecast of the impact of climate change on water availability. The data shows that water availability in London has increased over the past 70 years by about 200 litres a day. My constituents are not necessarily making the case that there should never be a reservoir, but they certainly do not believe that one is needed now; in fact, they argue that if there is ever a case for one, it will not be needed until at least 2100.

Jon Cruddas Portrait Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
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12 Dec 2018, 4:58 p.m.

Given what the right hon. Gentleman says about the degradation of the river system, especially the chalk rivers, the clock is ticking and there is an imminent crisis, as Feargal Sharkey would say. I do not want to bring the debate back to Europe, but it is 45 years since we have been in Europe and 42 years since we built a reservoir. Does the right hon. Gentleman not conclude that the clock is ticking for us to save our river system in the south of England, especially the chalk stream system?

Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Mr Vaizey
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12 Dec 2018, 5:01 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. Obviously I am focusing on the specific proposal for a reservoir, but there is a lot more to say about managing water resources in the south-east. GARD is not saying that we should not build any more infrastructure to make more water resources available; it is saying that the Severn transfer option is viable and cheaper, and there is also the possibility of the Teddington abstraction scheme. Thames Water itself acknowledges that water transfer is an option, although it argues that it is not as good an option as a reservoir. It also claims to be looking at the Teddington scheme.

I want to give other hon. Members a chance to make the points that need to be made, but I want to ask the Minister about a number of points. I would be grateful for her insight into what work the Department has done with Thames Water to assess not just its proposal for a reservoir but its overall water resources management plan. Will she assure me and my constituents that, as this journey continues, Thames Water, her Department and other stakeholders, such as the Environment Agency, will fully involve my constituents in their deliberations and consultations? I hope she will support me, my constituents and Oxfordshire County Council in calling for a public inquiry to ensure this process is conducted in an open and proper manner.

I will draw my remarks to a conclusion by making the following points. When I sat firmly on the fence about the reservoir a decade ago, I must confess that I was not entirely confident that a public inquiry would lead to the reservoir being dismissed. I was pleasantly surprised that the inquiry concluded that a reservoir was unnecessary. It is sometimes easy to dismiss local campaign groups as nimbys or as people who will find almost any way to stop any kind of development near where they live, but, as it turned out, the campaign group defeated Thames Water in a sort of David and Goliath battle with the power of its arguments. The planning inspector found that Thames Water had not made its arguments effectively. I do not think that a lot has changed since 2010 or that the alternative options have been explored fully, and they need to be.

On the point the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) made about chalk streams and the environment, I have one other element of frustration, and it is partly directed at the Minister—her post, as opposed to her personally, because she is obviously a very good friend of mine. It seems slightly odd that Thames Water, a private company, is being left, to a certain extent, to its own devices to come up with a solution to a potential water crisis in the south-east over the next 10 or 20 years. It would be much better if this whole debate were led by the Government. They should say, “This is the need over the next 25 years. This is our best guess—made on all the available expertise, in a dispassionate fashion. These are the best ways to combat water shortage. They are about not just tackling leakage and more efficient home use, with water meters and the like, but realistic infrastructure that provides the best access to water resources with the minimum disruption to communities.”

I am delighted, at what I think is still quite an early stage in this process, to have had the opportunity to raise these issues at the highest level.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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12 Dec 2018, 5:02 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing this debate on an incredibly important local issue. Like him, I have had much correspondence from my constituents about it. Although the proposed reservoir lies in his constituency, my constituents— in and around south Abingdon, in particular—are understandably very interested in these proposals, and I hope to raise their concerns today.

I absolutely recognise the need to ensure a safe, secure water supply for the future, but as a local MP it is also my job to stand up and speak out on behalf of my constituents, who have justified worries about these proposals. Given the large size of the scheme, we have to make sure we take them with us if needed.

As has already been mentioned, we have been here before. In 2010, the community campaigners, led by GARD and supported by my Liberal Democrat colleagues, were successful in their campaign to the Planning Inspectorate, which determined that there was “no immediate need” for a reservoir on this scale. We have gone into the future since then, but not that far into the future. As the right hon. Gentleman asked at the end of his speech, what has changed so materially in those eight years?

I thank GARD for its longstanding campaign, hard work and tenacity. In many ways, it has brought the band back together to fight this again. I also thank Councillors Catherine and Richard Webber, who have been keeping me updated and involved in the fight.

In 2010, the project was the subject of a public inquiry, which found that Thames Water’s plan was not fit for purpose, as it had not properly evaluated the alternative options. That is critical. What has changed? The proposal is now 50% bigger. It is the size of Heathrow airport, and will hold 150 million tonnes of water. It has also been moved forward: the intention is to build it by 2037. This is not just the same campaign run again; it is a campaign looking at a proposal that is even bigger and therefore requires even more scrutiny than the first time round.

The objections in my postbag and email inbox have focused on whether there is a need for the reservoir at all, the plans themselves and—this is where the right hon. Gentleman and I are absolutely on the same page—the need for the public to have their say on the proposals. I will take each of those in turn.

On the need for the reservoir, I shall not build on the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, although I thank him for educating me about the lesser-known facts about chalk streams. I dare say I did not know that. Every day is a learning day, so I thank him very much. I am keen for this debate to be a chance to raise residents’ concerns. I will start with my colleague, Debby Hallett, councillor for Botley and Sunningwall and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats. She said that she would like to see the priority being given to fixing leaks elsewhere in the system. She speaks to residents, and they are all concerned that the water is not even for our area.

That is echoed by another resident, who wrote to me ahead of this debate. I said in a tweet and on my Facebook group, “What do you think? We are raising this today.” She said:

“The water from the reservoir is not, in any case, for use within the area supplied by Thames Water, but is to be sold elsewhere for the profit of Thames Water. It will be paid for by the customers of Thames Water but they will not benefit from it.”

There is disquiet that the bill payers will be the ones funding the new reservoir, which will become a major asset on Thames Water’s balance sheet. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his clarification about the nature of the company that might be set up. There is concern about who will pay, at least in monetary terms, and not least in relation to paying for building the thing in the first place. Many questioned the need for the development at all, and put forward alternatives including installing more desalination plants along the Thames, transferring raw water from the River Severn to the Thames, reducing water consumption, and addressing leakage.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s recent “Preparing for a drier future” report states that strategic inter-regional water transfers are needed, but water companies are failing to plan for them properly. As I understand it, Thames Water has pushed back the option of a Severn-Thames transfer until 2080, which is a very, very long way away and, frankly, ignores the current problems. Instead, it says that a reservoir is cheaper than a transfer, which is counter to what the National Infrastructure Commission said. There needs to be some joined-up thinking.

On the issue of leaks, is Thames Water doing enough elsewhere in the system, and are its targets for tackling leakages ambitious enough? One of GARD’s central arguments is that Thames Water, after discussions with Ofwat, will reduce its leakage by half by 2045, and has revised its population projections. The campaigners suggest that those two actions remove the need for the reservoir in the immediate term—that was the reason why it was rejected by the 2010 inquiry. They were surprised to see the proposal re-emerge with the earlier delivery date of 2037.

My first question to the Minister is: has the Department made an assessment of Thames Water’s plans, proposals and forecasts? If not, will she commit to doing so? Have there been any independent analyses of the costs to Thames Water of rectifying leakages and saving water loss in that way? Unfortunately, residents simply do not trust Thames Water on this issue, so we need some independence in the assessments. We need an evidence base on which to build the case to the public—not just about leakages, but about the whole thing: negatives and positives.

I did not receive only negatives in my inbox; some were a little optimistic. Rachel in Abingdon wrote to me to say that she

“supports the reservoir for future generations”,

and that she does not want the decision to keep being put off, but would rather just get on with it. She also made the very good point that developers—a lot of housing development is happening in Oxfordshire at the moment—need to look at greater use of grey water for the likes of toilet flushing. Has the Minister discussed that with colleagues in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government? As ever, cross-departmental working could help to solve the wider issues.

Rachel says that if the reservoir does go ahead,

“we need to make sure that Thames Water builds this reservoir with amenities and leisure, and not just an inaccessible reservoir.”

I completely agree with her, and it could well be a great opportunity for our area. I say that with an element of caution however, because of my experience of the £100 million Oxford flood alleviation scheme. We were promised leisure facilities such a cycle path that would go all the way through and which, I am sorry to say, was omitted from the final plans. I therefore remain gently sceptical about some of the promises that might be made at this stage. As that is also in the Minister’s brief, will she continue to encourage Oxfordshire County Council and the Environment Agency to think again about that cycle path, which we had been promised at the outset of the plans?

That brings me to the plans and the sheer scale of the reservoir, which is going to be the size of Heathrow. If one took a map of the reservoir and overlaid it on a map of Abingdon, it covers it. That is extraordinarily large, and one of the biggest reasons why residents have raised concerns. Sharron wrote on my Facebook page to say she was concerned that this would not be a valley-type reservoir that could enhance the area and provide leisure and tourism facilities. Instead, she was worried that the design would end up like “a massive tank” and the

“tallest structure in the vale”.

We all love Didcot power station—don’t get me wrong. Big structures in our area can be a cause of love, but having said that, if the reservoir is as Sharron described, it would be a blight on what is otherwise an incredibly beautiful landscape.

The environment is equally important. Many residents who contacted me were seriously concerned about the displacement of species. As the RSPB parliamentary species champion for the skylark, it would be remiss of me to not raise concerns about the potential impact of the proposals on many bird species, including the skylark. David, who is involved with Abingdon Naturalists Society, says that he is particularly concerned about the destruction of an

“undisturbed area of countryside that presently hosts breeding curlew, lapwing, grey partridge, skylark, all of which are red listed species.”

Other terrestrial wildlife might also be eliminated.

Richard Harding, a trustee of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says:

“It will obviously have severe consequences to the environment and communities in Oxfordshire. The loss and damages to land, resources, heritage and communities would be substantial. The proposed area of flooding is a massive, hugely significant multi-period historical and archaeological landscape—the reality of what is there has not been grasped.”

That brings me to flooding which, I hope the Minister is aware, is a major concern for residents of the area. There were huge floods in Abingdon not very long ago. Marion wrote to me to ask for a second public inquiry into the proposals. She also raised the increased risk of flooding, particularly on the south Abingdon flood-relief land. Can the Minister indicate what assessments have been carried out on how the plans might affect the flood plain? There are schemes in place, but from what I understand, they were conceived after the first reservoir had been rejected. Do they now include space for the new reservoir?

My primary concern is to make sure that residents are heard. In Oxfordshire, where there is massive development going on everywhere, there are countless examples of residents from all over feeling that their voices have not been heard, not least on the elephantine Oxford to Cambridge expressway, from which they have felt totally frozen out. That is the main reason why we feel that we need a public inquiry now. I raised that with the Department and the response that I received from the Minister’s private secretary stated that

“it would not be appropriate for the Government to direct Thames Water to carry out further consultation on its water resources management plan”

until it responds to its latest consultation.

Will the Minister, as previous Governments have done, commit to insisting on a public inquiry on what will be a massive infrastructure project for our area?

We must be clear—local Liberal Democrats and I are absolutely clear—that we will fight for people to be able to have their say. People in Oxfordshire are reasonable; they will listen to the evidence. As my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Wantage, said, people simply want to know that the proposal is the only option left and that all others have been looked at. I believe that the residents of Abingdon and elsewhere would listen to evidence, but we need a public inquiry to ensure that we have all the facts to hand before we make any decisions.

Jon Cruddas Portrait Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
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12 Dec 2018, 5:16 p.m.

I was not going to speak this afternoon; I came to listen. There is a little bit of time left so I will say a few words, but I will not take up too much of Conservative Members’ time: they obviously have urgent meetings on the Estate to get to over the next couple of hours, as their party disintegrates.

The two speeches that have been made were very thoughtful and contained nuanced arguments about the case for and concerns about the reservoir. I came to listen because, although this is primarily a local matter, it throws up a lot of issues about ways in which we can achieve new water; the supply, distribution and quality of new homes; the role of the water companies themselves; and patterns of regulation—to name but a few.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing the debate. I know something about it because of my interest in chalk streams. As I understand it, Thames Water announced its new plans to start construction on the reservoir in 2025. I totally understand the local concerns that have been registered about the proposal, because it was rejected in 2010 at the public inquiry. There is a general concern that, to satisfy growth in London and the south of England—another consultation is ongoing—the Thames Water plan for the reservoir suggests a storage and distribution hub for the south-east.

Objectively, it seems clear that we need new water and new infrastructure, including reservoirs. I accept, however, that there are other suggestions for bringing new water into the stressed south-east, including transfers from Wales and the River Severn, or water re-use and desalination. There are a whole number of other proposed remedies.

One point I want to flag up that has been mentioned in the debate but which is often overlooked in the case for any new supportive water infrastructure, is the degradation of the river systems in England—specifically, of the chalk streams. As the right hon. Member for Wantage mentioned in his speech, England has a unique concentration of chalk streams—160 of the 210 that exist globally—and they are disproportionately in the south of England. Yet they are in an appalling state; no water is moving in many of them and there is no flow. More generally, I recently saw data that estimated that only 14% of the rivers across England are considered to have reached good ecological standards. At the same time, demand for water, especially through new house building in the south of England, has dramatically increased.

Those two apparently separate issues are intrinsically related. A policy failure to provide new water means that our water companies extract water from our rivers, which cannot cope and subsequently die. At the same time, excess sewage is discharged in the rivers by those same companies, further undermining their quality and sustainability. Time and again, the water companies have been fined, but they take the hit—there are notorious cases of discharge by Thames Water. In effect, they free-ride their ecological responsibilities.

The situation has to be sorted out via public policy making because, as a consequence of all this, it has been 42 years since we have built a reservoir. The right hon. Gentleman, when introducing the debate, intimated that he was moving closer to Labour’s policy on water ownership and frustrations with the current system. Responsibility lies with a number of different authorities: the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority, the Government and the subject of today’s debate, Thames Water.

I repeat that I do not want to stray into local planning consultations, and I respect the contributions to the debate so far, which have made powerful cases, but an overall case needs to be made on consumer demand and preserving our unique English river systems, especially in the south of England: new infrastructure is needed. That does not mean that I am in the pocket of the water companies, but consequential environmental issues are involved, and the clock is ticking. New build, or the start of the build, in 2025 is being talked about, but any cursory look at the English river system tells us that we need urgent action now.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Dec 2018, 5:20 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) on securing this debate, which is a superb opportunity to talk about how the voices of local residents must be heard when addressing the genuine water crisis that the UK faces. He mentioned that we live in a damp country, and indeed we do, but according to the Environment Agency, we are actually in the lower quartile globally of available water resources per capita, which means that we need to value every drop—much more than we do at the moment.

Climate change is real and happening to us here in Britain. No single measure can tackle it, but no single measure of water policy is mitigating it. That is why we need a number of separate buckets of action, including: action on leakage, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), to lower the amount of lost water, including the 30% lost on customers’ properties, not just on the public network; a focus on reducing per-person water usage from the national average of about 130 litres a day—some people use considerably more—and increasing grey water use, which was mentioned earlier and could contribute to that; building and supporting the construction of more water transfers; and the Severn option, which is important in this context. On that, we should focus on the use of canals as an option, instead of a big pipe, and the date that was mentioned, 2080, seems far too far away.

Other actions include a necessary look at how to build more water storage in areas of water stress. Although as a nation we have not built any new reservoirs, we have certainly provided additional levels of water storage, sometimes using quarries and mines—nothing on the size and scale envisaged at Abingdon. Only then, at the very end of the scale, should we look at water desalinisation, which itself has a huge climate change effect.

The right hon. Member for Wantage talked about population change. When looking into the future, it is important for us to take a best guess at how many people will be using water. The latest statistics show that the south-east of England will have 4.1 million more people by 2045. To put that in a currency that we might all understand in this place, an additional 54 MPs would be required to represent that population. By 2080, that could be an extra 10 million, or 133 more MPs—heaven help us all! That will put pressure on an already water-stressed region.

With climate change, we have to recognise that we will not only have problems of water shortage at certain times of the year—we will also have problems with too much water at other times of the year. That issue was mentioned earlier in the debate.

I have to admit that I was not an expert in chalk rivers or streams before today, but I feel that I have learned an awful lot. The issue of over-abstraction from our watercourses and rivers is of importance because as our communities become more water-stressed and as the pressure to reduce per-capita consumption is applied, the temptation, sadly, is to abstract still more water from our precious river environments. We need to avoid that, to ensure that we preserve those fragile and precious natural wildlife habitats, whether of aquatic life, birds or mammals.

Before I was elected, I advised people on how to build controversial buildings, mainly skyscrapers and football stadiums. The same principle applies to reservoirs: the case must be clearly set out right from the start. To be honest, I do not think that Thames Water has put the argument for the Abingdon reservoir that well, and it needs to do better. Increasing supply, of course, has to be done alongside demand management, which also needs a conversation with water bill payers. If there is to be such huge investment, however—a carbon-intensive investment—the case must be put clearly.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it is important to be neutral in this debate, and that is how the Opposition come to it. We think, however, that a number of principles should apply in this case as we go forward, especially as the decision might well be taken out of the hands of local councillors and made at the national level through the NSIP—nationally significant infrastructure project—process. That is why genuine consultation and the voice of local people must be heard much more in the debate than perhaps it has been to date.

We need to ensure that the concerns about the new reservoir involve not only the size and scale but the construction, and the impact of that over many years, as well as the impact of many years of operation. Thames Water needs to make proposals, focused by genuine and intensive consultation. Such consultation should not just ask, “What do you think of our plans?”, but involve genuine engagement that listens to affected communities.

There is also a challenge for Government to look at what resources we need. At present, the water resource plan of each company sits as an island apart from the areas alongside. There is a clear case for joining up those plans into a national water resource plan so that we can understand the impacts, especially if we are to have more water transfer into areas of greater water stress. We need to understand the national picture.

I hope that Thames Water is listening to this carefully. If it is to make the case for the Abingdon reservoir, it needs to do so clearly, engaging local people and taking them with it. At the moment, my concern is that that conversation is not as full and as thorough as it could be.

Recreational Sea Bass Fishing

Jon Cruddas Excerpts
Thursday 11th February 2016

(5 years ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I will not give way because I want to make progress.

To conclude I will quote from John Buchan who said:

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

I do not want to take that hope away from our recreational sea angling community, and I urge the Government to do a few things. First, will they review this decision and reverse the unnecessary catch-and-release policy for recreational sea anglers? Will DEFRA consider making a study of how much benefit rod-and-line angling produces for British tourism industries, and will it consider a complete ban of gillnetting in bass nursery areas? I look forward to hearing the views of other hon. Members, and I hope to sum up the debate at the end.

Jon Cruddas Portrait Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
- Hansard -

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who made a brilliant speech, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also welcome him to the all-party group on angling, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). I look forward to some pleasant days out.

I am a terrible fisherman, so restraints such as the 42 cm landing size, the one-fish-per-day limit, or the moratorium will not affect me because I do not actually catch anything. However, I have great affection for the recreational angling community, and this is a great opportunity to debate the issue. I do not think we have discussed recreational fishing since December 2014, when the hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) secured an Adjournment debate on bass fishing. After that debate we were optimistic about the future direction of travel of Government policy, but I am afraid we stand here today pretty disappointed about where we have got to.

Angling is one of the highest participant recreational sports across Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and in the country at large. If we joined conversations in recreational angling chatrooms, and talked to people from the Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society, we would quickly appreciate the concerns across the country. Anglers are desperate to help to rebuild bass stocks in a fair, efficient and proportionate way, and we were looking forward to making real progress at the December Council of Ministers meeting.

The basic problem now is that the recreational angler feels singled out and that EU fishing Ministers have unfairly targeted them in the new six-month moratorium. That moratorium risks criminalising thousands of law-abiding people, and it will be difficult to enforce without the active support of angling clubs, anglers and the Angling Trust.

Evidence suggests that charter boat bookings are already down, which will impact on tourism revenues and potentially put some operators out of business. Anglers fishing from April to June will have to return all their bass, yet a commercial boat can come alongside and catch and kill the same fish. Ministers have boasted that these supposed conservation measures will have little effect on commercial inshore bass fishing, while also claiming that they have secured a good deal for bass stocks. Those statements cannot both be true. We therefore need to find out what the Government’s actual position is.

DEFRA’s own “Sea Angling 2012” report shows that there are 884,000 sea anglers in England, who directly pump some £1.23 billion per annum into our economy. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned, bass are the most popular recreational species, and bass angling is worth some £200 million in England alone. Let us cut to the chase: for the past decade and a half, recreational sea anglers have been led to believe that their most popular sporting fish would be managed sustainably and be acknowledged as a valued recreational species. Why is that? It is because politicians of all parties have told them so.

In 2002, the Prime Minister’s strategy unit commissioned a report on the benefits of recreational sea angling. That report, “Net Benefits”, was eventually published in 2004, and it said:

“Fisheries management policy should recognise that sea angling may…provide a better return on the use of some resources than commercial exploitation.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on “Net Benefits” said:

“We support the re-designation of certain species for recreational use and recognise the benefits that this can bring from both a conservation and economic point of view.”

In the 2014 debate, the hon. Member for Meon Valley, who is now a Minister, concluded his speech by saying this:

“does the Minister agree that the development of sea bass fishing as a recreational activity is the best long-term solution to both the ecological and the economic sustainability of the fishery, as proved by the Irish sea bass experience, the striped bass fishery of the north-east coast of the US and many other examples?”—[Official Report, 3 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 119WH.]

Today, we ask the same question: what is the Government’s policy? We ask that as the derogations drive policy in the opposite direction to that argued for by the hon. Gentleman and the Government report in 2004.

Do not get me wrong, I am not attempting to make a party political point about this. For example, under the last Labour Government, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), tried to increase the minimum landing size to 42 cm, but he was replaced by a new Minister who caved in to the commercial lobbying and annulled the statutory instrument that would have delivered this important conservation measure. My right hon. Friend was actively supported in those attempts to introduce that minimum landing size by the then Member for Reading, West, who, sadly, is no longer an MP, even though he is very much active in the Angling Trust and continues to lobby on behalf of recreational anglers.

There is a recurring theme throughout the past 20 years, whereby the ecological case has been consistently put by the recreational side, backed up by Government reports and all-party groups, and this has been accompanied by limited actions of Governments of various persuasions, given pressures from the commercial side. Here we are again today making the same points and trying to give voice to the recreational angling community.

In Ireland, bass has been designated a recreational species since 1990, delivering an estimated €71 million to the Irish economy annually and supporting more than 1,200 jobs. Ireland is also in the EU. The Isle of Man is about to embark on a similar policy. As well as highlighting the ridiculous anomalies with the current situation and the unfair treatment of recreational anglers, this debate today is really about trying to find out the longer-term thinking of the Government, so we do not have to return to this question again and again, whoever is in power.

Geoffrey Cox Portrait Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
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I am not a recreational angler, but I have every intention of taking it up. It sounds an immensely enjoyable pastime and one in which all Members of Parliament should partake. I do, however, have an inshore fishing fleet to speak up for, and I have to say that one thing I am depressed about as a result of reading some of the briefings for this debate is the tone that is taken towards decent inshore commercial fishermen. These are men and women who have families to support. They are not large concerns. Having clung to a traditional fishing industry, in places such as Appledore, Bideford and Clovelly, they have found the rug gradually pulled out from under their feet.

I agree with my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas). We are dealing here with an insane, illogical, irrational, fatuous policy. It is absolutely crazy that anglers cannot take two or three fish home for the table, when, at the same time, the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has obtained derogations that allow netting to continue. Of course on the face of it, if we take the one, it is strange we do not take the other, but I propose a reason to the House. Ministers know, when negotiating in Brussels with their counterparts in other countries, that if they take away bass from the inshore fishing fleet, they will have nothing left to catch. In the north Devon industry, which I represent, they cannot catch spurdog; there is no cod, plaice or sole; no thornback ray; no blonde ray; and now there is a ban on small-eyed ray, which represents 40% of the take for the northern Devon fishing industry. Fishermen say to me, “What do we catch?”

UK Sea Bass Stocks

Jon Cruddas Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd December 2014

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I start by referring to a letter from my constituent, Matt Powell, which was written in July 2014. He said:

“I run a small bass guiding business on the Pembrokeshire coast. This has given me the opportunity to observe the difficulties facing the future stocks of the bass…our most iconic marine sport fish. It is clear that the species is under the sort of pressure that is unsustainable in the medium to long term future. A combination of angling pressure…is taking its toll on our local bass stocks. I am obviously concerned about the future of my own business if things continue as they are, but of far more importance is the legacy we create for future generations.”

Mr Powell is not alone. There are plenty of people like him along the Pembrokeshire coast and elsewhere in Wales.

This is really a story of political will. We have extensive planning conditions to protect bats and amphibians, fences that keep deer off roads and tunnels for hedgehogs and toads to pass under roads. The Minister will know that there was a national outcry when he went through with a policy that would remove less than 1% of the UK badger population—a thriving and increasing population —so it is sadly ironic that, on our watch and under our noses, we are seeing the steady decline and eradication of an iconic species. Nobody, it seems, can find a solution to the problem. Even the populations of salmon and sea trout, which are of significance in my part of the world, seem to be receiving more column inches these days than the future of bass.

We have heard about the economic value, and I will not repeat all the statistics. In my part of the world, bass fishing by anglers is crucial. Its economic value and the number of jobs it provides outstrip commercial endeavours significantly. It has three times the numbers of employees and three times the money generated by those other methods of fishing, yet we put all that at risk.

I have a simple question for the Minister: can he be as bold about bass as he is about badgers? That is what we require. As we heard from the former Fisheries Minister, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), it is about facing down interest groups and officials and doing what is right. It is within the Minister’s gift to do the right thing. It is not as though that is an impossible ask. It can be done, and it can be done now. If it is not done now, the Minister will sadly have it on his record that bass collapsed on his watch. I cannot believe that he or any other Minister, facing the evidence they face now, wants that to be the case.

An increase in the minimum landing size is crucial. Following the advice of the expert bodies—goodness me, there are enough of them—is crucial. The Minister also might take into account the thoughts of the chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation, who refers to the essential banning of netting, especially in nursery areas, and investing in the expansion of rod and line fishing around the UK coast.

This is not about stopping people from doing things; it is about investing in education and the huge benefits that would arise in our coastal regions—particularly in Wales—if we got the message across. It is about investment in something that will bring good fortune not only to the bass population around the UK shores, but to the residents of coastal areas whose livelihoods depend on the practice. It is also about the maximalisation of marketing, which has not been referred to in the debate but has been touched on once or twice in the media commentary around it.

The situation is pretty simple. Someone once said to me that Governments can do pretty much whatever they want, so long as they really want to. I think this is one of those occasions. Do the Government really want to help bass? If they do, they can; if they do not, bass stocks will collapse on our watch and take at least 20 years to recover, while the livelihoods of people such as my constituent, Matt Powell, will probably never recover at all.

Jon Cruddas Portrait Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
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This topic is important. Only this past weekend experts called for a ban on trawlermen catching sea bass, given the evidence that angling offers three times the benefit to the economy.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) on securing such an important debate, and I want to repeat some facts that he pointed out in his opening address. DEFRA’s own “Sea Angling 2012” report shows that there are 884,000 sea anglers in England, who pump £1.23 billion per annum directly into the economy, with 10,400 full-time jobs dependent on the activity; and that the indirect spend is equivalent to £2.1 billion, with 23,600 jobs at stake. Bass are the most popular species for recreational angling and, according to figures given at the recent Dublin bass workshop, bass angling is worth more than £200 million in England alone.

I admit that I am not a bass fisherman—indeed, many of my colleagues in the all-party group might suggest that I am not a fisherman of any shape or size at all—but my youngest brother is a fanatical one, and many of my constituents are also bass fishermen. Indeed, angling is possibly the recreational sport with one of the highest participation rates in my east London constituency, as in the country at large. This obviously important debate is also about the nature of politics—about keeping our promises, which has been mentioned a number of times this morning.

For the past 13 years, recreational sea anglers have been led to believe that their most popular sporting fish would be managed sustainably and primarily as a recreational species, because Governments, including the previous Labour Government, kept telling them that that was what we were going to do. I want to focus on some of the recent history behind today’s debate, which was emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) in his comments.

In 2007, we came close to a breakthrough based on a cross-party consensus, but a Fisheries Minister capitulated to pressure from the commercial sector and overturned the decision of his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, who had already signed off the order to increase the bass minimum landing size. Since then, arguably, we have witnessed seven wasted years in terms of sustainable management of the species, and that has been picked up time and again in the contributions this morning. Since 2007, as far as I can see, not a single measure introduced by Governments of either main party has halted the decline in bass stocks. We are still waiting for the publication of the 2012 bass minimum landing size review, instigated by the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). There is some doubt as to whether any meaningful work has been done at all.

The core of the argument put by all our colleagues this morning is that politicians have promised that Britain’s most popular fish in sporting and eating potential should be managed sustainably. That has not happened and bass stocks are in deep trouble. The latest scientific advice issued by ICES in June 2014 recommended an 80% cut in catches of bass throughout the European Union by 2015—more than double the amount suggested in 2013, which we had not acted on. The Solent bass surveys also make dismal reading, but that is not new—the news has not fallen from the sky.

It is worth going back to some of the recent elements in the debate. As emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, in 2002 the Prime Minister’s strategy unit commissioned a report on the benefits of recreational sea angling. “Net Benefits” was eventually published in 2004 and it stated:

“Fisheries management policy should recognise that sea angling may, in some circumstances, provide a better return on the use of some resources than commercial exploitation.”

That is exactly the point made by the Blue Marine Foundation report that was in the papers this weekend, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech.

The 2002 report’s recommendations were:

“Fisheries departments should review the evidence supporting arguments for re-designating commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling, beginning with bass by the end of 2004.”

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee then looked at the issue when considering the “Net Benefits” report. According to the Committee’s all-party review:

“We strongly support the Strategy Unit recommendations to develop the recreational sea angling sector. We believe that the sector, which has considerable economic value, has been overlooked and under-represented for too long.”

It added:

“We support the re-designation of certain species for recreational use and recognise the benefits that this can bring from both a conservation and economic point of view.”

The same points about the economic case for recreational angling have been made consistently over the past 13 years.

I do not want to be party political in any way in this debate, but I want to emphasise the 2005 “Labour’s Charter for Angling”, which contained the following words in a foreword by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter:

“It was anglers concerns for the conservation status of sea bass that has persuaded me to agree to implement much of the excellent bass management plan put forward by the Bass Anglers Sport Fishing Society”,

including increases in the minimum landing size to strengthen the brood stock.

My right hon. Friend was true to his word, and in 2005 he launched the DEFRA consultation on increasing the minimum landing size for bass so as to produce a sustainable fishery with more and bigger bass for the commercial and recreational sectors. He took the long-term view in 2006 when he announced the conclusions of the consultation and his intention to increase the minimum landing size to 40 cm from 36 cm, and later to go on to 45 cm, beyond the optimum spawning size. According to his DEFRA press release:

“I have listened very carefully to the representations made and have not taken this decision lightly. I have accepted the arguments for a bigger minimum landing size to help increase the quantity and size of bass. This will also give better protection for the stocks. There may be short term costs from this measure before we see future gains but it is vital that fisheries management takes a long term view.”

My right hon. Friend went on:

“The recreational fishing sector makes a major contribution to our economy and it is important that their voice, as well as those of commercial fishermen, is taken into account in fisheries management.

In the future, I intend to increase the landing size further to 45 cm, but subject to the results of a review, in 2010”.

To justify that decision, DEFRA claimed at the time that the increase to 40 cm would bring the minimum landing size closer to the average spawning size for bass. As a result, more juvenile fish would be protected and there would be increased recruitment to the spawning stock. In turn, that would increase the number and size of bass available for capture to both the commercial and recreational sectors. My right hon. Friend concluded:

“I have taken on board the concerns expressed during the consultation by the commercial fishing sector about the impact of an immediate increase to 45 cm and the need for a reasonable implementation period to minimise the cost of net replacement.”

The next Fisheries Minister, however, made the decision to go back on the commitment made by his predecessor to increase the minimum landing size in the interests of conservation. On 25 October 2007 he made a statement on retaining the minimum landing size at 36 cm, rather than increasing it to 40 cm and then 45 cm by 2010. The decision was met with predictable anger and dismay by hundreds of thousands of sea anglers and many conservationists in the country. The Minister admitted at the time that his decision was based on looking after the short-term interests of the inshore fleet, rather than on the long-term interests of the species and the environment. We should obviously be concerned about any decision and its effect on jobs, but let us not forget the devastating impact that unsustainable fishing has on all sectors, whether commercial or recreational.

Bass is a highly sought after and valuable resource. It was recognised as worthy of protection by the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, by the whole Government and by cross-party Committees of the House. Unfortunately, the direction of travel was later unwound, and seven years have followed with little having happened. I hope that today we will start a new phase of the discussion, and I praise the hon. Member for Meon Valley for putting the issue on the agenda today. I hope that we can begin to rebuild a cross-party consensus about sustainable management of the bass stock.