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The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): My Lords, possible improvements to monitoring and control of fishing activity and the setting of quotas and fishing methods in international waters are governed by various regional fisheries management bodies throughout the world. Additionally, those are among the important issues before the United Nations Conference on Straddling Stocks and Highly Migratory Species which meets for its third session in New York from 27th March to 14th April.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. However, how can regional conservation agreements work satisfactorily if fishing boats can only be inspected in international waters by their own country? The referee should surely be neutral. While the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation, for example, provides for a joint
Earl Howe: My Lords, a number of ideas are being discussed which we believe look promising. One is for an observer to be stationed on every fishing vessel with the power to call up an inspection vessel if evidence of a serious offence became apparent. A further suggestion is that that observer should be of a different nationality from the nationality of the vessel in question. If an inspection vessel confirmed the apparent offence, the fishing vessel would be required to submit to a full inspection at the nearest port, and to be held there. Another idea is for satellite transponders to be installed on every vessel to track its movements and activities.
Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that about 90 per cent. of the world's fish stocks are under the jurisdiction of developing countries? The sale of licences by these countries to foreign fleets of industrial trawlers is doing immense damage to the indigenous peasant fishermen and to fish stocks. For example, the European Union has 16 agreements with African countries. Do the Government agree that that problem should be addressed by the United Nations fisheries conference?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am aware that these matters have been raised in press reports recently. The European Union has a number of agreements with various third world countries to, I may say, the mutual benefit of both parties.
We are always concerned about the state of the stocks in the waters of the countries with which we have agreements and, moreover, of the needs of the local fishermen. Whenever possible we seek to promote joint ventures either in fishing or in fish processing and associated industries, again to the mutual benefit of both sides.
Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend raises a topical subject. One of the problems of enforcing the common fisheries policy in particular is that a great many national authorities are involved, on the high seas and in national waters, in policing fishing activity and the quantities of fish that are landed. There is every reason, therefore, to seek ways to strengthen the day-to-day co-operation between these authorities and, alongside that, to work towards a strengthened Community inspectorate which would help to police member states' national arrangements more effectively.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in pursuing the topical case referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not one of the difficulties that there is no effective inspection at Spanish ports, whereas there is effective inspection at ports in the United Kingdom? In Spain the inspectors seem mainly to be quartered in Madrid, which is somewhat remote from the Atlantic Ocean if my information is correct.
Earl Howe: My Lords, operating mainly from Madrid. However, they are supported by fisheries inspectors from the autonomous regional governments as well as military personnel. The Spanish Naval Marine Unit and the marine Civil Guard undertake fisheries surveillance at sea. So it is important to look at the full picture in Spain and not just part of it.
Lord Shaughnessy: My Lords, in view of the Minister's remarks about the proposed monitoring and enforcement measures being considered, how long will it take to reach a conclusion on the proposed measures? It does not matter what kind of international agreements are arrived at, unless there is a clear and effective method of enforcement the depredations of the world's fisheries will continue.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I can only agree with the noble Lord that effective enforcement is the key to conservation in the future. I cannot say precisely when an agreement might be forthcoming, although I am aware that the talks are proceeding in a thoroughly constructive manner on all sides.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether at any future conference on a wide scalefor example, under United Nations auspicesHer Majesty's Government would be free to pursue an independent and vigorous line of policy? Alternatively, would we be in any way encumbered by commitments towards our neighbours and partners on the continent?
Earl Howe: My Lords, in many of the fisheries agreements under the spotlight the United Kingdom is represented by the European Union, which is the contracting party to the fisheries agreement. Therefore,
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, since Spain appears to be acting in a predatory manner wherever fish are to be found, is not urgency of the utmost importance in applying decisions when they are made? Otherwise, the world's fishing stocks may be damaged beyond repair.
Earl Howe: Yes, my Lords, it is an urgent matter. To a degree, we are hampered by the development of technology. Although it shows promising signs, that technology has not yet been fully tried and tested. I refer principally to the notion of installing satellite transponders in vessels. We see them as having a helpful role to play in the future.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the idea of transponders has been urged on the Government for at least 15 years and possibly on previous governments? Does he maintain that transponders are as difficult to develop if the message is to be received only by an aircraft as opposed to being received by satellite? I believe that that is not the case.
Earl Howe: My Lords, unfortunately I cannot give a precise answer to the noble Lord, although clearly the question is pertinent. The installation of satellite transponders is being undertaken on a trial basis by all member states in the Union. Those member states are required to report to the Commission prior to the middle of the year, after which a considered view will be taken.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the Government hope that conflict in the tuna fishery this summer can be avoided and we shall work with all concerned to ensure that everything possible is done to avoid provocative actions and that agreed regulations concerning net lengths and so on are complied with.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I find that Answer slightly unsatisfactory? According to Article 189, there is a difference in the legal treatment of a regulation and a directive. A regulation issued on behalf of the Community becomes immediately enforceable throughout member states, including our own. A directive does not fall into quite the same category; it has already been the subject of some disputed judgment in which one is informed that the Home Office took one line and the Foreign Office took anothersuch as with the Van Duyn case. Does the Minister think that, in order to clear up the ambiguity, it would be far better that the matter should be raised for discussion and further clarification at the Inter-Governmental Conference? The consequences for the British legal systemwhich one hopes are still not to be ignoredought to be raised on that occasion.
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