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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, if I had wholly disapproved of the Statement and was totally against the Government, the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would have reversed my view completely in favour of the Government and the Statement. I have never heard such extraordinary arrogance from a Government--a former Government, thank heavens--who have led the fishing community into the position in which it finds itself.
I thank the noble Lord the Minister for repeating the Statement. I think it offers some hope. I, too, read the letters between the Prime Minister and the head of the Commission. I thought that there was a great improvement in relations, which one needs before one can make progress. We all know the problems of quota hopping and we know why they arose. It was because full advantage was not taken of our decommissioning policy. We did not take advantage of the European regulations to buy out the quotas and the ships at a decent price so the equipment was sold. Some progress has already been made in this Statement.
However, it will be difficult. Three issues are set out; namely, the landing of 50 per cent. of the catch in the flag state, employing the majority of the crew in the flag state and commencing the majority of trips from flag state ports. That will help. It will be difficult, but it will
I was heartened by the fact that the Statement looks forward to the year 2002 when something more radical might well be done. The problems are great. Enforcement has been a problem from the start. The degree of enforcement in this country is much greater than it is in Spain relative to the size of the fleet, yet even in this country "black fish" are being landed at the ports and merchants admit buying that fish. So even in this country we need better enforcement, and certainly it is needed in Spain and elsewhere. If the Government can persuade the Commission to concentrate on enforcement that of itself will be a great help.
The Government must tackle the problem of discards. The Norwegians have shown the way forward on that and there is no reason why we should not do so in Britain and in the European fisheries policy. I also hope that the Government will concentrate very much on co-operation with fishermen on any measures for the future, particularly as concerns research because there is always a conflict between fishermen and scientists. If they get together more and information from all over Europe is properly pooled and researched, then fishermen will be much more inclined to accept the fact that the stock of fish is limited even though they may be getting good catches at the time. That is also an important point.
I would like to hear the Government's views on this matter. The Government should be looking forward to operating properly a decommissioning policy, which will include buying out the quota because at the end of the day, such are the skills and methods available, that there is no question but there will have to be fewer fishermen and ships fishing for the same amount of fish. That will involve buying out people who are fishing now. That is a policy which has been advocated in agriculture and there is no reason why it should not apply to fishing. There will be fewer fish and there are far better methods of catching and finding fish. Therefore, we need a policy to satisfy those who want to leave the industry. I hope that the Government will pursue their efforts to co-operate with the Commission in solving the problem.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite for their comments. As regards what the noble Lord said about our policies being fatuous and empty, I believe that it is fair and modest to say that we have achieved more in six weeks than the previous government achieved in 17 years. What has been announced constitutes good progress. It is far from the end of the line of achievements that we wish to attain, but it is a solid step forward. The establishment of the economic link between fishing and the fishing community is very important. It is what noble Lords opposite in the previous Administration were seeking in their ill-fated protocol. What we are
My right honourable friend has announced today three further measures to tighten enforcement, including especially the question of discards. The Commission is now committed to looking at achieving better, harmonised enforcement on the Continent, particularly imposing stronger obligations on the member states and strengthening the use of the inspectorate. Therefore, perhaps tomorrow morning, when the noble Lord reads what he said, he may think that he could have expressed his view better than describing what we have done as empty and fatuous.
As regards the legal aspects, we all know that there are legal problems. They are not as great as the political problems that the previous Administration had when their proposed protocol did not have the support of a single member state and had not a cat in hell's chance of going through. We have the statement of the President of the Commission concerning his interpretation of the legal position and what is possible under the law. That is significant and practical progress. It gives us a reasonable chance of avoiding legal confrontation.
Quota hoppers exist in other countries, but for us the acuteness of the problem derives from the failures of the previous government and their one-time belief in the working of the free market. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, for his kind remarks, for his comments on the arrogance of the party opposite and for recognising the progress that we have made. I shall look again at what he said about decommissioning, which we know is a very important question. I shall also look at what he said about the way forward. We shall indeed be working towards the year 2002 and hoping to make further progress then. Certainly, we shall be working with the fishermen. My right honourable friend has announced immediate meetings with the fishing industry and we propose to go forward with those. I was not personally aware of the problem with scientists, but one always learns, especially from the noble Lord. I agree with him that the key is enforcement, and that is at the centre of what we have announced today both in what we propose to do and in what we believe is now the commitment of the Commission.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down will he answer the question that my noble friend asked about the position in Scotland and Wales? The noble Lord and his colleagues have been negotiating in Europe on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom and for the fishermen of Scotland, England and Wales. If, after devolution, these responsibilities are devolved to the parliament or assembly in Scotland and Wales, who will speak for them and to whom will that person be accountable: a Scottish parliament or the Westminster Parliament?
Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, it is a little confusing to have two separate Statements on what is virtually the same subject. That caused me inadvertently to put my question to the Lord Privy Seal a minute or two ago. If I had heard the Statement on agriculture separately my view as to what was happening would have been slightly different. All that I can do now that I have heard it is to wish the Government well in being able to achieve what the Statement said that they hoped to achieve, but it is only a hope.
The noble Lord has just said that what the Government have done in six weeks has been quite amazing. However, as regards the fishermen, precisely nothing has been done in those six weeks. The arrangements under which the Government can renegotiate are exactly now as they were before. It is when the Government have amended those arrangements and can bring to fruition all of the hopes and aspirations that were mentioned in the last Statement that one can start to be pleased about it.
The first Statement made it clear to the House that some improvement had been made which could be recognised and identified. However, there was no evidence in that Statement that the inclusion of that sentence could be justified. The second Statement put things on a slightly different plane. The Government have said that they recognise the dangers and the criticisms that I have made and that they hope to do something about it. They have laid much stress on an exchange of letters which commits nobody to anything. Until those letters have been used in a constructive way that produces results we are entitled to continue to be worried about the rough deal under which our fishing industry has to live at the moment.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. What he said was constructive and I have a lot of sympathy with it. The noble Lord said that he had been confused. Perhaps I may advise him that I have become very familiar with that state of mind in the past six weeks. I know exactly what it is like.
As regards a separate Statement, I am sure that the noble Lord understands that this agreement is not central to the IGC. It took the form of an exchange of letters with the President and, as such, it seemed appropriate to deal with it separately. It is also a complex matter and would not have been appropriate for inclusion in a Statement which was very much centred on other matters.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. There is still much more to be done. The noble Lord is right to be concerned and we share that concern. We shall try to meet those concerns and to achieve more.
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