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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, it looks as though the noble Lord is turning into the home straights and I apologise for rather farouche behaviour in interrupting him. I was hoping for an answer to the only question I asked him, in which the noble Lord, Lord Holme, also indicated a certain interest. The question was this: when the Government signed up to the Good Friday agreement, did they envisage that for Sinn Fein to take its place in the executive when no start had been made on decommissioning by the IRA would be compatible with that agreement? I should be most grateful if that question could be answered.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I think the noble Lord is trying to trap me into discussions about preconditions. His question is: did the Government see that as a precondition? The answer is that we did not see that as a precondition. We have said clearly, as I said at the outset of my winding-up speech, that we expect all parts of the agreement to be implemented and that decommissioning must happen but without its being a precondition. All parties have an obligation to fulfil all parts of the agreement. As regards decommissioning, the question is not whether it will happen, but when. That was our intention when the agreement was signed and it remains our intention. It is for that reason that the Prime Minister has been exerting his influence on all the parties in order to ensure that they abide by all parts of the agreement. I am not sure that I can help the noble Lord more than that.

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In conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, this really is the home straight and I apologise to the Minister, but he rather tantalisingly trailed earlier on that he was going to tell us what the timetable of the Irish Government was on some of the parallel matters, particularly in terms of human rights.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not think that I did. Under the agreement, the Irish Government will also be moving in the same direction, but it is a lot easier for them because they do not have to enact the legislation to set up the Assembly. Their process is simpler. My understanding is that they will do it at some point, but I do not know when.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I do not want to protract this discussion, but in one respect they will have to amend their constitution. Perhaps this is a matter about which the Minister could write to me later. I believe that it would be of great interest to the House to know what the timetable of the Irish Government is.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall do my best to find out what the timetable is and, in so far as that information is available, let the noble Lord know in writing.

I am on the finishing straight now; in fact I have passed the finishing post. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. It has been a useful debate in which we have covered many of the key issues and touched on many of the concerns, and we shall dwell on them further in Committee.

On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

The Fishing Industry

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to retain a viable British fishing industry beyond 2002.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to open this short debate tonight on the fishing industry mindful that the first day back from the long hot Summer Recess is perhaps not the best timing. On the other hand, the recess has given each noble Lord who is to take part good time to reflect upon the complexities and problems that face the fishing industry. I am very grateful to all those who have put down their names to speak. It is a tribute to the industry that this House cares about the future of fishermen. I shall not have the opportunity later to thank noble Lords and the noble Baroness. I thank them in anticipation even if I disagree with their views. But in speaking they will make the debate much more worthwhile.

I am encouraged by the voices of experience taking part, particularly my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Both have had distinguished ministerial experience of fishing. Both

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never fail to intervene when fishing matters crop up in this House. If I were to mention anyone else I would refer to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who for many years was a star in the Fisheries Committee of the Council of Europe and who undoubtedly would have aspired to ministerial responsibility had he joined the right party.

I am sure that every noble Lord who is to take part in this debate shares the feeling of tremendous admiration for our fishermen and the fishing communities for their stoical courage pitted against often very dangerous seas in which the fishing grounds are to be found, their resilience in times of tragedy and loss and their adventurous spirit, never knowing what they might catch but always knowing precisely what they owe the bank for their family boats. But their problems do not stop there. They face a frustration factor in the form of the bureaucratic machines in Brussels and Whitehall that churn out mountains of forms and rules and regulations, often leading to tighter and tighter control and a rigid system of over-regulation to the detriment of the industry.

One would think that with all that hassle the 17,000 or so fishermen would have turned their back on the industry particularly when they know so well that fishing is by far the most dangerous industry in this country. It is interesting to note that 116 years ago a charity was formed to look after the welfare of fishermen and their families. That charity, the Fishermen's Mission, in which both my noble friend Lady Wilcox and I must declare a happy interest, is today as active as ever in helping with tragic losses of appalling frequency. Safety is a key issue in nearly every fishing debate. It is a continuing challenge to both the industry and government. The awful truth is that fishing is inherently a dangerous industry.

The focus of the debate is to seek a firm assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they will stand by their promise that the industry will have a viable sustainable future after 2002 following the re-negotiated common fisheries policy. I was glad to learn the other day of the continuing consultation between both government and Brussels and the industry. That is a clear sign that the ground is being well prepared. It is timely therefore that the Government should be pressed to confirm the clear bottom line issues which the industry believes are fundamental to its future if the promise of the Government is to be fulfilled.

There are two clear issues faced by the industry. I hope that in reply the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will be able to give the industry an assurance on both issues. The first is related to what is known as relative stability; that is, the current share-out of fish stocks. The second is the vital six to 12-mile limit. Currently both issues fall within the common fisheries policy and require no change, and there should be no change. These matters are vital and fundamental to the industry. It is natural for the industry to be nervous about the presence of Spain at the next round table discussions and the pressures which that country may try to apply to the Government's resolve.

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In view of time I shall leave to other noble Lords the important issues, which I am sure will be touched upon, of conservation, modernisation grants and enforcement. I finish by expressing the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will give a positive, robust signal to the industry that the Government will not let it down, will support the two fundamental matters that I have just mentioned and ensure that there is a framework for a sustainable future for the industry beyond 2002.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on raising this question, even though this is the first day back, and on the manner in which he opened the debate. I am sure that British fishermen will also be grateful to him for raising the issue and for ensuring that Members of this House are on their side in helping to retain a viable industry.

The question is whether Her Majesty's Government or the British Parliament can do very much to pursue a policy that retains a specifically British fishing industry with protection for the interests of British fishermen and the conservation of fish stocks within the 200-mile limit. Mr. Santer, President of the European Commission, and Mrs. Emma Bonino have made it absolutely clear on a number of occasions that fisheries has been a Community competence since 1971 when I fear Mr. Heath handed over a vital national resource to foreign control with consequent damage to our fishing industry and nothing in return. Even the derogations that protect the six and 12-mile limits are at risk after 2002. I should like my noble friend to inform the House how Her Majesty's Government intend to protect the derogations after 2002. It would be interesting to know how the Government intend to obtain any reform beneficial to the British fishing industry and fishermen. They are unlikely to obtain a majority under qualified majority voting bearing in mind the hostility of so many European Union countries to any position that gives a benefit to British fishermen and the industry.

The plain fact is that after 2002 we shall be at the mercy of countries whose interests are inimical to the best interests of the United Kingdom in fishing matters. We already know from a report drafted by Mr. Jose Fuertes, a very senior figure in the Spanish fishing industry, that that industry is calling for a real common fisheries policy to start after 2002 with a single European Union fishing fleet, a common fishing area and common fisheries resources. It also wants the Shetland and Irish boxes scrapped, equal access to the North Sea and the scrapping of TACs and quotas which would be replaced, as I understand it, by effort controls, whatever that might mean. The record of the Spanish Government, as we all know, must lead one to believe that they will support their fishing industry and will use any means to achieve their ends. Can I have the assurance from my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government will resist these demands and, in particular, will refuse to accept under any circumstances the establishment of a single European Union fishing fleet under an EU supervised licensing system?

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My noble friend will be aware that the European Parliament has made it clear that it wishes to move to a more Eurocentric fisheries policy. Indeed, as I understand it, it wishes the Community fisheries inspectorate to be significantly strengthened for regular control work within EU waters and have wider powers to enable it to operate autonomously--not with the consent of the British Government or any other government--within member states for the deep water fleet. In other words a sort of European Union navy will be able to operate in the territorial waters of any member state without let or hindrance.

Judging by some of the answers I have received to Written Questions, there could be some suspicion that Britain's fisheries enforcement facilities are being phased out. I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that that is not the case. I should be glad to have an assurance that the proposals for the strengthening of the European Union enforcement powers within Britain's territorial waters will be rejected out of hand, as I hope will other proposals for European Union competence to be extended, especially in the inspection of fish landings made by Community vessels into ports outside their flag state which would de facto create a federal enforcement agency.

Again, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on raising this issue. I hope that my noble friend, who is interested in these matters, will be able to give reasonable and acceptable answers both to the noble Earl and myself.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend for initiating this timely debate. I shall start with what I believe to be the most urgent matter at present, that is the quota-hoppers.

About 150 foreign boats are allowed to catch part of the EU quotas allotted to Britain. Our fishermen's leaders have pointed out that the present Government, when in opposition, gave the impression that they would rectify this harmful anomaly very quickly. Sixteen months have passed with no more than exchanges of correspondence. The latest proposals of the Government are unlikely to reduce the number of quota-hoppers. They would simply require these foreign boats to pass another test of having to meet only one of four additional criteria--something they could do without difficulty. That does not help British fishermen. They are not concerned with whether a foreign boat has an economic link with Britain while it continues to fish for our quota. They want to see the end of all quota-hoppers.

In a letter to me dated the last day before the Summer Recess the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, informed me that the EU Commission had cleared the Government's proposals. Am I right that the Commission cannot speak for opinions of the European Court of Justice which has the final say in interpretation and, I suggest, is likely to find the scheme contrary to Articles 52 and 58 of the treaty on freedom to establish a business, as the court did on the last occasion? What worries me is that under

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the Government's proposals the quota-hoppers could increase considerably, additional boats showing that they have passed one of the four new tests.

When we joined the EEC in 1973 we retained our 12-mile coastal band reserved for British fishermen. Within that there have been special arrangements with individual countries to fish up to six miles. These were on particular limited stretches of coast. Where those individual countries were members of the EEC the six-mile bands on short stretches of coast were continued. British fishermen benefited from reciprocal privileges. So both before and after 1973 foreign boats, European and others, could fish up to 12 miles from our coasts. There were no British waters beyond those 12 miles. At that time our territorial waters, where British law applied, were only three miles and were moved to 12 miles much later.

Beyond the 12-mile limit lay international waters. That did not change until the multi-lateral adoption of the 200-mile fishing limit in 1977. Beyond our 12 miles there had been a free for all until 1977.

If the EEC had never existed I believe that Britain would still have had to reach agreement with other fishing nations on conservation of fish stocks in the 1970s or 1980s. The most favoured popular species of fish were being annihilated. Sixty years ago, on average, 100 British fishermen would catch in a month the quantity of fish that 12 fishermen can now catch in a week or less. That gives some indication of the problem. Advances in technology and modern methods and equipment have produced lethal fishing fleets which could empty the seas of Western Europe of the staple kinds of fish.

Because the EEC did exist in 1977, when the 200-mile limit was adopted internationally, its members took decisions with the following effects. The members' limits were pooled to form an EEC pond. Fishing boats from non-EEC countries--for example Northern and Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula--were excluded unless special agreements were made for particular fisheries. Nearly 10 years later, however, Spain and Portugal joined the EEC; the former possessing a huge fishing fleet. Even with the transitional arrangements, that was bound to affect the CFP as it had been agreed four years earlier.

I recount this recent history because I have had ringside seats since the negotiations way back in 1961 and 1962 when I was a junior Member of the Government. Those negotiations were vetoed by General de Gaulle, not to my surprise, or to the surprise of others, early in 1963. I was a junior member of the Government then, later a member of the shadow cabinet and then the Cabinet.

I was also involved as a junior Minister in the agreement to divide up the North Sea in 1963 and 1964 for oil and gas exploration. That was a very different exercise because deposits of hydrocarbons do not move around, nor do rigs when they are drilling, or platforms. However, from 1976 to 1978, when the 200-mile limit was being adopted with consequent EEC decisions on the "pond", there was a Labour Government and I was an observer only.

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Alarmist and mischievous voices have been predicting since the early 1970s that foreigners would shortly be fishing up to our beaches. For over 25 years they have been proved wrong, most recently in the 1992 negotiations when the 12-mile and six-mile bands were again retained without argument. We now approach the next round due in 2002. The responsible Minister in the previous government stated clearly that if the Conservatives were still in office they would insist that again the 12 and six-mile bands would be retained. That was not negotiable, he said. So I ask: is that also the policy of the present Government?

I end by noting the retirement earlier this year of the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermens Federation, Mr. Robert Allan. He has done an outstanding job during the period that I have described. He was one of the wisest heads in the fishing industry. His advice to his members and to governments proved to be sound and valuable. Because of the major changes in the British fleets, particularly the disappearance of the large distant-water trawlers, well over half the British fleet in tonnage in recent years has been from Scotland. Mr. Allan has given the industry good service, and I am sure that we all wish him a happy retirement.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, the fishermen in the south west of England are immensely appreciative of the debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. A Brixham trawler owner and long time fisherman sums up the failure of the CFP when he says:

    "Man has got to eat ... yet every day the CFP forces UK fishermen to discard thousands of pounds worth of dead fish for seagulls to eat. This is not conservation, this is a farce".
His aim is the same as the Government's should be: to secure a sustainable fishing industry for future generations. But the Government will not, do not, and cannot listen to the sensible suggestions to conserve fish stocks from those who know best--the fishermen themselves. After 2002 the future management of fisheries must involve UK fishermen and fisheries managers. They must be stakeholders in their own future.

The problems associated with the British fishing industry can be traced back to 1970, when the terms under which Britain signed the European Treaty of Accession were weighted heavily against the long-term interests of the UK fishing industry; in particular, the principle of equal access to a common resource, or acquis communautaire, which transferred the essential levers of control over fisheries policy from member states to Brussels.

In the Channel, England and France are the countries which have the major interest, but should either nation wish to alter fishing policy it must obtain the support of the Fisheries Commission and secure enough votes (62) in the Council of Ministers to avoid being blocked by fishing rivals Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. They hold 28 votes. In any case, 26 votes can block a motion.

The highly bureaucratic and inflexible system of TACS and quotas is questioned in statistics produced by the most highly qualified fisheries scientists, who will

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say that accurately predicting fish stocks is akin to picking six numbers for the Saturday night lottery; in other words, impossible. The impossible job of fisheries scientists is compounded by the unreliable and unrepresentative data they receive from commercial landings in vessel log books. Vessels which catch fish for which they do not have a quota are faced with a decision--they can dump/discard the over quota fish at sea (dead) or land illegal "blackfish" which are not declared on the log sheet.

Policing the CFP costs us almost £45 million per annum; that is 7.5 per cent. of fleet earnings. The UK Government have implemented restrictive licensing, track records and days at sea, all of which are transferable and have acquired considerable financial value. The brokers of those "fishing opportunities" make a living by selling licences to the third parties, who may be flag boat operators (quota hoppers). Furthermore, local fishing communities are being eroded as the huge financial investment needed to buy licences and track records is preventing young skippers from entering the industry. Such a disincentive is ignored by Her Majesty's Government.

We are an island, and one third of our coastline is in the south west of England. All those problems are associated with quotas and the fact that in 1983, when relative stability (quota shares for each member state) was agreed, the south west received a minuscule allocation in proportion to the catching capacity of the fleet of that time; 60 per cent. of marketable fish caught in EU waters are caught within the 200-mile limit surrendered by this country's government. Yet the UK has access to only 15 per cent. of the quotas. Our quota share in Area VII, and the lack of a government with backbone, willing to stand up for us in Europe, are seen by the vast majority of south west fishermen as the cause of their demise.

That, coupled with uneven monitoring and enforcement, the use of EU structural funds and the undermining of relative stability due to quota hoppers, has pushed many fishermen over the top. They are on the edge of bankruptcy and nervous breakdown. The time has come to put an end to that destruction and erosion of a once great industry just to gain brownie points in Europe.

Our fishermen have been steamrollered out of existence to make way for other EU fishing fleets (mainly Spanish) to fish up to 12 miles and closer from our shores, purely for the sake of European unity. In mid-September, five members of the South West Fish Producers Organisation visited "Merca Madrid" and witnessed 3cm to 7cm hake, megrin and red mullet, pressure packed into boxes weighing 20 kg to 30 kg. That is future breeding stock. When questioned, the Spanish said that the catch was taken in the Mediterranean, where there is no CFP. Are the Spanish supporting relative stability. No way, Jose!

British fishermen are not anti-European. They cannot afford to be when one considers that approximately 80 per cent of fish landed in the south west is exported immediately. Fishermen in the south west just want to be able to introduce a fisheries management system

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which secures the abundance of future fish stocks and will encourage young people to enter the fishing industry.

While relative stability was aimed at protecting and preserving quota stocks for member states, the whole principle was undermined with the registration of foreign vessels on the UK fishing register. Those boats fly the red ensign for one reason; that is, access to UK quota, and they now account for 26 per cent. of the UK total fleet tonnage.

In 1987, when the EU ordered cuts in the fishing fleet, the Spanish and Dutch fleets were significantly over capacity. They met their targets by exporting their excess capacity onto the UK register. While it is true that some UK fishermen have sold their vessel licences and quotas to Spanish and Dutch operators, by far the majority of the so-called quota hoppers were registered in the UK before licences were introduced, as a direct result of government encouragement of so-called joint ventures.

The existence of quota hoppers on the UK shipping register undermines the concept of relative stability, which seeks to allocate to each member state quota from which the member state receives economic benefit. That is not the case with Spanish and Dutch flag ships, which land over 90 per cent. of their catches into their real home countries. Hence the UK Government gets very little economic benefit from those vessels--vessels that fly the red ensign.

The new Labour Government squandered a unique opportunity to make a stand on quota hoppers at the IGC in Amsterdam in 1997. France, Ireland and Belgium are all faced with increasing numbers of Spanish and Dutch vessel owners infiltrating their shipping registers. They resent that invasion. By meeting its EU fleet size targets, Spain has been able to access EU fleet restructuring funds to modernise and rebuild her fleet. Not the British fishing fleet--we sell our boats abroad or convert them to alternative use. With a scrap-and-build policy, EU grant-aided, we would provide further employment and a safer, more efficient fishing fleet.

British fishermen, particularly those in the south west, greatly resent the centralised EU management regime. The problem is compounded by an over-zealous team of civil servants in London who enforce regulations from Brussels over and above their intended uses. We have 2,000 fisheries officers, eight vessels in the Royal Navy Fisheries Protection Squadron and aerial monitoring spotter planes. Those aircraft cost £922 per hour. Royal Navy patrols cost £2,685 per inspection boarding at sea. It costs £72 for each boat inspected in the port, while countries such as Spain, having the largest fishing fleet in Europe (with 110 vessels flying the British flag of convenience) appear to operate unhindered.

It is the uneven approach to fisheries restructuring and enforcement that really sticks in the throats of the south-west fishermen, especially when Spain's Secretary General of Fisheries recently stated that,

    "Spain is at the forefront of conservation measures".
That is in fact utter tripe as Spain has a long and well documented history in targeting and landing small, immature fish as a delicacy. Remember the MERCA

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Madrid story! The Spanish have overfished the Mediterranean and are encroaching on Gibraltar's three-mile limit. The UK sends gun boats to protect Gibraltar's limits--limits which we hardly possess, and which Brussels wishes to remove in 2002.

I shall not speak at much greater length. However, we had a short speech from the noble Earl, and perhaps I may take a couple of his minutes. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and Scottish Fishermen's Federation this year agreed on a joint zonal/regional strategy for the management of fisheries. Only such a policy which ensures that fishermen are zonal managers, stakeholders in their own future, will promote a successful outcome to the current problems which discriminate against this island. In the south-west, fishermen must sit around a table with representatives of their French, Spanish, Dutch, Belgian and Irish counterparts and agree on a true common policy. Only by zonal management will this be possible.

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