Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  This proposal was considered by Sub-Committee D earlier today. The Sub-Committee has cleared the proposal to allow the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) proposal to be agreed in Fisheries Council on 18 December. However, the Sub-Committee has done so with reluctance.

  The Sub-Committee is concerned that is has once again not properly been able to exercise its scrutiny role on a TACs proposal. The information you supply in your memorandum is not sufficient for a proper judgement to be made as to the merits of the proposal. The memorandum consists of a table of quotas. No explanation is given as to whether, how or why the position established by the Commission differs from the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, nor do you comment on the proposals. The Sub-Committee is aware of a report in the Daily Telegraph (15 December, page 6) and of a Written Answer to Lord Beaumont of Whitely (House of Lords Hansard, 15 December 1997, WA 66) and thus believes that further information could have been provided.

  Following tomorrow's Council, I would be grateful for a full report on its outcome, an account of the process by which the quotas were arrived at, and the Government's assessment of this process and its result.

  We also take great issue with the timing of this proposal and the eight similar fisheries memoranda submitted in similar circumstances last week. Moreover, a similar situation occurred in 1996. Mr Tony Baldry wrote to Lord Reay on 18 December 1996 (one day before the Council) informing him that the TACs proposal would be agreed in Council although Parliamentary scrutiny had not been completed[10]. On 19 December 1996 I replied on behalf of the Select Committee on the European Communities, saying:

   -   The limited time which has been available for scrutiny of this proposal is of concern to the Select Committee and we urge you to seek improvements in the Commission's handling of the TACs proposals in future years. If improvements are not introduced it will be impossible for national parliaments to fulfil their proper scrutiny functions."

  I make an identical comment to you this year and wish to know how the new Government will endeavour to prevent this situation occurring in 1998. The Sub-Committee has made it plain that it may not be willing to lift the scrutiny reserve on a future occasion if this circumstance is repeated.

17 December 1997

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 17 December giving scrutiny clearance for the annual proposal on Total Allowable Catches (TACs) before the Fisheries Council on 18-19 December.

  I very much share your concern about the late tabling of the Commission's proposals. This made it very difficult for us, and for all other Member States, to prepare for the Council. I have taken the matter up with the Fisheries Commissioner and, if necessary, will do so again before the 1999 proposals are tabled.

  Although we lacked formal proposals and had only part of an informal version of the main TACs proposal, we submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on 8 December to allow the fullest possible Parliamentary scrutiny before the debate in the Commons on 17 December. Again to assist the Committees, we provided a summary table listing the proposed TACs of most interest to the UK and adding comparable figures (not included in the Commission's proposal) for last year so that you could clearly see where increases, reductions or no changes were proposed.

  You suggest that it would be helpful to have, in addition, an indication of how the Commission's proposals relate to the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). For many stocks, this is not straightforward because the ICES advice may not be precise or, indeed, may be non-existent. However, for stocks on which ICES has given clear advice, I shall certainly be happy to include that advice in the Explanatory Memorandum we submit next December.

  Partly as a result of the very late availability of the Commission's proposals, the Council was not able to agree five of the six new TACs proposed for the North Sea: anglerfish, megrim, turbot, mixed flatfish, and skates and rays. It did, however, make a commitment to reach agreement on these TACs by 30 March 1998 and, in order to avoid irresponsible fishing, the Council and Commission agreed our suggestion that no fish caught after 1 January 1998 will count towards track records under the new TACs.

  I am glad to say that the Council agreed a new TAC for sandeels and new allocations for five other North Sea stocks. These new controls will limit uptake in some sensitive fisheries and their establishment represents a significant advance in conservation. Similarly, new TACs were agreed for bluefin tuna and swordfish (which were covered in EM 12273/97 of 4 December 1997).

  Within the package, there was also agreement to the allocation of the Western waters horse mackerel TAC in which I secured an increase in the UK's share from 8.28 per cent to 9.81 per cent. (This was covered in EM 7055/97 of 21 April 1997). I also succeeded in securing an increase to 22.29 per cent as the United Kingdom's share of the TAC for Atlanto-Scandian herring. This will replace the 19.85 per cent share imposed on the UK at the April Fisheries Council.

  Apart from the regular agreements on arrangements with neighbouring non-Member States and in international organisations, the remainder of the package principally concerned adjustments to existing allocated TACs. For your convenience, I am enclosing an updated version of the table attached to Explanatory Memorandum 12855/97 [not printed]. The first two columns are as sent to the Committees on 8 December and the last column shows the TACs as agreed for 1998.

  In order to conserve stocks, TACs were reduced where necessary and in other cases, where the state of the stocks justified it, TACs were increased. Overall, I think that the process produced a settlement which struck the right balance between, on the one hand, the need to be guided by the advice of the scientists and to be cautious in our management of fish stocks and, on the other hand, the practical realities and economic needs of fishermen.

11 January 1998

10   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 5th Report, Session 1996-97, pp 30-31. Back

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