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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the figures are necessarily complex because they deal with different types of fish from different parts of the sea. Therefore, while the original data go straight to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, as I said, so that its advisory committee can analyse them, the data which are more useful for everyone probably relate to the broad percentages of discards of different types of fish.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that he is having a difficult baptism on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in charge of fisheries and agriculture? Perhaps I may welcome him to the Dispatch Box. In order to make an early name for himself, will he introduce legislation to ensure that all the undersized fish do not go to the chip shop where I buy my fish and chips?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind thoughts. Any fish which cannot be landed legally in this country are, on the whole, not landed. So the undersized fish that he might get in his fish and chip shop may come from another source.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the size of fishing net mesh is a most important factor in the control of fish stocks? Does he believe that enough emphasis is given to the enforcement of the size of fishing net mesh?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend has raised a very important point. Since 1992 we have been conducting initiatives on the different configurations of mesh. For instance, the UK pioneered the square mesh panels in nets which have had considerable benefits. The
This is a difficult problem and the fact that fish are thrown back and are of no use to anyone except a number of sea birds almost defies common sense. The average person has great difficulty in understanding what it is all about. Do Her Majesty's Government still reject the abolition of discards on the ground of cost? Will the Minister seek a fresh opinion as regards the recently established common fisheries policy advisory group, assuming that the group will continue its work following the changes that have taken place in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I am sure that all noble Lords will find difficulty in understanding why we are throwing good fish back.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind thoughts. We certainly have met previously in discussions on a number of different matters. It is generally impossible, in particular in the North Sea mixed fisheries, to have totally clean catches of a single species or size of fish. That is because the different species such as cod, haddock and whiting of all ages and sizes often shoal together and are therefore caught together. Fishermen discard fish either to comply with fisheries regulations relating to quota uptake or the minimum landing size or because poor markets exist for fish of certain species, sizes or quality.
Our reluctance to ban discarding has nothing whatever to do with cost. If one were to ban discarding, in particular in the North Sea where the catches are mixed, one could not penalise fishermen for landing undersized fish or fish of a stock for which the quota has been exhausted. The review of the CFP, which is undertaken by a special group, is continuing. We are drawing into the group the expertise of the industry and its recommendation will be put forward to the Commission in due course.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that outside the plaice box in the North Sea the amount of fish discarded from the trawlers which wait for the fish to come out to them is up to 90 per cent.? Is my noble friend further aware that some estimates put the total discard of fish at up 50 per cent? If that is the case, is it not a crazy way to run a conservation policy?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can only reiterate that within the North Sea it is impossible to avoid discards. Even discards have some place in the marine eco-system. It has been estimated, for instance, that up to 1 million sea birds in the North Sea survive on discards.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, there have been two decommissioning schemes to date and we have recently announced a third. The Council of Ministers has asked the Commission to bring forward proposals to address the problem of discarding. However, as regards these waters, we have already taken measures to prevent discarding. MAFF is funding trials into the use of, for instance, separated trawls. All those measures should produce the required percentage of discards.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, Shell UK announced on 20th June that it would not be proceeding with deep-sea disposal of the "Brent Spar".
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. Is he aware that when I raised the matter on 12th June 1995 (Hansard, cols. 1537 to 1538) the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, answered on behalf of the Government and listed a number of conventions which the Government are pledged to uphold? They are being amalgamated into the OSPAR Convention, which will cover the whole issue. Will the Minister give an undertaking that when the convention is signed it will be honoured in order to maintain a rationale on the disposal of such drilling apparatus? Will each case be decided by the Government on its merits?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, for his welcome. It is correct that the United Kingdom's decision was fully consistent with the requirements of international law and, in particular, the provisions of the London and Oslo conventions of 1972. Furthermore, it was in line with the provisions of the Oslo convention's guidelines on the disposal of offshore installations. We shall certainly adhere to those conventions and, as indicated, we shall treat each case on its merits.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are two worrying aspects to the "Brent Spar" episode? First, there was the sudden decision by Shell, an independent company, to change its policy purely as a result of pressure from people who are becoming increasingly irresponsible in their demonstrations, contrary to what it believed to be the right policy and with the complicity of the German Government. The second and more worrying aspect is that offshore rigs have operated in the North Sea for more than 30 years
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as regards the first issue, it remains the view of the Government that in the case of "Brent Spar" a deep-water disposal was the best option. I believe that Shell still adheres to that view. However, the European companies of the Royal Dutch Shell Group found themselves in a difficult position. I understand that for that reason a reversal of the original decision was made and that Shell is taking some time to reconsider the options.
It is difficult to assess how many rigs might be appropriately disposed of in deep water. As I indicated, our policy is that it is correct to do so on a case-by-case basis. However, an Answer given in another place yesterday indicated that of approximately 32 fixed offshore installations in United Kingdom waters 19 are in water less than 75 metres deep and therefore will have to be entirely removed. It should not be assumed that all of them will be appropriately disposed of in deep water. It is more likely that they will be returned to the shore for breaking up.