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Lord Richard: My Lords, with great respect, I do not think I understood either of the noble Viscount's questions. So far as concerns the first one--am I in favour of the extension of competitiveness in Europe as a whole?--the answer is clearly yes. Am I in favour of Britain becoming more competitive than the rest of Europe? The answer to that would also be yes. Am I in favour, when minimum wage rates (I believe he said) are being negotiated, of regional variations being taken into account? There is not a word in either the Maastricht Treaty or indeed this treaty about minimum wage rates. If that is a question which is concerned with the possible introduction of a minimum wage for the workers of the United Kingdom, then it is a question better addressed to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Lord Shaw of Northstead: My Lords, in considering enlargement of the Community, everybody accepts the need to revise the CAP. But was consideration given to the need to tighten up on fraud, particularly at the point of entry into the Community? The Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament has undertaken
Lord Richard: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's question is yes. Indeed, specific proposals by the British Government were made at Amsterdam in relation to fraud. They found a fair wind. Indeed, we agreed to the extension of qualified majority voting specifically on action to combat fraud, as otherwise it might be very difficult to get Community action as a whole taken if one country--perhaps more than one--is in a position to veto the action.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the common fisheries policy which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows:
"We have inherited a series of profound problems as a result of the previous administration's handling of fisheries policy, which has lacked any sign of direction or support. One of their excuses for failure has been the problem of vessels owned largely by foreign interests which are UK flagged and use UK quotas. They give little or no economic benefit from their activities to our own fishing communities because they are largely operated and crewed from other member states and land a high proportion of their catches outside the UK.
"This is a long-standing problem which the previous administration allowed to develop and failed to solve. It could have addressed it in 1982 when the common fisheries policy was being negotiated. Having failed to act then, it should have addressed it when enlargement to bring in Spain and Portugal was agreed in 1985.
"But they allowed matters to deteriorate and eventually last year proposed a draft treaty protocol which, it became clear, stood no realistic chance of success because they failed to secure support for it. Nor is it clear that it would have dealt effectively with the existing situation. Not a single member state was willing to support the concept of a protocol.
"In the weeks since 2nd May we have taken this up with the Commission and other member states, including my talks with Commissioner Bonino on 20th May and concluding in Amsterdam this week. The Government's efforts have now secured a constructive outcome. In an exchange of letters
"We intend to introduce new licence rules to implement these measures as swiftly as possible. We shall be consulting the whole fishing industry about the new rules before asking the Commission to give a formal opinion on them. In this way, we can ensure that our rules are effective, sensitive to the interests of all affected by them, and also consistent with the various legal requirements.
"Without effective enforcement all our efforts to ensure the conservation of fish stocks are undermined. That is why the importance of enforcement has been the second major issue that we have pursued with the Commission. We have insisted that more must be done to ensure effective and consistent application of the rules. It is essential that wherever fishermen land their catches they must be subject to equivalent measures. The Commission are committed now to examining improvements in enforcement, including strengthened obligations on member states. They will also be looking at the role of Commission inspectors. They will report later this year to the Council with proposals as necessary. Meanwhile, we are ourselves taking steps to tighten various aspects of enforcement. I am announcing these in a separate written Statement to the House. They concern action to assist the Marine Safety Agency in ensuring that vessels and their crews are properly certified to comply with safety requirements and in addition steps to prevent evasion of quota rules and undermining of conservation objectives by discarding of fish already stowed on board.
"We have also obtained from the Commission assurances about the involvement of local fishing interests in the decision-making process and about the review and prospects for the common fisheries policy after 2002. The Commission has confirmed that key elements of the common fisheries policy are widely valued and that it considers it is unlikely that the fundamental principle of relative stability would be called into question, or that there would be a desire to modify present restrictions on access to waters inside
"In total, I consider that this is a valuable outcome. We have secured some very positive results concerning the application of economic links, as well as making constructive progress on a range of wider issues, all of which are central to the Government's approach to the common fisheries policy. Because we have agreed a way forward with the Commission, we are in a much better position to avoid legal challenge to the measures we adopt. And measures proposed by the Commission to the Fisheries Council would be agreed by qualified majority voting.
"There is much more to be done to put our fishing industry on a sound footing for the future. I now propose to take this forward urgently. With my colleagues responsible for fisheries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I am inviting the leaders of the United Kingdom fishing industry for talks on the industry's future. The highest priority is to decide the way in which we implement rules to require the economic link.
"But there is a much wider agenda. We have to address the problems of enforcement, low stocks and overcapacity as well as looking at other possibilities for change in quota and licence management and the scope for more regional involvement. The Government want to develop a realistic strategy to create a viable future for our fishing industry over the years ahead. These talks will start the process. We shall ensure that the industry is directly and fully involved".
Perhaps I may start with a question which fascinates me and, I know, many of my colleagues. Does the noble Lord believe that he will be taking this process forward post-Scottish devolution; will it be taken forward by Scotland independently, it being very largely a Scottish interest; will it be taken forward jointly; or will this process remain a United Kingdom, and therefore a Westminster Parliament, responsibility?
Straying back to the Statement for a moment, I cannot but say that, in my brief experience of listening from this side of the House to Statements, I have not heard a more fatuous and empty Statement taking longer to say nothing. This is a complete sell-out of the British fishing industry. What is the noble Lord doing in trying to maintain that what has been achieved is in any way binding on anyone? Certainly, it will not be binding on the Spanish, who have already expressed their opinion of it, and quite accurately too; nor will it be binding on the European Court of Justice--unless what we are seeing, which is what I expect, is a Statement which signifies precisely nothing.
The noble Lord knows--and his party admitted it before the election--that to achieve anything significant on quota-hopping required treaty change. He will have been advised of that by his officials and doubtless they will have said the same thing to him today. Now we are asked to believe that a letter from the Commission is enough to see off the European Court of Justice. To quote the Statement:
What are the proposed measures: 50 per cent. landing in UK ports, majority UK crews and fishing to start from the United Kingdom. The noble Lord must realise that all those go straight to the basic questions addressed by the ECJ--restraint on trade and employment. We already have much of what is promised here extant in British arrangements and British law. We have gone as far as we were able to. We have taken it to the limit. How can the noble Lord contend that it is possible to take it further without running into severe problems with the ECJ? What the Government propose, if one takes it at face value, would be wonderful if it worked. But it will not.
The fishermen have gained nothing and there is nothing in the other parts of the Statement that represents progress. The Statement says that the Commission is committed now to examining improvements in enforcement. Where does the word "now" come from? If one reads the letter from M. Santer it is clear, first, that it is something the Commission has been looking at for a long time and, secondly, he explicitly in his letter makes no such promises. He just says, "We might think about it sometime. We might do something. We may". There are no promises. Nor are there promises about the involvement of local fishing interests. M. Santer says, "This is something we are thinking about". There are no promises to take it seriously or to reach any such conclusions.
The Statement also looks forward to 2002 and to the changes that will take place then. Will the noble Lord confirm that the basic, fundamental position in 2002 is that all derogations from the underlying legislation will end? As doubtless the noble Lord knows, we will then go back to Council Regulation 101/76, under which there is no common fisheries policy, no derogations which will allow six and 12-mile limits, quotas and licences will be settled by Europe and the Spaniards will have the right to fish up to the British shores. There is nothing in that basic regulation to protect us. It is all a matter of negotiation and the starting position is one which reflects the importance of local fishing communities.
Fishing communities as such are what we have been trading away with the quota hoppers. Quota hoppers as they exist now, be they Spanish or Dutch, will be part of the Spanish and Dutch interests in 2002. If we go ahead with the MAGP and reduce our fleet by a further 30 per cent.--presumably mostly our boats, because who will compel quota-hoppers to decommission theirs?--we will be left in 2002 with our basic position being that we have rights to half the fish that we fish at the moment, half the fish that we regard as ours under our quotas.
That is the position the Government have landed us in by not taking the matter of quota-hopping seriously and by not obtaining the treaty changes to which we had committed ourselves had we remained in power. That is the position from which the Government will have to fight back. I shall be fascinated to know whether the noble Lord has any proposals as to how they will do it.
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