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The purpose of the instrument is to provide grant-aid to assist owners of English fishing boats to decommission their vessels. It will contribute to efforts to bring the size of the fleet into better balance with the available stocks. In turn, that will help with the recovery of those stocks. What is more, a smaller fleet will also be a more viable one. I will return to that issue in a moment.
The grant scheme works in a way similar to those we have run before in this country. Fishermen wishing to avail themselves of the scheme make a financial bid, representing the amount for which they will agree permanently to remove their vessel from the fishing fleet. Bids that offer the best value for money are accepted. The vessel owner arranges for the boat to be scrapped, and the grant is paid. In scrapping his vessel, the owner gives up the fishing licences that he holds for it. Those licences are cancelled. We do not issue any new licences under our fisheries management system, so the grant scheme makes a permanent cut in the tonnage of the fleet.
The scheme is targeted at the part of the fleet that catches cod. It is part of our strategy to reduce the pressure of fishing on the cod stocks in the North Sea and the west of Scotland. The EU has established recovery measures for those stocks, which this year include limits on the amount of time that fishing boats can spend at sea. By taking out some boats altogether, it is possible to give the remaining boats more time to spend at sea, so the grant scheme helps to keep the rest of the fleet more profitable by enabling it to fish more than would otherwise be allowed.
This scheme applies to England. The devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland run their own schemes, which are designed to have a parallel effect to ours. The scheme has needed to have approval from the European Commission under the EU state aid rules. We asked the Commission for authority to pay more grant to individual vessels than its standard maximum rates, to ensure that we could provide a suitable incentive for fishermen. The Commission did not agree to that, so there are ceilings
We originally announced that we would pay £5 million in grant under the scheme in England, but, in the light of the bids that have been made, I have made it clear that we will pay more, if necessary, to meet the target for reduction. We will approve payment to all those who have applied, if the withdrawal of the vessel will make a significant contribution to reducing fishing for cod in the North Sea and the west of Scotland.
As I said, the scheme is part of our strategy to restore fish stocks in the North Sea and west of Scotland. We are entering the period leading up to the December European Council of Ministers meeting, when decisions on future stocks management will be taken. We will consider the latest scientific advice on the stocks and will consult the fishing industry on the way forward. We will, of course, talk to other member states and the Commission.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the statutory instrument and outlining the process for applications, their approval and eligibility, and the method of decommissioning under the grant system. However, before I ask the Minister some direct questions, I remind herI am sure that she needs no remindingthat it is less than a month since we debated the Select Committee's report on progress on the common fisheries policy. The Minister and other noble Lords will remember that we had an extremely depressing three hours. The progress made was very small, and speakers in all parts of the House bemoaned the lack of progress made in the conservation of fish stocks, particularly, as the Minister said again today, cod and, on that occasion, haddock.
The Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) Scheme 2003 will result in the scrapping of some English vessels. The noble Baroness rightly said that the scheme applied only to English vessels. No new licences will be awarded, and the scheme will make a permanent cut in the tonnage of the fleet of English vessels. Do other EU countries use exactly the same scheme? In the past, some countries have had decommissioning schemes but have allowed that money to be used to improve other fishing vessels, often creating even more fishing capacity than before.
The noble Baroness will remember that my noble friend Lady Wilcox spoke about her great concern at the way in which fishing authorities dealt with controls on their particular fishing practices. As the noble Baroness said, 63 applications were made originally.
I also understand that the Government originally put aside £5 million in grant, but in another place Ben Bradshaw made it clear that the Government would pay more, if necessary. From where is the original allocated £5 million coming? Is it new money? Would additional money come from the same source or is it EU money which requires matched Treasury funding?
Paragraph 14(3) refers to entry to a "dwelling house". The Minister may reflect that in the many debates on legislation going through this Houseparticularly on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and animal health legislationthe power to go
I have two further brief points. As regards paragraph 15(4)(b), is that supposed to be the appeals system? There does not seem to be an appeals system built into this statutory instrument. If so, presumably the appeals system for fishing vessel owners does not have an independent authority. That may be deliberate, but I could not determine it.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, in addressing the statutory instrument, the noble Baroness has asked some very pertinent questions. I shall be interested to hear the answers. Page 5, paragraph 5(4)(a) of the statutory instrument refers to,
I declare that I am a member of the House of Lords European Union Committee D, which produced the report on the common fisheries policy debated about three weeks ago. I understand that the statutory instrument is related to decommissioning of boats in England specifically. It beholds me to quote from the report. Paragraph 31 states:
I am a great supporter of the European Union, but that kind of legislation and agreement brings it into disrepute. Indeed, this is an extraordinary situation. What are the Minister's views? There is a fair reduction all round in all of the maritime nations of the Community. What support will be available for coastal fishing communities in England? In Scotland, provision is being made by the Scottish Executive.
In Cornwall, I know that there is great concern about objective 1 money, which is provided for development in Cornwall because its GDP is particularly low. Is any of that money being siphoned off into the fund for the decommissioning of boats? I hope that that is not the case and that the noble Baroness is able to reassure us on that point.
It is clear that the fishing-out of stocks is not in the interests of our fishing communities. There needs to be greater acceleration and will by the whole of the European Community. In particular, those countries which tend to ignore this kind of legislation must grasp the nettle in the interests of us conserving our fish stocks so that we actually have some fish for which to fish.
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