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Fishing Vessels

Volume 124: debated on Monday 14 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what legal proceedings have been instituted in respect of the United Kingdom's enforcement of a 75 per cent. European Community or British nationals manning level requirement on fishing vessels operating under the British flag; and if he will make a statement;(2) if he will make a statement on the implications of the Jader agreement, of 19 May, relating to manning levels on fishing vessels.

As from 1 January 1986 the Fisheries Ministers introduced new licensing conditions aimed at ensuring that vessels fishing against the United Kingdom's quotas have a real economic link with this country. These conditions provided

  • (i) that the vessel must operate from the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or Isle of Man;
  • (ii) that at least 75 per cent. of the crew must be British citizens, or EEC nationals (excluding Spanish and Portuguese nationals under the transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers provided for in the treaty of accession), ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom or Islands;
  • (iii) that the skipper and all the crew must be contributing to national insurance in the United Kingdom or Islands.
  • On 24 April 1986 judicial review proceedings were initiated by Agegate Ltd., a vessel-owning company incorporated in this country but with predominantly Spanish shareholders, seeking a declaration that licence conditions (ii) and (iii) were contrary to the EEC treaty. On 1 December 1986 an order of reference was made from the High Court, Queen's Bench Division, to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg requesting a preliminary ruling under article 177 of the EEC treaty on the Community law questions involved. The European Court of Justice has yet to give its ruling on these questions.On 22 May 1987, a further reference was made by the High Court, Queen's Bench Division, to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on certain questions raised in judicial review proceedings by Jaderow Ltd. and a number of other vessel-owning companies incorporated in this country but beneficially owned in large part by Spanish interests. The questions concerned the compatibility with Community law of licence condition (i). The judicial review proceedings which were stayed pending the preliminary ruling of the European Court of Justice, concerned our proposal to revoke the licences of a number of vessels owned by Jaderow and the other applicants which had in our view failed to comply with this condition in the six-month period January to July 1986.The agreement to which my hon. Friend refers was signed by leading counsel on both sides of the judicial review proceedings and provided that the applicants' vessels would, thenceforth and until judgment was given, comply with condition (i), in return for an undertaking on our behalf not to take enforcement action against the applicants (or others in a similar position) for breach of this condition with respect to the period between 1 January 1986 and 30 June 1987 or to seek to enforce licence conditions (ii) and (iii) above until judgment was given in the Agegate case. This agreement formally debars us for the time being from enforcing the licence conditions on the nationality, residence and national insurance status of the crews of British fishing vessels, which would in any case have been impossible to enforce effectively pending the ruling of the European Court of Justice on their compatibility with the Community law. The agreement does however provide for compliance by the vessels concerned with the licence condition on operating from the United Kingdom.