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Volume 406: debated on Thursday 12 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what appeal process is available to communities affected by European Commission plans to remove their right to administer fish quota leasing schemes; [118307](2) what representations her Department will make to the European Commission regarding plans to remove the right of communities to administer fish quota leasing schemes; [118308](3) when her Department received notification that the European Commission planned to remove the right of communities to administer fish quota leasing schemes. [118309]

The European Commission has been investigating the schemes in the Orkney and Shetland islands since 1999. The Commission's doubts about the compatibility of the schemes with the Treaty were made clear when it opened a formal investigation into the schemes in November 2001. In its two letters of 28 November 2001, one on each of the schemes, the Commission observed that there existed:

"serious doubts on the compatibility of this aid scheme with the Guidelines for the examination of State aid to fisheries and aquaculture and, therefore, with the EC Treaty." (Official Journal C 38 of 12.02.2002 p.6 and p.11)
These letters were passed to the relevant local authority in each case soon after receipt and published in the Official Journal on 12 February 2002.The Commission Decisions of 3 June 2003 constitute the formal view of the Commission on the non-compatibility of these schemes with the Treaty. They were received at the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU on 4 June and sent that day to my Department and to the Scottish Executive who sent them the next day to the local authorities concerned.The Decisions require the schemes to be either ended or brought into compliance with the Treaty within two months. If this corrective action is not taken, the provisions of Article 88(2) of the Treaty and Council Regulation (EC) No. 659/1999 allow the Commission to refer the United Kingdom's non-compliance to the European Court of Justice direct. In this case it would fall to the Government, not the administrators of the scheme, to defend or bring the case.There is no specific appeal mechanism against Commission State aid Decisions. However, a member state or any natural or legal person may apply to bring an action before the European Court of Justice for annulment of a Decision on certain grounds listed in Article 230 of the Treaty.In addition, the provisions of Article 88(2) of the Treaty permit a member state to apply in exceptional circumstances for approval of a State aid by the Council acting unanimously.The Commission Decisions are still being considered. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Executive and the local authorities involved.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the basis was for her policy on invoking the Hague Preference, in the current year, to the UK's benefit in fish stocks; what stocks qualified for the Hague Preference but were not invoked; and who the beneficiaries and losers were in each case as a result of her policy. [116966]

The policy was, as usual, to invoke Hague Preference on stocks where the UK's quota allocation would otherwise fall below the trigger level. This involves, in particular, invoking to counteract the effect of Irish invocations of Hague Preference on the UK's allocation. However, we do refrain from invoking in some cases where stocks are seriously depleted, as in these cases the operation of Hague Preference would transfer a very high proportion of other member states' allocations to the UK. This is the approach that we judge to be, overall, to the benefit of UK fishermen. For 2003 we did not invoke Hague Preference for any of the depleted North Sea stocks or for saithe in Area VI (where there was no Irish invocation).

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what EU competence exists over (a) fish, (b) shellfish, (c) other products of the sea, (d) related quotas and (e) regulation in the (i) six and (ii) 12 mile limits. [117999]

The European Union has exclusive competence over marine biological resources under the Common Fisheries Policy. Within this framework, the CFP Regulation EC 2371/2002 allows member states to take non-discriminatory conservation measures, conforming with the CFP, up to 12 miles from the shore line.