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Lords Chamber

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1996

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 14th February 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Lord Taverne

Dick Taverne, Esquire, QC, having been created Baron Taverne, of Pimlico in the City of Westminster, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Lord Feldman

Sir Basil Feldman, Knight, having been created Baron Feldman, of Frognal in the London Borough of Camden, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Thatcher and the Lord Parkinson.

Armenia: British Trade Prospects

2.56 p.m.

What steps they are taking to encourage British trade with Armenia.

My Lords, a British Embassy was established in Yerevan in 1995 with dedicated commercial staff and just last week the head of DTI's Central Asia and Transcaucasia Section, Mr. John Slate, visited Armenia. His week-long programme was specifically aimed at investigating potential commercial opportunities for UK businesses. Later this year my noble friend Lord Goschen intends to lead a DTI-supported trade mission to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply, which will give considerable encouragement to the Armenians as they strive to revive their economy, particularly in the wake of the legacy of the earthquake and continuing blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Can my noble and learned friend give further encouragement? Can he indicate when the British Embassy in Yerevan will issue visas for Armenians who wish to visit Britain? At present they have to go to Moscow, which is time-consuming and inconvenient. It is not conducive to the travel which is essential for the development of trade. Can my noble and learned friend give us some good news on that important topic?

My Lords, we certainly recognise that the inconvenience of having to travel to Moscow is considerable. We recognise, too, the importance of the visa service in Armenia. We intend to start issuing visas after the embassy is housed in more permanent accommodation. Regrettably, we cannot install essential equipment in the temporary premises presently occupied.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Helsinki Final Act requires participating states to refrain from acts of economic coercion against one another? Will the Minister therefore raise in the OSCE the continued blockade by Turkey of Armenia which hinders the latter country's economic development?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord appreciates that we are not members of the Minsk group, but we strongly support the efforts that it is making at the present time. We will encourage every effort that can be made to reach a political agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh. We recognise how important it is to the Armenians that the dual blockade to which the noble Lord refers is lifted.

My Lords, I have been involved with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in the All-Party British Armenian Group. We have seen in the past few years a steady increase in the good relationships with Armenia. Can that be maintained? If necessary, will the Minister be able to see myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in relation to some points which we believe would be useful to the United Kingdom and to Armenia?

My Lords, if the noble Lord or my noble friend Lady Cox would like to come to see me about matters affecting my responsibilities in the Department of Trade and Industry, my door is always open. I hope that the visit to which I referred, to be undertaken by my noble friend Lord Goschen, will be a clear indication of the positive efforts that we wish to make to improve trade with Armenia.

My Lords, will the Government actively support full membership for Armenia of the Council of Europe? Is that not rather overdue, considering that both Turkey and Russia are members of that council?

My Lords, we are moving some distance away from encouraging trade with Armenia. But undoubtedly, and as a general proposition, we positively encourage membership of that convention, underpinning as it does human rights across Europe.

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend the Minister will know from the Secretary of State's recent visit to Armenia, that country's economic recovery is very encouraging, with a rise of 10 per cent. in GDP. The Secretary of State recognised then that a political settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh would do much to encourage investment. Can we have an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will be signing with Armenia, as they have with Azerbaijan, a far less stable country, an agreement on investment and that the Secretary of State, when he spoke of the importance of the OSCE in the peacemaking process, was not having in mind that Her Majesty's Government should subscribe to the latest Russian proposal that Nagorno-Karabakh should be an autonomous republic within Azerbaijan?

My Lords, as I have already indicated, we are not a member of the Minsk Group, but we certainly encourage every effort that it can make to bring about a peaceful settlement. As my noble friend rightly pointed out, the visit to Armenia last month by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary should clearly underline the importance we attach to developing relations with the independent states of the former Soviet Union. I do not think that at this time I can offer her a positive assurance that the type of agreement which she would like us to enter into with Armenia will be signed, but clearly we undertake that kind of agreement with a wide range of countries around the world. If that can be achieved, so much the better.

My Lords, while declaring an interest as chairman of the British-Armenia Parliamentary Group, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider an agreement with Armenia on exemption from double taxation, in view of the fact that such agreements have already been reached between Armenia, the United States of America, France and most of the CIS countries? Will Her Majesty's Government consider financial support for British businesses to encourage them to invest in Armenia? Such support is given by the German Government, which has created funds to assist German businesses to establish themselves in Armenia.

My Lords, I would need notice of a question concerning double taxation arrangements, but I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Earl. He asked about support for British businesses wishing to do business with Armenia. We do all that we can. We have within the DTI a committed set of individuals. As I indicated in my original Answer, we are doing what we can to encourage that trade. It is anticipated that some 15 to 20 companies may go with the mission which my noble friend Lord Goschen is taking to Armenia.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the very considerable esteem in which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, herself is held in Armenia? I speak as someone who until six weeks ago was responsible for relationships between the Church of England and the Church of Armenia; therefore, the people of Armenia and the Church of Armenia are not strangers to me. The noble Baroness has shown enormous determination and physical courage in the face of considerable danger over these past few years in supporting the people of Armenia, both in Armenia itself and in Nagorno-Karabakh. I believe that she will be a doughty campaigner, too, for developing trade. Perhaps I may ask a second question. Is the Minister aware of the considerable satisfaction with which the establishment of an embassy in Yerevan was met by the Armenian people?

My Lords, I am very pleased to hear of that reaction. I thank the right reverend Prelate for the generous compliment that he has paid to my noble friend. The efforts she has made on behalf of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are widely known and, I believe, very much appreciated.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Armenia is one of the more stable countries to emerge from the break-up of the Soviet Union? It enjoys a high standard of education and is very pro-British. May we from these Benches wish the Goschen mission every success?

My Lords, my noble friend has had a sufficient plug for one afternoon.

Crime Against Disabled People

3.5 p.m.

Whether there has been an increase in crime against disabled people; and if so what steps are being taken to combat it.

My Lords, the recorded crime figures do not provide information on crime suffered specifically by disabled people. The 1994 British Crime Survey has provided information on the level and nature of crime experienced by disabled people, but any trends will not be discernible until the results of the same questions in the 1996 British Crime Survey are known.

My Lords, despite that negative Answer, is the Minister aware that research shows that disabled people are three times more likely to be attacked in their homes and are also more likely to be attacked outside their homes than non-disabled people? Fear plays a large and damaging role in their lives. Cannot the department co-ordinate the work between the agencies involved— the police, the crime prevention panels and disabled people's organisations themselves— and do so preferably under the auspices of the Home Office Working Party, which should be fully funded?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his questions. The British Crime Survey, which is a respected survey and takes into account some 14,500 applicants, 19 per cent. of which comprises information returned from disabled people, shows that there was little difference between crime suffered by disabled people and crime suffered by non-disabled people.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some disabled people who live on their own leave their front doors unlocked in case they need help from outside in an emergency? As this is tempting to thieves, will the Government encourage local arrangements, such as spare keys being held at police stations, so that these doors can be kept locked?

My Lords, I understand what my noble friend is asking. I also understand that this facility is available in some form. It is something that we shall be looking at later.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that there are increasing reports that employees of private agencies which provide domiciliary care in the community are pilfering from old people, using their telephones and abusing their duties to the people they are caring for, both the old and the disabled? Do the Government intend to license the agencies which provide the care so that employees can be properly trained and vetted?

My Lords, the noble Countess is correct. Such activities should be utterly deplored. Local authorities are responsible for setting and monitoring quality standards both for people they employ directly and for independent agencies with which they have contact. The Department of Health is currently carrying out a major review of the way in which social services are regulated and inspected. I am sure that this factor will be taken into account in that review.

My Lords, I find the Minister's response to that question rather strange in view of the fact that the Government turned down an Opposition amendment only yesterday on the registration of agencies for the disabled and their staff. Would it not have been helpful to have acceded to that amendment which would have helped the cause that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, is urging?

My Lords, I believe that that question is somewhat wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I understand the point that the noble Lord is trying to make. I believe that we were debating the Broadcasting Bill yesterday afternoon—

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Home Office has a working party looking into the problems of disabled people and crime? Is the Minister further aware that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and the Greater London Association for Disabled People have also carried out some research and that all these combine to agree that crime against disabled people is very serious and far more important than it is for normal people? I find the Minister's answer quite inexplicable. I should be most grateful if he would look at the matter again because we want some action as these people are terrified. It is not good enough to say that we do not know.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if he does not feel that I am being sympathetic towards the problems afflicting disabled people. I am aware of the work of the Home Office. It has recently assisted the Susie Lamplugh Trust in the production of a consultative document on personal safety for disabled people and a leaflet entitled Out and About, which gives specific advice to disabled people on how to keep safe when travelling around. There are other areas in which the Home Office has provided information. In fact, there is a Home Office booklet entitled Your Practical Guide to Crime Prevention, which covers areas of safety at home and travelling about.

European Airlines: State Aid

3.11 p.m.

Whether they consider that the European Commission should approve further state aid for European airlines.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, no. The Government strongly oppose state aid in aviation. By distorting competition it is bad for consumers and damaging to United Kingdom carriers.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. But is not the latest decision by the Commission to allow a further tranche of state aid to Iberia almost enough to drive one to despair? Is it not the case that when Iberia was last allowed state aid some four years ago it was strictly on the condition that that was to be the last time, and now it has been allowed another £440 million? Further, if, as is claimed, the Spanish Government are acting only as any private investor would in the circumstances, does my noble friend agree that a private investor would inject cash only if he could see a return on his money in a reasonable time? Can he ensure that the Commission provides proof that that is the case or, better still, finds a bank to put up the money?

My Lords, I quite agree with my noble friend. He is right to be disappointed by the Commission's decision. It flies in the face of everything that we are trying to do to establish a single market for aviation within the Community. This is the second huge payment to Iberia in four years. About £670 million was approved in 1992 by the Commission with the express condition that no further aid was given for the duration of the restructuring programme. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to see how the current situation fits in with that. It is also extremely difficult to see how the Spanish Government can be acting according to the market investor principle, particularly as Iberia has been losing money for a great deal of time. In those circumstances it is difficult to see how the Government are working as a commercial investor.

My Lords, the noble Viscount has indicated the Government's disapproval of the subsidy approved by the Commission to be granted to Spain in respect of Iberia. In those circumstances, can the Minister say why the British Government, as a member of, the Council of Ministers, did not invoke the procedures outlined in Article 3(2) of the treaty which makes specific provision for the Council to be able to object to any proposition of this kind? Why did not the Government take action before, or if they did not know that, why did they not?

My Lords, the noble Lord has the advantage of me as regards paragraphs and probably subparagraphs of the treaty. Our resolve has been shown as regards state aid by action in the Air France case, where about £2.4 billion is due to be injected into that airline. We have taken legal action. We have joined in supporting airlines who have also taken legal action on that case. We could not possibly take any action before we knew what was happening. We are examining the judgment very carefully and in the light of that we shall make any further decision on the action to be taken.

My Lords, can my noble friend say what action the Government are taking to prevent a repetition of this folly?

My Lords, all such injections or possible injections of state aid are considered by the Commission on an individual basis. As I said before, our resolve on this matter is demonstrated by our action as regards Air France. It is an enormous injection of cash into an ailing airline. We thoroughly disapprove of the Iberia decision. It seems very perverse in view of the publicly stated policy of the Commission on this issue. We shall continue to oppose state aid for airlines, but we shall look at each case on its merits.

My Lords, we have enough time to hear both speakers. Perhaps the Cross Benches may be heard before the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Air France has already had in subsidies from the Commission twice as much as the net value assets of British Airways, the most profitable airline in the world? Why should it not now be allowed for British Airways, or for any other enterprising and non-loss-making concern, to buy Air France and Iberia as obviously they are both hopelessly badly run?

My Lords, I certainly would not take issue on the great strength of British Airways and its achievements since privatisation. It has shown to other airlines in the Community that it is possible to run an extremely profitable airline very well and to expand the services provided to consumers. We agree with the points put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. Airlines should be able to stand on their own two feet and it has been shown that that is possible. We thoroughly oppose state aid in aviation.

My Lords, how does the noble Viscount equate his indignation at this gross breach of the private theory of investment with the fact that his Government are paying subsidies to people all over the place to run the railways?

My Lords, if there were no subsidies to the railways they would not run. They are different from airlines in their ability to generate income and cover their costs. It is clear that a good railway system has always been subsidised and will always be subsidised. There are socially necessary services involved. It is also equally clear that airlines can provide the services that their consumers want on a profitable basis. That is essentially the difference.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Commission is also approving subsidies to European shipbuilding yards?

My Lords, shipping has a different regime. There is considerable anxiety among British shipowners and shipbuilders on the state subsidy regime within Europe. The United Kingdom Government have pressed for more transparency in their accounts so that it is possible to see whether this state aid is legal or illegal. That is the crucial matter that we must determine.

My Lords, I agree in principle with opposing such financial assistance, but did not Commissioner Kinnock apply far more stringent conditions to this particular financial assistance than was the case on the last occasion? If that is .the case, why will the Minister not tell us so, instead of trying to give the impression that the money was handed out with no conditions at all attached?

My Lords, the important point is that conditions were attached last time, and look what happened. Despite the very strong conditions that were imposed last time that there would be no further state aid within the period of restructuring, the Spanish Government have returned and requested further state aid to inject into the restructuring of Iberia. It is true that Commissioner Kinnock attempted to impose strong conditions to the judgment, but we have only to see what has happened in the past. We do not believe that state aid should be injected into these airlines, conditions or no conditions.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when he was Commissioner for Competition Sir Leon Brittan approved the first tranche of aid to Iberia? Does he also agree that so much was Sir Leon driven to despair on this occasion that he supported the view of Neil Kinnock, which in fact was the unanimous view of the whole Commission? Will the Minister explain to the House that even though he is so dismissive of the market investor principle in this case, the Government have sought to apply that principle in relation to aid to a number of railway companies under privatisation, with regard to a £80 million package to help to finance the new Jaguar plant at Castle Bromwich and with regard to a £61 million application for support for a Northern Ireland textile plant? Does he also recall in relation to all this that the Government, with a somewhat forked tongue in the circumstances, sought to apply for illicit state aids for British Aerospace and Rover?

My Lords, I entirely reject everything that the noble Lord says. It is clear that the noble Lord finds himself in difficulties in addressing this decision by the Commission. I believe that he thinks that airlines should stand on their own two feet and should not have injections of capital, so he has sought to turn the Question to other areas. The essential point is that state aid must not be allowed in areas which distort competition. We have tried to create a single market in aviation throughout the Community. There is direct competition between airlines which provide a similar service. If there is that direct competition, we must ensure that airlines are not subsidised. How can British Airways, for example, and other United Kingdom carriers be expected to compete on an equal basis with loss-making airlines which have enormous sums of capital injected into them whenever they start failing?

My Lords, we have only 30 minutes for Questions. I think that we should move on to the next Question.

Further Education Policies

3.21 p.m.

Whether they propose any changes in the implementation of their policies on further education.

My Lords, we gave further education and sixth-form colleges freedom from local authority control three years ago. We will continue to enable colleges to reap the benefits of independence, and to play their full part in widening opportunity and raising attainment in post-school education.

My Lords, as the funding of further education comes from two main sources— the Further Education Funding Council, which provides government money, and the Private Finance Initiative— what will be the position in any particular case where PFI fails to raise the necessary money?

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord is being somewhat over-negative on these matters. I think that PFI will provide a great many opportunities for the further education sector. I very much hope that at the Further Education Funding Council's annual conference this Friday we might hear of some imaginative suggestions and projects. I can assure the noble Lord that there have been a great many such projects in the health service. I believe that about one-third of Private Finance Initiative projects in the health service were in the range of £1 million to £2 million, which is just the sort of thing for which the further education sector is looking. I have considerable optimism that we shall hear some good news in the future.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how, in view of the reductions in the amount of spending per student in the further education sector, that sector will be able to maintain its contribution to the achievement of national educational and training targets without doing devastating damage to the quality of education and training offered to those over 16 years of age?

My Lords, perhaps I may put the noble Lord right. First, we have seen a growth in actual expenditure over current expenditure for the further education sector. Expenditure for the FEFC will be increased by 3.4 per cent. for 1996–97, compared with a 4 per cent. increase for the previous year—and that was in what I think everyone would acknowledge was a very difficult public expenditure round. I can also assure the noble Lord that we still see considerable scope, as in the past, for efficiency savings in the further education sector.

My Lords, in his answer to my supplementary question is the Minister saying that in every case PFI will provide the necessary finance? Are there not more students in further education now than ever before? Is there not a greater backlog of capital maintenance work to be carried out? Following the question which my noble friend has just asked, the Minister referred to figures for the past, but will he confirm these figures, which have been given to me in a letter from his colleague in another place: that the present funding is £159 million for the current year which will reduce to £59 million in 1998–99? Does not that contradict what the Minister has just told my noble friend? Will the Minister deal with the first part of my question, which is the most important part?

My Lords, the noble Lord deals only with the capital expenditure and I can confirm that that goes down from £159 million in 1995– 96 to some £59.3 million in 1998–99. That capital funding is still available and can be used on occasions when private finance will not lever in the necessary money. Perhaps I should remind the noble Lord that current expenditure— some £2.8 billion, which is a very considerable amount of money— will be increasing over the same period. That will allow the number of students in further education to increase dramatically. We estimate that the number will increase from a little over 1 million to 1,168,000.

My Lords, will the Minister answer my first question which, as I have said, is far and away the most important?

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord did not listen to me. I answered the noble Lord's further question when I said that money was available both from the Private Finance Initiative and from the capital allowed to the FEFC.

My Lords, now that further education colleges have the freedom, can the Minister say whether they have any control over the qualifications of the teachers in those further education colleges, both in terms of their subject qualifications and their teaching experience, because I have heard a lot of rumours that there are some teachers who are not at all satisfactory who are working in those colleges?

My Lords, as I made clear to the noble Baroness the other day, the same is true in the schools sector. There are some unsatisfactory teachers. Obviously, unsatisfactory teachers should be sacked if they are not fit to teach. The same applies in the further education sector. It is up to the colleges. They have the freedom to operate and to dismiss those who are unsatisfactory.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the enormous increase in the number of students in further education now compared to 1979 is to the credit of this Government?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have seen a dramatic growth in the numbers in further education and in higher education. I can confirm to my noble friend that one possible result of that is that for the 29th consecutive month we have seen a further fall in the level of unemployment. Questions on that used to be asked with some regularity by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, but he forgot to ask today.

My Lords, we have an absolute rule in this House that Questions last for only 30 minutes. I am afraid that that time has now elapsed.

My Lords, perhaps I may raise a question of procedure with the Chief Whip. As I understand it, Ministers are incapable of answering a Question without reading from their brief, but I notice that getting an Answer from a Minister makes no difference to questioners who then proceed to read out a prepared supplementary question at some length which must have been written before they heard the Answer. Is that in line with the procedure of the House?

My Lords, I simply do not recognise the situation to which the noble Lord refers. From this side of the House Ministers occasionally look at their notes, but their answers are always original and extremely robust in defence of this Government's policy.


3.27 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word about today's debates, standing in the names of my noble friend Lord Onslow and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. In the first debate, other than the mover, Front-Bench spokesmen and the Minister replying, speakers will be limited to 10 minutes. In the second debate, speakers should limit themselves to 15 minutes, as recommended in the Companion to the Standing Orders. I might remind your Lordships that, when the clock shows 10 minutes, the full 10 minutes have elapsed and the speaker is already trespassing on the time of others.

Australia And New Zealand Banking Group Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— ( The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Examiners.

Belfast Charitable Society Bill Hl

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Examiners.

City Of London (Approved Premises For Marriage) Bill Hl

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— ( The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.

Common Fisheries Policy

3.29 p.m.

rose to call attention to the common fisheries policy; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I start my speech, it appears that yesterday I offended my noble friend Lady Trumpington. That is a sin beyond peradventure for which I apologise unreservedly. It appears that I offended also my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Again, that is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. However, as my noble friend the Chief Whip said that there was no harm in my sin, and also because I had dinner last night with the Minister responsible for the amendment, who thought it amusing and no harm, I apologise unreservedly for any offence that I may have caused.

I am lucky to have drawn this debate. The subject is important. It is one of the few EU policies which emerges regularly into the public view. The CFP has been criticised; is being criticised; and will deserve more criticism unless remedial measures are put into effect immediately.

A report by the Select Committee on Agriculture in the other place is quoted by my noble friend Lord Selborne in his new and excellent report. It makes that point, because the criticism made by the other place remains unredressed. In 1993, the House of Lords Select Committee produced another excellent, scholarly report, again ignored by Brussels. The National Federation of Fisheries Organisations was asked, together with the Scottish Fisheries Organisations, to produce recommendations, which they did by beavering away night and day for two and a half months. I regret to say that that report, although urgently requested, was equally cavalierly ignored by Her Majesty's Government.

The problems are known, but the remedies avoided. When we signified that we were about to join the Common Market, the then members (six of them) cobbled together an equal-access- to-all-fisheries policy, probably illegally or ultra legally, because it was incidentally retroactively legalised by the Maastricht Treaty. Several undertakings were given, especially by my noble friend Lord Rippon, then responsible for negotiations. In the other place— I regret to say that I have a photostat only so I cannot give the Hansard column number— he said:

"It is clear that we retain full jurisdiction over the whole of our coastal waters, up to 12 miles".

In a letter of 6th January 1972 to the right honourable Paul Channon, then, as now, Member of Parliament for Southend West, Anthony Royle, now the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, stated:

"It is also very important to understand that, under this agreement we have, as a result of maintaining full jurisdiction over the whole 12 miles, complete control of our conservation measures".

He continues:

"I should emphasise here that these are not just transitional arrangements which automatically lapse at the end of a fixed period".

How then can those categorical assurances have lapsed into a renewable derogation on a sixth-mile limit, ultimately vetoable on renegotiation in 2002?

When the common fisheries pool was carved up, of the 60 per cent. of the seas which was by international law ours, we received 37 per cent. by volume, and some 12 per cent., or so the fishermen claim, by catch value. Our fisheries industry— here I must add that it may not have been as go-ahead as others, and they squabble quite a lot among themselves, which makes negotiation difficult— has seen 140 Dutch and Spanish vessels flag under the Red Ensign. That represents a third of the entire UK fleet quota hopping.

What is the point of having national fishing quotas if quota hopping is allowed? It is basically saying that the whole principle of national fishing fleets should be replaced with a common fisheries pool, and that is not what was agreed.

Dutch beam trawlers, flagged in the UK, represent 40 per cent. of the UK beam trawler fleet. They also use gear which digs up the sea bed, so doing considerable environmental damage. I shall come later to the general point of fishing gear.

All reports that I have read, and all those to which I refer, make much of over-fishing and discards. My noble friend Lord Selborne, who I am delighted to see is speaking today, will address the problem of over-fishing and the damage it causes. I will pass one comment only. When Mr. Baldry was taken to task over the regular exceeding of total allowable catches by the EU, for political and expedient reasons he pooh-poohed the query and said that my noble friend Lord Selborne had no responsibility for fisheries and that he, Mr. Baldry, did. I wonder whose attitude was the most responsible.

No fisheries regime in the world can avoid quotas, but the EU produces an unfair system. I have referred already to the amount by value that our fishermen receive. Another example, perhaps morally more difficult, is that of an Essex sole fisherman who was fined £28,000 for fishing over-quota (his quota of sole was 270 kilograms a month) as he watched a Norwegian trawler fishing just outside the six-mile fishing zone, which could catch more in one day than his total allowable catch for a year.

Norway, Canada, and, I believe, Namibia, all have more effective fishing management schemes. They involve fishermen more in the conception and planning of their regimes. The Norwegian policy is detailed in my noble friend's report. I must admit that I received great help from the Norwegian Embassy which has written to me and told me what is its policy. To go into it in any more detail than is in my noble friend's report would take up too much of your Lordships' time. The essence is better control of individual boats and no discards. What here would be discarded has to be landed and counts against quota. There is also a constant seeking after more fish friendly gear— if that is not an oxymoron.

Canada has suffered a dramatic collapse of its fish stock caused by over-fishing, an unexplained explosion in the number of fur seals, and, arguably— here the scientific evidence tends to differ— by the fall in water temperature caused by the Arctic ice cap melting which is in turn caused by ozone depreciation. The theory is that if one drops the temperature of the cod waters by one degree, the cod goes somewhere else and their numbers decrease. In Europe however the temperature of the sea has increased due to the Gulf stream. Our temperature has been fish friendly.

The Canadian policy for those who are still allowed to fish has three main features: mandatory landings, which is the same as no discards, and small fish protocols. They replace minimum landing sizes so that when the number of fish below a specified size limit exceeds a certain percentage of the fish caught, the fishing is closed for that gear sector in that fishery.

The third Canadian weapon is the conservation harvesting plan. These plans are agreed between the fishermen and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They depend upon gear sectors, and may include restrictions on gear by catch limits, small fish protocols, catch monitoring, test fishing, seasonal restriction and closures to protect juvenile and spawning grounds. They encourage also a responsible fishing programme. That has been included in the UN fishery policy for adoption world wide. I hear nothing but great things of the Namibian policy, but, unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten your Lordships with the details of landing arrangements in Wallfish Bay.

Discards are a disgrace to the European Union. In some cases they are 100 per cent. and even 110 per cent. of landed catch by weight. They average at least 40 per cent. or 2,700,000 tonnes per year. That is the amount of fish that is discarded out of a total catch of about 7 million tonnes. Can anyone think of anything dottier than that?

There are two forms of discard; small and immature fish and mature fish caught while fishing for another species. That is when the quota for the first type of fish has been achieved, such as catching cod, having achieved one's cod quota, while fishing for sole. The killing of young immature fish in large numbers must have a very serious impact on stocks for the future. Obviously, the discarding of marketable fish actively encourages dishonesty.

Perhaps I may explain why I regard discards with such horror. It is like killing chicken poults at the same time as sending fat chickens to slaughter. That is an exact analogy with killing immature fish. Jack Robertson and John Main, formerly of the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, provided me with details of possible fishing gear changes that would be most beneficial. They include, first, the square mesh technique. That involves the introduction of a panel of some three metres by one metre of 80mm square mesh fitted towards the cod-end of the net. That would allow 80 to 90 per cent. of the presently caught immature fish to escape. Incidentally, the net was invented a year before the battle of Omdurman, so it is not exactly space age in its conception. The square mesh panel is enforced by UK legislation for prawn trawls but why not for white fish trawls?

The second change is the introduction of separator panels to make sure that while fishing for cod one catches no halibut or whiting or vice versa. The third is the introduction of grills. They are compulsory in the United States, Canada, Norway and Iceland. They are especially useful for shrimping. In New England the by-catch when shrimping was so enormous that the shrimping grounds had to be closed. With the introduction of the grills these grounds have been reopened and now the shrimpers are catching nothing but shrimps. Those techniques are known and available. Why are they not implemented to a greater extent?

I also suggest that the size of the landable fish should be increased over a period of, say, six years, thus allowing each caught fish at least one spawning season. Reducing discards and increasing spawning would have a magical increase in fish stocks. Add to that an increase in the size of the safe areas around oil rigs, which swarm with fish, from two-and-a-half cables to three-and-a-half cables— I like old-fashioned measurements but the size is actually from 500 metres to 700 metres—and larger safe havens would be provided.

Those proposals would have a dramatic effect on European fisheries. They would obviate the need for further contraction of the industry, with all its social and economic consequences of unemployment and all that that entails. Therefore, if Brussels still refuses to implement better policies; if it still subsidises Spaniards to expand while subsidising us to contract; if it does not look, listen and learn from the Norwegians, Canadians and even the Namibians; if it continues to follow such an unpopular and self-destruct policy, then it will bring the whole European Union into serious disrepute and force us unilaterally to take back one of our richest assets to be properly managed by ourselves. I beg to move for Papers.

3.44 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for introducing the debate. It is most timely, coming at a time of world concern about fishing stocks, when an additional 40 Spanish boats are to be allowed into the Irish box and when British fishermen are burning their boats at Newlyn and elsewhere. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the noble Earl about the six and 12-mile limits. I hope too that he will assure the House and the country that those limits, irrespective of derogations, will be ours in perpetuity. I should like to know how that is to be done.

As noble Lords are aware, the common fisheries policy was agreed by the Heath Government without the proper knowledge of and discussion by Parliament. We handed over a valuable national resource to countries which had overfished their own waters and we put our own fishing industry in jeopardy. If there are any supposed benefits in return for sacrificing our fishing industry and the control of our fishing waters and stocks we have, in my view, yet to see them. Our membership of the European Community has produced few, if any, benefits but huge financial and trading costs and the loss of much of our power to govern ourselves and the democratic control of Parliament over the Executive. Little wonder that people in Britain have lost confidence in their political leaders and Parliament when they see the interests of British people sacrificed on the altar of European integration. That is what it is about and what it has always been about.

Little wonder that in the fishing dispute between the European Union and Canada last year British fishermen burnt the European Union flag, flew the Canadian flag and feted the Canadian High Commissioner as a hero. More than 80 per cent. of the British people agreed with them. Little wonder that the fishermen are up in arms as they look on in frustration while we import much of the fish that we used to catch ourselves. They are forced into decline and bankruptcy in order to accommodate the fishing, or overfishing, boats of other EC countries, especially Spain.

However, in the face of that fishing industry and environmental disaster British Ministers are mesmerised and reduced to mouthing inanities about honouring the CFP, however much it harms British interests and British people, claiming that fish do not recognise national boundaries. As a matter of fact, they do in that the fish which congregate around our shores do so because the environment is conducive to fish life and fish breeding. That is why the Spanish come here instead of the fish going to Spain. I am surprised that British Ministers do not understand that simple point.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to the second report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on fish stock conservation and management. I congratulate the committee on an excellent report which, it is to be hoped, will be discussed in full by this House in due course. I wish to refer to one item which concerns Norway. The Select Committee holds it up as a shining example of how to run a proper fisheries policy which produces a proper balance between the interests of conservation and the livelihoods of fishermen. Norway can do that because it is in control of its own fishing waters and because it retains sovereign power over decisions. Norway is in fact a beacon and a light which beckons those whose faith in the nation state is undimmed and yet who believe in international co-operation between free and democratic nations in Europe. Norway points the way for Britain to solve its fishing crisis.

The lesson is clear. We must not be over-ridden in protecting and exploiting this nation's national resources by the interests of other countries and other people. It is the duty of British governments—and it is a shame that they have to be reminded of this—to protect vital national interests, not the interests of people from other lands but our own national interests and people. Fishing is one of those vital national interests.

The Government really must take their courage into their hands. They have been coming along quite nicely lately but they need a little more courage. They should withdraw or suspend this country from the common fisheries policy and face down the opposition from other countries of the European Union. The gains from such a policy would be huge and would pay for extra fisheries protection resources which we badly need. As a result, we would have a prosperous fishing industry. We would not only once again meet our own fishing needs but we would produce a surplus for export while at the same time preserving and rebuilding the fish stocks around our shores. Fishing ports, which have had the guts knocked out of them by the CFP, would come back to life. And above all, confidence would be restored to our fishermen and their families and to the people of this country.

It is worth the Government taking a strong line. It would be worth it not only in economic and political terms but it would be worth it in party political terms, although perhaps I should not remind them of that, because a great many people are concerned about this issue. They believe that we have given up too much of our national interest to others. Now is the time to get back those interests and look after our own people and our own interests.

3.53 p.m.

My Lords, I and I am sure other noble Lords are grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for choosing this subject and enabling this debate to take place. In the time available to me I hope to comment on the CFP since its beginnings 26 years ago, with the object of supplementing my noble friend's assessment without going over exactly the same ground.

I start somewhat earlier with events in 1962 and 1963. British entry to the EEC, as it then was, was vetoed by President de Gaulle after our successful negotiations. The six original members had no CFP then. If the United Kingdom had been able to join at that time, nine years earlier than it did, we could have helped in the formulation of a fisheries policy in due course.

In 1970 the British Government applied again. It was a Labour Government at the time and the Conservative Government that followed continued the negotiations and completed them in 1972. In reminding your Lordships about the sequence of events, I hope also to dispose of some fallacies and misapprehensions.

Shortly before the negotiations with the United Kingdom in 1970, the six members put together a rudimentary fisheries policy based on a general principle of equal access. In our British negotiations we insisted on a 12-mile coastal band for British fishermen, with exceptions only in the particular areas where individual foreign countries had for years been accorded the right to fish up to six miles, usually the result of a reciprocal arrangement made in the past.

For example, the fishermen's leaders in my constituency on the Moray Firth, where my home is, and I were well aware of the historic right of Belgian boats to fish up to six miles on designated parts of the Scottish coastline. That was happening long before Britain's application in 1970. We retained the 12-mile limit in those negotiations and the six-mile special arrangements already existing which I have just described. That has continued ever since we joined. Indeed, some of the six-mile cases have been reduced by agreement.

We should remember that when the United Kingdom joined, first, our territorial waters were limited to three miles— those were the waters over which we had legal jurisdiction; and secondly, the fishery limits of 200 miles were not adopted until four years later.

Those events do not test my memory because I was in the Shadow Cabinet at the time when the application was made by the Labour Government and then, after the 1970 General Election, for four years I was a Member of the Cabinet. At that time an unfortunate misapprehension was being spread that foreign boats would be fishing up to our beaches. In fact, that was not true then and it has never been true since, a quarter of a century later. Although a fallacy, it was repeated hysterically by people who knew little or nothing about fisheries but who were opposed to the European Common Market. Because fishermen and fishing communities can rapidly be alarmed by such misinformation, that fallacy caused much mischief for several years.

In 1977, the 200-mile fishery limit was adopted by Britain as other European countries did the same. Iceland had tried to do that unilaterally several years earlier, before agreement was reached affording reciprocity with other countries. In the North Sea and the Channel, the 200-mile limit virtually meant up to the median line between countries, because there are few places where 400 miles of sea extend between the coasts of different countries.

In 1983, the CFP took its present form. That was three years before Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. Spain, with its huge fleet, was bound to have a heavy impact. It has not been a party to the CFP until this year. A very significant event occurred in 1988 when the United Kingdom decided to extend its territorial sea to 12 miles. For centuries it had been only three miles. The change meant that United Kingdom legal jurisdiction extended to 12 miles and, with the system of baselines, a large area of coastal and inland sea came under British law and supervision.

British fishermen's organisations have supported the principle known as relative stability in the CFP; that is, the sharing of fishing effort as a necessary conservation measure. The quota scheme seemed at first the way to achieve that. However, serious weaknesses and flaws have appeared in that scheme. First, there was the depressing saga of discards which my noble friend went into. Of course, that involves arguments about sizes and shapes of meshes, depending on which species of fish are being sought.

But another very serious flaw for Britain is that much of our quota is being used up by foreign vessels posing as British. I have raised that many times in your Lordships' House in recent years and it is still stuck in the legal processes of the European Court.

Foreign boats can register at British ports and, meeting certain other requirements, pass as British. They are entitled to fish for our quota. That was made easy for them by the principle of freedom of establishment. Therefore, two incompatible policies are clashing. First, there is the freedom of establishment which aims to equalise the rights of nationals of different member countries and reduce the differences between citizens of the European Union, which is probably an admirable concept. At the same time, the second policy is to regulate the sharing of fisheries by designating the nationalities.

The two policies have collided; and, indeed, could not help doing so. For example, I understand that Spanish boats, supposed to be British, have been taking 44 per cent. of our hake quota and that Dutch boats have been taking 40 per cent. of our plaice quota. The glaring defects in sharing the conservation measures— namely, the quota system— must be tackled as part of reforming the CFP.

What action should be taken now, looking to the future? Anxiety is being expressed about the negotiations due before the next chapter of the CFP which is set to open in the year 2002. Voices are stridently proclaiming that foreigners will be able to fish up to our beaches, similar to those voices heard in the 1970s. Unfortunately, some parts of the media are repeating this, or taking it up, again raising alarm in fishing communities.

In 1992, the six and 12-mile coastal restrictions were continued without controversy. I am glad to say that it has recently been made publicly clear by a Minister that, again, in the year 2002 those restrictions are expected to continue and that, so far as concerns the present Government, removal of those limits is not negotiable.

There is general agreement in Western Europe that fishing effort must be reduced. The EU proposes a decommissioning process and most of its fishing member states adopted that course. However, the United Kingdom exercised the principle of subsidiarity and decided upon a limited days at sea scheme, which came to an undignified end. In my view, subsidiarity did not help in that instance. My criticism has been that little imagination was brought to bear. British fishermen— let us just picture this— detained and tied up in harbour for days on end knew that foreign boats were fishing out at sea for as many days as they wished. But the British fishermen in that situation were not comforted by the fact that a significant percentage of the foreigners' boats were being scrapped in their home countries under a decommissioning scheme about which they had probably never heard. The UK did eventually start a decommissioning scheme, but it was too small and too late.

There are calls for Britain to leave the CFP, some coming from leaders of certain fishermen's organisations but not from the responsible leaders of the main organisations. In practice, it would be a very difficult process to leave it and it would no doubt lead to a free-for-all in which conservation was ignored. What the experienced and knowledgeable leaders are urging is real reform of the CFP. They have welcomed the establishment by the Government of the CFP Review Group. My view also is that Britain should not try to withdraw from the CFP, but I urge very strongly that the review group be enabled to concentrate on possible ways, radical included, in which the CFP can be remodelled to cater for today's situations and for expected developments in the future.

4.3 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, welcome today's debate on the CFP. It comes within a week of the publication of the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Fish Stock Conservation and Management. The sub-committee which carried out the investigation, and which I had the privilege of chairing, was, I must emphasise, looking not at the CFP but at the scientific, not the political, basis of conservation and management. It considered the global situation, not that of Europe.

I should say, first, that our report makes very depressing reading. Its first conclusion reads as follows:
"Hard evidence has shown that all over the world stocks of most species of fish are being severely depleted by over-fishing. Almost every variety of fisheries policy and management has proved inadequate to prevent over-fishing. The conservation and management of fish stocks is a matter of life or death to millions of people and should thus be of vital concern worldwide. Immediate steps must be taken by all developed nations to reduce their commercial fishing effort very significantly".
The reduction necessary to allow stocks a reasonable chance to recover is estimated to be about 30 per cent. How is such a Draconian reduction of fishing ever to be achieved? We looked at that in some detail. In doing so, we made numerous references to the CFP. That is why I felt I must make a contribution to today's debate.

As noble Lords have heard, criticism of the CFP is by no means new. That is because it simply does not work. In 1993 the European Communities Committee of this House recommended a series of changes to the policy. They included: the decommissioning of fishing vessels; the introduction of a licensing scheme; the phasing out of industrial fishing; the consideration of a discard ban; and the compulsory use of square mesh panels. Although most fishermen support those recommendations, action has been taken only on the first of them and then only in part.

Our report makes those recommendations all over again and with increased force. It also adds a few more. If they were all implemented by all member states, things would no doubt be very much better. In particular, the need for discards would be very greatly reduced by new technical measures and a ban would be easier to enforce.

However, our report also tackles the implementation of the CFP directly. The system of control that it uses depends on a simple quota system based on figures for an annual total allowable catch (TAC) for each species of fish. We recommend three successive changes. First, we suggest that the TACs should be based on the precautionary principle, thus reducing many of the quotas very considerably. We think that that would help as an immediate step, although we know that it would be inadequate because even the current TACs have not been enforceable. Secondly, we suggest that there should be a feasibility study of introducing a control system based on individual transferable quotas. The system offers advantages in that it is probably more readily enforceable.

Thirdly, and by far the most important, we recommend that there should be an immediate examination of the implications of wholly replacing the current quota system by one based on the control of fishing effort. We believe that to be the only workable long-term solution. I should add that it, too, could provide, cover and preserve the principle of relative stability. It depends upon large-scale decommissioning and probably on a licensing scheme.

The present CFP decommissioning scheme has cost our Government over £50 million, but the boats that have been decommissioned have been small, old and inefficient and the net result has been not the desired reduction but an actual increase in fishing effort. If decommissioning is to be effective in reducing the global fishing effort it means that many more boats, and more efficient boats, must be decommissioned, not only by all member states of the European Union but by all developed nations of the world. That will be very painful indeed, but the over-capitalisation of the fishing industries of the world makes it necessary. FAO estimates that the fishing industries are subsidised worldwide by no less than 50 billion dollars a year.

I am aware that the CFP has many faults— indeed, some of them have been mentioned in today's debate— which discriminate quite unfairly against British fishermen, some of whom are anxious that we should withdraw from it. Those issues fell quite outside our committee's terms of reference.

It seems to me that there are two main arguments for the UK staying within the CFP. The first is that withdrawal would, of itself, make little contribution to the reduction in fishing effort that we call for. Unlike Norway, almost all UK waters abut onto the waters of other European Union countries and fish do not always stay on one side of the boundary lines. Unilateral action by the United Kingdom in cutting fishing effort would not lead to a significant renewal of fish stocks unless the other European Union countries acted in the same way. We have a better chance— even if it is only a slim one— of achieving that goal by remaining within the CFP and arguing for its amendment.

Secondly, I believe that withdrawal from the CFP would probably prove impossible without withdrawing altogether from the European Union— a course of action to which I and my party are profoundly opposed. However, there is little time left. The current changes in the fish stocks in the North Sea parallel closely the changes that were recorded in the Canadian Grand Banks and the Georges Banks off the east coast of the United States, and both those fisheries have collapsed. We run a real risk that the North Sea fishery will collapse in the same way. In Canada the lesson has been learnt. A recent report of the Canadian Fisheries Resource Conservation Council stated,
"There was universal agreement that conservation criteria should take precedence over socio-economic necessities in re-opening and conducting a fishery".
That is a salutary lesson which must be learnt by the other fishing nations. There are strong reasons why the next review of the CFP should happen now rather than in 2002 when it is currently scheduled. I ask the Minister to say whether the Government will press strongly the Council of the European Union for such an urgent review.

4.12 p.m.

My Lords, I share the gratitude of my noble friend Lord Onslow for having been able to hold this debate. He got only one thing wrong. It was a detail but an important detail. As we have just heard, it was the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and not myself who chaired the Select Committee which produced the report on fish stock conservation. I was a member of the committee and I was delighted to be able to participate in it. However, four years ago I chaired Sub-Committee D of the European Communities Committee which produced a report on the common fisheries policy. That is what I wish to revisit today. However, it is rather depressing to return to that report. I did not have total recall of that report or, until I reread it, of the Government's response.

The subject of the report is familiar. We said in 1992 that chronic overcapacity in the Community fleet had led to consistent overfishing; and early and substantial reductions in the capacity of the Community's fishing fleet was a prerequisite for any improvement in the state of the fish stocks. We also pointed out that the failure of the United Kingdom to comply with the multi-annual guidance programme on decommissioning ships had been a grave mistake and that to rely on limited days at sea would end in failure. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has reminded us, it did just that, and yet the Government's response put an awful lot of weight behind limiting days at sea. We said that the total of allowable catches needed to be reformed and that it was based on inadequate information. That is very much the subject of the report from the Select Committee. I look forward to a full debate on that report in the fullness of time. Above all, we pointed out the obscenity—I do not think we used that word, but we certainly meant it— of the discard policy which suggested that we could continue to deplete quite unnecessarily a resource in a way which was totally irresponsible.

We also pointed out that third country agreements were leading to increasing friction between the European Union and neighbouring fishing states. Since then, of course, we have seen the troubles just outside the Canadian waters. We are already seeing— this is equally serious— fishing communities off North Africa who have much greater need of the protein source from fish than ever the European Union does and who are now in grave difficulty (the European Union has bought fishing rights there), while we become ever more efficient with our increased effort in taking up this biomass.

We asked in our report that European structural funds should be devoted specifically to those regions dependent on fisheries. If everyone agrees— as everyone always does— that the root problem is that there is too much effort and too many ships and too many people are employed in the fishing industry trying to catch a declining resource, then it follows as night follows day that one simply must reduce effort. One cannot expect communities who have no alternative means of employment to welcome such a prospect unless one at least directs well-targeted expenditure into alternative employment for those communities. The response from the Government at the time was highly unenthusiastic as regards spending Community funds in that way. That demonstrates the lack of vision that has bedevilled this sector year after year.

Since 1992 we have seen all these problems get worse. We have seen a failure among the European Union members ever to get beyond "bashing" each other. A debate on this subject always degenerates into whether it is all the fault of the Spanish and the Portuguese. We fail to recognise that we have a structural imbalance; that we did not have a decommissioning programme; and that our previous policies on days at sea were fatally flawed.

Although it is no doubt good for our morale— and of course this is largely accurate— to say that the present policy is distorted in favour of one member state rather than another, that does not address the fundamental issue to which we are always obliged to return; namely, that we have too much effort. It is because every successive year the fisheries Minister has to show how effective he is in defending national interests that he inevitably returns with a proposal which does not address the issue on a Community level; it just addresses the issue at the level of a member state.

I am not necessarily singling out any particular Minister because this has happened every year from 1992 onwards. Ministers return saying how they have achieved a better deal for the United Kingdom than have other Ministers for their countries but that their demands have exceeded what scientists advise. That, of course, means that we have achieved a short-term gain but a long-term loss of sustainability. Consequently the recent Select Committee report demonstrates that in European Union waters but also around the world we are inevitably building up problems for ourselves which the Canadians and others have already had to face up to. Therefore the fisheries policy has failed.

However, like my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Lord, Lord Perry, I believe that this does not amount to a case for having no common fisheries policy. If ever there was a resource which is shared and which has to have sensible national, regional and international policies, it is fisheries. Although the European Union has made an extremely bad attempt to put forward a common fisheries policy, I would not be so cynical as to say that such policies are impossible to achieve. In fact I go further and take a recommendation from the Select Committee's report. This recommendation originated in the Government's panel on sustainable development. I had better declare an interest as I am a member of the panel. It was recommended that there should be an inter-governmental panel on the oceans specifically to consider the issue in the widest possible context just as there is an inter-governmental panel on climate change to try to allow Ministers to put in place national policies which recognise global imperatives.

It is always too easy for national member states to look after their own interests at the expense of the world unless there is an overarching policy which is informed by the best possible scientific evidence. The fisheries are suffering from a lack of such a co-ordinated policy. From a global policy one could derive regional and then national policies. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, reminded us, Norway clearly has a more effective policy, but even the Norwegians would say that their conservation policies are not always effective. They have had major skirmishes with Iceland. The Canadians obviously cannot attribute the collapse of their own fisheries entirely to Spanish and Portuguese ships fishing just outside Canadian waters. I believe that all these countries recognise that effective policy in this matter is not necessarily achieved at national level, and that we must have leadership at global level.

I must pay credit to the Government, and specifically to the Department of the Environment, for having organised a workshop at the end of last year to discuss the concept of an inter-governmental panel on the oceans. I attended part of that workshop. Again, it was a fairly depressing conference. All the vested interests turned up and, whether it was the FAO, the European Union or other regional organisations, they all agreed that there was a chronic problem but said that nevertheless they were the people to deal with it and we did not need anything else. I believe that if any such organisation were capable of coping with the problem it would have done so.

Therefore, I still believe that it is correct to urge on heads of government— and the issue should be dealt with at no lower level— the formation of a global panel to look not only at fisheries but at all the problems arising from the exploitation and pollution of the oceans. When one reaches that degree of importance, where heads of state and even G7 conferences might look at the issue, then perhaps the wretched fishery Minister of each member state and of each country around the North Atlantic, let alone other parts of the world, might recognise that they had some support in dealing with the really hard decisions.

Therefore, although we can and no doubt will talk about what technical measures can be taken to help juvenile spawning stocks, and while we can talk about reforming total allowable catches and quotas and urge the abolition of the right to discard, at the end of the day there is only one fundamental issue which we have to address. We are not alone in this in the European Union; the problem affects every part of the world. We have to reduce effort and devote a much larger amount of resources than either this Government or other member states in the European Union have ever contemplated.

4.21 p.m.

My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the crisis in our fisheries and for introducing the debate in such a cogent and comprehensive way.

At Question Time on 19th December I asked a supplementary question of the Minister about the issue of quota hopping. I suggested that, since the common fisheries policy was based on national quotas and what is known as relative stability between those quotas, the 1991 Factortame judgment by the European Court which legalised quota hopping had knocked the bottom out of that agreement, made life extremely difficult for many British fishermen and made the common fisheries policy unsustainable in its present form. In his reply to that supplementary question the Minister said, among other things, that he agreed very much with me about the Factortame judgment. I was interested that he should say that. In his main reply to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on that occasion, the Minister pointed out that the United Kingdom could withdraw from the common fisheries policy only if it secured the unanimous agreement of all the other member states to the necessary complex range of treaty changes. So we are in difficulty.

I was privileged to be a member of both the committees of your Lordships' House which have made major studies of fisheries. The first was the inquiry under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, which produced the 1992 review of the common fisheries policy and whose recommendations the noble Earl has just described. The second was the inquiry under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, which led to the recent report Fish Stock Conservation and Management. Both reports identified the essence of the problem. As the earlier report said, the level of fishing is too high and could lead to the collapse of some species of fish. The earlier report was a comprehensive study, running to 311 pages, of the whole question of the common fisheries policy. I am deeply disappointed that although the report was produced four years ago nothing has been done, either by the Commission or Her Majesty's Government, to address the points that we raised.

The latest report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Perry, shows that the situation has got worse. It points out that the collapse of fish stocks led to the closure of the fisheries of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in 1992 and the Georges Bank off the north-eastern United States. The Grand Banks fishery was the greatest and most famous cod fishery in the world. The fact that it had to be closed because there were no more fish is almost unbelievable. However, such a closure of a major fishery could happen here, and it will happen if nothing is done.

The answer to the problem is quite simple. It was summed up for our committee by Professor McIntyre, who said (and is quoted on page 20 of the most recent report):
"we know what the solution to the problem is, and that is simply to reduce fishing effort. If we doubted that at all we had the excellent examples of the two world wars where for four years fishing effort was practically stopped. Before each of these world wars the stocks were in a poor state. Four years later they were in a first-class state".
That is the answer. However, the machinery of the European Union is incapable of achieving it. As we know, it operates by muddy compromises and the pursuit of conflicting national interests, as we see constantly in the discussions in the EU on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy simply does not work, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, reminded us. The common fisheries policy is a common European resource because we were bounced by the Six, and Mr. Heath gave away the fish in our waters in 1972. There was no automatic need for that. Oil, for example, is not treated as a common resource. We own and control the oil reserves in our own waters. It would be far better if we had for fisheries the 200-mile limit which is now the norm all over the world.

The present situation has led to intolerable conditions for our fishermen, faced as they are with quota hopping on a massive scale as has already been pointed out in the debate, the Spanish entry into the Irish Box and our western waters and limited access to some valuable stocks such as sole.

I return to my supplementary question on 19th December. Since the Minister then agreed that the Factortame judgment had made the common fisheries policy in its present form unsustainable, what are we going to do about it? I hope that the Minister will tell us when he answers the debate. It seems to me that the common fisheries policy must either be abolished or drastically amended.

On "Panorama" the other evening Mr. Baldry said that if he and his colleagues had done what scientists recommended there would have been a riot. So there would, so long as British fishermen see large numbers of foreigners catching the dwindling stocks of fish in British waters. Our own fishing effort must be drastically reduced by proper decommissioning arrangements, but those will only be acceptable if British waters are reserved for genuinely British boats. The Dutch beam trawlers must leave Aberdeen; Spanish quota hoppers must be removed and Spanish ships removed from British waters. Only then will it be possible to obtain acceptance of the drastic cuts in the British fishing effort which must be made if there are to be any fish for us to catch now and in future years. If that can be done without abolishing the common fisheries policy as such, well and good, but it will certainly be immensely difficult to achieve that. If it cannot be achieved then we shall have to consider withdrawing from the common fisheries policy.

4.29 p.m.

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for originating the debate. It is interesting to note that in 1983 my noble friend Lord Kinnoull called attention to the need for development of plans to encourage a strong home fishing industry in the context of the common fisheries policy. Several noble Lords who took part in that debate are present again today. The debate coincided with a Statement made on the EEC Fisheries Council Meeting at which, it is interesting to note, there was full unqualified agreement; full support of the three main fishing organisations; satisfactory quotas— in fact, better than expected; and effective enforcement assured. Despite the general satisfaction, doubts were expressed about greater efficiency leading to reduction of stocks and really effective policing.

In October 1992 we had the Second Reading of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill, coupled with our discussion on the report of Sub-Committee D on the review of the common fisheries policy. It was chaired by my noble friend Lord Selborne and I was tremendously pleased to be a member. On that occasion the atmosphere was distinctly less euphoric than that 10 years previously. My noble friend Lord Selborne summarised the recommendations. I do not propose to repeat them.

However, my noble friend's debate coincidentally but fortuitously comes hard on the heels of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Perry. Therefore I wonder whether there is anything new to say; or is it merely a case of more emphatic repetition? My noble friend directs his fire at the common fisheries policy. He was, I thought, well backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Noble Lords may be slightly puzzled at my expressing gratification for some of the views expressed by the noble Lord. Although I believe that there is no fishing industry in Swindon, there is a fishing industry in my old constituency. Many of the (what I would call) right-wing remarks that he makes— they are far further to the right than I would ever dream of making— have often caused my old constituents to say what a splendid speech I have made in the House of Lords the previous night, and from that view I have not opted out.

I regard the common fisheries policy as an extreme aggravation but not the basic cause of what is rapidly becoming a major crisis. Here I wish to join with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I worked at the Ministry of Agriculture while he was at the Scottish Office. Our work involved the fishing industry. The common fisheries policy was not in existence; nor were we in the Community when the industry first saw dark clouds gathering over Iceland, the elimination of our distant water fleet and the virtual closure of Hull and Grimsby. Thereafter the main emphasis among the fishing industry moved to the middle water and the inshore vessels, with the centre of gravity moving north into Scotland.

Efforts had to be made, and were made, to minimise the loss of the distant water catch. That led to more thought being given to more efficient catching nearer home. More powerful boats of middle water size were put into operations. Nets were pulled harder because the engines were more powerful. As a result meshes tended to close and more small fish were caught.

My noble friend Lord Onslow referred to beam trawlers. They first appeared in the Channel in 1972. At that time efficiency was rising by 2 per cent. a year. In November 1972, when I signed an order banning beam trawlers within 12 miles of our English Channel coast, I was asked at the Ministry of Agriculture, "Do you not want an efficient fishing industry?". I still find it immensely difficult to give an unqualified answer to the question, "Do you want efficient fishing or not?" because of course one wants every industry to be efficient. So the over-efficiency of our own fleet was aggravated by that common fisheries policy.

Scientists warned us that vast catches made possible by super-trawlers, coupled with horrifyingly wasteful EEC policies, could lead to oceans being turned into virtual deserts. Therefore efforts are made. Total allowable catches are far from perfect. Sub-Committee D was told that it was better to seek to improve them than abolish them. The Scottish Fishing Federation described them as an indispensable cornerstone of the common fisheries policy. Yet fishermen make news in the media by asking, "What do scientists know about fish? We know far more about where they are and how many there are than they do".

The answer can only lie in catching less. That means reducing the numbers of vessels at work in the common fisheries policy and not replacing those that are left with more efficient vessels when the old ones are broken up. The easiest way to do that involves decommissioning. It is easy to enforce and every country, including our own Government, has gone in for it, I believe with the exception of Ireland. The pity is that we have shown so clearly that our hearts are not really in it and never have been. As the report of Sub-Committee D said,
"Too little, too late".
At least we can offset that by our record on policing which is far superior to that of anyone else. Other countries must do better and penalties must be stringent.

Discards are the most appalling aspect of the common fisheries policy. How it was managed I do not know, but Sub-Committee D was given written evidence that the total number of haddock caught and landed in 1985 was 500 million. That must have taken a lot of counting. The total number of haddock caught and discarded was 460 million. All those were thrown overboard, dead. It is the most scandalous example of waste and pollution.

4.40 p.m.

My Lords, the Council of Ministers has failed to comprehend the gravity of the situation. There is no place for ill-thought-through policy. The common fisheries policy is an example of how the fundamental cohesiveness of the European Union is being undermined. The sooner that is appreciated, the better.

And it is not just a question of employment— although for every fisherman on the seas, eight have work ashore. Nor should fish be seen in terms of being purely a national resource— although that is what they are. Eighty per cent. of fish caught in south-west waters, for example, are exported.

The objective of future negotiations must be to ensure the industry's viable future. It will not survive unless fisheries policy is radically reformed. There must, of course, be quotas. But they must be equitably distributed. Circumstances have altered since conception. Quota dissatisfaction will certainly be compounded when more countries join the European Union.

Some determine that a root cause of the overall problem is that the common fisheries policy is not being fairly enforced. What is required is a conservation strategy, through policing, on the part of individual member states. Conservation and policing go hand in hand. There must be transparency and even-handedness. The Dutch are often cited for their strict policing. Do they have lessons for us? Do we even have the resources to police effectively? Could fines not be ploughed back for this purpose if it is a question of money?

The core of any new policy must be coastal state management of fish stocks by individual European Union members. "Quota-hoppers"— boats that register as British and can fish off the UK's quota but are owned and crewed by Spaniards and others— are deemed a menace. Indeed, the principle of freedom of establishment does not coincide with national quotas. That point was forcefully put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.

There must be more emphasis on technical measures to prevent trawlermen from catching undersized fish so that they are not forced to throw dead fish back into the sea. Why cannot conservation and illegal fishing be resolved by bringing catches ashore within each state's waters where caught? Fish would not have to be thrown overboard, as is current practice, but could possibly be distributed to fulfil different quotas.

Additional proposals that have merit are: limiting the number of days that boats can go to sea; no fishing boat to be allowed into selected areas for specific periods; and a restriction on fishing in defined nautical areas. Decommissioning rates must be closely correlated to the need to modernise our ageing fleet for safety and economic reasons. But for that to happen, confidence in the future must be restored.

The industry cannot wait for 2002. A timetable for serious discussion about the future of the common fisheries policy must be determined now. There are those who argue that the policy should not be placed on the Inter-Governmental Conference agenda. I cannot share that opinion. The sooner this matter comes before heads of government, the better.

The fragmented and opposing views of representative bodies, however, do cause difficulties. It behoves the industry to unite. It would be well advised to enter into immediate closed-door negotiations to achieve a consensual approach on core issues. A neutral person must be found to drive this forward. The dividends would be considerable. Ministers must be encouraged to focus on industry-specific issues and not be allowed to reach agreement purely as a matter of political expediency. The Prime Minister has called for potential solutions to the root problems. That is to be encouraged. His intervention would indicate a growing concern. Indeed, the situation could quickly develop into an election issue— a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

In conclusion, withdrawal from the common fisheries policy has no merit. Change must come from within. A Cornish fisherman caught the essence of the problem when he told me: "The common fisheries policy is totally corrupt, has no credibility and is despised by everyone".

My Lords, when can we expect something to be done about it?

4.46 p.m.

My Lords, greater and more experienced Members than I have spoken with greater authority, both from a ministerial stance and from their own experience on the Select Committees of this House, to demonstrate that the common fisheries policy has degenerated completely. The only point that might be made in its favour is that it so frustrated my noble friend Lord Onslow that he was forced to table this Motion. The debate is clearly demonstrating that the policy is a total failure. It has failed completely in its intention, which has become to reduce effort. In the present circumstances there is no way in which reduction of effort can be achieved.

Fishing is strictly about the fishermen themselves. They are the ones who decide in this matter. And they are the ones who are suffering from quota-hopping, discrimination, discards and all the other activities brought to the attention of the House this afternoon.

It is, however, fairly clear that we are stuck with the CFP. While it remains, there will be a continuous decline in fishing stocks. We must not delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. In previous debates on this subject I asked my noble friends whether the matter could be put on the agenda for discussion, in conjunction with the common agricultural policy, at the next meeting of the IGC in Rome. Unless it is taken up seriously by that body at its next meeting there will be no future.

It has been clearly demonstrated that the only thing to do about the common fisheries policy is to reduce effort. However, there is one point to be made on the subject of an alternative. I was very struck by advances by the Norwegians, who have made great efforts in fish farming. The report— which we must not pre-empt— of the noble Lord, Lord Perry, demonstrates clearly how advanced they are in aquaculture.

This country has a very proficient fish-farming business, mainly in the Scottish lochs. But a great problem there which militates against advancement is pollution from the use of organophosphates to reduce infestation in the fish. Fish farming in a relatively small area as compared with a large-scale operation in the fjords will raise that problem. Therefore, I suggest that we should look to the future to see whether fish fanning on a major scale will replace the depleted stocks of fish throughout the world.

The Norwegian fishermen have their own methods of care and conservation of fish. They report to their own authorities when they catch small fish. They make arrangements for people to come and declare areas closed while the small fish are there.

The Norwegian fishermen take care to conserve stocks out of what is no doubt a very natural nationalist instinct. However, those instincts can be observed by different nationals who are in conflict and competition for the same fish stocks. While the CAP remains in force, such conflict and competition will continue and, as stocks reduce, the conflicts will be exacerbated.

Finally, I was struck by the references in the report to the Norwegians and their firm and co-operative approach to a national resource. But they have the joy of being independent of the European Union. Would that we were so blessed. We pay a heavy price for that honour when our fishing interests are subsumed in those of the other member states.

4.52 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for having initiated the debate. The common fisheries policy of the EU includes the following statement:

"The general objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy shall be to protect and conserve available and accessible living marine aquatic resources and to provide for rational and responsible exploitation on a sustainable basis".
We heard this evening that that policy has failed lamentably, as indeed it was bound to fail. How can its conservation policy on the one hand pull against its political policy on the other hand? How can limited and decreasing resources in European waters be reconciled with the increasing number of fishing nations? The early access of the large Spanish fishing fleet to what were formerly British fishing waters has merely put the policy firmly in the spotlight now. At some stage presumably there will be enlargement of the Union and, therefore, even more boats chasing ever fewer fish. That is the fundamental problem. Without the fish there is no fishing industry, whether it be British, Spanish, possibly in the future Polish, or whatever. The problems are well known and have been comprehensively examined in two committees of your Lordships' House: the 1992 Select Committee of the European Communities, chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne; and the very recent report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which has been extensively mentioned.

The noble Lord's report is an admirable, if deeply disturbing, document. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and the members of his committee, some of whom have spoken in this debate. In passing, I note that several members of that committee were those well-known political drones, hereditary peers. I wonder how they managed to find the time to drag themselves out of the slough of idleness of which we "hereditaries" are apparently so enamoured.

In the report, all the horrors of the common fisheries policy are dissected. There is the scandal of discards, which so many noble Lords have mentioned. The discard is a double disaster, first, because it represents an almost unimaginable and criminal waste of food, and secondly, because it kills off the potential breeding stocks. One witness to the committee put it admirably when he said that it would be hard to dream up a policy which was more wasteful and more damaging to conservation.

Compliance with the total allowable catch is, to put it at its mildest, limited, with discrepancies of up to 60 per cent. between reported and actual catches. Beyond that, the total allowable catch itself as a concept is supposed to be based on scientific data. Limits are routinely transgressed and ignored and set at higher than recommended levels for purely political reasons.

The Select Committee recommended a number of measures which, in its view, the Council of Ministers and the Commission should put in place as soon as possible. We heard about the independent transitional quotas instead of the TACs. Transitional quotas have some merit. As a dairy farmer, I know that. They work quite well in the dairy sector. Quotas can be transferred from one farmer to another. The total does not change but one can plan the business accordingly. That is one of the solutions mentioned in the report. I believe that it will work quite well. Other measures have already been mentioned and I shall not go into them now.

The question— it was not part of the Select Committee's brief— is whether a solution will ever happen or happen fast enough to have the desired effect on fish stocks. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, agrees with me that the outlook is rather gloomy. I do not believe that there is any chance of persuading all the nations to adopt the painful measures which will be necessary to preserve fish stocks.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that the First and Second World Wars had kept stocks up. Even the most ardent fisherman would not wish for a third world war as an alternative way of preserving stocks. It is very difficult for a common resource to be commonly managed in everybody's interest. That simply does not happen. We do not live in an ideal world. Where everybody is responsible for conservation, then as usually happens, nobody is responsible for conservation.

The truth is that the only successful conservation policies so far have been put forward by individual nations: Canada, Namibia and Norway. As we know, the Norwegian policy, though not perfect, does work. There is no doubt that we can do something like that ourselves. We certainly have the expertise. I believe that, in fact, the Namibian conservation policies were set up and supervised by two British experts. We have the excellent recommendations of the committee to follow. We could do it ourselves. Unfortunately, I feel that it will be difficult to persuade the other 14 nations of the European Union to follow suit. We signed up to the common fisheries policy and we are stuck with it at the moment, I am afraid.

Within the common fisheries policy we have to accept qualified majority voting. So, as things stand, our own fishing industry is bound to go into decline, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said. In the year 2002, it seems likely that we shall lose our present derogation, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. There is some misunderstanding about that. We do not have absolute rights over our six or 12-mile limits. It is purely a derogation, which will be up for grabs in 2002. I cannot stress that more strongly. It is very likely that we shall lose that derogation unless there is some horse trading in an unquantifiable manner. Lip service will continue to be paid to conservation with a few cosmetic changes, but nothing will be done. Soon there will be no more fish and chips— just chips.

At least two noble Lords— certainly the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam— mentioned in that context the Inter-Governmental Conference. In May last year, during the debate on the Irish Box, I asked the Government whether this would be an opportunity to use the IGC to seek some reform of the common fisheries policy. The Minister at that time, my noble friend Lord Howe, replied in a letter to me that it would not be appropriate at the IGC for us to re-examine the institutional structures of the European Union and not specific policies. But since then we have seen the Reflection Group's report and I believe that there is an opportunity now for the Government to put the common fisheries policy firmly on the IGC agenda. In the IGC we have a veto. The fisheries policy is of great concern, as we heard many times this evening, not just for Britain and Europe, but beyond. At the moment it is an environmental disaster. If that is not a subject which should be reviewed at the IGC, I do not know what is. I join all other noble Lords who asked that the matter be taken seriously at the IGC.

5 p.m.

My Lords, I have greatly enjoyed the debate. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for introducing it; for doing so much work on it, and for being so statesmanlike and restrained in his presentation. That was not his usual form, which means that he must take the matter very seriously.

As we all know and as everyone said, it is an immensely serious subject. We have had a history of failure detailed by experts like the noble Lords, Lord Stodart of Leaston and Lord Campbell of Croy, in relation to the efforts of Ministers in the past to produce some form of policy which would stop the disaster which was obviously going to happen. All noble Lords, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said that, difficult though it is, we must accept the fact that the answer must come through the common fisheries policy.

I greatly enjoyed the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. My enjoyment was tinged with annoyance that he was saying what I was going to say so much better than I could. He put his finger on one interesting point of which we need to take account; that is, the way in which the European Union has gone beyond its bounds and bought from poor nations the right to deplete their fish. To give a bad example, it bought from Morocco the right to fish the west Saharan waters, which are not Morocco's to sell. The referendum still has to define the future of that country.

A world-wide problem exists. Everyone has touched on how difficult it is for our fishermen. I should like to give an example of how far fishermen have come. Just over 30 years ago I represented the constituency of Caithness and Sutherland. One of my constituents was Jock Mowat, a crofter fisherman from John o' Groats. I said to Jock, "The coast should be split into sections and a lobster fisherman should rent his section". He exploded with indignation saying that the sea was for all; that the sea was free; that it could not be organised and anyway it would spoil the ocean for the fishermen.

They have come a long way since holding that strongly-held view. One of the worst things that has happened is that they do not believe— and have good reason not to believe— what they are told by the scientists because of the totally incomplete system of information gathering, annotating and collection. Surely in this day and age we should be using all the scientific evidence; we should be putting money into it; we should be using the fishermen themselves and feeding that information into a central body which would give us an analysis which the fishermen would be more likely to believe. That was recommended in the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Perry, about which we have just heard.

Scientific data are immensely important, not only for the fishermen, but also for the whole process of trying to preserve the system of harvesting the sea as against fish farming. The reduction of 30 per cent. is enormous. It will hurt and has hurt a lot of people. We must put into action the sort of thing that they are doing in the Highlands and Islands with its enterprise group to find jobs for the fishermen who, without doubt, will be put out of work with the way things are going.

Much reference has been made to Norway and Canada. Canada came back after a severe lesson. Norway and Iceland have taken measures to preserve their stocks, which are much easier to apply. That was part of the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and others. I have been in contact with the groups in both Iceland and Norway and they are adamant that, long-term, there is no alternative to worldwide control as against the excellent local control that they can exert over the fish in their area. That is a lesson for us, but it is not the answer. As everyone said, including the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, even though we do not like it, we have to make the common fisheries policy work. It is a political decision.

I turn to the CAP, which I know a little better. That was ruined because Ministers from France and Germany in particular insisted when production was rising, against the advice of the Commission, that they still wanted extra money put in to please the small farmers of France, Bavaria and other places. We went along with that with the result that we are now in a situation where the CAP is ludicrous in the amount of money it spends on supporting the over-production of food.

We are now in the position of knowing what should he done; we know that there are methods of doing it; we know that there are controls; we know that we could collect and disseminate the information properly, but we have to contend with the political will. The noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, referred to "policing". The policing of the situation is pathetic when one considers the resources applied to it. Those who believe that the information coming out of Spain is correct as to the landings, the various sorts of fish and the total quantities, must have a lively imagination.

All those matters need a concerted control; they need political effort. It is worth doing and I hope that the Government will tell us that they intend to do something about it.

5.7 p.m.

My Lords, the common fisheries policy is probably the most unpopular aspect of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. It was not always so. The common fisheries policy was acceptable when introduced. Subsequent events— for example, tougher quotas, the decommissioning of vessels, reducing fishing effort and the accession of Spain and Portugal— have combined to spread a mix of illusion and cynicism, especially in the United Kingdom's fishing ports. This debate is timely in those regards.

Critics point to Norway where existence of the common fisheries policy was a major factor in their decision not to join the European Union. Norway's fisheries are well managed and, though conservation measures are a force, they do not impinge on the economics of the industry as they now do in the United Kingdom. We could learn from Norway if we had the same national management powers as they have. Unfortunately, Peterhead and Newlyn are, in the final analysis, managed from Brussels. Perhaps, en passant, in relation to the praise for Norway, I can say that, despite its desire for conservation, it is still catching whales.

The Select Committee on the European Communities, House of Lords Paper No. 9, 1992– 93, provided what in my view is a definitive opinion on the common fisheries policy. Although the Select Committee on Science and Technology updated the fish stock, conservation and management aspects of fishing in a world setting in its recent report of 18th January, it does not significantly amend the conclusions reached by the Select Committee on the European Communities, in 1992– 93— a fact which was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, in his admirable speech.

The Select Committee then accepted that the European Union fleet was too large and had to be reduced, long-term, by a decommissioning scheme. In the United Kingdom, the European Communities Select Committee stated that the scheme then announced by Her Majesty's Government would not reduce the fleet by the required amount. The Government's proposal then was for £25 million to be spent on decommissioning over five years.

Her Majesty's Government's other proposals were much more controversial, and were contained in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1992. They were, among other things, as has been said, to restrict days at sea and provide for licensing of boats sized 10 metres or less. The appeals machinery and other aspects of the Act did not make it any more palatable to the industry, which for its part accepted before, then and since the need for stock conservation based on reliable scientific evidence.

Eventually, the fishing industry challenged the powers to restrict days at sea under the Act and won a reference to the European Court of Justice on the issue. Her Majesty's Government did not pursue the legal contest, but increased the decommissioning budget by £28 million to a new total of £53 million over five years.

The European Communities Select Committee in 1992– 93 wanted a decommissioning provision of four to five times the £25 million then proposed, or, say, £100 million plus which is still double the present provision. The question for Her Majesty's Government to answer is whether further sums are likely in the next few years to step up decommissioning in anticipation of the next multi-annual guidance programme which is to run from 1st January 1997 to 31st December 1999; that is, for three years.

The fisheries Minister recently announced a series of consultation meetings between the fishing industry and the European Commission. These are welcome, but in the ultimate the multi-annual guidance targets are bound to be tougher and decommissioning has a major part to play in meeting these targets.

The social aspects of the present and, if proposed, future restrictions cannot be overlooked. Many fishing ports are mainly one-industry communities, except perhaps for some tourism. Their dilemma is reflected in the way Ministers pay respect, when annual total allowable catches are negotiated, to the need for conservation, yet necessarily fight the good fight for better total allowable catches in the United Kingdom, so that the industry has some prospect of a slower rate of demise than Brussels would ordain and to give fishers a living in the meantime. These fishers contrast their lot with that of farmers. Cereals and fish reflect opposite examples of the supply spectrum. That does not stop fishers comparing set-aside payments with those available for decommissioning and even then by the tender method. There may not be any valid comparison, hut there is certainly irritation.

Rural areas also have social problems, but they are not as concentrated as in our fishing communities. The countryside is currently getting more attention and better funding than our declining fishing ports.

It may be recalled that the Select Committee on the European Communities also wanted to make multi-annual guidance programmes compulsory. What is Her Majesty's Government's current view on this?

The Government have also established a fisheries conservation group comprising the industry, scientists and government experts. The fisheries Minister wants improved technical measures to reduce discards and better protection of stocks. Also included in the group's remit are the types and mesh sizes of nets, closed areas and minimum landing sizes for fish.

These are familiar areas, as today's debate has shown, and are to be reinforced by the United Kingdom's endeavours to get corresponding action in Brussels. NIAFF is committed to carry out consultation on the group's proposals as work progresses. Will such consultation include the Select Committee on the European Communities of your Lordships' House? The group's remit covers well-charted waters for the House of Lords and it would be useful if Sub-Committee D could play a more active role rather than being purely responsive to Brussels' proposals. As regards the composition of the conservation group, can the noble Lord who is to reply say whether Scottish representation on the group is commensurate with that country's significance in the common fisheries policy?

In our discussions, little is heard about fishing in the waters of the Falkland Islands. The Spaniards are fishing there, but what about the United Kingdom? A MAFF press release on 25th August 1995 said that the United Kingdom fisheries departments were prepared to consider applications for new external waters licences to fish in the waters of the Falkland Islands. To be eligible vessels need a licence from the Falkland Islands authorities and a United Kingdom domestic waters licence. The press release indicates the United Kingdom's restrictions on the scheme which in effect mean no new domestic licences other than by transfer from existing vessels. Such transfers are subject to rules in force at the time including payment of any capacity penalties.

Certain questions arise naturally from this press release. I hope the Minister will write to me about any he cannot answer this evening. First, is the United Kingdom licensing procedure stricter than that operated by other European Union fishers in the Falklands? Secondly, how many United Kingdom and Falkland Islands licences have been issued under this scheme? Thirdly, do United Kingdom vessels have any preference in the Falkland Islands over foreign boats? Fourthly, is this a potential United Kingdom fish supply source bearing in mind that our supermarkets now stock fish from countries like New Zealand?

Today's debate has highlighted the case for radical change of the common fisheries policy in both its economic and conservation aspects. It has provided a challenge to both the European Union and the United Kingdom. The Government spokesman who is to reply faces a challenge which must be faced as a matter of urgency.

5.16 p.m.

My Lords, like all the other speakers today, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for initiating this debate on the common fisheries policy, although I find it very hard to understand why I am grateful. It certainly was not anything that my noble friend said. It may just be the spirit of the day which has got at me.

We have heard some powerful speeches this afternoon and they will repay long study. What I am to say will be but a first sketch of a reaction to a very important problem that we face in this country. I propose to respond to the debate by outlining the current position; how we got there, where we wish to go to; and how we propose to go about it. I shall also respond to as many as possible of the different points made by noble Lords during the debate. In particular, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, on the many questions he asked which I shall not be answering.

The common fisheries policy as currently applied was established in 1983 and reaffirmed in 1992 with the objectives of conserving fish stocks and thus ensuring fishermen's livelihoods through catch limitations, technical conservation measures such as mesh size limits, and structural measures to adjust the fishing fleets to a level commensurate with sustainable fishing. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy gave a lucid and accurate history of the common fisheries policy, which of all those histories offered today I found the most convincing. I hope other noble Lords will agree with that.

The common fisheries policy brings us many benefits. Many fish stocks are not confined solely to British waters. We need co-ordinated policies with our neighbours to conserve them and the common fisheries policy provides that. It offers tighter restrictions on access by foreign vessels to our 12-mile fishery limits and a larger share of fish quotas in Community waters than was justified by our historic catch. Perhaps I may say at this point that the new entrants to the Community get just what they have now. Whatever their fishing, under arrangements with the Community or in their own waters, that they will keep. That was the condition on which Spain and Portugal entered the Community. The CFP offers fishing opportunities in the waters of non-member states, such as Norway, secured through the Community's bilateral agreements.

Those are some of the benefits of the CFP but, as all noble Lords have said, things are not well. First and foremost, principally because of the rapid improvements in fishing technology, the CFP has not delivered the stability of fishing opportunities that was hoped for. The scientists tell us that almost 60 per cent. of the main stocks in the waters that we fish have now been reduced to a level where there is a risk of biological collapse. The over-exploitation of stocks is a global problem, as was clearly set out in a report published last week by the Select Committee on Science and Technology of this House.

It would be discourteous of me to attempt any sort of reply to that report today. Several excellent speeches, notably those of the noble Lords, Lord Perry of Walton and Lord Moran, and my noble friends Lord Selborne and Lord Stodart of Leaston have been informed by their experiences of that committee and the previous one. I am sure that I have benefited greatly from listening to them.

We are determined that in the longer term the common fisheries policy should secure the objectives set down for it in 1983. We want to ensure sustainable levels of fish stocks with increased and sustainable levels of catches that provide more stable and better livelihoods for fishermen. That will be good for the marine ecosystem; good for fishermen, for processors and for consumers. That is an ambitious aim and a mix of policies is needed to achieve it.

First, we will continue to press for total allowable catches and quotas at levels which will allow stocks to recover while taking account of the needs of fishing communities. At the December Council the TACs for some 28 different stocks were reduced to allow for such rebuilding. At the same time the Council took account of the effects on fishing communities of reduced TACs and so kept the reductions to the minimum necessary to help the stocks. We believe that a managed reduction is possible and is in the best interests of fishing communities in the longer term. It is a difficult balance to strike, but it is something which the fisheries Ministers of all countries have to strive to achieve.

Secondly, we are using structural measures such as decommissioning to adapt the capacity of the fleet to the resources available. We are also using structural measures to help the fishing industry to adapt to changing circumstances. I am delighted to report that my honourable friend the fisheries Minister has today announced the launch of a new European Community grant scheme in England worth up to £27.8 million of Community funds.

This gives a total for the UK of £139.5 million of Community funding plus £88 million from UK funds until the end of 1999, to provide financial assistance for vessel safety, aquaculture, marketing and processing, port facilities, the promotion of fishing products and other measures in fishery-dependent communities as well as decommissioning.

The Government want a European fisheries policy that they can defend as efficient and not wasteful of fisheries resources or damaging to the marine environment. Excessive discarding is offensive on all three counts, as many noble Lords have said. Discards occur either because fishermen feel that it is not worth their while to land fish of certain species, sizes or quality, or to comply with fisheries regulations relating to quotas or minimum landing sizes.

To a large extent discarding is a symptom, not a cause, of the current state of our fish stocks. It will be tackled most effectively by ensuring that our other conservation measures succeed. A discard ban has been suggested by several noble Lords, but it is difficult to see how such a ban could operate effectively in our mixed fisheries or in our current circumstances.

We and the European Union are both in dialogue with Norway and other countries and we are looking at all the options for reducing discards. We maintain a comprehensive research programme on fish selectivity and have funded trials into the use of separator trawls. We already require square mesh panels in most trawls. I hope that that gives some comfort to my noble friend Lord Onslow.

My honourable friend the fisheries Minister has also set up a Fisheries Conservation Group, made up of members of the fishing industry, scientists and other government experts. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, welcomed the setting up of that group and asked whether it would include Scottish representatives in proper proportion. It certainly will include Scottish representatives, but I do not have details of membership in front of me. I shall write to the noble Lord.

This group is examining the scope for further technical measures which can help conserve stocks and reduce discards. It will take forward the ideas put together by the NFFO as well as those pursued by the other countries referred to in this debate. We expect that the group will play a central role in developing the United Kingdom's input to the EU-wide discussion on technical conservation measures that will be taking place this year following pressure from the UK government.

One of the key features of the Fisheries Conservation Group is the inclusion of both fishermen and scientists. We are pursuing a number of other initiatives to encourage co-operation and consensus between these two currently somewhat mistrustful groups. We believe that there is a great deal to be gained by mutual understanding and co-operation.

A number of noble Lords have called for the acceleration of the next review of the CFP in the year 2002. That is why the Government are holding detailed discussions with all interests about how the common fisheries policy can be made more effective. It has also set up a special group to examine the reform of the CFP and that group should be reporting to Ministers later this year.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the collapse of fish stocks on the Grand Banks off eastern Canada. In that case too much reliance was placed on the evidence of successful commercial fishermen. They were still landing good quantities of cod when the scientific evidence showed that the catch rates of research vessels were falling.

There are other examples of stock collapse nearer home. The North Sea mackerel stock collapsed 30 years ago and has never recovered, while the herring stock in north Norway, which also collapsed 30 years ago, has only provided a viable fishery for the past two or three years. Fishermen and scientists share a common interest in avoiding such disasters.

I have concentrated on the action that has been taken to achieve progress under the common fisheries policy. Noble Lords have also referred to many of the symptoms of a system which is under considerable strain. There have been calls for withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. That is a daft proposal and a total red herring.

There has been much discussion of quota hoppers and to that I am happy to devote some time. It is a serious problem. There are currently about 150 quota hoppers registered in the UK and together they represent 20 per cent. of the tonnage of our offshore fleet. They catch a significant part of the UK quotas for plaice (40 per cent.), sole (17 per cent.), hake (44 per cent.), megrim (34 per cent.) and monkfish (29 per cent.), most of which is landed abroad.

There have been several European Court cases dealing with quota hopping of which the three most important are Agegate, Jaderow and Factortame. We have to blame the accountancy and legal professions for those awful company names. Agegate and Jaderow may be taken together. Both arose from the introduction into fishing licences of some new conditions which were designed to ensure that there was a real economic link between vessels and the UK. For example, boats were required to demonstrate that they operated from the UK by either landing a proportion of their catch here or visiting regularly. On the other hand, Factortame was concerned with provisions in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which were designed to achieve much the same end, but in the context of special registration rather than licensing, by requiring that vessels should be mainly British-owned and controlled.

One of the fundamental tenets of the EC treaty is freedom of movement. That manifests itself in several ways. For example, in the fisheries sector there is a basic principle that there should be freedom of access to community waters for Community fishermen. There are some derogations from that and indeed the restrictions of the quota system are one example. Derogations are strictly construed in Community law. In the cases of Agegate and Jaderow the court held that the licence conditions that govern quotas are to be interpreted in the light of this principle and that, in effect, conditions which made the system unduly restrictive would not be upheld. On that basis, for example, compulsory landing conditions and similar measures were unacceptable. In practice it has since proved difficult to devise effective conditions which meet the Court's criteria.

Another manifestation of free movement concerns freedom of establishment; that is, freedom to set up in business. Article 52 of the treaty specifically provides that restrictions on the freedom of establishment of nationals in a member state in the territory of another member state, shall be abolished. Article 58 extends that provision to companies. In the Factortame case the applicants argued that its right of establishment was affected by the restrictions on registration because, as non-British nationals, it could not easily set up in business. The Court had to balance that argument against the aims of the UK legislation. It eventually concluded in the applicant's favour.

Quota hoppers are not confined to the UK—they can be found in most member states—but it is the UK fishing industry which suffers most as a result of their activities.

There is a fundamental inconsistency between the common fisheries policy, which allocates quotas to member states for the benefit of local communities, and the Treaty of Rome which safeguards the rights of establishment and the freedom of movement. We are currently urgently considering how the gap between the CFP and treaty can be bridged. Effective solutions are required but I am afraid that it would he premature to speculate as to what these might be.

There has been some mention of the six and 12-mile coastal limits. We have stated that they are not negotiable as far as this Government are concerned. We have a clear policy objective to keep the greatest possible control over managing our own waters. Decisions to maintain the six and 12-mile limits in both 1983 and 1992, although subject to qualified majority vote, were in fact agreed unanimously. That is not surprising. All other countries share our interest in retaining those limits for the benefit of their coastal fishermen. We are confident that my noble friend Lord Onslow and others who have mentioned the problem need have no fears. It is clear to me that they are barking up an empty tree.

I have taken note of the points put forward this afternoon, as will my honourable friend Mr. Baldry and my right honourable friend Mr. Hogg, whom I was delighted to see here this afternoon—

My Lords, I do not know what "barking up an empty tree" means. Perhaps the Minister meant "barking up the wrong tree". In the light of what he said about derogations of the six and 12-mile limits, is the noble Lord prepared to give an absolute assurance that they will always be maintained?

My Lords, no more than I can give an absolute assurance that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

My Lords, that simply is not good enough. The Minister cannot get away with that. The Government have control over many things, hut not over whether the sun rises or sets. However, they do have control over our own fishing waters. If the Minister is so confident, he can therefore give such an assurance. Will he do so?

My Lords, I said clearly that the question of six and 12-mile limits is subject to qualified majority voting. That is what I said. I am clearly not in a position to give an assurance on that any more than I am about whether the sun will rise tomorrow.

When my colleagues in another place have had the opportunity to read Hansard, they will doubtless benefit from this afternoon's debate as much as I have. There is a need for changes within the common fisheries policy. The Government will continue to work for such changes and will give serious consideration to all constructive suggestions for improvements in the way in which the common fisheries policy operates.

5.32 p.m.

My Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench may have been depressed by my remarks and I do not know what the expression for mutual depression is, but I am sorry to say that I was not very satisfied with his remarks. I think that he fails—Her Majesty's Government seem to fail—to realise the extent of the really dangerous position in which the fisheries find themselves. Every noble Lord who has spoken pointed that out—it does not matter whether from this side of the House or from the other side of the House; it does not matter whether it was said by a Euro-phile or a Euro-sceptic; it does not matter whence the depression came. I think that all of us applied our minds with diligence and our hearts with sentiment to point out to Her Majesty's present advisers the seriousness of the situation. I am afraid that my noble friend gave me no comfort on that matter, with the possible exception of looking at the quota hoppers. However, having said that, I have immense pleasure in asking the House if I may have leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Turkey: Human Rights

5.34 p.m.

rose to call attention to the question of human rights in Turkey; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Turkey is important to us because it is a nation of over 60 million inhabitants, with a partially democratic system of government, facing Europe on one side and the unpredictable states of Iran, Iraq and Syria on the other. Turkey's armed forces number half a million men, a valuable element on the side of the West during the cold war, and now seen as a force for stability in the region. A member of NATO, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, Turkey has aspired under all recent governments to membership of European institutions and Europe has supported this policy.

The Government believe that we should take the opportunities provided by Turkey's membership of such bodies to encourage and support reform. They acknowledge some progress towards remedying the imperfections of Turkey's human rights record, and they believe that a co-operative rather than a confrontational approach is the best way of achieving further advances. The continuation of Turkey's favourable attitude towards Europe, including the assistance Ankara has given the allies in countering Iraqi aggression, are considered to be priority objectives, and we would not press too hard on human rights if by doing so it would endanger the friendly relations that exist between Turkey and Europe. As a corollary of that principle, we would avoid doing anything that might benefit the Islamists in Turkey, whose agenda includes the realignment of their country towards trade and political links with other Islamic states and the detachment of their country from its European orientation.

When the Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs. Tansu Ciller, visited Britain in December, she emphasised the need for a favourable decision by the European Parliament on Turkey's accession to the European customs union if the Islamist Refah Party were to be stopped from winning the general election. She also explained, I understand, that in making some minor amendments to the anti-terror law, which had been the main legal weapon against opponents of the state, and particularly against Kurdish activists, the government had gone as far as they could in the direction of freedom of expression. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will be discussing this matter in greater detail and I only want to say at this stage that approving the customs union did nothing to prevent Refah's success, as I predicted in correspondence with Ministers, and the changes in the anti-terror law have been much less significant than our Government perceived them to be.

With regard to the elections themselves, it was very surprising that no official observers attended from the European Union, the Council of Europe or the OSCE. We devote resources to elections in places such as Palestine and now in Sierra Leone, both of them no doubt very important but hardly comparable in scale with Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, did attend the parliamentary elections on behalf of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and has made some useful observations on the process which I understand that he will be discussing later on. I would just like to ask the Minister in general what principles govern the decisions to observe elections. Our embassy did not visit the Kurdish region between early November and polling day on December 24th, so it has to depend entirely on other people's evidence for its assessment of the result. The two researchers on Turkey at Amnesty International are banned from entering the country, as also am I, and foreign journalists are reluctant to venture into what they see as a danger zone. We had to rely on the Turkish media, which generally takes a pro-government line and ignores most evidence of human rights violations, including violence and intimidation against candidates and voters.

If Turkey wants to convince the international community that she is serious about rectifying human rights abuses, the first essential must be greater transparency. The UN Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extrajudicial Executions and the Working Groups on Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detentions should be invited to visit Turkey; NGOs should be allowed unrestricted access to the country.

The second imperative is for a peace process to be initiated to bring an end to the 11-year conflict in the south east and to use the opportunity presented by the ceasefire called by the PKK to look for political and non-violent solutions to the problems which gave rise in the first instance to the armed struggle, as the European Parliament has suggested. The OSCE mechanisms for conflict resolution, which have been activated in 12 other troublespots throughout Europe, should be applied to this conflict as well.

In the US Congress, Representatives Christopher Smith and Steny Hoyer have asked the OSCE to send a mission to Turkey with a view to establishing a long-term presence in the south east. They are calling for a total ceasefire, the repeal of the state of emergency, the abolition of the paramilitary village guard system and the extension to the Kurdish people of the sociocultural rights they are supposed to enjoy already under the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration. Those were points which were conceded by Mrs. Ciller in her first speech after she took office but which have not yet been delivered.

In Germany, a call to initiate a peace dialogue has been initiated by thousands of distinguished writers, scholars, trade unionists and politicians. In Britain, too, a call for peace has been launched, with the support of a broad cross-section of people. In Turkey itself, several peace initiatives have been launched, including "Coming Together for Peace" and "Against the Criminalisation of Thought", which concentrates on the way the conflict has been kept going by silencing those who use the pen rather than the gun.

Since the Budapest Declaration of December 1994, the OSCE is supposed to have become responsive to the reasonable demands of peoples, as expressed through the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Here is a case where a strong demand is being articulated from many countries at the same time, yet nothing seems to happen. The processes are activated only when the demand comes from states and they are inert when governments have their own reasons for turning a blind eye to a conflict.

The reaction of the establishment in Turkey is exemplified by the broadcast of President Suleyman Demirel on 20th January. Discussing what he described as "the struggle against separatist terror", in which he said that 21,680 people had been killed, the President reiterated:

"Turkey is a unitary state. There is a single state, country, nation, flag and language. This unitary principle cannot be relinquished".

He then went on to reject the attempts which are being made to get started with political rather than military solutions to the Kurdish question. He said:

"There is talk of a political solution both inside and outside the country. We are aware that those who mention such a solution are making certain vague and nebulous claims. They have not yet been able to express their views clearly. They should do so. Any initiative aimed at dividing Turkey will be stifled at birth by the steel will of the Turkish people. The only thing Turkey can do is eradicate this network of murder".

The problem is that so far it has been impossible to articulate a political solution without running foul of the anti-terror law, and other articles of the criminal code which not only criminalise pure separatism but any other constitutional changes which might threaten the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state, republic and people, to quote Article 125 of the criminal code under which people can be sentenced to death. Thus it is a criminal offence to speak about federalism, devolution or local autonomy. When Professor Dogu Ergil of Ankara University published a survey of opinion among 1,200 Kurds showing that 13 per cent. only wanted an independent state but 89 per cent. supported a federal system of government, the state security court launched an investigation to see whether the authors of the report should be prosecuted under the notorious Article 8 of the anti-terror law. Thus even the least confrontational and most academic discussion of reform risks serious penalties, and if the discussion is more politicised, then a jail sentence is likely, as several Kurdish MPs have discovered.

The case of the MPs has attracted a great deal of comment from human rights NGOs and the IPU. Those MPs were in some cases found guilty of membership of an armed organisation and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. One other was found guilty of supporting an armed organisation. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. Two other MPs were found guilty of making "separatist propaganda" under Article 8, for which they were sentenced to a mere three-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of 70 million Turkish pounds.

Those sentences had to be confirmed by the high court, and in three cases retrials started last week. Meanwhile, yet another former MP, Abdulmelik Firat, the 63 year-old grandson of the famous Sheikh Said who led the rebellion of 1925, has been arrested on charges of harbouring members of the PKK and is detained in Bayrampasa Prison in Istanbul. Three other former MPs are being threatened now with prosecution.

Those judicial actions against MPs must be seen in the context of widespread acts of violence against anybody who asks for the Kurdish people to be given the rights set out in the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration. One MP, Mehmet Sincar, was assassinated in Batman on September 4 1993, together with the chairman of the local executive of the Democracy Party. After a very large number of those extrajudicial executions, together with disappearances and hundreds of arrests and torture of party members, the Democracy Party was finally closed down altogether by the Government, thus making it infinitely more difficult to solve the Kurdish problem by means of peaceful dialogue.

In the general election of December 1995, the new pro-Kurdish party (HADEP), in spite of tremendous intimidation and obstruction, polled ahead of others in many parts of Kurdistan. But it has no seats in the new parliament because it did not reach the national threshold of 10 per cent.—a barrier designed specifically to exclude them. The government have succeeded in extinguishing the parliamentary representation of what might be called loosely the home rule movement, leaving the people a choice between assimilation on the one hand and armed opposition on the other. If it had been true, as Mr. Demirel claimed, that the Democracy Party was the parliamentary arm of the "terrorists", its voting strength was a striking testimony to the PKK's support among the people as a whole. In fact, the links were simply inferred because the armed and constitutional movements have the same policy objectives. The PKK and the DEP were both seeking control of their own affairs by the Kurdish people but without going as far as an independent Kurdish state.

Ankara tries to convince the outside world that what it is dealing with in the Kurdish region is a handful of terrorists, unsupported by the general population. That is manifestly false, and the scale of the armed struggle, the votes cast for Kurdish parties and the extent of human rights violations all demonstrate the reality. Representative Christopher Smith repeated widely accepted figures when he said in his motion before Congress that 3 million civilians have been displaced from their homes and 2,650 villages destroyed.

Many of the atrocities against civilians are reported by the Turkish authorities to be the work of the PKK. As a recent example, on 16th January the Turkish embassy sent out a press release saying that the PKK had stopped a minibus on the way to Güçlükonak in the province of Sirnak the previous day and had murdered all 11 passengers. The official version was questioned in the Turkish Daily News of 20th January, which said that six of the victims had been in custody and that eyewitnesses in another van had seen the passengers blindfolded and accompanied by security forces. That is one of a great many cases where the truth may never be fully uncovered, but one can say that in a heavily militarised area like Sirnak it would be impossible for the PKK to attack a bus in broad daylight and then disappear without trace. No motive for the alleged PKK attack has been suggested, nor has any explanation been given as to how it would have known the bus was going to be on that stretch of road at that particular time.

The findings of the UN human rights experts, which will be discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, are abundantly confirmed by the work of many NGOs. Amnesty International has highlighted the growth of disappearances, extrajudicial killings (in which they see "the fingerprint of the state") and torture and has documented literally hundreds of individual cases. It has also drawn attention to the Government's systematic attempts to conceal the scale of human rights violations. That has taken the form of prosecuting human rights defenders, closing down branches of the Turkish Human Rights Association and severely limiting access to the emergency region by foreign human rights investigators.

The scale of those violations, the extent of the human suffering and material damage in the region and the flagrant disregard by Turkey of her obligations under the Copenhagen Declaration and other OSCE instruments make it difficult to understand why the international community has not formally noticed those phenomena and taken steps to address the underlying causes. Of course one is aware of Ankara's sensitivity, but that cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing at all or for confining ourselves to polite and discreet remonstrations. If Turkey wants to belong to regional organisations, she must conform to the standards agreed by the states concerned and allow the mechanisms of those international organisations to be activated when manifestly there have serious breaches of the standards. I hope that Europe will decide that when a new government come into office in Ankara we will look for co-operation from that end, as well as offering it from here, and, in particular, that there will be a new drive to bring about a permanent ceasefire and constructive negotiations on the Kurdish agenda. I beg to move.

5.50 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is to be congratulated on having introduced a debate on this most important topic. He is foremost among Members of your Lordships' House in having put forward ideas on human rights. Anything that he says on the sensitive subject of Turkey is very much to be taken into account.

I agree with his suggestion that Turkey has one of the worst human rights records in the world. That is a deeply tragic fact, bearing in mind the close links that we in Britain have with Turkey through the NATO alliance; through the struggle against Soviet imperialism when Turkey was a stalwart and noble ally; through growing links with the European Union, in particular the recent accession of Turkey to the common customs union; and within the Council of Europe to which we both belong.

I believe that we all admire Turkey for having since the 1920s built up the gentle and forgiving side of the Islamic faith. We contrast Turkey's approach to Islam with the extremism that is so often to be detected in countries such as Iran, the Sudan and even in Pakistan. Many thousands of British people visit Turkey each year and they speak of the warmth of the Turkish welcome that they receive.

The Turkish-speaking region stretches across central Asia. As regards its future, I hope that as a first step countries such as Uzbekistan, Kirghizia and Azerbaijan will look to Turkey as an area to emulate as they begin to build their fledgling democracies in the post-Soviet era. I hope that anything we can do to strengthen respect for human rights and parliamentary democracy in Turkey will be moved eastwards and northwards; that is, north of the Caspian Sea and of Afghanistan in areas where Turkish and similar languages are spoken.

The noble Lord referred to the tremendous support that we received from Turkey during the Gulf War. That support continues in "Operation Provide Comfort", which helps to provide relief for the pressure of Kurdish movements into other countries from Northern Iraq. I do not like to suggest what we would do without the presence in Turkey and the activity that we have in Turkish support in Northern Iraq.

I slightly differ from the noble Lord in his approach to the PKK. I believe that it is a mistake to offer any kind of comfort to the PKK. I believe that there is PKK activity in this country. I believe that there is too much PKK activity in this country and that it should be suppressed where possible. Like the IRA, it is an armed terrorist organisation with many brutal crimes to its credit. The noble Lord mentioned a crime which may have been a travesty of justice and of which the organisation may not have been guilty. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the most recent document on Turkey which was issued in September 1995. It states:

"During 1995 more civilians and prisoners have been brutally killed by armed opposition groups including the PKK".

Another report indicates that since the beginning of 1993 there have been 400 killings of prisoners and civilians by the PKK, and a substantial litany of other crimes have been committed by that ruthless organisation. I hope that your Lordships will not be so shocked by the Turkish record on human rights that they will feel sympathetic towards the PKK because I suggest that it is not the kind of organisation which should receive any support from Members of your Lordships' House.

The Turkish progress towards democracy is partial, as the noble Lord pointed out. We have seen the Turkish Parliament grow during the past 75 years. We see a vigorous press in that country, a substantial economy and even the appointment of a Minister for Human Rights. That is no sham. The Minister for human rights in 1995, Mr. Azimet Koyluoglu has looked forward to the idea of a golden age for human rights in Turkey. I believe that he hopes for that most profoundly. Of course, he has not received it but it is his aspiration and he is a member of the Turkish Government.

It is sad that so many Turkish Ministers, who so genuinely espouse the cause of human rights and want to see progress made, are unable to get their views turned from hope into fact because of the schizophrenic nature of authority in that country. I feel sure that Mrs. Ciller, were she here, would share many of the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. However, for all her hopes and beliefs in strict adherence to human rights, she has been unable during her premiership to translate hope into deed. We have seen Turkey operating outside its own law regarding human rights, just as it has operated outside international law as regards its continuing occupation of Cyprus.

Sadly, we must conclude that Turkey is a country in which the use of torture in police stations and prisons is extensive and extremely prevalent. We must accept that political killings by members of the Turkish security forces are frequent, as are disappearances of political prisoners no doubt for political reasons. We must accept that there is frequent imprisonment of non-violent dissenters. The noble Lord rightly drew attention to Article 8 of the criminal code which makes it clear that the mere putting forward of separatist ideas should be a criminal offence punished by a heavy term of imprisonment. If that were applied by the British in Northern Ireland, one would have many tens of thousands of people subject to arrest and imprisonment. The mere support without action of a cause is a criminal offence in Turkey. Even the equivalent—and I am sure that there are many—of Mr. John Hume in Turkey would be committing a criminal offence since Mr. Hume believes in achieving a certain result without the use of violence.

It is not easy to have total confidence in our Turkish ally, in our Turkish partner, so long as those abuses continue and so long as that schizophrenic attitude to cruelty and abuse of the law is allowed to continue, perhaps not by the Turkish Government, many of whose members wish to see it stamped out, but by other organs of the Turkish state.

In that context, I should mention the pivotal role that could be played by President Demirel in that matter. I have yet to see President Demirel take action over the many accusations that have been levelled against the Turkish police and military. He seems to concentrate more firmly on the achievements and aspirations of the Turkish army rather than on the accusations levelled against it.

That is depressing because the Turkish police and the security police are out of control and when prisoners—not only political prisoners but ordinary criminals—are obliged to spend nearly a month in prison or in a police station being softened up before they are brought before a judge, it is no wonder that the allegation is made—and I believe established—that torture is widespread and institutionalised within the Turkish system. Attempts to redress those outrages carried out by various political victims of torture have been made with great bravery and often with the support of members of parliament and the press. It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that tortures have been taking place, only for the matter to be carefully shelved before any result could be achieved or the prosecution of any police officer could be put into effect.

The army and the air force of Turkey have been totally ruthless in their bombing of Kurdish villages and I should not like to think how many Kurds have died in the recent winter as a result of the dehousing that has been inflicted upon them. We have very little control over that and there is little monitoring. A recent spokesman representative of Amnesty International was arrested in Turkey and deported. I very much hope that when the Minister replies, she will give us some idea of what can be done to encourage the Turkish Government to accept co-operation with Amnesty International and also to accept a special rapporteur from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The Government have a position in the UN Commission on Human Rights and a representative in Geneva. I hope that it will be possible for us to see the appointment of a special rapporteur to cover those very serious allegations. Monitoring violations is a step towards eradicating them.

Another suggestion that I make is for a human rights officer to be appointed to our embassy in Ankara; and that it should be well-known that there is a member of that embassy with the special task of monitoring human rights in Turkey and with the duty of reporting to the Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about such violations.

I suggest that it would be no bad thing if such a human rights officer at our embassy in Ankara were to be a British army or service officer because links between the armed services on human rights issues are particularly important as regards Turkey. Very often, contacts between our Foreign Office and the Turkish Foreign Office are not good enough simply because the Turkish Foreign Office will very often agree with our criticisms but they are unable to put that criticism to any political or practical use.

If we can achieve some steps with our allies—in particular, with our American allies—I believe that we should be able to establish a more sensible, viable and decent relationship with Turkey that is appropriate to the close links that we have with Turkey through our alliances and through our European links.

6.5 p.m.

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has won the ballot for this debate. As the noble Baroness knows, I am concerned with human rights issues in any country where human rights are being abused. As a member of the parliamentary human rights committee chaired so energetically and ably by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I have now visited three countries in or on the borders of Europe where serious human rights abuses are taking place—Kosovo, Chechnya and Turkey, the subject of this evening's debate.

I visited Diyarbakir last April and my main remit was to look at the effect of the emergency situation in south-east Turkey on the health of the population and its health services. I saw and heard in and around Diyarbakir, with the aid of an interpreter of course, enough to convince me that the civil war situation is having a very serious impact on public health. Of course, I was concerned also about individual cases of human rights abuses when they came my way.

The effect of the emergency situation on public health can be seen to be largely due to the destruction and total or partial evacuation of, it is thought, 1,800 villages in south-east Turkey which has resulted in a huge increase in the flow of rural people to the cities, both in the west of Turkey and to Diyarbakir and other large centres in south-east Turkey. It is estimated that 2 million people have lost their homes. Dispossessed people from the villages are largely dependent on their relatives for food and shelter since employment opportunities are few.

As well as their poor homes, an inadequate water supply and terrible sanitation in the shanty towns around the larger towns and the city of Diyarbakir, the poverty of these new immigrants is resulting in an increase in malnutrition, which is especially affecting young children. That has led to an increase in the infant and child mortality rate as common childhood diseases are much more serious in malnourished children.

Statistics in relation to the infant mortality rate are 55 for Turkey as a whole but 87 for the Diyarbakir region. For comparison purposes, I should say that the rate in the UK is six. Doctors of the Turkish Medical Association to whom I spoke said that the actual rate was more likely to be 120 or so. That is a figure more typical of poor countries in Africa or Asia.

Of course, I am aware that the economic development of south-east Turkey has always lagged behind that of the West, but it seems clear that instead of catching up, as it was doing before the emergency, it is now slipping back.

I visited two small health clinics in the shanty town areas outside Diyarbakir. Government doctors there could only guess at the mortality rate in their districts as many births and deaths were not registered and the size of the population which they served was not known with any accuracy because of the rapid immigration. The immunisation rate of children against common infectious diseases was well below the 90 per cent. rate which had been achieved before the emergency. It is probably less than 50 per cent., and in rural areas it maybe completely non-existent. Diseases which had become uncommon are now reappearing; for example, diphtheria, polio, TB, salmonella and so on.

My impressions were confirmed by the doctors of the local Turkish Medical Association as well as by a full report published by the Turkish Medical Association after I left. A doctor, quoted in that report, said that statistics in the region are not reliable any more. In some of the cities there are more than two or three times the number of people than the believed capacity of the city. People are living on top of each other. If five brothers were living together, this number has now risen to 15. People are living in places without any sewerage services and without water. There is a serious typhoid fever outbreak where the health centre is centred.

Apart from the effect on public health, the health services themselves were badly affected by the conflict. Doctors and other health workers said that the security forces interfered with their treatment of patients, sometimes delaying or preventing patients from being seen. At least three surgeons, who had carried out routine operations for conditions such as piles or gallstones on patients who were later suspected of PKK sympathies, had been detained as much as six months after the operation and were then put in prison for up to 45 months.

As a doctor, I was particularly interested in the possible involvement of doctors in torture or other human rights abuses. It was difficult on a flying visit to obtain details of the possible involvement of doctors, but the secretary of the local Turkish Medical Association said that the names of four government doctors in the prison service who had assisted prison officers by monitoring torture were known to them. Of course I am concerned about the continued practice of torture, not only in Turkey but also anywhere in the world. As the noble Baroness will know, the British Medical Association has been at the forefront of moves to expose and end the practice internationally. It has produced two reports on torture, particularly highlighting and condemning the participation of medical and other health professionals.

In 1975 there was a powerful declaration—known as the Declaration of Tokyo—which stated categorically that the doctor,
"should not countenance, condone or participate in torture or other forms of cruel or inhuman or degrading procedures".
The British Medical Association gives strong support to national medical associations in their resistance to such involvement. The Turkish Medical Association is one of those with which it is in communication.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, pointed out, the Turkish Government connive in what is probably the most persistent and ingrained use of torture today, with the possible exception of China, now that most Latin American countries have adopted multi-party electoral systems. Certainly more tortured people from Turkey come to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in London than from any other country. So far, despite the statements of Mrs. Ciller that human rights are improving, there seems to be no diminution in their number.

It may be said, perhaps, that in a civil conflict with an armed opposition such as the PKK (which itself has carried out acts of violence) the rules may be waived and that international conventions entered into by states should he temporarily put aside. However, the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment affirms in Article 2, paragraph 2 that,
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture".
Turkey signed that convention in August 1988.

Ostensibly, countries sign international conventions and agreements in order to demonstrate their belief in the principles concerned. It is quite likely that, in many cases, the actual statesmen who sign the documents really do believe in them. But signatories also gain economic, cultural and sometimes military recognition arid advantages by so doing. However, if their security services persistently break the rules of a convention, surely governments should prosecute the personnel concerned through their systems of justice. If such prosecutions were followed up thoroughly, that would end or at least greatly reduce the practice until it dies out.

In November 1993, the report of the UN Committee against Torture on Turkey considered that,
"the information received …was credible … and contained well-founded indications that torture was practised systematically in Turkey".
The report of the special rapporteur on torture in January 1995 contained 80 paragraphs on torture in Turkey, which is far more than any other country in the world. If it is of any interest to your Lordships, the runners-up in the report were Egypt with 56, Serbia (mainly in Kosovo) with 46 and China with 39.

Many of the victims of torture in Turkey are Kurdish or Kurdish sympathisers detained in connection with that government's attempt to achieve a military solution of the Kurdish problem. But many are not involved in the conflict. Indeed, some are trade unionists or demonstrators protesting about a variety of perceived injustices. Some are journalists, politicians or academics putting forward views which are at variance with the military group which is the real ruler of Turkey, sheltering behind the elected government. This is the kind of schizophrenic situation to which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred.

As both previous speakers said—and especially the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—there is an increasing movement within Turkey at present which wants to seek a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. It is surely our role in this country, and that of our European partners, to encourage that strand of opinion within Turkey. I suggest that that will not be achieved by supplying Turkey with weapons on easy terms or welcoming Turkey, as we have done, into the European Customs Union.

If nations fail to honour conventions which they have signed, some kind of sanction should be imposed if only to exclude them from international bodies which welcome them as equals. Sadly, as in the case of Indonesia and China, flagrant violations of human rights conventions and agreements have been ignored, while we have pressed ahead with trade, aid and military agreements because it keeps our order books full and the profits flowing.

Turkey was admitted into NATO during the Cold War to buttress the southern flank against the USSR. Human rights abuses—and the invasion of Cyprus—were largely glossed over because of the need to keep on good terms with Turkey. I suggest that the situation has now changed. While I do not like the regime of Boris Yeltsin in Russia at all, it is very unlikely indeed to threaten us militarily. For one thing, Russia today seems to be extraordinarily incompetent militarily, as shown by its inability to win the war in Chechnya.

The economic development of Turkey now is seriously held back by the expense of the conflict in the south-east. A peaceful solution is possible; that would be short of granting outright independence for the Kurdish people, especially now that Abdullah Oçalan (who is the leader of the PKK) has offered a ceasefire and talks with a completely open agenda. But, even without that, western Europe could do more to promote human rights in Turkey along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell—indeed, I was most interested in the noble Lord's remarks—but also by withholding military assistance and by a much more critical diplomatic stance.

6.20 p.m.

My Lords, those of us who love Turkey and the Turkish people, as I do, find it distressing to have to call attention to the question of human rights there. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the opportunity to have this debate.

I wish to speak on this matter from a particular angle which is indicative of the wider problems of human rights in Turkey. Other noble Lords have spoken eloquently of the wider problem. My concern is for one particular community—the Syrian Orthodox of the Tur Abdin area of south east Turkey. These people represent the last vestiges of Syriac speaking Christians living in what was once the heartland of the Syriac world. Once Antioch was one of the great cities of the world; the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. For many centuries it was the hub of an important Syrian Christian culture. Now it is simply a village in Turkey. However, the Syriani, as they are called, still live in that area. Barely 25 years ago the Syrian Christians there formed a community of many thousands, but now they are simply "people in between" caught between the Turkish Army on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. They have dwindled to barely a few hundred families. This is a community which needs protection. Well informed observers who have visited them have voiced doubts as to whether this ancient community will survive long into the new millennium, if at all.

One of the reports which has reached the Church of England documents the burning by the Turkish Army of the village of Hassana, the burning of vegetation and crops on surrounding hillsides and the intimidation of the Syrian Orthodox community in mid-1994. We have heard of a priest who has been arrested and badly beaten up and of other difficulties this community has to experience day-by-day. At Lambeth Palace, translated from the Aramaic, there is an account by a student from that community entitled A Story of the Grief of the Tur'Abdin. He describes the military presence in the region and the overall visual impression in the following words:
"As we passed the towns and villages there was an empty silence—where are the people?—Some had been killed, some had run away and emigrated, and some had had homes destroyed; those who remained were hiding away".
He wrote of the situation in one town, Midyat,
"Around noon, I reach Midyat and the bright sunlight warms one's spirit. Yet, wherever you look, there are folk with guns. The town seems filled with soldiers, police, special teams and village guards. Tanks, armoured cars, and military vehicles fill the streets; the faces of the people are filled with pain and hopelessness, their hearts broken; I realise that peace and happiness for the people of the Tur'abdin has gone".
That is an eloquent testimony to a community which has suffered much. I cannot say what the situation in this town is at the present time, but the strong overall impression is of a beleaguered community. Many of the people have fled to Lebanon and Syria and those who remain face great difficulty and danger. We must not forget the sufferings and fears of this tiny, minority community whose experience is indicative of what is happening to so many other people in Turkey. This innocent community is caught between the Turkish Army on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. It is important that this small, ancient community should be remembered and its right to exist preserved. I very much hope that the Minister in her representations to the Turkish Government will be able to draw their attention to this suffering of an ancient and innocent people.

6.23 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, upon initiating this debate and for his characteristically comprehensive introduction. We owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing before your Lordships' House a subject which raises so many important issues of principle and of policy.

Turkey's record in the field of violations of human rights is abysmal. Yet, despite this, many Western countries, including Britain, seem to be turning a blind eye to the suffering it is inflicting on many of its own people and on those of other nations such as Armenians and Greeks. Instead, we seem to be favouring Turkey with magnanimous concessions. Of course I am aware of the importance of strategic and commercial interests but I do not believe it is in the long-term interests of any country to allow these to obliterate its concern for human rights.

I am also aware of the argument that encouraging regimes which manifestly violate the basic canons of human rights to promote economic liberalisation may in turn promote political liberalisation. This argument is premised on the theory that market economies generate democracy. But this theory does not always work in practice. It may have done so in Chile but it has yet to prove itself in China and is certainly failing badly in Burma. This is because there are many other factors at work in the development of a democracy, including a nation's political culture. Turkey does not score high on this measure with regard to its respect for human rights as a fundamental foundation of a democratic society. Moreover, there is a real danger that, while the Turkish Government continue to violate human rights, economic and political support from the international community may encourage them to continue to perpetrate atrocities in the knowledge that they can do so with impunity.

I must preface my catalogue of anxieties by expressing a caveat. Some years ago I had the great privilege of visiting Turkey with the British Council to help to develop healthcare and nursing research. I made many personal friends and I know that there are many kind, generous, hospitable Turkish people. However, it is the government and their record on human rights which concerns us this evening. I shall limit myself to mentioning three areas of concern: the repression of freedom of expression; the misuse of weapons by Turkish authorities, both against its own people and in warfare outside Turkey; and the continuing blockade of Armenia.

First, I shall mention violations of the principle of freedom of expression. The accumulated evidence of disappearances, arrests, torture and murder of politicians and journalists is spine-chilling. I shall give only a few recent examples. Inevitably most cases are related to the problem of Turkey's relationships with its Kurdish population. However, that problem is no justification for the systematic and brutal violations of human rights which have characterised Turkey's policies with regard to freedom of expression. For example, the International Human Rights Law Group sent a delegation to Turkey to investigate the detention of parliamentarians and the proceedings to ban the Democracy Party (the DEP). Its investigations focused on the stripping of immunity from, and arrest of, six duly elected Kurdish deputies and one Islamic deputy; and the impending prosecution of the six Kurds on charges carrying the death penalty, and the Islamic deputy on charges of "insult to Ataturk". Its report, published in May 1994, found that the charges against the DEP deputies, upon which they were stripped of immunity, involved no more than the exercise of freedom of expression. The legal conclusions found,

"clear violations of obligations binding on Turkey in both conventional and customary law. The events present serious questions with regard to the degree to which the application of the Constitution and laws of Turkey conform with internationally recognised standards".

Since that report was published, two of the DEP parliamentarians have been released as part of Turkey's efforts to enhance its image in order to obtain customs concessions from the European Union. However, although the European Parliament had demanded the release of all six parliamentarians, four are still in detention with serious prison sentences. The Democracy Party remains banned. One of the most significant issues in this area concerns Article 8 of the anti-terrorism law, to which reference has already been made. This relates to disseminating separatist propaganda. This, however, has been interpreted as a catch-all phrase covering anything relating to the PKK, and has been used to justify the arrest of many people, including writers, journalists, publishers and politicians.

In its additional efforts to gain credibility with the European Union, the Turkish Government have promised to amend Article 8, and did so last December. Those amendments resulted in some reduction of penalties—for example, reducing the length of prison sentences and replacing some custodial sentences with fines. However, even if that infamous Article 8 were to be struck out of the penal code altogether, there are still many—some say almost 400—other articles in the penal code which could have a similar inhibiting effect on freedom of expression in Turkey. Although some people who had been charged under the previous Article 8 have now been freed, it is feared that a number of them are liable to retrial.

Particularly disturbing is the death of a journalist in January this year, so soon after Turkey's success in gaining customs concessions from the European Union. When he was arrested, Metin Goktpe was reporting on the deaths of three prisoners who had died in an Istanbul prison. He was detained overnight in a sports centre. He was allegedly badly beaten, and on release the following morning he staggered to a tea garden, where he died. Autopsy showed death by head injuries inflicted by blunt instruments. The then Prime Minister ordered an inquiry, and it is reported that 45 police officers will stand trial. The event itself is obviously cause for deep concern. The outcome of the official investigations will be a litmus test of Turkey's sincerity of purpose with regard to freedom of expression now that it has achieved one of its major aspirations with regard to beneficial relationships with the European Union.

I now turn to the allegations of the misuse by Turkey of weapons from OSCE states. The evidence available strongly supports the contention that, in continuing to supply lethal weaponry to the Turkish armed forces, OSCE states are violating the principles governing conventional arms transfers agreed by participating states in November 1993. The Human Rights Watch Arms Project report on Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey, published last November, documents the Turkish security forces' violations of the laws of war and of human rights and their reliance on US and NATO-supplied weapons in doing so. It concludes that such weapons are regularly used by Turkey to commit severe human rights abuses and violations of the law in the south east. The document states:
"The most egregious examples of Turkey's reliance on US weaponry in committing abuses are its use of US-supplied fighter bombers to attack civilian villages and its use of US-supplied helicopters in support of a wide range of abusive practices, including the punitive destruction of villages, extrajudicial executions, torture and indiscriminate fire…US and NATO-supplied small arms, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery are also used in the abuses".
The report also expresses grave dissatisfaction with the United States Government's response to those allegations. It states:
"The US government's professed inability to seriously evaluate the actions of a major NATO ally does not appear credible, given the immense investigative powers at its disposal".
By contrast, the report gives examples of the critical responses of some other NATO nations and notes that, because of its abuse of weapons, at least five nations have at some point suspended military sales to Turkey.

Here I must raise a related concern, based on my own experience, corroborated by two American Congressmen. In the besieged enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenians who have inhabited that land for centuries have been defending their right to continue to live there against Azerbaijan's former explicit policy of attempted ethnic cleansing, I and my colleagues have repeatedly seen Turkish and NATO weapons used by Azerbaijan against civilians—weapons which were presumably supplied by Turkey. The evidence has been checked by ex-British Army personnel and raises clear questions of end-user accountability for military weapons which Turkey should be required to answer. I ask my noble friend, what is the British response to those serious allegations of misuse of US and NATO weapons by Turkey?

Finally, mention of Armenians brings me to the continuing violation of human rights by Turkey in maintaining its blockade of Armenia. Western governments have turned a blind eye to a policy which has caused untold suffering to the Armenian people. The combined blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan has meant that the Armenians have been almost cut off from the rest of the world and have had to suffer not only restrictions of essential goods but also severe shortages of electricity. In the literally darkest hours of the winters of 1992 to 1994, the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, was often without power for nearly 24 hours each day, in temperatures of -10 degrees to -20 degrees. Schools, universities and factories had to close. Hospitals were barely able to function, and the suffering of the people had to be experienced to be understood. Now conditions are somewhat better, thanks to the reopening of a nuclear power plant, a reopening undertaken with some reluctance by many Armenians, but as a necessity for survival, given the Turkish blockade. I ask my noble friend whether Britain is taking any steps to prevail upon Turkey to stop that totally unjustifiable blockade, which is a violation of human rights and causing so much suffering to the Armenian people

In conclusion, I return to where I began by expressing my grave reservations over the argument that Turkey should receive economic and political support as a means of encouraging political liberalisation and progress towards democracy. The evidence suggests that that is a doubtful correlation. Before any more concessions are made or support given, may we be assured that Turkey has given substantial evidence of good faith in improving its policies with regard to human rights in ways which go beyond the cosmetic adjustments we have seen so far and which are not immediately reversible?

Unless stringent conditions are applied and evidence is obtained that Turkey is accepting its obligations with regard to respecting international conventions on human rights, there is a real danger that it will see economic and political support as a tacit condoning of its brutal policies and that countless people will continue to suffer, including those Turkish citizens who have the courage to speak and write the truth, the Kurdish and Christian minorities within Turkey, and even those beyond the borders of Turkey, including Armenians in their own country and in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The catalogue of human suffering inflicted by the Turkish Government on innocent people must continue to be a cause for deep concern. In this century alone, it ranges from the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 (which is still not acknowledged by Turkey) to the current cruelties documented in this debate.

I hope very much that my noble friend will assure your Lordships' House, and through this House the wider international community, that Britain will not be counted as a nation which allows national interests to hold sway to the extent of appearing to condone violations of human rights, and thereby directly or indirectly to encourage Turkey to continue to perpetrate the kinds of atrocities which have been recounted here tonight.

6.37 p.m.

My Lords, I join in this timely debate as one who observed both the Turkish municipal elections of 1994 and the general election held on 24th December 1995. Neither election could, I regret, be described as totally free and fair. In 1994 foreign observers were denied access to nearly all villages in the Lake Van region and elsewhere in the south east, where martial law applies. Six weeks before polling day the Democratic Labour Party was forced to withdraw from the election following the murder of one parliamentary deputy, the bombing of its headquarters in Ankara and assaults and threats against its candidates, officials and supporters. The result was that a strong protest vote went to Refah, the Islamic party. This gained for that party the posts of mayor in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities.

The 1995 general election was called at very short notice. There had been no national census since the previous general election. That meant that the 100 extra parliamentary seats were allocated in a somewhat arbitrary way. Only 9 days were allowed for registering new young voters and voters displaced from their homes by the armed conflict in south-east Turkey. The result was that only a low proportion of such voters were recorded on the register. Out of 29 million votes cast nearly 1 million were spoiled or invalid. A 10 per cent. national threshold was applied, as has already been mentioned, so that seven parties failed to elect any deputies, despite receiving over 4 million votes between them. The best thing that can be said about the election is that it probably reflected fairly accurately the balance of opinion between the three largest parties, with Refah receiving 21 per cent. and the two main centre-right parties 19 per cent. each.

HADEP, the People's Democratic Party, is the left-wing successor to HEP and DEP, both of which had previously been accused of separatism and dissolved by state action. HADEP complained that four deputies, previously elected, were still in prison for political offences while others were in exile. It told me that it had been very seriously affected by registration problems, that it suffered media discrimination as well as intimidation and obstruction by the security forces in the south east, not to speak of physical attacks by right-wing extremists in western Turkey. The deputy general secretary of the party told me, and I quote his exact words:
"I have forgotten how many times I have personally suffered torture. Since I started working for this party and its predecessors, 105 of my friends have been killed".
The party's complaints made to me personally occupy three typed pages of A4 in my report. Detailed information received since polling day, including the experiences of German observers, confirms massive electoral irregularities including assaults and torture throughout the south-east provinces. This filled another four pages of A4.

The view of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, which is shared by many others, is that the constitutional changes made last year by Turkey in order to satisfy the European Union and its Parliament, are purely cosmetic. For example, the amendment to Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law does not assert freedom of expression. In fact it widened the scope of the law by including new forms of media. Thirteen laws apparently also remain in force banning the use of the Kurdish language in education and publications. That is why the television programmes of MED-TV, broadcast in the Kurdish language from London via a French satellite, are of such vital importance. I therefore urge Her Majesty's Government to continue to resist attempts by Turkey or any other party to stop, censor or jam such broadcasts.

Questions have to be asked. Why does Turkey have such a horrifying human rights record? Why is it still occupying Northern Cyprus after 21 years? Why is it blockading Armenia, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned?

I suggest that answers to such queries are to be found in the predominant influence of the armed forces. Turkey has over half a million men under arms without counting 70,000 gendarmes and 60,000 armed village guards. It has a longer conscription period and a far larger army than either France or Germany. The military consume a huge share of the national budget.

The result of that continued overspending in a post-cold war setting has been inflation, currency depreciation, sky high interest rates, budget deficits and large foreign debts. Since 1993 inflation has never been less than 50 per cent. per year. In 1994 it rose to 125 per cent. and is still forecast at 50 per cent. or more for the current year. Since last March, the lira (the Turkish currency) fell from 42,000 to 98,000 to the pound.

Turkey is indeed the sick man of NATO. The sooner its allies and Customs Union partners wake up to this serious and potentially destabilising situation, the better. One can only hope that a government will emerge either from the recent general election or a new one capable of asserting full civilian control over the military establishment. Sooner or later, a major reduction in military budgets will become necessary. That will make it possible to deal constructively with Turkey's finances, to improve human rights and to embark on political solutions to the 11 year-old Kurdish insurgency.

These three matters are intimately linked and a heavy dead weight of military tradition will need to be overcome. Already, however, it is quite clear that the deployment of a quarter of a million armed men in the south-east will not root out the PKK guerillas, despite the wholesale clearance of thousands of villages and hamlets. In Kurdistan virtually every clan and extended family has a member who was or is involved in the FKK. Torture, imprisonment and death are not going to break the connections. Shifting the population will only shift the problems and the conflict.

Some future Turkish government, supported by Turkish business interests, will have to accept the PKK ceasefire offers, of which the most recent was made on 15th December last. A future government will have to open dialogue with the Kurdish Parliament in exile. It will have to negotiate freedom of cultural and political expression for the Kurds and all other minorities. Adequate regional autonomy within the existing frontiers of Turkey will also be necessary. The straitjacket of a unitary centralised state in the Atatürk mould will have to go. Only by such means can I foresee substantial improvements in Turkey's abysmal record of human rights.

In the interim, I can only suggest such palliatives as access for the International Committee of the Red Crescent to all prisons and police stations, and the sending of an observer mission by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to the present martial law area. I very much welcome the suggestions by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, about other ways of improving human rights. I urge the Government most strongly to accept them and put them into practice.

6.47 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing this debate. I should also like to say how much we on these Benches admire him for his selfless pursuit of the cause of human rights both in this House and elsewhere.

This is not the first time that we have debated human rights in Turkey recently. We did so, I think, in 1994. I only wish that it were not necessary to return to the subject. Regrettably, it is necessary, as other speakers have clearly demonstrated.

The agreement to allow Turkey into a customs union with the European Union just before Christmas of last year makes it all the more apposite to consider the situation again today. The latest report from Amnesty International on Turkey—it was produced in December—certainly gives us no grounds whatsoever for complacency. Indeed, it paints a pretty depressing picture of continuing violations there. The report states:
"1995 was expected to be the year of change for human rights in Turkey, but as the end of the year approaches, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions continue to claim dozens of victims".
The report continued:
"Laws which provide for prosecution and imprisonment of Turkish citizens for expressing their non-violent opinions remain in force almost completely unchanged".
The one hopeful sign on the horizon recorded by Amnesty is that during last year there was some reduction in the number of "disappearances" and deaths in custody after the very large number of cases in 1994. Another good sign was the release from prison of more than 100 political prisoners in November as a result of changes in the anti-terrorist law.

However, as many noble Lords have said, regrettably nothing has been done to protect the Turkish people against yet more of them vanishing unaccountably. It is vital that proper legislative safeguards are provided against detention by the state, in which people are held incommunicado. It is equally important to provide a legal framework that outlaws torture and prevents disappearances.

During last year, Amnesty International repeatedly called for three obviously needed reforms: first, a proper reform of Article 8 of the anti-terrorist law rather than just tinkering with it, as happened last year; secondly, a reduction in the maximum terms of police detention; and thirdly, access to legal counsel for all detainees. Until that kind of protection is in place, anyone criticising the authorities in Turkey is vulnerable to unlawful detention, and prison sentences will continue to be handed out to those who testify against the government on human rights matters, as in the recent case of Mehdi Zana. His four-year sentence for speaking out to the European Parliament has been reduced to two years. But, surely, two years in prison for revealing human rights abuses to the European Parliament is completely unacceptable. Editors and journalists who publish articles advocating separatism are particular targets and receive prison sentences for doing so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, which reported that the year before last over 100 writers and publishers were arrested for their reports on the war which presumably displeased the government and that dozens of newspapers were closed or fined so heavily that they could not continue publication. Others, as the right reverend Prelate described, have suffered serious religious persecution. That, too, will continue. But worst of all, people will go on being tortured by the Turkish security services. Will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government have taken since the beginning of this year to put pressure on Turkey with respect to each of the three reforms to which I referred earlier?

The European Parliament approved the customs union with Turkey only after a great deal of heart-searching and on the strict understanding that clear conditions on human rights would be set with Turkey before the customs union agreement was signed. Both the Socialists and the centre-Right Christian Democrats—the two largest groups in the European Parliament—insisted on those strings being attached. Some distinguished Members of the European Parliament still felt unable to support the customs union. For example, Jack Lang, a former French Minister, is reported to have said, "My conscience would not allow me to support an economic accord with a regime of regression and repression". The leader of the Socialist Group, Pauline Green, took what might be described as a more pragmatic position in supporting Turkey's participation in the customs union, though doing so without enthusiasm—I believe she used the expression, "with a heavy heart"—but in the hope that it would help those in Turkey who are fighting for democracy.

Surely we owe it to those parliamentarians in Strasbourg who swallowed their scruples and approved the customs union to insist that pressure is kept up to make sure that minority rights are respected and that a standard of human rights consistent with membership of European Union institutions is adhered to. It is therefore extremely disquieting to learn that the provisions on human rights and democracy in Turkey which formed an intrinsic part of the £300 million aid package for Turkey have been watered down by member states in Brussels. Can the Minister enlighten the House on why the Council of Ministers in Brussels took that action? Why has the language been changed? Is it the case that retaliatory measures against Turkey, if it fails to fulfil the conditions, will now be subject to a unanimous vote in the Council rather than a qualified majority vote? Can she also say anything about the timescale over which any retaliatory measures would operate? Is she satisfied that the timescale is adequate in terms of having sufficient force? As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, surely this is a case where the most stringent conditions need to be applied.

Before the Turkish elections a good deal was made of the need to support the government of Mrs. Ciller against the threat of fundamentalism. Of course we understand the argument that it may sometimes be better to provide lifelines for governments, even if they have serious flaws, because the alternative may be so much worse. But it is a slippery slope, and great care must be taken to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of supporting, or even propping up, regimes that do not merit this kind of support.

The Islamic fundamentalists remain a powerful force in Turkey. They received around one-fifth of the popular vote in the election, and 29 per cent. of the seats. However, they are far outnumbered by the two pro-Western conservative parties, which almost have an overall majority and, in coalition with the secular Left-wing parties, will certainly have an overall majority. There is now no excuse for not taking a tough line with the new Turkish Government in insisting that they put their house in order with respect to human rights.

The position of the Kurds remains dire, as a number of speakers indicated. My noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, gave an account of their appalling living conditions, the lack of public health facilities and the lack of basic energy in Turkish Kurdistan. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also mentioned their oppression with respect to fundamental rights such as the use of their own language. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the fact that because of the elimination of parties obtaining less than 10 per cent. of the vote, HADEP, which won the largest proportion of votes in the four south-east provinces on a platform of a peaceful solution to the Kurdish national uprising, gets no seats in the Turkish parliament. That surely plays into the hands of those who advocate armed struggle and encourages the terrorists in the PKK. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], in regard to the PKK. I will not repeat his remarks.

The disgraceful line taken by some members of the government parties—they have said they will be bound neither by any EU resolutions on human rights nor by the International Court of Justice—also plays straight into the hands of the PKK. If basic rights to free speech and the right to political campaigning in pursuit of justice for minority groups are frequently and flagrantly disregarded, again terrorism will be a direct consequence. I simply cannot understand why the Turkish authorities fail to realise that.

Turkey's membership of NATO is important to the West. I do not want to dispute that. However, its importance may be a little less great than it was before 1989, as my noble friend Lord Rea suggested. Nevertheless, its membership of NATO and the access to sophisticated arms of all kinds that that membership entails, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred, does not give it carte blanche to use those very arms to raze Turkish villages to the ground and, as a result, to displace many thousands of innocent civilian victims.

If we are to argue that it is better to keep regimes with a repressive record towards minorities inside the Western camp, since to do so is to have a greater chance of influencing them and of securing a better deal for all their citizens, then we had better start seriously exerting some influence in Turkey.

I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to set out a convincing programme of action to get the Turkish Government to deliver on their side of the deal that was agreed on the customs union. If what the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], said about the Turkish Prime Minister's own views and those of many members of her government is true, we might offer advice and help on how to clean up the Turkish police and security services and how to train them properly.

If the Turkish Government genuinely accept our criticisms, perhaps they would welcome some advice and help along those lines. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, they must also reduce military spending and the size of their army. Since, apparently, there is also a growing body of opinion in Turkey that wants a fair and peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem, perhaps the Minister could say whether any offers have been made by the European Union to help mediate to achieve that.

Without a programme of action to deal with the violations about which we have heard this evening, we and our partners in the European Union will look much diminished in moral terms and give the impression of weakness. Indeed, we shall look like a push-over to all those other countries which are queuing up for the benefits that the European Union can offer and whose record on democracy and human rights is also dubious.

7.1 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for tabling this debate. It is a crucially important issue and a very sad one. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

Human rights in Turkey is an issue on which no true friend of Turkey can remain indifferent. We know that Turkey overall is a country seeking to grow and change. But Turkey cannot achieve that growth successfully and will not be accepted as a member of European bodies unless it pays attention to its human rights and to the rule of law, which should be one not of persecution but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, one which upholds the need for proper investigation. Where people are accused, they should have a defence. There is absolutely no question of that.

There have been a number of specific issues raised. But above all, we see your Lordships' House united tonight in its revulsion towards torture and abuse of human rights, whoever carries out those abuses. I may say that my noble friend Lord Bethell was absolutely right to point out that human rights-type abuses are carried out by other than government forces. That also has to be tackled. I shall try to address as many of the points that I can. But I should like to start first with the wider perspective.

Turkey is a country of great importance to Britain. Among many other things, Turkey is a country with a long-standing European history. The other reason why Turkey is so important to Britain is that it lies in a region of volatility and tension. As my noble friend Lord Bethel] noted, its links with the Middle East, the Islamic world, and in Central Asia are very firm indeed. It exercises moderation on many Islamic questions. It is a secular democracy with an overwhelmingly Moslem population, which is all too rare.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke of Turkey's membership of the North Atlantic Alliance. That is still very important to us. That importance has not diminished because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Month by month we see that Turkey has aspirations to participate increasingly fully in European counsels and in the European Union itself. Those are very welcome aspirations. But we also know that those opportunities will be extended only if Turkey pays attention to all that has been said in this debate, and many others, about its current approach to human rights and, indeed, to dealing with the very serious terrorist threat in the south east. I shall return to that issue in a moment.

The comments in this debate are all the more important because Turkey wishes to have a close relationship with other countries in Europe to which it feels close. Therefore, we must find a productive approach to deal with the human rights problems in Turkey. I do not for one moment pretend to have all the answers to that very complicated situation. But it is one to which the European Union and other bodies with a concern for Turkey and the Turkish people must turn their minds more actively than they have done in the past.

We need to work for co-operation and not confrontation. We have to be constructive. In that way we shall bring Britain's influence to bear most effectively on the human rights situation, which is not tolerable.

I know that there are some critics—not perhaps in this House—of Turkey's human rights record. They paint a co-operative approach as an emollient or appeasing one and one which will not bring results. I do not believe that to be so. I am a long-standing critic of Turkey's human rights record. I have no brief to defend human rights abuses. I have no interest in excusing or ignoring the torture, the disappearances, the arbitrary killings and arrests, and the harassment of journalists, defence lawyers and relatives of people in detention which come to our notice far too often. Our interest in Britain and in the Government is the same as that of the noble Baroness opposite. It lies in taking advantage of the openings to make more progress on the objective that we all share: to eliminate the abuses of which we have heard tonight and the many others that were not detailed in the debate.

Let me make two points in that regard. First, our objective of eliminating human rights abuses will not be achieved purely through threats. Our approach has to go beyond protestation and condemnation. It is all too easy to protest and condemn. But we do need—the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is right in this matter—a programme of effective action which can help Turkey turn the page and put this period of human rights abuses behind it. We can have no illusion though, that improving human rights can ever be achieved through international intervention or enforcement. It has to be done by encouragement. That is why I believe that we can encourage positive change through greater contact. I shall come to that matter and the customs union in more detail shortly. I believe that the closer the contact between Turkey and the members of the European Union, the more likely we are to succeed fast in stopping the human rights abuses.

We have to look beyond the symptoms of the awful situation. Tonight, many noble Lords referred to the conflict in south-east Turkey. I assure my noble friend Lord Bethell, that we shall, and already do, act firmly and decisively against the activities of any terrorist organisation—that includes the PKK—whether they be activists or sympathisers in Britain. If they carry out illegal or criminal acts, we shall act firmly and decisively against them.

That is one of the problems that Turkey has at home in the south east: how it deals with the terrorism that is undoubtedly there. I know that for Turkey one crucial issue raised by the conflict is that of territorial integrity. We have no intention of questioning Turkey's territorial integrity. No one should be in any doubt about that. But I should also make equally clear our concern to see Turkey taking the proper action which goes to the heart of the needs of the region. A purely military response, which is what we have been seeing, can never do that.

I was much moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said in respect of the health and the opportunities for people who have been displaced from their homes. They are very limited indeed. That is another matter which it may be possible to address in the kind of measures at which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was hinting.

To put it in a few words, our advice to Turkey is given as a friend and an ally. We know only too well the difficulties Turkey has in tackling a terrorist threat. But to tackle a terrorist threat and extend the action way beyond the terrorist activity will never resolve the problem in south-east Turkey. One of the things the Turkish Government must do is involve the people in south-east Turkey in education, in health care, in development and in the growth of small industries—some of the things we have regularly done in other parts of the world.

How do we tackle this very difficult problem? A number of suggestions have been made in the debate. My noble friend Lord Bethell asked whether we should have a human rights officer in the British Embassy. A large part of the time of one of our officials in Ankara is taken up in looking at what is happening, drawing our concern about human rights to the attention of the Turkish authorities and raising specific cases. Our embassy officials regularly attend court hearings and in so doing ensure that our concern on human rights is not only demonstrated but is publicly visible. It is quite clear that the British Embassy in Ankara is doing more than many other European posts in this respect. We should co-operate with other missions—as my honourable friend in another place David Davis replied to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his letter of 9th January in response to four of the noble Lord's letters on this issue—and we are looking for ways in which we can get more activity from our partners in the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, hinted—I am not sure that he meant to say this—that we do not visit south-east Turkey very often. I can assure him that, while it is not possible to be everywhere all the time, our visits to south-east Turkey are regular and frequent. We had representatives in a number of towns in south-east Turkey in November and in Adana in mid-December. They have been attending political rallies. They have had contact with HADEP, Refah, CHP and MHP. There have been more contacts than would be publicly known. I accept that we cannot know everything that is going on but I can assure your Lordships that my postbag, and that of others, is very full of information not only from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who writes prolifically, but from many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who has given us some valuable advice and information as a result of his visits.

The whole question of elections in Turkey is very vexed indeed. I was extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for sharing with me his observations of the scene in the run-up to the elections held on 24th December. We are all aware that those elections were prepared in some haste, to the extent that Turkey's independent High Election Council was asked to judge whether the preparations were sufficient to allow an effective election to proceed. The council concluded that it was satisfied, but there was a short preparation and registration time. Of that there is no doubt.

There were also reports, all too plausible, that supporters of the HADEP party in the south east were subject to harassment, a matter mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. But it should be observed that the party performed strongly where it was expected to. As we know, in the event, the HADEP party fell well short of the 10 per cent. national hurdle. A percentage hurdle is not unusual in electoral systems in various countries but I well understand the sentiment, which has come to us in a number of letters and in a number of comments—indeed in this debate too—that the hurdle in the Turkish elections was high and may have prevented a party which clearly has strong support in the south-east region of Turkey from being represented in the national parliament.

I cannot conclude other than that the results of the Turkish elections were, on the basis that those elections could be carried out, a fair reflection of voters' preferences, but it is quite clear that the hurdle was a very difficult matter for the HADEP party particularly. Although it represents quite a large number of the Kurds in the south east, Kurds in other parts of Turkey vote otherwise. So there is representation of Kurdish views, but perhaps not so much as your Lordships would like.

In the debate today we have heard a number of comments about the problems of displaced persons. They were particularly affected by the short registration time. In the main I hope that the whole problem of displaced people can be tackled in the way I mentioned a little while ago. They need education and help too. It is not just those who are still in their villages. It is also those who are displaced.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about election observers. To have successful election observation it is necessary that the government of the country holding the election should invite such participation. As the noble Lord knows, observers were not invited by the Turkish Government. We hope that at all future Turkish elections observers will be invited. We hope that they will move towards a situation where there is no reason why those observers should not be present. That is what we have to aim for.

In a very moving speech, my noble friend Lady Cox particularly drew attention to Turkish links with Armenia. This is an urgent matter because there is certainly room for more and faster progress in developing a more open relationship between Turkey and Armenia. I should be pleased to look at any suggestions that my noble friend has towards that end. It is a matter on which we may be able to exert some real influence.

My noble friend also asked about weaponry. While I do not want to get into a long debate on this issue, perhaps I may assure her and your Lordships that we shall not and do not approve the export of defence equipment to Turkey if we consider there is a likelihood that it could be used for internal repression. The proposals to export defence equipment to Turkey are always given very careful examination both here in London and in our embassy in Ankara. I can assure your Lordships that, in any case of doubt, the answer is no. I cannot speak for all other nations. I hope that they would take exactly the same attitude. But the way in which we are seeking to go about this, with a NATO partner on whose navy NATO depends, is the practical way to proceed in this matter.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves the question of arms, would she care to comment on the proposed supply of long-range guided bombs by the United States to Turkey?

My Lords, I know nothing of the United States proposals and therefore cannot comment upon them. However, I shall find out the answer to the noble Lord's question.

Perhaps I may turn to the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in relation to the Suriyani community, which were so apposite. We share his concerns about the fate of that community in Turkey. Theirs is one of the most tragic stories of the region. Our Ambassador and members of his staff in Ankara have drawn that concern to the attention of the Turkish Government and will continue to do so. They also visit the area where the Suriyani live and there will be another such visit early next month.

Earlier I mentioned the PKK and I must say one thing about the ceasefire. I have some sympathy with the extreme scepticism with which the Turkish Government view the PKK ceasefire. Their doubts about the credibility and genuineness of that ceasefire are based on bitter experience. But, as I said earlier, it is not simply the PKK against whom the Turkish Government act. The difficulty is how to help them contain the terrorist activity of the PKK and yet not penalise innocent citizens who live in the area. That is something to which more attention must be paid.

Anxiety was expressed in this House, in the press and in letters, about the killing of 11 people in a bus in Shirnak. There was much speculation on who was responsible for that act. It appeared at first that the PKK claimed responsibility and now that organisation seems to deny it. All such incidents underline the need for openness and transparency in establishing where the true responsibility lies. Turkey owes it to its friends and critics, and above all to itself, not to let doubts persist and to resolve the matter openly and fairly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me about our work in making representations to the Turkish authorities in regard to individual cases, including that of Mehde Zana. The Government make continual representations, and I shall be seeing our Ambassador from Ankara in a few days' time. I shall not only give him a copy of the Hansard containing your Lordships' debate but shall also brief him on the other information we have. Those exchanges are valuable in our efforts to try to help the Turkish Government come to terms with a problem it cannot ignore.

Let me come back to the customs union, which cropped up on a number of occasions this evening. I understand why a number of noble Lords have been anxious about the growing contact between Turkey and the European Union and now the customs union, which came into force at the beginning of this year. Britain welcomed that development. We believe that Turkey's relationship with the rest of Europe can best be improved by that closer contact. Members of the European Parliament who voted for it last December made a wise decision. Some, I know, voted in favour but with little enthusiasm, and others voted against.

I know the strength and sincerity of the reservations about that step; but I want to respond to those who say that it was a wrong step. A rebuff on the customs union would have been a dismal message to send to those in Turkey who are working hard to promote change. Far from stimulating greater efforts to reform, it would have stopped those efforts in their tracks. I well understand those who seem to argue that the price of the customs union was sold too cheaply; that somehow a greater price in terms of legal and human rights reform should have been extracted. But that argument distorts the relationship between the customs union and a changing Turkey. The customs union is not just some "giveaway".

I make one further point in that context. Last year, when the customs union came into fruition, saw real progress in some reforms, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said; not enough, but some real progress. I share the view that those reforms must go much further than they did. But amendments to the Turkish constitution and changes in the anti-terrorism law resulted in the release of a good many people from prison and the prospect set out in the five-year plan adopted by the Turkish Parliament in July of greater decision-making power devolved to local government. Those changes are a platform of substance on which to make more progress on reform. We look to the next Turkish Government, whatever its composition, to sustain that progress.

On Article 8, let me say to the noble Baroness that there is need for more change. The changes were more than cosmetic. Many people would not have been released had there not been a substantial change. But we are pressing for more action to enable full freedom of expression to be upheld. That is a view which we shall continue to make clear to the Turkish Government and shall continue to pursue actively.

Other questions were raised in the debate, particularly in relation to what more we can do. One suggestion is that the International Committee of the Red Cross might operate in the region. While that is a matter for the Turkish authorities, we are fully prepared to discuss that possibility with the ICRC. We believe that it has a unique role to play and fully support its activities as the guardian of international humanitarian law. That would be an apt move forward.

I was asked one or two specific questions to which I shall reply in writing. In closing, let me say this. We cannot force the involvement of any group, such as Amnesty, however good it is, or UN rapporteurs, down Turkish throats. But we welcome and encourage Turkish co-operation with any organisation which will help to improve human rights. We must see action and there is no question in the case of Turkey that there is a great deal more to be done to bring its performance on human rights into line with the commitment that it has already given. We have a basis for promoting progress and improvement—not through isolation; not through shouting; but working with them to bring about that improvement—and that is exactly what we intend to see done.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may take her back to a point on which she touched. I refer to the possibility of tentatively opening up a dialogue between the PKK and the Turkish Government. Surely every long-standing civil conflict over the past 50 years has eventually been ended by talks with the leader of the armed opposition, even though he was reviled as the devil incarnate while the actual conflict was going on. Is there any way that the noble Baroness feels Her Majesty's Government could encourage talks about talks taking place? That is surely the way to an eventual political solution.

My Lords, it is easy to say that one should encourage the government of another country to find a way to talk to those who fundamentally disagree with it and are prepared to use arms against it. I do not believe, unless there is a ceasefire which actually works, and is seen to work over a period of time, that those talks would have any validity. Therefore, whatever we in the British Government may think, the ceasefire must be real and continuing before the talks can have any chance of success.

7.30 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I may pick up where the noble Baroness left off. There is a ceasefire operating at the moment whether or not the incident near Sirnak was the responsibility of the PKK or of the state. An official ceasefire has been called by the PKK and that continues. This is perhaps a unique opportunity for entering into the kind of negotiations which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has outlined. If the negotiations are not to be with the PKK, then who else is there on the horizon? As we have heard, the conventional opposition in Parliament has been wiped off the map, first by the destruction of the DEM; and, secondly, by the 10 per cent. threshold that prevented HADEP from gaining any representation in the new Parliament.

If, as the noble Baroness said, a purely military response can never solve the problem, the Turkish authorities must either negotiate with the PKK or identify some other body representative of Kurdish opinion with whom the negotiations can start. That does not have to wait for a total ceasefire any more than it did in El Salvador, for example, where, as the noble Baroness will remember, accords were reached while the armed conflict with the FMLN was still in progress.

I say in conclusion how very grateful I am to all noble Lords who have taken part and particularly for the many constructive suggestions that they made. I thought the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, were particularly useful. Even if we cannot have a human rights officer in the British Embassy in Ankara, we can pursue the idea which the noble Baroness mentioned and which we have been discussing in correspondence; namely, that the European Union as a whole might find some way of sharing the burden of looking at the question of human rights so that each of the embassies does not have the enormous amount of work to do, which at present is falling on us and us alone, in terms of attending trials, going down to the south east, and so on. This is something that we can discuss and share with our European partners.

I was very encouraged by what the noble Baroness said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and his remarks about the state of public health in the shanty towns of the Diyarbakir and elsewhere and that there might be some way in which we can offer some constructive help in looking after the displaced people of whom there are between 2 million and 3 million. If that can be done then we have a carrot to offer the Turkish authorities as well as the stick of always beating them around the head with human rights violations. It could be a quid pro quo.

If we go there with aid to help the innocent victims of the conflict it could persuade them to pay more attention to what we say about human rights violations, not only as regards the Kurds, who have been uppermost in our thoughts in this debate, but also the other minorities such as those mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I particularly sympathise with what he said. I believe it was my honourable friend David Alton who visited that community and recently made a very moving report on it for the Jubilee Trust. Some of your Lordships may have seen that report. I believe that these tiny communities are owed particularly the support of Christians in the west. I am very glad that the right reverend Prelate managed to raise that this evening.

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, did not get a complete answer to her question on the misuse of arms because it is not a matter solely for the British Government, but for the OSCE. It is all very well to say that there are agreements with other OSCE states on not using arms for internal repression or for the exacerbation of an existing armed conflict, as was the case in Nagorno Karabakh. The question is what mechanism is available apart from raising the matter across the Floor of the House where we have a nice debate and then go home and nothing further happens? The fact that the international community and the NGOs in particular, do not have a means of raising this with the alleged offenders who are supplying the weapons means that the governments are judge and jury in their own case.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was right when he put his finger on the straitjacket of unitary centralised government. Unless we can get the Turks to move on that, they are not going to move on the question of freedom of expression. The central point in their constitution is not being able to do anything that undermines the indivisible integrity of the Turkish state, public and people. That means if one says or does anything which is in contravention of that principle, one is ipso facto committing a criminal offence. That means that freedom of expression entails some further amendments of the Turkish constitution in a way which may be very difficult for them because it departs from something which dates back to the time of Atatürk.

The noble Lord raised the question of MED-TV. I know that the noble Baroness did not have time to deal with that. It is extremely important that if we uphold the principle of freedom of expression, it extends to people operating on our own soil. We are not to give way to blackmail by states which do not like what broadcasting authorities or even individuals, who are exiles from their own country, have to say about human rights violations back at home.

I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for raising another point that was not dealt with—that is to say, the financial agreement with Turkey, which I know caused consternation among many of our colleagues in the European Parliament. It was not just regarding this particular instance. I thought that there were general clauses inserted in the agreement which had been agreed by the European Parliament, yet we find suddenly in this instance that the wording was changed between the first draft and the final document presented for the European Parliament to agree. No one knew what went on behind the scenes or why the Council of Ministers suddenly decided to make any violation of human rights that the Turkish Government committed under this agreement the subject of unanimity instead of majority voting. It seems to me that if one does that one might as well throw away all the human rights clauses in agreements that we have with third countries.

It only remains for me to say how extraordinarily grateful I am to everybody who has spoken in this debate, which I found not only useful but constructive. I hope that it will enable us to bring additional pressure to bear on the Turks within the parameters that the noble Baroness has outlined. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill

7.37 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

By coincidence, it was on St. Valentine's Day in 1992 that my honourable friend Mr. Kevin McNamara introduced in another place the first Bill aimed at protecting wild mammals from needless cruelty. Four years later to the day we are still trying, but on this occasion, since there is now all-party and government support for the latest version, we can hope for a more favourable outcome.

The Bill now before us is similar to the one which was passed by your Lordships in the last Session of Parliament. I believe that almost all noble Lords who were interested in it at that time are here this evening. That Bill was promoted by my honourable friend the Member for Dumbarton, who succeeded in getting it through the other place with all-party support. However, some of your Lordships may recall that the Bill in its original form raised some serious worries in this House and a number of amendments were made at Committee stage. The final version was approved by the House; but, unfortunately, because of the amendments it ran out of parliamentary time.

My honourable friend the Member for Mansfield who was successful in the Private Member's ballot in the other place, decided to make another attempt to introduce the subject. I must commend my honourable friends for their determination to get this important measure on the statute book. But the delay was helpful in the sense that this final version of the Bill was submitted only after intense negotiations with the RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports, the British Field Sports Society, the National Farmers Union and Members of both Houses of Parliament.

Consequently, we now have before us a Bill which although similar to the one which came before us last year has incorporated several important changes. It is now supported by all parties in Parliament, by the animal welfare organisations, the field sports lobby and those involved in land management and pest control. That is surely a tribute to the Bill's sponsor, Mr. Alan Meale, who chose to consult with a wide range of individuals and organisations before introducing this reasonable, yet effective, piece of legislation.

On 26th January the Bill had its Second Reading in another place. It was welcomed and supported by all those who spoke, including the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Tom Sackville, who said:
"I take this opportunity to confirm the Government's very strong support for the aims of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill".— [Official Report, Commons, 26/1/96; col. 562.]
The Bill was given a Second Reading, proceeded immediately to Committee stage and, without amendment, was promptly passed at Report stage and Third Reading with the support of the whole House. That must be an almost unprecedented feat for a Private Member's Bill. It demonstrates the backing that there is for this measure and the urgency with which MPs believe that it should become law.

I should like to draw attention to some of the important differences between this Bill and the last one approved by your Lordships. Clause 1 now contains the phrase:
"with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering".
That removes the anxiety about strict liability which the earlier Bill caused farmers and landowners. There have also been changes to the listed offences. The original wording included a long list, which included, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, bums, crushes or drowns. The list has now been extended to include the words "mutilates", "stabs", "stones", "drags or asphyxiates" since examples of all those activities were available and needed to be identified. The long list was needed because it was impossible to find a cover-all phrase with which everyone could agree although suggestions such as "cruel ill-treatment" or "torture" were tried at one stage. I believe that the list is now fairly comprehensive.

The defences in Clause 2(b) were revised to provide exemptions for those who kill or injure a wild mammal,
"in the course of…lawful shooting, hunting, coursing or pest control activity".
It was felt that that is clearer than the use of the generic term "sporting activity" which appeared in the previous Bill.

Clause 2(c) replaces the words,
"under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986",
an amendment which the Home Office suggested was a desirable alternative.

Clause 2(d) was amended so that falconry would not be an offence under the Bill. Other small amendments are technical and do not change the effect of the Bill.

Although I have indicated that there is now widespread support for the new Bill, the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union have expressed a wish for reassurance, from myself and from the Government, on one aspect of the Bill. Both organisations are concerned that the provisions of the Bill should not adversely affect the rights of landowners and farmers to pursue existing and lawful practices. In particular the CLA has asked whether the wording of Clause 2(c) is limited to activities specifically authorised by statute law. Would it exclude from the defence activities under common law, such as ploughing, if they resulted in death or injury to, for example a nest of field mice?

My advice and understanding is that the wording of Clause 1, which includes the condition of intent, and Clause 2 paragraph (c), are clearly designed to protect those who either accidentally or as a result of an otherwise lawful action, cause suffering to a wild mammal, and I understand that the Bill has this effect. It would certainly not be my intention, nor the intention of my honourable friends, to open the way to prosecution for farmers and landowners engaged in lawful activity. However, I think it would be helpful if the noble Earl who is to speak for the Government would confirm to the House that this is his understanding and that of his advisers.

I have spoken at some length, but I feel that we have before us a Bill which in its way is historic. If passed, this will be the first time that all wild mammals will have legal protection against deliberate acts of cruelty.

Last year I gave horrifying examples of the mindless cruelty which is too often inflicted on helpless creatures. That sad list has grown even longer in the months since we last discussed the need for legislation. I do not propose to harrow your Lordships with the details, but I assure the House that they are unbelievable in some cases. The procedures of our House do not allow us to proceed at the speed afforded to the Bill in another place, but I hope that we may progress without undue delay with this much-needed measure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( Baroness Nicol.)

7.46 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and do so both in my personal capacity as a Member of your Lordships' House and in my capacity as deputy chairman of the British Field Sports Society.

I am delighted to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill in your Lordships' House today. Your Lordships will recall the noble Baroness's tremendous courtesy and understanding when the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill came before your Lordships' House in the last Session. I also congratulate the promoter of this Bill in the other place, Mr. Alan Meale, and the chairman of the British Field Sports Society, my honourable friend Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, for achieving a tremendous agreed measure. This involved lengthy and constructive discussions between them and officials and legal advisers from the BFSS and the RSPCA. The Bill which the noble Baroness has presented follows, and is in line with, a long line of sensible animal welfare measures which have passed through this House. It has full consensus support in the countryside, as did the Pests Act 1954, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, which all improved the welfare of wild mammals.

Your Lordships will recall that in the last Session the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, which came from the other place, was deemed to be flawed in a number of respects, as the noble Baroness said. It was our task and responsibility then, as it so often is, to ensure that its defects were rectified. It has been mooted in certain quarters of the press and picked up by a number of Members of the other place that the amendments moved and passed by your Lordships in the last Session were designed to wreck that Bill. As the mover of some of those amendments, I can safely say that that was not the intention, as the incorporation of those amendments into the current Bill so clearly demonstrates.

It is also worth recalling that those amendments were agreed by all sides of this House, including both Front Benches. Therefore, it seems somewhat unfair for Members in the other place to accuse your Lordships of delaying that Bill when we only spent 15 days deliberating on it. I remind your Lordships that, by comparison, the other place spent four and a half months passing it through its Commons stages. Much of that time was wasted debating anti-field sports provisions. The House of Commons could find only 28 minutes of Committee time to devote to discussing the amended Bill without its anti-field sports clauses.

There are some important issues surrounding the Bill which need examination. Once again, some wild claims have been made. The first is that wild animals should have exactly the same level of protection as domestic ones. It may be helpful to your Lordships and may benefit some people who have not thought the issue through to its logical conclusion—possibly not beyond a quick read of "Animal Rights World" or whatever they take to bed with them—to recognise that we cannot possibly give wild rats and pet rats the same degree of protection—and for very good reasons. Wild rats regrettably need controlling, while pet rats need looking after. That is not to say that wild animals need no protection, but they cannot possibly receive the same protection as we give to pets. Wild animals do not form neat queues at vets' surgeries. They do not answer to names like "Tigger" or "Bounder", and they are not always welcome in our homes. We poison wild rats, but poisoning pet rats is, quite rightly, a crime. If a pet rat falls ill we take it to the animal hospital which we do not do with wild rats. That is the difference.

Those who cling to the spurious idea that existing protection for domestic animals, or something similar, could just be extended to wild ones need to answer some simple questions. Why, then, do we not make a simple, single amendment to the Protection of Animals Act 1911 so that it applies to all animals, wild and domestic? There are two crucial reasons why not. First, because the legislation protects domestic birds and fish as well as mammals. It is just as unlawful to starve a pet goldfish as a pet dog. The logical step would therefore be to support protection for wild birds and fish. Yet wild birds and fish are excluded from the Bill. If they were not, the Bill would make angling a crime. The Bill may be a necessary measure, but do not let us pretend that it redresses some great anomaly in the law. We are in practice creating a far greater anomaly by excluding wild birds and fish, but, nevertheless, a wholly desirable anomaly.

The second reason why it would be unwise to extend the identical provisions of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to wild mammals is that the blanket protection it affords would at a stroke place in jeopardy any form of pest control. The broad offences it creates, such as "cruelly ill-treating" an animal, could be used as ammunition by anyone objecting to a particular activity, and it would have to be tested in the courts. Those who disapprove of certain countryside activities must try to see beyond their own dislike and think through the full implications. It would not just be hunting that would be in doubt. The legality of fishing and shooting would be questioned, too, as would agricultural practices so necessary for the management of the countryside.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 creates offences of strict liability. It is no defence under the Act to say, "I didn't mean to be cruel by starving my dog". That level of liability is right in the case of domestic animals or captive wild animals, because once a dog is in my dominion, I have a clear responsibility for it. If we had simply applied the strict provisions of the 1911 Act to the previous Bill, anyone could have been prosecuted for running down a wild animal whether they meant it harm or not. That would have been unjust and that is why the Bill needed amendment. The Bill before us now restricts the scope of the offence to intentional acts. The inclusion of mens rea in the Bill was essential in order to prevent law-abiding citizens from inadvertently committing a criminal offence.

It is encouraging to see that Mr. Elliot Morley, the Labour spokesman on animal welfare in the other place, has travelled some way since the previous Session, when he described your Lordships as "buffers and duffers" and felt that all the amendments we made last time were unnecessary. Mr. Morley now concedes that there were anomalies in the original legislation and that it is a better Bill now.

Who is the buffer and duffer now? What that effectively means is that Mr. Morley was prepared to see a flawed Bill forced through last time on the grounds that a flawed Bill was better than no Bill at all. That shows scant regard for the innocent victims who might have been made criminals by the Bill's defective wording. It is also the worst feature of this kind of "pressure group politics". I have to say that I am slightly perplexed by his claim that the research assistance he receives from the Political Animal Lobby (an offshore based company which promotes animal rights) is not relevant to this debate. No doubt he knows best. Let us wait to see whether the right honourable Member for Sedgefield meant what he said when he declared on Radio 4 on 8th June 1995:
"What is important for us (the Labour Party) is to break through (pressure group) politics".
Mr. Morley's lack of concern for the business of drafting tight, well-worded legislation was evidenced in other ways. He suggested that the country sports lobby should have accepted the word "torture" in the Bill. He and others have argued that in order to score points against hunting. What they have yet to understand is that in law such a general offence of torture would mean exactly the same as "ill-treating" and would be unworkable in the case of wild animals. Under no circumstances do I concede that country sports involve "torture". It was not the country sports lobby but officials from the Ministry of Agriculture who objected to the word "torture" as being too imprecise.

The promoter of the Bill in the other place has suggested that tens of thousands of cases have been identified every year in which charges cannot be brought, yet, at the same time, Mr. Morley considers that the Bill is limited. I would be interested in further evidence of such large numbers of cases which would fall within the scope of this Bill. Where have the figures of tens of thousands come from? The research I did thankfully showed me that police forces around the country are closer to my estimate about the number of cases of cruelty committed each year—a small handful. We must be careful that Bills of this nature are not "sold" to the public in a misleading way. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the hard sell and sometimes misleading methods adopted by pressure groups to sell their own Bills do nothing for our political process.

It is important that we remember that wild animals are already protected when they become captive. Most wild animals are either free and have to look after themselves or they are captive, when man takes responsibility for them. It is only in a few cases where animals have been held by the courts not to be in a state of captivity that they have been exposed without protection. There are some real examples, even if they are comparatively infrequent, of appalling cruelty where the perpetrator has got away. It is therefore right for the Bill to seek to deal with those instances in a measured way, while bearing in mind that they are comparatively rare.

Country people have the responsibility for caring for the well being of the majority of domestic animals in this kingdom, as well as the management of the countryside, to the benefit of wildlife. Animal welfare and good husbandry are something that country people have carried out instinctively from time immemorial. Country people in particular will welcome the Bill in its aim to outlaw disgraceful acts of cruelty to wild mammals. Most of those, I am sad to notice from reading the RSPCA's briefing, are perpetrated in towns.

I welcome the assurances that the noble Baroness has given that the Bill is not in any way intended to interfere with agricultural practices, pest control and legitimate field sports. We have made an important step by implicitly recognising in the wording of this Bill that pest control and field sports play an integral part in managing our diverse countryside. It is also an important step in protecting wild mammals through a sensible and practical approach to the matter. In promoting the Bill in that measured way Mr. Meale has come to recognise what we have always said. A Bill which attacks field sports rather than addressing sensible animal welfare will never succeed. We have come a long way since the rhetoric we heard before Christmas. The right approach is the consensus approach—an approach which can enjoy one nation support: the support of both town and country.

In working together, the BFSS and the RSPCA demonstrate the considerable common ground that we all share. Animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA will attract increasing support from country people with that type of approach. That is in stark contrast to those animal rights organisations which would have liked to have hijacked the Bill. They would have risked wasting another opportunity as they wasted opportunities with the McNamara and McFall Bills. The Bill before us now could have reached the statute book a lot earlier had the promoters of those previous Bills not chosen to sacrifice their measures on the altar of animal rights.

In conclusion I should like to repeat my gratitude to the promoter of this Bill in the other place and my honourable friend Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, chairman of the British Field Sports Society, for achieving an agreed measure and I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on promoting a Bill which I am delighted to commend wholeheartedly to the House.

7.58 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill, and I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating her on obtaining all-party support. I shall speak just briefly in its support.

I recognise that the Church's record in its attitude to animals is a mixed one. On the one hand, there is the tradition, particularly strongly developed in the Orthodox Church, of animals as fellow creatures of God with whom we human beings have an affinity. The emphasis in this tradition is on the harmony that should exist between humans and other creatures. It finds vivid expression in these stories of the saints who gather animals around them in peace and conjubilant praise to God.

On the other hand, the phrase in Genesis that man has been given dominion over animals has too often been taken to mean that we can do what we like with them. But that, I am glad to say, is now changing rapidly. Dominion is being interpreted not as domination but as stewardship. As an important Church report puts it:
"Man has often used his power over animals in ways which revolt, and do violence to, his moral consciousness. On a theistic understanding of creation, such as the Christian entertains, it is misguided to suppose that all animal life exists only to serve human kind; or that the world was made exclusively for man's benefit… In terms of this theistic understanding man is custodian of he universe he inhabits with no absolute rights over it. This implies a profound responsibility to deal with his environment in the light of his factual situation. This responsibility, therefore, extends not only to the betterment of his own but also to that of other species".
This Bill is a very welcome expression of the principles stated in that paragraph. It extends to wild animals some of the protection that the law affords to domestic animals. That there is a need for such a Bill is, I believe, shown by the examples provided by the RSPCA. There are distressing examples of wanton cruelty to hedgehogs, foxes, hares and other animals. I know that other noble Lords will have received them and so I shall not repeat them.

There are two possible forms of ethical support for the Bill, both of which have value. The first is that these animals have value in their own right, and that should be recognised. Furthermore, they experience pain and should therefore be protected from gratuitous infliction of suffering. It is not necessary to go as far as saying that these animals have rights—though some churchmen would certainly argue that they do—to recognise that in practice animals should be treated with respect and dignity, including the wild mammals with which the Bill specifically deals.

The other approach focuses not on animals for their own sake but on human responsibilities and what it is to be a human being. The kind of cruelty depicted in the examples set out by the RSPCA is a disgrace to the name "human" and a denial of what it is to be a human being.

I believe that for either of those reasons, separately or taken together, all Christian people and other people of good will will want to support the Bill most strongly.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing the Bill. It has not been an easy time for her. I appreciate only too well, as does my noble friend Lord Mancroft, the great deal of time that she personally has spent on seeing the Bill in its present state. There has been a huge amount of negotiation and discussion. Indeed, the noble Baroness has attempted to bring forward several Bills dealing with animal welfare where the whole question could be agreed upon. I welcome the Bill. It is sensible and effective without being unnecessarily restrictive.

There is no doubt that the issues are complex. Without careful drafting, ambiguities could easily cause confusion and mistrust. My noble friend Lord Mancroft made a good case about the dangers of single issue pressure groups. At an early stage in the discussions there was a real danger that those single issue pressures would try to dictate the whole issue. Fortunately, common sense has prevailed and we now have a Bill which is much wider and more sensible. I say as a general point that in the countryside today far too much of what we are told comes from the single issue pressure groups. They are doing a great disservice to themselves and to the management of land and animals.

What brings us together in the Bill is one key word, which is "respect". I participate in field sports but I have a great deal of respect for my quarry. In the same way, those who have been so keen to promote the Bill have respect too. That is the word which binds us together.

I appreciate that there are some who would have liked the Bill to have gone further. However, the organisations with which I am involved—I adhere to the traditions of the House by declaring an interest in the Game Conservancy, of which I am chairman, the Moorlands Association and more recently the Countryside Movement—had grave misgivings about many of the proposals in the previous Bills.

Apart from the obvious need to protect wild animals against deliberate and wanton cruelty, I am pleased that the Bill has an implicit recognition of the need for sensible predation control. I have many years experience of managing land in the Yorkshire Dales and that has shown me—indeed, the Game Conservancy research clearly shows too—that without such predation control many of the game species whose well being is so crucial to the management of much of the habitat in Great Britain would decline drastically. Together with the game species would decline a whole range of other species that we all wish to see protected and thriving. Furthermore, there is the important economic aspect.

I believe that with the passing of the Bill we have achieved a crucial correct balance. There is the need to protect wild mammals from intentional gratuitous cruelty, but we must also ensure that the legitimate interests of farmers and game managers are protected.

The CLA had raised one matter with me and I am delighted to say that the noble Baroness addressed that. I can say confidently that the CLA will not see the need to table any amendments in Committee as a result of the advice that she has given to us. However, like the noble Baroness, I would be grateful if my noble friend on the Front Bench will assure the House along the same lines.

I conclude by congratulating all those who have worked so hard to achieve the right balance and who have enabled the Bill to be before us today. I wish it speedy progress.

8.7 p.m.

My Lords, as one who took part in most of the stages of the previous Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill and who introduced a couple of amendments, at least one of which appears to have found favour with the sponsors of the present Bill, I feel it proper to say a few words tonight.

The Bill that reached us last October, shorn at the last moment of its illiberal attacks upon rural traditions, was in principle good. However, for whatever reason, the drafting left a lot to be desired. There were far too many imprecisions and ambiguities. Your Lordships did their constitutional duty by going through the Bill with a tooth-comb, knocking out ambiguities and preventing the possibility of unintended consequences, thereby improving the Bill enormously while rightly preserving intact its main purpose.

We sent the Bill back to the other place, accompanied by our genuine good wishes and the hope expressed from all quarters of the House that it would pass speedily into law. However, citing precedent, the Government, as they were entitled, refused to allow any time at all for consideration of our amendments. That was hardly our fault, yet for our pains your Lordships' House was vilified, firstly, in an uncharacteristically sloppy and unprofessional report in a normally much respected national broadsheet; secondly, by the RSPCA, unfortunately not entirely unexpectedly these days; and, thirdly, by certain individuals in another place who had not taken the trouble to brief themselves properly.

However, ironically, we now see that a great many of our amendments, perhaps a majority, have been taken on board by the sponsors and incorporated in essence into the present Bill. Not only have our efforts been further refined and polished—and we must pay tribute to the sponsors for their efforts in that regard—but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, pointed out, falconry has now been protected, which was an omission that most of us overlooked last time. Again, certainly, loopholes have been closed. We note, as she said, that stabbing, stoning, asphyxiating, and so on have been added to the list of intentionally cruel activities to be banned, and rightly so. Therefore, one hopes that it will be conceded that this House was right to perform its constitutional scrutinising and revising function.

I have two questions to put to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, or to the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government, or both. Why, in the current Bill as opposed to the previous one, is Scotland excluded in part, albeit a very minor part? Secondly, and far more important, why is Northern Ireland excluded completely? I have consulted a wide range of Northern Ireland opinion, including the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, earlier this afternoon, and have ascertained that there is no opposition to this Bill in Northern Ireland; quite the reverse. Indeed, the feeling is that people in the Province will be very angry when they realise that Northern Ireland is excluded from the Bill.

It may be that the political wing of the IRA—an organisation not exactly noted for humane treatment of mammals, certainly of two-legged mammals—opposes this Bill for a variety of reasons among which will almost certainly be a knee-jerk reaction against anything emanating from Westminster. But at least 90 per cent. of the people in the Province oppose the IRA and it is surely their wishes which should prevail. Perhaps we may attend to that in Committee.

To conclude, at the cost of four or five months' delay, we have before us a very much better Bill than that which went before. I speak only for myself and not on behalf of any lobby but I know that I can say with confidence that we all wish this Bill well.

8.12 p.m.

My Lords, I too welcome the Bill from these Benches and congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing forward something with which I agree. We are often at odds on these matters but, as amended, this Bill is a good Bill. We have only to look at the list that we have all received and to remember the knowledge of awful people that we have to know that these kinds of activities go on, and of course they should be made an offence. The torturing of wild animals revolts all decent people. Therefore, a Bill which makes that a punishable offence is not only good but totally necessary.

I speak as a farmer and as a person who occasionally still shoots. I was brought up in the country. I believe that all of us who were brought up in the country have been solidly taught that the suffering of wild or domestic animals is something which cannot and should not be tolerated. The exception which deals with the killing of wild animals as an act of mercy is very necessary. We all know that if a wild rabbit is run over, it is obviously better to kill it quickly because that is an act of mercy whereas to leave it or to try to cure it may merely cause more suffering. Therefore, that is a very necessary provision in the Bill.

Noble Lords have referred to the difficulty of tabling amendments but obviously that may be necessary to make the Bill a reasonable one. I was rather worried that a clause had been taken out which might have protected a farmer who, for example, had crushed the nest of a wild mouse. It must be remembered that farmers are always worried about that sort of thing. Robert Burns was a farmer and he wrote a specific poem on that point. When he turned up a nest which he had gone over with his plough, he said to the mouse:
"Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie,
O what a panic's in thy breastie!".
Like most Scots, I know only the first line but I remember the tenor of the rest of the poem. However, that shows the kind of compassion that farmers feel for wild animals. I am glad that we have had an assurance from the noble Baroness that that sort of thing will not be caught by the Bill. Although that is not on the face of the Bill, it is on the record from the noble Baroness and perhaps the noble Earl will confirm that. This is a good Bill but, by heaven, it needed the amendments.

8.16 p.m.

My Lords, from these Benches I too express strong support for the Bill, a support which has been given by noble Lords who have spoken from all sides of the House. Its aims are not controversial. Gratuitous acts of deliberate cruelty towards wild animals at present are not a criminal offence and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has just said, all reasonable people would accept that they should be. For far too long there has been a lacuna in the law which needs to be remedied and, if this Bill is passed, it will rightly make such acts not just morally reprehensible, as at present, but unlawful too.

I believe that the aims of this Bill have widespread public support. Indeed, concern for animals and a desire to improve their welfare have never been more strongly felt or expressed by the general public and particularly by young people than at present. Those of us who have been lucky enough to keep animals and live close to them share those concerns and fully support them.

There are those who would have wished to see the Bill go further. Some aspects of the way in which we treat animals are of course controversial. In our own society some regard it as acceptable to kill animals for food while others do not; some regard it as permissible to kill animals in the course of sport while others do not; some regard it as acceptable to kill animals to test scientific procedures which will enhance human lives while others do not. The moral issues raised in those matters are often difficult. But the history of animal welfare legislation over the past 100 years or so shows that real progress towards getting legislation on the statute book is usually achieved only through co-operation and consensus.

This Bill is a real advance towards improvement in our treatment of wild animals and a prime example of co-operation too. It is right that I should pay tribute from these Benches to some of those who have co-operated to produce the legislation in this form. First, as all noble Lords who have spoken have said, my noble friend Lady Nicol deserves the thanks of the House for outlining the purpose of the Bill, the changes that have been made since it last came before your Lordships and the way in which it would operate, with a clarity and a skill which we know to be characteristic of her. I am grateful to her for the additional reassurance that she has given this evening to farmers and landowners, which I hope we shall hear also from the Government.

Secondly, in another place the promoter of this Bill, the honourable Member for Mansfield, Mr. Meale, and the promoter of what has been called the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill Mark I, the honourable Member for Dumbarton, Mr. John McFall, have, I understand, worked hard to meet the concerns of those who were troubled by some aspects of the earlier Bill. It is thanks to them and to other honourable Members from other sides of the House, in particular the honourable Member for Wimbledon, Dr. Goodson-Wickes, that this Bill will at the end of the day, I very much hope, reach the statute book.

Thirdly, I believe that the House should be grateful to the RSPCA, which has done much to draw attention to the need for the Bill and to see that a workable piece of legislation has been produced. It is also right briefly to say something about the role of your Lordships' House in relation to the history of the legislation, especially as there has been some criticism of it which I believe to be unjustified, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

The original Bill which came before us in the last Session, while its aims were universally approved, was flawed. It created an absolute offence to which the defence of accident or lack of intent would have had no application. Its effect, if enacted, would have been to render liable to prosecution the driver who ran over a hedgehog or the dog owner whose pet killed a rabbit. It would have been no defence under that Bill that those things had happened by accident.

As your Lordships know, that Bill was amended here and returned to another place where it failed through lack of time. The Bill now before us—thanks to those to whom I have already paid tribute—is, I believe, a better Bill even than that which left your Lordships' House. The end result is that, through a combination of your Lordships' vigilance and the hard work of those in another place, and of course of my noble friend, good legislation will, it is to be hoped, replace the original flawed Bill and reach the statute book.

On the last occasion when the matter came before the House, my noble friend gave horrific examples of the sort of activities to which the Bill is directed. There may not be many such cases; indeed, I hope that there are not. I would that there were none. I believe that the Bill now before us will play an important role in clearly defining our attitudes and the law towards wild animals and our obligations in relation to them. Animals greatly enhance the lives of men and we owe them both respect and concern for their welfare in return.

8.22 p.m.

My Lords, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the Bill now before the House completed its Second Reading, Committee and Third Reading stages, in another place in the course of a morning. That remarkable fact reflected the thoroughness of the preparatory work that had taken place. As your Lordships will be aware from what has already been said this evening, the text of the Bill before your Lordships reflects substantial discussion and agreement between the Bill's sponsor, the British Field Sports Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

I should like, in that context, to echo the tributes which have been made today and in another place to all those who were involved in reaching the consensus. As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said, that consensus is a tribute to all concerned. Here I want to pay a special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for the skill with which she has piloted the Bill, and her tolerance in accommodating all sides on the issues involved.

I can confirm the Government's support for the aims of the Bill—although, like others, I am sad that such a measure is necessary. The Government have already given considerable priority to the protection of wild animals, and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill fills a recognised gap in the protection afforded to wild mammals. That gap arises from the fact that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 applies only to captive and domestic animals. The Bill that is before your Lordships tonight will make it an offence to commit certain acts on any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering. But it does not affect either pest control or legitimate agricultural practices.

As requested by my noble friend and, indeed, by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I should like to emphasise that last point. The Government are satisfied that, as currently drafted, the Bill has no effect on existing rights of landowners and farmers to pursue legitimate and lawful practices. The substance of the offence created by the Bill is set out in Clause 1. None of the acts there constitutes an offence unless it is carried out with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

Clause 1 is designed specifically to prevent the legitimate practices of farmers and landowners, such as ploughing, harvesting and heather burning, from being outlawed by the law. Those normal agricultural practices manifestly do not involve an intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

For example, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie—and I am ashamed to say that I know nothing about Robert Burns—if a farmer happens to run over a fieldmouse while ploughing his field, he will clearly not be committing an offence under this Bill. That is because his intent is innocent; that is, he would not be intending to cause unnecessary suffering.

As I made clear, the Government support the aims of the Bill and are content for it to pass into law.

8.25 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I shall try to deal with the points raised. I am very tempted to enter into a philosophical discussion with the right reverend Prelate, but perhaps we may postpone that to another day. However, I very much liked his comment that dominion has changed to stewardship. I would put it another way and say that we have to learn the difference between use and abuse. I believe that animals are there for our use, but that we must use them without descending into abuse.

I had a very rural upbringing and, therefore, I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was especially anxious about the Bill when it first came to this House. However, in all our dealings the noble Lord has been courteous, helpful and constructive. I am most grateful to him for the way in which he conducted his discussions in our meetings.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked me two questions: why not Scotland or Northern Ireland? I am sorry that I cannot answer the Scottish point. I have grown so used in this House to leaving Scotland out of everything that I am afraid I did not look into that aspect of the matter. However, because the matter was raised in the House of Commons and was duly answered there, I can tell the noble Lord why the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. There is no need for such a law in the Province because the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 already covers all animals, whether domestic, captive or wild. It may be of interest to other noble Lords to hear some of the detail involved.

It is an offence in Northern Ireland to,
"cruelly beat, kick, ill-treat, torture, infuriate or terrify any animal",
including any bird, fish or reptile. Therefore, the law in Northern Ireland has been much fiercer than that which we now propose. I understand that it has not caused any difficulties to either the hunting lobby or any other sporting lobby. But it is possible that the character of Northern Ireland is different, so I shall not press that particular aspect. I see that the noble Lord wishes to respond. I give way.

My Lords, I am much obliged. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for not mentioning the matter to her beforehand. Scotland is exempt only so far as concerns the confiscation of cars and implements. It is a very trivial point and, of course, most of the Bill does apply to Scotland. However, since the last time we discussed a similar Bill, Scotland has been exempted in respect of that very small aspect. It probably does not really matter, but it would be interesting to know why it has been introduced in the few months since we last debated the Bill. That is all that I wish to say on that point.

My Lords, any question raised by your Lordships is important. I shall endeavour to obtain the answer for the noble Lord and send it to him.

All I can do now is express my thanks—indeed, there are many thank-you's to be said—to the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and to the BFSS. They have all had very constructive inputs into the matter. I should like especially to thank the RSPCA. I do not know whether the society comes into the list of single-issue campaigners which some noble Lords found so difficult, but it seems to me to have quite a wide brief. I have been most impressed by the way in which the society works. Indeed, it has been extremely helpful in the preparations for the Bill. I should also like to thank the League Against Cruel Sports, because, despite its name, it, too, has shown a great deal of tolerance in changing the Bill.

It is obvious that there is a great deal of goodwill in the House towards the Bill. I hope that we may now get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.