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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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.