Skip to main content

Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 15 May 1996

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

2.46 p.m.

What early opportunities they can take, within the European Union, to initiate and follow up moves to achieve radical changes in the common fisheries policy.

My Lords, the key issues of reducing fishing capacity and increasing the effectiveness of technical conservation measures under the common fisheries policy will be priority concerns of the Council of Fisheries Ministers at their next meetings. In addition, if treaty changes are needed to achieve improvements—for example, in dealing with quota hoppers—the Government will seek them at the Intergovernmental Conference.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that leaders of a minority of fishermen's organisations are calling for the extreme course of unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy and from the European Union, if that is a necessary consequence? But leaders representing most British fishermen are seeking reform of the CFP, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will have recognised last weekend in Aberdeen from the reasonable attitude of representatives of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation whom he met there. What are the prospects of progress at those meetings about which my noble friend told us?

My Lords, we are very keen to make progress and we have had some good conversations with the European commissioner. As the noble Lord says, we agree with many fishermen's organisations that the right way forward is through reform rather than a hurried and expensive exit.

My Lords, however lacking in influence we have been in relation to fisheries and beef, will the Minister tell his noble friend and the House what influence we should have if we were not members of the European Union?

My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that we would not be affected by the common fisheries policy if we left the Union? Will he further confirm that the fishermen are in a far worse plight than those with the interests referred to in the last Question because unanimity is required in the Council to change the common fisheries policy?

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord should fear unanimity. After all, that is what he seems to wish to keep in many instances, whereas others wish to see more majority voting. The noble Lord should not think that we would escape from the common fisheries policy by leaving it. The rest of the Community waters would still be controlled by the common fisheries policy, and it is with that organisation that we should have to negotiate our share of those waters.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, does very well in its fishing waters because it is not controlled by anyone? Indeed, because it is not a member of the European Union not only does it have influence but it also has a thriving economy.

My Lords, there are many good things to be said about Norway. I do not think that being outside the European Union is one of them.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is likely to take a long time to reach international agreement? In view of the importance of sand eels in the food chain, will the Government take quicker action to control the fishing of sand eels in the North Sea before they are extinct?

My Lords, I am not aware that sand eels are in imminent danger of extinction. However, we have pressed for more controls and more science in the area. Moreover, to some extent, consumers seem to be ahead of us because they are persuading the major users of the oil that comes from sand eels to give up doing so, and that will have a natural effect on fisheries.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that France and Germany at their usual and regular pre-Council of Ministers meetings have already agreed among themselves and with the Commission that there will be no change in the policy? What does the noble Lord propose to do about that?

My Lords, I always work on the assumption that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, knows more than I do. I have no access to the intimate discussions between France and Germany. I am glad that the noble Lord has, but I hope that he is wrong in what he says.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am sure he is because I have raised the point before—that the fisheries commissioner, Mrs. Emma Bonino, has said several times that it is perfectly possible to deal with the problem of quota hopping within the existing rules of the common fisheries policy if the Government are so minded? Do the Government agree? If so, can the noble Lord inform the House as to the action that they intend to take?

My Lords, since Mrs. Bonino first said that, we have been talking with her and her officials quite intensively. I believe that she would now say what she said in a very quiet voice, because she is beginning to agree with us that there is probably nothing to be done without a treaty change.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the issue of sand eels is extremely important because they are being sucked up by mass fishing? Surely that is one of the keys to the whole question.

My Lords, I am beginning to believe that the whole question of the common fisheries policy has been well trawled; indeed, there are very few new questions to answer.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that there is a new question? With such great demands for fish nowadays, more and more people will be looking towards fish farming and that will shortly produce a completely different situation.

My Lords, at first sight that seems to be the case. But, unfortunately, one has to feed farmed fish on something and they prefer to eat other fish. Therefore, one has to catch the fish to feed the farmed fish and, from thence, one has further problems.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that before Britain joined the CFP we had 80 per cent. of the volume of the fish and 85 per cent. of the value and that we now only have 30 per cent. of the volume and 8 per cent. of the value? Surely if we left the common fisheries policy we would be very much better off than we are at present.

No, my Lords; I do not agree with anything just said by my noble friend. Indeed, I believe that sometimes he does not appreciate the European Union in the way that he ought to. When he stands on Rannoch Moor or in the black wood of Rannoch, I am sure that he is really grateful that they are to become Natura 2000 sites.