Commission Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy

[back to previous text]

Mr. Morley: Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The Shetland box is one of our priorities; it was in the Commission's Green Paper that it should remain and we strongly believe that there are sound conservation arguments to retain it, although it is not uncontroversial in our industry. However, it works in a reasonable way and does not inconvenience the industry. It has a sound rationale and we will support it.

A mackerel fishery in the hon. Gentleman's constituency takes about 1,000 tonnes of high-value, selective mackerel a year, which fetches a good price, while in Shetland enormous trawlers take huge catches. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is a member of the hon. Gentleman's party, he may like to negotiate some kind of shift in respect of the large quantity of mackerel in Shetland to increase his quota, which I would support.

Jim Dobbin: With regard to safety requirements on products from developing countries, it is thought that more finance will be needed to help them to reach safety standards. Is that in the pipeline?

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Mr. Morley: Does my hon. Friend mean developing countries?

Jim Dobbin: Yes.

Mr. Morley: The European Union is not directly involved in safety standards in the fishing industry of developing countries. There are a growing number of joint ventures between EU vessels and third country vessels, and we expect them to have proper health and safety standards in line with those in the EU. Responsibilities for safety standards in fishing in respect of third, developing countries lie with their Governments. We have an aid programme and it is not impossible that some of that aid could be directed towards such measures. However, I am not aware that that is the case at the present time.

The Chairman: We are now at the end of the time that is allotted to questions.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 7262/01, the Commission Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 7263/01, the Commission Report on the state of the resources and their expected development, 7377/01, the Commission Report on the economic and social situation of coastal regions, and 7378/01, the Commission Report on the implementation of the Community system for fisheries and aquaculture over the period 1993–2000; recognises that the review of the CFP offers an important opportunity with considerable implications for the future of fisheries management; supports the Government's view that current positive aspects, notably the access regime, relative stability (including Hague Preference) and the Shetland Box, must continue to operate; agrees that current weaknesses, including the continued use by some Member States of counter-productive subsidies, uneven enforcement, a lack of environmental integration, unsustainable agreements with third countries and the mismatch between fleet capacity and available resources, must be addressed; anticipates with the Government the forthcoming publication by the Commission of its legislative proposals for the review; and supports the Government's efforts to secure the best outcome for the whole of the UK fisheries sector throughout the negotiations.—[Mr. Morley.]

5.30 pm

Mrs. Winterton: I have a confession to make, Miss Widdecombe. This is the first time that I have served on European Standing Committee A. I was therefore unsure at what stage to extend the usual courtesies and to welcome you to the Chair. I am slightly fearful of your reputation and I shall do my level best to behave myself. It is a great pleasure that you are chairing our proceedings this afternoon.

Some Committee members will want to debate why we have such an environmental disaster on our hands and what practical, technical solutions are on offer. However, I want to concentrate on the legal aspect of fisheries policy because we need to establish that in our minds when considering the future. No doubt the Minister is aware that the future is somewhat prescribed. The Liberal Democrats imagine that we can renegotiate the common fisheries policy, which is not possible for the simple reason that renegotiation must involve all interested parties—all those that signed up to join the European Union—and that unanimity is the order of the day. There is no reason why any other member state would be willing to give up advantages to its own country to benefit the United Kingdom, so renegotiation of the common fisheries policy is a non-starter.

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To have a vision for the future, we must understand the past. Many politicians from all political parties find it difficult to acknowledge decisions that were made in the past—so much so that they have ignored them. In the process of so doing, they have deliberately set out to deceive our fishermen and to prevent them at all costs from acquiring knowledge of the facts. I hope to demonstrate the circumstances that presently prevail in the fishing industry and the possibilities for the future are essentially determined by what has been done in the past. The future of the common fisheries policy lies in the contents of past treaties, the guardian of which is the European Commission. It puts forward proposals and it requires unanimous agreement of all member states for the Council of Ministers to change them.

Having read the speech of the Spanish Minister to the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament on 22 January, it is obvious that we shall be hard pressed to achieve unanimity. If the Council of Ministers does not put a new management system in place by the end of this year, the acquis communautaire of equal access to a common resource will automatically kick in, as it did for the first 26 days of 1983. The Commission must abide by the treaties. It is bound by the treaties. Under the treaty of the European Community, the common fisheries policy is a direct result of the common organisation of the market in fisheries products.

The treaty specifically excludes any form of discrimination between Community producers or consumers. There are presently three separate areas of operation: structural measures, conservation of resources and market organisation. The basic structural measures regulation, 101/76, contains the

    ''equal access to a Common Resource without discrimination''

principle. It is extraordinary how many member states promote discriminatory proposals.

It has also been fascinating to learn that the Scottish nationalists, if they could gain independence for Scotland, would not join the European Union. They are not represented in Committee today, so perhaps the debate does not apply to them. Given that the structural arrangements are part of the acquis communautaire, we should not forget that this so-called future common fisheries policy will be based not on 15 members but on 27, as 10 out of the 12 who are lining up to join have already accepted the acquis communautaire. The two remaining countries—Malta and Poland—are discussing transitional derogations.

The acquis communautaire that the new members are accepting, and which all existing Members have accepted, is based on the original article 6 of the treaty of Rome with regard to non-discrimination. Article 6 states:

    ''Within the scope of application of this Treaty, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on the grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.''

It must be remembered that the structural measures are the driving force of the multi-annual guidance programmes, and are geared to ensuring that the Community fleet is reduced to the required level to

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allow for the equal access principle to be adopted without discrimination.

As we discussed during questions, the Commission is making moves to introduce a days-at-sea regime—effort limitation—as opposed to the past removal of fishing capacity through decommissioning. The basic conservation of resources regulation, 3760/92, continues the discriminatory system of sharing certain stocks under threat and will end at the end of the year. The Council of Ministers can decide to continue it with a further temporary derogation by a qualified majority.

Some hon. Members believe that the principle of relative stability will bring benefits. However, the current relative stability arrangements are discriminatory, while the future arrangements will be based on the treaty obligation of non-discrimination. Article 4 of the regulation allows the Council to

    ''(a) establish zones in which fishing activities are prohibited or restricted;

    (b) limit exploitation rates;

    (c) set quantitative limits on catches;

    (d) limit time spent at sea taking account, where appropriate, of the remoteness of the fishing waters;

    (e) fix the number and type of fishing vessels authorized to fish,

    (f) lay down technical measures regarding fishing gear and its method of use;

    (g) set a minimum size or weight of individuals that may be caught;

    (h) establish incentives, including those of an economic nature, to promote more selective fishing.''

Those provisions are contained within Council regulation 1627/94, which lays down general provisions on special fishing permits. They have been cleverly interwoven into the treaty of Corfu—the treaty of accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden. The UK Parliament accepted the treaty and passed the European Communities (Accession) Act 1994, which amended the European Communities Act 1972. All hon. Members had the opportunity to disagree with, and defeat, that legislation. However, they did not.

Market organisation is often overlooked. The current basic regulation is 104/2000. It places considerable responsibility on producer organisations to ensure that their members adhere to strict, pre-determined regimes to match the production or catching of fish to the supply to the market. Under regulation 2508/2000, producer organisations must draw up detailed operational programmes for species such as plaice, cod, haddock, mackerel, hake, monkfish, sole, turbot, sea bass and edible crabs. Where a species is a significant share of the production by value or volume of a producer organisation—some 5 per cent. for species subject to quotas according to the regulation—the catch plan must include an indicative supply schedule for the fishing year that is based on seasonal trends in price, production and demand in the market. The plan must be submitted to the Ministry within seven weeks from 1 January and the Ministry must approve the plan within 12 weeks from 1 January. The Commission must carry out checks to ensure that those conditions are complied with and may, in the light of such checks, request that

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a member state withdraw recognition of a producer organisation. Again, emphasis is placed on where to fish, what to catch and how to supply the market.

The situation in Shetland and Orkney regarding notices Aid C 87/2001 and Aid C 88/2001 will affect the marketing strategy and catch plan for the Shetland producer organisation. Quota seems to be held in a pool within that producer organisation until it is leased to fishermen. How is it to be accommodated in the catch plans? How do producer organisations that allow their members an annual individual allocation include those in their plans? Do they provide the members concerned with a detailed plan to which to keep over the fishing year? Do they carry out physical checks to ensure that the plans are adhered to? Perhaps the Minister would answer those questions, now or in writing.

Will the Minister also explain how closely the Ministry works with producer organisations to ensure that the regulations are adhered to? Interestingly, some organisations may not understand the full extent of their responsibility. The sad situation in Plymouth last week when the Ministry chose to prosecute a number of fishermen, vessel owners and an auction agent is a good illustration of that. The chief executive of a producer organisation appeared as a character witness for the managing director of one of the companies that was being prosecuted, giving evidence against the Ministry; that surely demonstrates that producer organisations in this country are unaware of their enforcement responsibilities. Had producer organisations been adequately informed by the Minister's Department, that person would never have appeared as a witness against the Ministry with which he should, under the legislation, be working.

All three areas of the common fisheries policy are connected to Council regulation 1627/94 of 27 June 1994, which lays down general provisions concerning special fishing permits. By making that system a treaty obligation, the Commission has ensured that the Community fishing permit will be the future management system used after the end of 2002. That will finalise the link between the common fisheries policy and the common organisation of the market in fisheries products. However, like the European army—call it what one will—I have no doubt that the proposed cod and hake recovery programme is designed to ensure that the future management regime will introduce the Community fishing permit system into all sea areas.

The permits presently apply to the Baltic and the western waters. The agreement is linked to the guaranteed share of the quotas contained in regulation 3760/92. The cod and hake recovery programme contains no such guarantees. Furthermore, the proposal allows for the introduction of that system for every species considered under threat and is applicable in all member states. While individual nations and organisations throw their hands up in horror and say no to the proposals, we must not forget that each member state signed the treaty of Corfu. Whatever the permit system is called, it will be based on kilowatt days—days at sea—and the proposal suggests a figure

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of 0.5 of the average number of kilowatt days used in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The system will result in the same conservation disasters that we have seen evolve over the past 20 years, as fishermen will still have to discard good fish back into the sea and pollute the seabed with dead fish. What would happen if the public could see the rotting mess that the system has caused? If a farmer had to kill the vast majority of his animals and leave them to rot in his field, there would be a public outcry, as there was during the recent foot and mouth epidemic. However, that is what is happening at sea, and the only reason there is no outcry is because the public cannot see it happening.

It is no good the Minister talking about technical conservation measures when, after 15 Ministers have had their input into the details, the measures are weakened to such a degree as to become ineffective. At best, the Minister could introduce unilateral measures for British fishermen, as he did when minimum landing sizes for lemon sole and other species—which were of considerable economic importance to the industry in the south-west—were abolished.

I hope that, in debating the future of fisheries policy, hon. Members will base their statements on the legal situation, because if there is one thing we must do, it is strip away the pretence that Parliament can achieve something that is not on offer while working within the EU system. I hope that having sketched the process for which we are bound, the Committee will see that we must not be just full of wishful thinking and believe that we can change things for our own benefit, because we have signed up to a legal system that will, in all probability, prevent that.

5.47 pm

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