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Fishing Vessels (Safety Improvements) (Grants) Scheme 1995

12.40 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to move, That the scheme laid before the House on 28th June be approved [25th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above order, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak at the same time—indeed, if I speak principally—to the Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) Scheme 1995 which also stands in my name on the Order Paper.

Fishing is an important industry and in the coastal areas around fishing ports makes an important contribution to the economy. It is also a hazardous industry and I have great respect for the fishermen who go out in all weathers to bring in their catches. If my new appointment brings me any pleasure, I hope that it will include a day on a trawler somewhere in the North Sea.

The importance of decommissioning is very clear. Overcapacity in the industry lies at the root of many of the fishing industry's problems. Getting a better balance between fishing capacity and fish stocks will make our industry more efficient and viable. That need to tackle overcapacity is also recognised in our obligations under the EU Multi Annual Guidance Programme targets. The decommissioning schemes we have had over the past two years—and will continue over three more—are designed to make a key contribution to achieving the targets.

Decommissioning is not a cheap option and in a number of ways we have to ensure that we get good value for what we spend.

The MAGP target requires a 19 per cent. reduction in relation to the baseline set for 1991. We initially committed £25 million to decommissioning. The first two schemes have shown that we can achieve worthwhile reductions in capacity. So far we have taken out 297 vessels representing over 10,000 tonnes, 4.6 per cent. of the fleet. For this year's scheme, and for the next two years, we have increased the amount available each year by 50 per cent. to £12 million. I believe that that should substantially increase the impact of the scheme. There should also be a contribution to the target by the licence aggregation penalties. We are looking carefully at the accuracy of the fleet register to ensure that it represents active fishing vessels. With all those contributions, I am sure we will make good, and I hope faster, progress towards the MAGP targets.

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We need at the same time to be ready to back up the fleet reduction with the necessary controls and quota management measures. Quotas must be managed effectively along with the various technical conservation measures on gear types, net sizes, minimum landing sizes, closed areas and so forth. There must also be proper enforcement so that fishermen of all member states comply with the various rules.

An important aspect of decommissioning is that we want it to contribute to a reduction in fishing effort. It is the reduction in effort which in future years will bring dividends for our fishermen with increasing fish stocks and the potential for bigger quotas. For that reason we will be continuing to monitor the level of fishing effort of the fleet remaining after decommissioning. If it became evident that the effort was increasing and so undoing the benefits of decommissioning, we would need to take action to contain effort. We made that clear when we introduced the 1994-95 scheme; the indications so far are that there has been a real reduction in effort.

The 1995-96 scheme is similar to its predecessors in providing for a tendering system to ensure best value for money and in continuing the requirements for permanent scrapping and the surrender of licences. The main criteria for eligibility are also unchanged; that is to say, vessels must be seaworthy, over 10 metres in overall length, over 10 years old and, of course, UK registered and licensed.

An important part of securing good value from the scheme is to ensure that it is correctly targeted on the right segments of the fleet. For the setting of MAGP targets the fleet is divided into 10 distinct segments. Some segments of the fleet either have achieved, or can be expected to achieve, the targets without further intervention. The distant water fleet and the under-10 metre vessel segment were both excluded from eligibility last year for that reason. Because the target for nephrops vessels has also now been met, we have decided that they, too, should be excluded from this year's scheme. It would not be right to use funds from the scheme to decommission vessels in a segment that has already achieved its target. The Government do, however, recognise that there are particular structural problems in Northern Ireland where over 50 per cent. of the fleet consists of nephrops vessels and over 50 per cent. of them are over 30 years of age. In view of those structural problems, my noble friend Lady Denton is proposing to introduce a separate Northern Ireland scheme with the objective of tackling the particular structural problems in the Northern Irish nephrops fleet. Details will be announced as soon as the scheme has been finalised.

Finally, I should like to say a word about the implications of the increased amount available for decommissioning this year: £12 million is available and we intend that it should enable a substantially increased number of vessels to be decommissioned. The tendering system that we have used is well understood and gives good value for money. We shall be looking at the bids carefully this year and will not accept bids unless they do give good value. If necessary, we reserve the right to spend less than the full amount available. The residue

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could then be used for a second tender later in the year. I am sure that we will get a good response with competitive bids. But we do have the option to have a second round if that seems likely to give better value. The closing date for applications is 8th September 1995 and application forms will soon be available in local fishery offices.

I should now like to turn to the second order concerning fishing vessel safety grants. Safety at sea is a matter of deep concern to all who are involved with the fishing industry. It is a hazardous industry and I am pleased that we have a grant scheme which can help a little towards ensuring the safety of fishermen.

The new scheme replaces the 1993 scheme and applies to fishing vessels which have to obtain a Department of Transport safety certificate under the Fishing Vessel (Safety Provisions) Rules 1975. The new scheme follows the 1993 scheme, in that grant will be available for meeting the requirements of the Department of Transport's safety certificate which applies to vessels with a registered length of 12 metres or over. Grant will be available for equipment which is necessary to obtain the safety certificate and includes life rafts, UHF radios, rockets, flares and radio beacons which broadcast the position of a vessel if it founders. They are all important for safety.

The scheme has been modified, however, so that items such as engines and structural work will no longer be eligible for assistance. They are not safety requirements in the normal sense; they are fundamental aspects of vessel maintenance which are properly the responsibility of the owner in ensuring that the vessel is fit for its purpose. It is not right that we should be asking taxpayers to contribute to those costs, particularly when changes to engines can result in increased fishing capacity.

I hope that the House will agree that the two orders represent useful measures providing real benefits for fishermen and for the fishing industry. They demonstrate the Government's commitment to the fishing industry and our desire to put it on a sounder and safer footing for the future. I beg to move.

Moved, That the scheme laid before the House on 28th June be approved—[25th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Lucas.)

12.47 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation is anxious that the decommissioning scheme should be passed as soon as possible, so that the next round of decommissioning can begin. The federation would have liked it amended in certain respects. I am not going to suggest that the scheme should be withdrawn and amended because that would delay it, but I have one or two suggestions to make.

As the United Kingdom was approximately five years behind other European Union member states in initiating a decommissioning scheme, and, in consequence, we lagged behind them in meeting our Multi Annual Guidance Programme capacity for effort reduction target, the acceleration of the £36 million budget which

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is proposed for the next three years into a one-year spend, or even a two-year spend, rather than a three-year spend, would be very helpful. It would put an end to much of the present uncertainty which is pervading the industry. Most important, it would break the impasse on availability of European Community Construction and Modernisation funds for those remaining in it, which has resulted from our target not having yet been met. As I do not see the amount to be spent in 1995 mentioned anywhere in the scheme, that could still be done.

From having, in the early 1980s, had the most modern fishing fleet in Europe, the Scottish fleet is now so old that there is increasing concern for safety, quite apart from our efficiency vis-o-vis our competitors. Another side effect of this lack of modernisation is the consequent running down of the boat building industry, with inevitable loss of jobs. If it runs down much farther, we will not have one left to build any boats at all, and will have to buy from abroad when boats are required. That will mean more lost jobs. I understand that the Treasury thinks it morally wrong to scrap and rebuild at the same time. I am reminded of the time, not many months ago, when the manpower of our Armed Forces was being drastically reduced, and I queried the morality of the Ministry of Defence advertising in the press for recruits at the same time. The ministerial answer was to the effect that soldiers grew older and slower and passed their use-by date, and it was necessary constantly to recruit new young ones. I suggest that the same applies to fishing boats.

In the six years from 1987 to 1993, the United Kingdom received only 2.8 per cent. of the European Community funds paid to member states for these purposes. I suggest to the Government that we are losing out on Community funding which we might be enjoying. The Scottish fishermen are very conscious of this, and if they feel that with a separate Parliament, or with total independence for Scotland from the United Kingdom, they might fare better, who is to blame them?

One other thing I would like to ask the Government to give serious consideration to is this: at present a decommissioned boat has to be scrapped; that is to say, it has to be destroyed. I was brought up in wartime when we never threw away anything but saved every last paper bag. This measure seems to me foolish and shortsighted and it is also very expensive. European Community regulations permit disposal, either for fishing outside the Community, or for other purposes inside the Community. The obligation to deregister, and to surrender fishing licences, ensures that there will be no cheating. There is a demand for decommissioned boats in developing countries, and there are uses for decommissioned boats in this country, for such purposes as training young people in seamanship, sight-seeing trips for tourists and exhibition purposes. I do not know whether or not MAFF can tell the difference between a puma and a domestic pussy-cat, but I am sure it can tell the difference between a boat which is being used for fishing and one which is fitted up for some such purpose as I have described. I do urge the Government to have another look at this.

12.53 p.m.

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The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, these are welcome measures, although they be a little late in coming forward and whether they go far enough is debatable. It is self-evident that there is a general erosion of fishing stocks and these controls will help because without them sea fishing will not be sustainable. Indeed the Commission's report (Cmnd. 2426) of January 1994 stated at paragraph 17.8 that without them sea fishing would not be sustainable.

Over-fishing is already affecting productivity. We may still be able to use the old adage that there are as many good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, but one wonders for how long that will be the case. We are, as a nation, the major contributor of two-thirds of the common fisheries policy fishing grounds which were donated by us back in 1972. With every new member there comes further erosion. The common fisheries policy is not working but it is futile to suggest, as I confess I did at one stage in an earlier debate, that we should withdraw from the CFP. We must take a lead. I suggest to my noble friend that the question of the CFP should be put on the IGC agenda. The CAP is in an equally parlous state and that is a good enough reason for it to be on the IGC agenda. Therefore, why should the CFP not be put on that agenda for exactly the same reason?

These measures are the result of the North Sea Conference. The North Sea cod in particular is at risk. We were told the other day by my noble friend Lord Howe that there were 500 million cod in the North Sea. Surely that is not a very viable quantity when one considers that there are 250 million people in Europe eating them. What age are those cod when they are brought in? Are they old enough to have spawned? That raises a serious question as to the viability of those stocks.

I refer to the grants formula on the size of ships which is now related to the size of the vessel and its power. It is of course vital to introduce the new issue of power because any boat going a few knots faster will draw the mesh closer than ever. It does not matter what size mesh one has, if one goes fast enough it will catch all the fish. I understand that there has been some movement on the matter of the square mesh net. I asked my noble friend whether he would advise me whether there had been any movement on that, and what effect it has. I welcome the measures and look forward to my noble friend's reply.

12.56 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I hope I may speak briefly and in a somewhat less welcoming tone than other noble Lords who have spoken so far. I think it would help if one were to stand back from these particular measures and consider the common fisheries policy more generally.

I believe it is true that before this policy came into being the United Kingdom used to have some two-thirds of the fish in what are now the Community waters, whereas, thanks to the common fisheries policy, we are now entitled to about one-third of the volume of the fish and to only some 10 per cent. of their value. I trust that my noble friend will put me right if I am wrong on these figures.

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I have two questions for my noble friend. One is of a general nature, and it concerns the number of jobs which have been lost in this country through this policy, which many of us regard as being unwise. We are often told that our membership of the European Communities has produced some 635,000 jobs through inward investment. May I ask my noble friend whether the Government have worked out how many jobs have been lost through the common fisheries policy? The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has already mentioned some loss of jobs in boat building, but there are also of course the direct jobs which have been lost at sea and in all the back-up jobs. I would be interested to hear from my noble friend whether the Government have even attempted any calculations in this regard.

One has to bear in mind that the Spanish fishing fleet is now eight times the tonnage of the United Kingdom fleet; and that Spain has some 17 inspectors based in Madrid, which is as far as it is possible to get from the sea, whereas we have some 200 inspectors who patrol efficiently.

My second question to my noble friend is somewhat more specific. I see from a Written Answer in the other place on 17th May that the European Community contributions to the Spanish fishing industry amount to some £739 million over the eight-year period from 1992 to 1998. That means £133 million-odd this year. The cost that we are putting aside for British fishermen in decommissioning to burn their boats and go out of business appears to be about £53 million. May I ask my noble friend what contribution this country makes to the amazing contribution that the Community makes to Spain to continue to steal our fish and to ruin our fishermen's lives?

12.59 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I might have known that the sceptic would have taken the opportunity to comment. The noble Lord should realise that without co-operation of a close kind in Europe there will not be any fish in the North Sea at all. The first example of that, which is a good one, is when it closed the North Sea to herring fishing. That was successful and within a number of years we got the stock back. Without the co-operation of the European Union that would have been impossible, and the situation is the same today.

I give the scheme a modified welcome. It is not as good as we would have liked. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, went through the points made by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, all of which I agree with. It is ridiculous to say that they will get exactly £12 million each year, whereas it may be possible for a number of boats to be decommissioned quite early. The object of the exercise is to reduce the fleet and to reduce capacity, which may not always be the same thing. That is the object of the exercise, and that is a good point.

The federation also made the point that any money should not be taxed. That would be admirable for everyone. Perhaps the Government will look at the brief in that respect.

The noble Lady also made the point very well that there is no need to scrap the boats. If there is a record and the boats are on a register, surely that is enough. It

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is expensive to scrap boats. There are many other uses they could be put to. That is a point the Government ought to consider.

The sealed bid is easy for the Government, but I do not see why one should not have a simple system of a register of the amounts available and then pick the offers. I do not see why we could not use that system instead of the sealed bid.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, raised a useful point, namely that the common fisheries policy is in grave trouble in that it is dependent on a common level of supervision. Under the decommissioning policy the Danes, for example, have been able to reduce the size of their fleet by half, but I do not know whether they have reduced their capacity. Nor do I know how sound their commercial fishing policy for the production of fish meal is. It is extraordinarily difficult to say whether they are putting in small fish because the whole catch goes into a mishmash so that one cannot possibly tell. They have admittedly reduced their catch of pout, but they are taking enormous numbers of sand eels, which are a very important part of the chain of production of fish of all sorts. They are the bottom line.

These matters need to be examined. Nothing appears to have been done about the square mesh, which according to our fishermen would make a big difference in allowing many small fish to escape rather than being caught and thrown away as useless. The whole question of discards needs to be looked at in the quota. It is extraordinary that we should have a policy which makes people throw back fish which could be sold on the market. I know that there are difficulties with the quota, but that point needs to be examined.

When the first of the quotas was introduced I was a member of a committee which was examining the matter. We found that in the whole of Spain there were only six inspectors, who were based in Madrid. That did not seem to us to be effective. I understand that we now have 81 inspectors operating in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell me what is the position throughout Europe, and especially in Spain? It appears that the further south one goes the less respect there is for regulations, at least in the case of Europe. It is important that there is a common standard of regulation. I know that even here so-called "black" fish have been landed and it is very difficult to control. The system needs proper control.

I do not know how many fishery cruisers there are overall, and I do not know whether other countries have fishery cruisers. However, I understand that in the case of some of the Spanish boats they wait until the cruiser picks on one. Rather like a herd of antelope, when the lion picks on one, the rest are happy that he has his food and they will be safe for another day or two. The regulations must be being broken to a very large extent and we ought to do something about it.

I hope that the Minister can give us some information about what I, as a farmer, would call the fallow area—the sea lying fallow. How far can we go in that direction? The concept has been successful in a number of areas with the designation of boxes in the North Sea. That is a development that we need.

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I daresay the Minister is in great difficulty. The Government have made a start on decommissioning. We also need to do something about the ageing fleet and try to catch up. A great deal more money will need to be spent on decommissioning.

I welcome the scheme as far as it goes, together with the subsidies for bringing vessels up to date as regards safety. That is obviously a very good thing.

1.6 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I welcome the Minister on his first appearance with the agriculture and fisheries brief. I wish him well with it. I also thank him for his very lucid explanation of what is a complicated subject. As he said, we are dealing with two schemes, one concerned with safety and the other with decommissioning. I should like to ask the Minister three questions.

The Minister referred to the MAGP targets and the three years over which the Government plan the scheme. Can we have a complete assurance that the Government are entirely satisfied that the targets will be reached as a result of the financial input into the decommissioning scheme?

To repeat a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, the Minister mentioned the monitoring of effort. We have heard much about Spain and the inspectors in Madrid. Is there an objective review by the Commission of the monitoring effort in each member state? Is that published? Is it done by the Commission in an objective way so that we can really see what the situation is regarding the monitoring of effort?

Thirdly, the Minister referred correctly to three of the 10 segments that have been excluded: the distant water fleet, the fleet of vessels of less than 10 metres and the nephrops fishery. Can any of those segments be reintroduced into the scheme if it is clear that that segment will not meet its target? Is there a mechanism for bringing them into the scheme just as they have been excluded?

I turn now to the two schemes. Obviously the House welcomes the safety grants. We on this side welcome the principle of decommissioning, although, as I shall show, we have some criticisms of the decommissioning in operation.

On the safety grants, I wish only to repeat a point made in the other place by my honourable friend Mr. Elliot Morley when the schemes were debated there on 18th July. The Minister referred to the various items that can be supplied through the safety grants such as life rafts, beacons and so on, but the point was made by Mr. Morley that,

    "It is strange that flotation suits made by British companies are exported to Canada because it is compulsory for Canadian fishing boats to have such equipment, yet apparently such equipment is not eligible for grant under these orders. I am glad that the Minister says that the matter is being considered, but the issue has been raised for a number of years now".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/95; col. 1520.]

It would be interesting to know why flotation suits, which would seem to me as a layman to be a vital part of safety equipment on board a boat, are not included in the eligibility for safety grant.

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I turn to decommissioning. I shall make the same point already made about the timetable. Is it possible to accelerate the timetable and to have what is called in the jargon front-end loading so that more of the decommissioning effort is made at the beginning of the period rather than adopting the Treasury device of dividing by three? The urgency of some form of acceleration or front-end loading is revealed by the figures, which show that Spain has had £208 million from the scheme so far, France £55 million, and the UK £19 million, less than 3 per cent. of the total available for decommissioning.

The structural grants, which I am not taking strictly in the right order, relate to decommissioning which has a considerable effect on fishing communities. There is a strong suspicion that the structural grants that might be available to help the fishing communities are held up by a need for the UK contribution to match the EC grants—with which we are familiar—either in full or in part. As a result, are the fishing communities receiving all the direct and indirect aid they should be getting through structural grants and other means such as the early retirement schemes for fishermen which are available? What advantage are we taking of the various schemes to ensure that the serious effect on fishing communities is to some extent alleviated?

I turn now to scrapping. When the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to Treasury resistance to scrapping and rebuilding, I was reminded that not long ago—it was no fault of the Treasury—we had, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will remember, a scheme in dairy farming under which a dairy farmer on one farm would be paid to scrap his dairy herd while the dairy farmer nextdoor would be paid at the same time to increase the size of his herd. That happened under the EC. So the principle of scrap and rebuild is not unknown.

On a more serious subject, the noble Lady made a good point when she asked why decommissioned boats could not be used for other purposes, particularly for export to developing countries. That seems sensible. Those countries want them. There would be no interference with our fishing, and the boats would supply a real need. Why do we have to scrap the boats? If the authorities could be satisfied that the scheme was not being abused, why could we not send decommissioned boats to developing countries to be used there instead of being burnt or scrapped?

I told the Minister that I would raise a small point of detail out of interest. Why is the minimum in the safety grant scheme 12 metres and in the decommissioning scheme 10 metres? I expect that the Minister will tell me that it is because it is and that is what it has always been. It would be interesting to know the particular argument or logic which states that the safety grants can only apply to the 12 metre minimum and the decommissioning grants to the 10 metre minimum.

In conclusion, we all know that the common fisheries policy is deeply flawed in operation. What is the timetable for review of the scheme? The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, mentioned the possibility of it being placed on the IGC agenda. I am not sure that that is the

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best way to deal with it. Is there a timetable for reviewing it and putting right many of the flaws that appear as the scheme operates?

We support the schemes. I conclude with a remark I have made before. As the common fisheries policy becomes more applicable as it operates, it is beginning to make the common agricultural policy look like a beacon of common sense and sweet reason.

1.13 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I can follow the noble Lord, Lord Carter, down the last road which he suggested. The common fisheries policy is at least a necessary policy, even if its form may not be entirely to our liking. I thank the noble Lord for his welcome and hope that in the coming months I shall earn his kind words.

Many points have been raised today and I shall doubtless fail to address all of them. However, I shall go through Hansard and reply in writing to any which I miss.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, asked me a number of questions. First, she asked whether it was possible to front load the scheme. The £12 million available this year already represents a 50 per cent. increase on the funding for 1994. To put even more in at this stage would risk encouraging over-optimistic bids which would represent poor value for money. It would also put a strain on the limited capacity available in this country for the physical scrapping of vessels, which is a requirement of the scheme. I shall come to that later. Lastly, it could risk disturbing the normal infrastructure of the industry, leading to other problems for ports and markets. We feel it is better to proceed at a steady pace and review the need for additional measures in the light of progress.

The noble Lady also asked why there was a delay in the 1980s in introducing decommissioning. Decommissioning is an expensive option. Its primary purpose is to help us achieve our MAGP targets. These did not become mandatory until 1994, although we ran an earlier decommissioning scheme from 1983 to 1986. That was not wholly successful, so we were anxious to learn the necessary lessons before embarking on the current programme. With the additional £28 million announced in January, I am satisfied that we now have a substantial scheme which will make a real impact on the problems of over-capacity which we all know are at the heart of so many of the industry's difficulties.

The noble Lady asked about building and construction aids, and that was also touched on by other noble Lords. We see no sense in the Government financing grants to increase fishing capacity and efficiency while we are still paying money to decommission fishing capacity. Moreover, there is a doubt as to whether the Commission would allow construction aid until we can comply with MAGP objectives.

I agree very much with the noble Lady that the insistence on scrapping vessels is not the most immediately logical or attractive regulation. But we currently see no alternative to it. It is a European Union requirement that vessels do not find their way back into

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the UK or the EC fishing fleet. Scrapping represents the most effective way of ensuring that. Nevertheless, where vessel owners come forward with suitable alternative proposals for scrapping their vessels, we are prepared to consider each case on its merits. But at present we require that each such vessel must be rendered permanently unseaworthy. In that way a number of historic vessels have been saved by museums for posterity or put to charitable use.

We have looked carefully at the possibility of allowing vessels to be exported as opposed to being scrapped, but we have so far been unable to devise arrangements which offer the necessary guarantees that vessels will never return to the European Union fleet. If anyone has suggestions which would enable us to be satisfied on the point, we would be pleased to hear them.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam gave what I hope I can regard as unstinting support for the principle of the common fisheries policy. We completely agree with him. Some form of common European fisheries policy is essential since conservation of fish stocks cannot be managed by countries acting in isolation. Co-operation is imperative, given the over-capacity of national fleets and the migratory behaviour of fish stocks. Fishing is carried out by people who are fundamentally the last hunters in Europe. It is an industry populated by people of, as I remember it being called, "infinite resource and sagacity". It is not possible to impose structures on the industry that do not reflect the historic patterns of fishing and the way the industry has grown up.

Of course, there are significant weaknesses in the common fisheries policy. We have already pressed that point with the Commission and have secured a commitment in the Council to minimise bureaucracy. That is why we set up a review group to look at ways in which the common fisheries policy might be improved. Work is progressing and conclusions will be announced in due course. But starting where we had to, we feel that at the inception of the common fisheries policy we achieved an exceptionally good deal for the United Kingdom and its fishermen. We feel that as the common fisheries policy progresses and we reach a position where stocks may once again continue to increase, it will prove to have been an effective, if not perhaps theoretically the tidiest, way in which to rescue what would otherwise become a disastrous situation.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam also asked about square mesh panels and other conservation measures. Most trawl nets are constructed of diamond mesh, and this closes to some degree when being fished to make it harder for small fish to escape. A panel of square mesh netting stays open, and so greatly aids the escape of juvenile fish.

The Sea Fish Specified Sea Areas (Regulation of Nets and other Fishing Gear) Order 1991, which came into force on 1st July 1991, requires British vessels to use the panel of square mesh in their nets in most of the areas that they work. We are also in discussion with the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, at its request, about additional technical conservation measures, including the increased use of square mesh

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panels. But we should recognise that there are operational problems in using large areas of square mesh to which we have yet to find solutions.

My noble friend Lord Pearson raised a number of doubts about the common fisheries policy. I very much doubt whether I have the capacity to eliminate those doubts, however carefully I argue, but I shall look at what my noble friend said, and if I feel that I can usefully write to him, I shall do so.

The question of the Spanish inspection effort was also raised by other noble Lords. It is no longer true that there are five inspectors stuck in Madrid. About 50 full-time inspectors work for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, operating from Madrid and supported by fisheries inspectors from the autonomous regional governments, and by military personnel. The Spanish naval marine units and marine civil guard undertake fisheries surveillance at sea.

It is vital that there should be effective standards of enforcement applied consistently by all member states. It is for that reason that we supported the introduction of new fisheries control regulations, which provide a comprehensive framework for uniform and effective enforcement of the common fisheries policy throughout the Community. We have pressed hard for more consistent standards, and we are now meeting with success.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, raised a number of small points which I might address best in a letter to him. I shall deal with just one; namely, industrial fishing for sand eels. I entirely share the noble Lord's concerns. We recognise the widespread concerns about industrial fishing and its effects on the wider eco-system. But we need to improve our scientific understanding of these effects so that we can take action if necessary and give weight to our arguments. The United Kingdom will continue to press the European Commission to get research done in this field to assist the formulation of appropriate proposals for the better management of this fishery.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked whether the current programme will enable us to reach our MAGP targets. Of course, we do not know. We believe that it should. But we will obviously monitor its effects. The noble Lord asked whether there would be the opportunity for the nephrops fleet to be brought back into the scheme if conditions change. Yes—

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