19 Dec 1995 : Column 1505

House of Lords

Tuesday, 19th December 1995.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord Gerard-- Sat first in Parliament after the death of his kinsman.

Messages from the Queen

The Earl of Airlie: My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships two messages from Her Majesty the Queen signed by her own hand. The first message is as follows:

"I have received with great satisfaction the loyal and dutiful expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament".

The second message is as follows:

"I have received your Address praying that I be pleased to allow that my prerogative may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament during the present Session of any measure providing for the parliamentary approval of treaties.

"I will comply with your request".

Common Fisheries Policy and UK Fishing

2.39 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom can withdraw from the common fisheries policy and, if so, whether they intend to do so.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the United Kingdom or any other member of the European Union could withdraw from the common fisheries policy, while remaining in the European Union, only if it secured the unanimous agreement of all other member states to the necessary complex range of treaty changes. The Government do not believe that it would serve the best interests of our fishing industry if the United Kingdom sought to go down this route.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply which I find disappointing but not altogether unexpected. Would my noble friend agree that one of the most insidious aspects of this pernicious policy is that this country gives more money to the Spanish fishing industry, which comes here to take large quantities of our fish, than we do to decommission our own British fishing boats?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not absurd that the common fisheries policy is producing a

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1506

situation whereby British fishermen are burning their boats in Newlyn at the same time as the British Government have consented to an additional 40 Spanish trawlers fishing in the Irish fishing box? Is not that taking the Government's Euro-fanaticism too far?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no, I do not agree with that at all. The two matters are completely separate. The Spanish right to fish in western waters is merely an enactment of the fishing that they always did. The destruction of British boats is to bring the numbers in our fishing fleet down to the level to which we have agreed to bring them. We are a long way behind the Spanish in complying with European policy.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the difficulties in European seas arise mainly from too many boats pursuing too few fish, some of which migrate from sea to sea, and does he agree that what is most needed is an agreed reduction of national fishing fleets, which is more likely to be achieved by arrangements within the EU than by a free-for-all?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend puts our point of view excellently.

Lord Moran: My Lords, since the common fisheries policy is based on national quotas and what is known as relative stability between those quotas, does the Minister agree that the 1991 Factortame judgment by the European Court, which legalised quota-hopping, has knocked the bottom out of that agreement, has made life extremely difficult for many British fishermen and has made the common fisheries policy unsustainable in its present form? Can the Minister say how many foreign vessels are, as a consequence, now fishing the British quota, and what proportion of the British fleet they represent?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, perhaps I may start with the last question. I believe that there are about 150 foreign vessels out of 3,000. I agree very much with the noble Lord about the Factortame judgment, which is in pursuance of a policy with which we agree in terms of commerce as a whole. We have benefited greatly from the ability of British firms to set up freely in the Common Market and to acquire businesses there. However, in its application to the common fisheries policy, it threatens the basis on which quotas were agreed. At a certain level it is probably sustainable; but if it goes too far, it will cause serious problems.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, bearing in mind that one can understand the difficulties that would face the Government were we to make a complete withdrawal, is it not possible to examine the conditions involved to see whether they could be made fairer and whether the administration could be improved with regard to Britain's contribution?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I hope that we will always look to the British interest first when we negotiate in Europe on this and indeed other matters. So far as concerns the CFP, those noble Lords who argue, quite rightly, that fishermen are having a hard time now should not attribute that too easily to the CFP. The

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1507

fishermen had a very good time immediately after the introduction of the CFP. Indeed, it was agreed that we had done a good deal. They had a good time through most of the 1980s. We are now suffering a crisis caused principally by general over-fishing. That is the source of the problems, not the CFP.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that about 40 per cent. of the total catch under the CFP is thrown back into the sea? Does he agree, or disagree, that that is an unsustainable conservation policy for fisheries?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes, but it is unavoidable at present. I hope that we shall find ourselves working towards a position where we can follow the Norwegian system and have no throw backs, but that is not under a system of quotas as operated at present, and as needed at present to conserve some hard-pressed fish stocks. We have to accept that one of the problems that arise from that system is throw backs. It is a problem with which we have to live in the hope of getting through to better times in the future.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the situation which faces our fishermen is just one of the results of the Government adopting a policy of splendid isolation as a negotiating stance in Europe? Does the Minister agree that fundamental reform of the CFP is required and that such reform should be based on greater management autonomy for member states; protection of the six-mile and 12-mile limits, with an intention to give greater protection to local fleets on a regional basis; and allowing member states to have greater autonomy on a non-discriminatory basis in applying their own management of their own fisheries?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord in two respects. First, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, there is exclusivity within the six-mile limit at present. Within the 12-mile limit we have exclusivity except for those who have always fished within our 12-mile limit. On the noble Lord's other points, the best we can achieve on fish will surely be a deal which involves us all. Fish are no respecters of national boundaries. Most of the stocks we fish commute between one nation's sector and another. Unless we have agreements among nations to manage a single stock, we will have competitive fishing, with one side determined to beggar the other. That will not be any good for fish stocks.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that even with the large-scale international agreements, which most of us recognise as being needed, it is essential that something be done to protect the livelihoods of those who man the small open boats which set forth from our beaches for no more than four or five hours a day, boats which can only go out in good weather? I am thinking in particular of the fishermen of East Anglia, and even more particularly of those who go out from beaches such as Aldeburgh. Those who for hundreds of years have carried out that sort of fishing now feel that their livelihoods are threatened by the big

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1508

trawlers and the big international carve-ups. Something must be done to protect their livelihoods, which are part of the British way of life.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I hope that is something that we are doing. Like my noble friend, when I go to Aldeburgh I always try to buy a large quantity of its fish to take home for my freezer, and as much as it is possible to eat fresh. I greatly appreciate that kind of fishing and those fishermen as part of our national life. I am sure that the Government share that view. Over the past two or three years we have done a great deal to ensure that the quota arrangements for such fishermen are such as to enable them to continue with their livelihoods despite the greater technical efficiency of the big boats. That is a policy we shall continue.

Council Tax: Banding Decisions

2.50 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the valuation officers responsible for banding decisions for local government tax purposes take into account the age and condition of the properties concerned.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, council tax bandings are fixed by listing officers of the Valuation Office Agency. For council tax purposes it is assumed that a property is in a state of reasonable repair for its age and type. Extreme disrepair may justify a lower banding in some cases.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page