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The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord does not mind me interrupting for a moment. Does he recognise that fish normally eat fish?

Lord Carter: My Lords, yes. I was actually thinking of the economic case made by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and pointing out that the result of the BSE crisis will be a substantial increase in the price of fish meal because of the ending of the supply of meat and bonemeal.

With all the current problems of bovine manure and offal disposal in mind, it was something of a shock to read in paragraph 2.118 about,

and to realise that that description now applies to aquaculture. Obviously there are substantial pollution problems which must be considered. When I read on pages 341 and 342 of the evidence that organochloride pesticide is being used to control sea lice with a

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compound that has adverse effects, I began to contemplate a whole new field of interest for the noble Countess, Lady Mar. To be more serious, an alternative to the organochlorides must be found.

The committee gives a guarded welcome to the idea of individual transferable quotas. Unless I have missed it, the question of quota hopping is not fully addressed. With the Factortame judgment in mind and the recent decision by the ECJ, I wonder whether the committee was able to give sufficient thought to those factors when cautiously recommending ITQs. We are all aware of the problem of the transfer of quotas across national boundaries.

I do not think that I need say more about the Government's response to the report. That was put extremely well by the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, when he opened the debate. If the Government have not kicked the problem of fisheries into touch, they have certainly kicked it very firmly into the IGC.

I referred earlier to developing countries and fisheries policy. The report touches upon that subject in a number of places, in particular in paragraphs 2.42 and 2.43 where it is pointed out that third country agreements account for 36 per cent. of the 774 million ecu allocated to the 1994 fisheries budgets.

As it happens, only last week I attended a meeting of the Marlborough Brandt Group--an organisation set up in Wiltshire some 16 years ago as a result of the Brandt Report. It does much excellent work in bringing home the problems of overseas development. It has established a particular and longstanding relationship with the village of Gonjur which is the principal fishing village in the Gambia. With today's debate in mind, I asked the group to provide me with a brief to illustrate this aspect of what is a world-wide problem. The brief makes dispiriting reading.

The Gambia is estimated to be the tenth poorest country in the world. The staple diet of the Gambian people is rice and fish. The internal economy of the Gambia is dependent upon fish. The livelihoods of most of the women are dependent upon the smoking, drying and marketing of fish. Fishing off the coast of Gambia is done mainly by Senegalese fishermen who bring their catch to several of the Gambian fishing villages, of which Gonjur is the principal one. The fish caught are entirely pelagic or surface fish.

Since the EU has run into problems with the depletion of fish stocks in European waters due to unsustainable fishing policies and the abuse of those policies, it has reached agreements individually with six countries of West Africa to enable the EU to fish in West African waters. Those agreements were reached in 1985. Owing to the widespread abuse of the agreements, the West African countries concerned have formed a sub-regional fisheries commission with its HQ in Dakar in Senegal. Even with the weight of that commission there is still widespread abuse.

The Gambia, which is a desperately poor country with no fleet, has no control over the trawlers which fish off its coast. As a result, the trawlers--they are principally Spanish and French but the pirate trawlers, which have no agreements, come from Korea, Thailand and

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Russia--are fishing not only the deep water fish but the surface fish which they reject and throw back dead into the sea.

There is evidence that agreements on the mesh size of the trawlers' nets are abused so that more fish are caught than is sustainable. There is evidence of abuse in terms of fishing within agreed limits off the coast. Each trawler has a Gambian observer on board but many of those people do not have the training or influence to have any real impact on abuses. Any reports of abuses are sent to the Fisheries Department, but legal action is slow and it rarely results in compensation. The nets of the local fishermen are either lost or badly damaged by the trawlers and the fishermen receive no compensation.

There is evidence that fish stocks are already being depleted from West African waters. It now takes fishermen 12 hours to fill their boats. Five years ago it took them five hours and they could make two trips a day to sea. The cost of a bowl of fish to women on the beach has risen from the equivalent of 30p. to £1.20 in five years. Unless action is taken to police the agreements made by the EU with the West African countries and prevent piracy by other nations, there will be a further fall in fish stocks which will have a devastating impact on the nutritional status of children and adults in Gambia in the next few years. In addition, the impact on the internal economy and livelihoods of people throughout Gambia will be catastrophic.

I have given that rather lengthy description of the problem because when reading about Gunjur I found an extraordinary resonance of its problems with those described in the committee's report. That truly shows that the problem is world-wide.

The report makes an encouraging statement in paragraph 2.2. that:

    "the downward spiral ... is not yet irreversible".
We must all hope that that statement is correct. If the downward spiral is to be reversed, the committee's report will certainly provide a first-class basis for the necessary action to be taken.

5.12 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I have studied the report that we have discussed today. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and the members of his committee on their valuable work in identifying the most important issues facing the fishing industry world-wide.

Perhaps I may reply immediately to two noble Lords. Disappointingly, I must write to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, because I do not have to hand the figure for which he asked. However, the news is better for my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam. I am happy to confirm that the Government will send the report to the governments of other countries in the European Union, if that is the wish of the committee.

Much has been said today about the common fisheries policy. My noble friend Lord Radnor asked about withdrawal from the CFP. I do not believe that withdrawal is a realistic option. We need a common European fisheries policy. The CFP provides a more effective forum

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than existed previously for international co-operation on the conservation and management of fish stocks. Such co-operation is essential given the over-capacity of fishing fleets and the fact that fish stocks do not respect national boundaries.

There are other important benefits. However, what we are focusing on today is the scope for improvement. The CFP is far from perfect. Critically, it has not succeeded in providing the stability of fishing opportunities that was hoped for. It has not sufficiently responded to rapid changes in fishing technology and has failed to prevent the over-exploitation of stocks so that many have not been able to recover naturally.

The scientists tell us that almost 60 per cent. of the main stocks in the waters we fish have now been reduced to a level where there is a risk of biological collapse. That is not a prediction that they will collapse. But it is a warning that, if the present level of fishing continues, there is a risk that the reproductive potential of the stocks will collapse. What is at stake is the future of the European fishing industry.

The Government therefore fully agree with the key message of the Select Committee's report; that all over the world stocks of fish are being severely depleted by overfishing and that action needs to be taken to reduce the pressure on stocks.

The Government have sent to the committee a detailed memorandum responding to each of its recommendations. I do not have time to go through all those this afternoon so I will concentrate on the main themes identified by the committee: the scientific basis of fisheries policy, the need for a precautionary approach to fishery management, the need for improved communication between scientists, fishermen and others, and the importance of fish stock conservation.

Perhaps I may outline the Government's policy on each of those issues and the way in which it is working to achieve improvements to the CFP and fisheries management in the world at large. I hope that at the same time I can answer points raised by your Lordships. First, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the Government attach great weight to the work done by fisheries scientists.

This is reflected in the large budget they commit to fisheries science each year as the foundation for European management policies. The UK is a major contributor to the fisheries work of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and government fisheries scientists are held in high regard internationally. The Government will continue to base their policies on sound fisheries science and certainly support the committee's recommendation that scientific advice should be presented clearly and concisely.

To those who say that the science is routinely ignored under the CFP, I would draw their attention to the fact that, based on the scientific advice, the December 1995 Fisheries Council cut total allowable catches (TACs) for some 28 different stocks of fish in order to reduce the pressure on those stocks.

Secondly, the precautionary approach is fundamental to sustainable management of fish stocks. The Government therefore fully supported two major

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international initiatives last year: the adoption of the UN Agreement on Straddling and High Migratory Fish Stocks and the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Those both apply the precautionary approach to conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks within coastal zones and in international waters.

Within the CFP the Select Committee's report rightly stresses the need for fishing effort to be reduced. Conservation policy requires a combination of measures to limit exploitation rates, including output limitations in the form of total allowable catches and input limitations such as the reduction of fleet size.

I have already referred to the need to be ready to adjust TACs in the light of scientific advice. Reducing the capacity of fishing fleets must also remain a top priority since our fishermen cannot have a viable long-term future unless the fleet is properly structured in relation to the available fishing opportunities.

In that context, I noted what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and other noble Lords about the Government's response to the committee's report. I can assure your Lordships that we are far from complacent about the matter. Early last year we more than doubled the amount of money for our decommissioning programme, bringing the total to £53 million in the period 1997-98. But the problems of excess capacity and effort have to be tackled on a common basis by all who fish the same stocks. That is why decisions in the next series of multi-annual guidance programmes, on which the Commission will be making an initial presentation at next week's fisheries council, have such a critical importance.

In the weeks ahead member states will have the benefit of new scientific assessments of what needs to be done together with a report on a consultation exercise involving 35 separate meetings with the industry around Europe, including seven in the UK. Therefore, we shall address those problems with all the seriousness and urgency that they merit in the negotiations which are about to start.

It would clearly not make sense to try to anticipate the outcome at this stage other than to reiterate our commitment to securing a deal in the best long-term interest of all who depend on sustainable and economically viable fish stocks. In response to a question by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I can tell him that the three decommissioning schemes so far will have removed 6.6 per cent. of fleet capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, referred to the disposal of decommissioned vessels to developing countries where there is a need to protect traditional subsistence fisheries from commercial fisheries. The Government recognise that concern and they require British decommissioned vessels to be made unseaworthy so that our surplus fishing capacity is not exported to developing countries or anywhere else.

That brings me to the Select Committee's third theme: the need for improved communication. That is an important point and, apart from the meetings to which I have just referred, the Government have a number of initiatives in hand.

At the domestic level, the Government have initiated a series of regular contacts between industry representatives and fisheries scientists in order to increase

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fishermen's understanding of the work done by the scientists and to give the industry the opportunity to question the scientists and contribute their own expertise. This will be followed up by meetings between the industry and our scientists in advance of formulating our annual input into the international scientific advice on the state of different fish stocks. Those contacts are intended to result in better-informed decisions and a better understanding of how decisions on fisheries management are reached.

At the Community level, my honourable friend the Fisheries Minister will use the opportunity of next week's Fisheries Council to propose the introduction of regional consultative committees to bring together fishermen and officials from the member states active in a particular fishery to discuss issues relevant to that fishery; for example, the most suitable conservation measures and the state of the stocks.

At the global level, the Government held an international workshop at the end of last year to discuss ways of improving co-ordination among international agencies concerned with management of the oceans. The Government are taking the workshop conclusions forward through the Commission on Sustainable Development and this is a good example of the close co-operation that exists between the fisheries departments and the Department of the Environment.

The Select Committee's fourth theme was fish stock conservation. Much of what I have already said is clearly relevant to this theme. But I would like briefly to outline further initiatives which the Government are pursuing.

The committee drew attention to the need for urgent consideration of the scope for further technical measures which can help conserve stocks and reduce discards. In fact, the Government set up a fisheries conservation group earlier this year to do just that. The group is made up of members of the fishing industry, scientists and other government experts. It has looked at the points raised by the committee in its report and we plan to carry out consultations on the basis of the group's conclusions in the near future.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Perry, that the Government attach particular priority to reducing discards, which are wasteful of fisheries resources. Progress in reducing fishing effort will make a major contribution. We maintain a wide-ranging research programme on the selectivity of fishing gear and future improvements in selectivity will also cut the level of discarding. In addition the Government will be examining with the industry the possibility of closing areas to fishing when juvenile fish predominate in the catch. We are participating in discussions with Norway and other countries to look at all the options for reducing discards.

The committee also drew attention to industrial fisheries. We need to increase our understanding of the impact of these fisheries on other stocks and on the wider marine ecosystem. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that at next week's Fisheries Council my honourable friend the Fisheries Minister will therefore be calling for a collaborative research effort on the multi-species aspect of industrial fisheries. He will also be calling for the introduction of a precautionary TAC for

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the huge sand eel fishery. I have one last "goodie" for the noble Lord, Lord Moran. He mentioned the basking shark. I understand that the single vessel of the fishermen to whom he referred has been decommissioned. Therefore, the sharks seem to be able to swim in peace.

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