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House of Lords

Tuesday, 22nd July 1997.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Lord Levene of Portsoken

Sir Peter Keith Levene, KBE, having been created Baron Levene of Portsoken, of Portsoken in the City of London, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Weinstock and the Lord Vincent of Coleshill.

Lord Inge

Field Marshal Sir Peter Anthony Inge, GCB, having been created Baron Inge, of Richmond in the County of North Yorkshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Carrington and the Lord Vincent of Coleshill.

Sea Fisheries: Quota Hopping

2.55 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultations they have had with British fishermen's organisations about the results of the recent meetings between the member states of the European Union concerned on the subject of quota hopping in sea fisheries.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, Ministers met with leaders of the fishing industry last week to consider among other things what additional steps might be taken to ensure that British registered fishing vessels maintain a close economic link with our coastal communities in the light of the recent advice provided by the President of the European Commission. Further meetings are planned.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Is he aware that two supposed concessions for British fishermen at the time of the Amsterdam conference appear to be of little value to them? First, the requirement that quota hoppers should land half their catches at UK ports has little effect. Indeed, one effect is simply to reduce fish prices for British fishermen. Secondly, tightening rules on the British component of vessels was attempted in the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and that was declared illegal by the European Court. Will not any further move in that direction be found to contravene again the European laws of establishment?

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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not agree with that. The Merchant Shipping Act 1988 was ruled to be contrary to the common fisheries policy. The measures we are now pursuing are in line with the recommendations of the President of the Commission. We are assured that they are possible within the law. The President is the guardian of the European treaty and therefore we are reasonably confident that we shall be able to resist any legal challenge. I do not accept what the noble Lord said about landings. If we secure that 50 per cent. of the fish caught are landed in the UK--and that was not secured under the previous agreements--that will have many benefits. Some of the fish may well be transported abroad on landing but we shall gain many benefits from landing charges, transportation receipts and, above all, from the greater opportunity to inspect the fish landed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that licences granted to catch fish in our waters as long as five years ago contain the requirement that at least 50 per cent. of the fish should be landed in our ports? Does he not agree, therefore, that no progress has been made at Amsterdam at all on this subject? Does he not also agree that, although the President of the European Commission may regard himself as the guardian of the treaty, the Luxembourg Court is the engine of the treaty and we shall have little chance if our case is ever brought before it again?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not accept the latter point, for the reasons I have stated. As regards the percentage of landings, it is not the case that the present licence condition is merely a repeat of a previous condition. Previously landings were indicated as a condition but it was also indicated that a mere four visits to a UK port in six months was an alternative. That alternative does not now exist. In the conditions we are pursuing, in consultation with British fishermen, there will be a much tighter requirement.

Lord Parry: My Lords, is my noble friend free to tell the House the present state of litigation existing between Spanish based interests at Milford Haven and the Government?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am not in that position but I shall write to my noble friend.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the vexed problem of quota hopping which Her Majesty's Government are now having to try to solve was created initially by British trawler owners selling their quotas to foreign, mainly Spanish, interests and that while that selling of quotas was going on the then Tory Government stood aside and did absolutely nothing about it?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. He will be aware that the origins of quota hopping are complex. Some of the problem relates to the situation before the common fisheries policy of 1983 when the foreign ownership of British

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registered ships was allowed to continue. My noble friend is right to say that a major problem arose with the second multi-annual guidance programme for fish conservation where the previous government did not pursue any policy of decommissioning and, in a belief in the free market, allowed foreigners to purchase such licences and, indeed, handed them to them for nothing.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we, and I believe the entire fishing industry, will be delighted if any good comes of the Amsterdam conference. We shall also be surprised.

Will the noble Lord confirm that in the forthcoming round of MAGP--doubtless the Government will behave in the way they wish that we had behaved--it will be impossible for the Government to insist that those foreign-owned vessels participate in the capacity reduction? There is no allowance for compulsory capacity reduction. Will the Minister confirm that cuts in capacity are likely to be in the British-owned fleet leaving quota hoppers an even larger percentage of our total fleet?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the reductions will be across the British fleet. There is a problem in targeting quota hoppers in terms of capacity reduction, as the previous Government attempted to do. The ambitions of the multi-annual guidance programme to preserve stocks are aimed at stocks such as cod and herring. In fact the quota hoppers are small fishers. The subject is complex. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we shall pursue British interests with maximum vigour. I am confident that there will be some benefits from the recent agreement.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, the Minister mentioned decommissioning. Do the Government have any plans to spend more money on decommissioning?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we have £12 million available to assist decommissioning. That item was one of the subjects in discussions held by my right honourable friend with representatives of the British fishing industry on 15th July.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the Minister look again at the judgment of the European Court? I think he will find that, contrary to his statement that the legislation was found to be in contravention of the fishing regime, it was found to be in contravention of the European laws on establishment of businesses. That illustrated the contradiction between two parts of the law and the Commission's work. The fishing regime is based on quotas for nationalities, and nothing but nationalities. The establishment regime more or less equalises all the nationalities in the European Union.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, there are judicial complexities. However, I can assure the noble Lord that it is our confident belief that the new measures we are pursuing will be sustained within the law.

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Cocaine: Export of Precursor Chemicals

3.5 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider the case for drug enforcement authorities to have improved access to information concerning the export by European manufacturers of precursor chemicals used in the production of cocaine.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, yes. United Kingdom enforcement authorities already have access to information on exports of such chemicals from this country. A number of agreements have been made with countries where cocaine is produced providing for the sharing of such information with their drug enforcement authorities, and more are being negotiated. The United Kingdom played a leading role in the recent United Nations International Narcotics Control Board meeting which identified a number of ways of further improving information exchange.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, while recognising that there are legal measures in place both here and in Brussels, will the Minister nevertheless agree that stronger action is required, given that the majority of precursor chemicals, without which there would be little production of cocaine and many other hard drugs, are produced in Europe and the United States?

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