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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I rise briefly to return to a question that I raised with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, in our debate last night. She anticipated that we would return to it briefly this evening. The question was: what is the legal basis of the common fisheries policy? My curiosity was aroused by a Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, dated 24th April but which is printed in Hansard today. In that Answer the noble Lord said that the legal basis for the common fisheries policy is Article 3 of the EC Treaty and Articles 39 to 47 of the treaty. I thought that I had better go through it again, so I went to Article 3 of the EC Treaty, which says that the activities of the Community shall include, among other things, a common policy in the sphere of agriculture and fisheries. To me, that means--the Minister may not agree--a common policy for agriculture and a common policy for fisheries.
Turning to the other articles which the noble Lord mentioned in his Written Answer, Articles 39 to 47 of the treaty--that is, as they were numbered, although they are now numbered Articles 33 to 38, the former Article 47 having been repealed--and there is no mention of fishing. The words "fish", "fisheries" or
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: We are discussing the question of quota-hopping, which, like it or not, is an evil which is visited upon us by the common fisheries policy. I am merely asking whether or not the common fisheries policy has a legal basis.
Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: Am I to understand that the Opposition oppose competition? Did not British fishermen sell their licences to other European countries? Is it not open to our fishermen to buy licences from other European countries? Are the Opposition saying that they oppose competition?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The noble Lord will appreciate that, as usual in matters European, I do not speak for the Opposition. The question he addresses to me is concerned with the specific aspect of quota-hopping.
Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: I know that the noble Lord has a different point of view from his Front Bench, so I shall address the Front Bench. Are the Opposition opposed to competition? Is the Conservative Party opposed to fair competition? British fishermen sold their licences to the Spaniards and others. Is it not open to us to buy--
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: With the greatest respect, the noble Lord is now out of order because I think it would be normal practice for him to allow me to finish my intervention and he will then be free to address any queries that he may have to the Opposition Front Bench or to his own Front Bench on the matter of quota-hopping.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: The noble Lord is being challenged as to whether he approves of competition, whether in relation to fish or anything else. Is it not a fact that quotas are not about competition but about conservation and are anti-competitive? That is probably the answer that the noble Lord should have given to my noble friend.
I should like to return to the simple question that I wish to put to the Minister. What is the legal basis for the common fisheries policy? I cannot find it in the articles enumerated by his noble friend Lord Donoughue. If there is no legal basis perhaps it will be a great relief to everyone.
Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: Perhaps I may now address a question to the Opposition Front Bench. Is the Opposition opposed to competition? The issue of conservation is a non-argument because it is a matter for the whole of Europe. It does not matter who catches the fish; what matters is the total amount. In terms of competition, one can buy or sell in the market place. Is the Opposition saying that there is no secondary market to compete on a national basis in fisheries?
Lord Whitty: This has developed into an interesting debate on the common fisheries policy, but I do not believe that that is relevant this evening. I have some further advice on the basis of the common fisheries policy. However, I believe that I should put it in writing to the noble Lord. I need to check that I do not inadvertently contradict my noble friend Lord Donoughue, which I do not wish to do. We should compare notes before communicating with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.
The common fisheries policy is clearly unsatisfactory and has serious problems. I had hoped--I apologise if I give signs of slight irritation at this time of night--that one year after the election and nearly a year after the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam we would have left behind such pre-election posturing. This is a re-run of pre-election posturing that has done absolutely nothing to benefit the fishing communities of this country. What we achieved in Amsterdam--small though it was in face of the problem--was of benefit to the fishing communities. We never said that we could achieve that by means of a treaty but that we would insist on achieving something in Amsterdam. We did so.
What happened before Amsterdam when the noble Lord's government presented their protocol in the negotiations is a mystery. I have it on the good authority of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that when he first met the German Foreign Secretary, Herr Kinkel, prior to the Amsterdam negotiations and raised the issue of the previous British government's draft protocol on quota-hopping his counterpart looked totally blank. It was quite clear that the previous government's negotiators had not impressed our partners one jot on the importance of this issue to the
As to the letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and President of the Commission, as a result of the Amsterdam negotiations conducted in parallel with the treaty negotiations, that is an important step forward. It records explicitly the Commission's interpretation of how a member state may within the rules of the single market establish an economic link between the fishing activity and fishing communities and make that a condition of a licence or access to quotas. That means that we should now be able to specify and enforce economic links and establish rules which will ensure that the benefits flow to our fishing communities.
We expect that the Commission will respond shortly to the proposals that we are now making to implement the economic-link licence conditions, and Ministers will make an announcement at the appropriate time. The fishing industry has not been, and I doubt whether it will be, entirely satisfied with that, as Members of the Committee have said. I have to ask, as I have before, where the blame for that rests. We made some progress at Amsterdam and we are following that through.
The previous government tabled a protocol which would not, incidentally, have secured the removal of one quota hopper from the UK register. They said that they would block the Amsterdam Treaty if that protocol were not agreed. The protocol was not supported by one other member state, and they would have left Amsterdam empty-handed.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to the previous government leaving no avenue unexplored. The previous government had 18 years during which to address the problem which we inherited six weeks before the IGC at Amsterdam. Those 18 years were marked by a succession of failures on the CFP.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: Would the noble Lord like to remind the Committee that Ministers of the previous government refused to meet Emma Bonino the Fisheries Commissioner? She waited eight months for a meeting and eventually had to come to Britain to meet the fishermen, without meeting one Minister, because the previous government would not meet her.
Lord Whitty: That is correct. That was indicative of how, throughout those years, the previous government approached fishing policy. They failed at the beginning of the CFP; they failed to modify it satisfactorily at the time the Spanish and the Portuguese acceded; they failed to ensure that the economic conditions of the UK fishing industry made it profitable and to secure for our fishermen such an income as to enable them to hold on to their quota, which caused the problem in the first place; they failed to pick up the money which the Commission at one point put on the table to subsidise decommissioning; and they failed to recognise that the UK regulation which they put down would be challenged on the basic and fundamental issues of the right of establishment and would be overturned by the ECJ.
That is a catalogue of failures and a complete let down for Britain's fishing communities. The Opposition are not in a position to criticise the Government's conduct at Amsterdam or since. Much remains to be done for the fishing community. I draw attention to the recent successful prosecution of Anglo-Spanish vessels for over-fishing. Those responsible have been ordered by British courts to pay more than £1 million in fines and costs. The process to which I have just referred in terms of our proposals to the Commission involved a long period of consultation with the British fishing industry. There are difficulties in different sections of the industry, and different views on how we should proceed. So it took several months to complete the consultation process.
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