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Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I speak in support of the recommendations in the report of the European Union Sub-Committee D. I congratulate the members of the committee and the noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, for painstakingly and patiently covering the ground—or should that be seabed—yet again. They captured the frustration felt by conservationists and fishermen alike in this country at the Commission's failure to come forward with workable long-term proposals to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who served on the committee, asked me to say how disappointed he is not to be able to be here today to take part in this debate.

The common fisheries policy, after years of failure to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries, was due for a substantial overhaul by December 2002, as we have already heard. Things looked promising for the industry, an industry that has provided my family with its living for over 400 years. In May 2002, as a result of special pleading by some member states, the Commission's proposals were seriously compromised by the outrageous decisions taken by the Council.

What do we do, short of resigning from the common fisheries policy—a thought near the hearts of many in the dwindling fleet of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We heard my noble friend Lord Selborne eloquently outline his committee's conclusions and its sensible and reasonable recommendations. We must

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urge the Government to press hard for those changes, if the common fisheries policy is not to become complete nonsense.

I want to drive home one of the most fundamental recommendations for change, a change without which the European Union itself will surely founder. It relates to enforcement. In Great Britain, we are so good at enforcement, and we are drowning in a sea of European Union legislation that we enforce when many other member countries do not. There is no punishment for non-enforcement. Our English common law system works well for us. Our laws come from the common demands of our common people. By common consent, we agree to our law and agree that it should be enforced. We are in a union that is essentially based on Roman law. New legislation flutters down from those furthest from its consequences. There are ideas, aspirations and general hopes that may or may not be taken up by the common people.

We cannot continue to run a common fisheries policy like that. It is not fair to our people, who understand fair play. As my noble friend Lord Selborne recommended, we must insist upon a community fisheries control agency, which would ensure equal enforcement on all fishing vessels in European Union waters. The still massive Spanish fleet is in our northern waters for the first time. Will it stick to the rules? Will it stick to its quota? Spain's two fisheries officers—perhaps it is now one or two more—sit in Madrid while our home fleet is policed into oblivion. Without equal enforcement on all fishing vessels of the European Union, the common fisheries policy will cause serious doubt about the possibility of the Union's long-term success. In this country, we are brought up to believe that cheats never prosper. We are brought up to enforce our common law. Will the British Government act to protect our people and our livelihoods by insisting that the creation of the agency be progressed with all haste?

Are quotas to continue as a mechanism? The system does not work in environmental terms. In particular, it does not work in Cornwall, where I live. Successive governments have not put right an early mistake that we made: tradable quotas or quota hopping. I declare that I am patron of the Duchy Fish Quota Company. The company was set up to try to raise money locally to save our Cornish fishing quota. It raises money through charity to buy the quota allocation and lease it back annually to local fishermen. That helps to meet the needs of young fishermen who cannot hope to bid for those precious quotas on the open market.

Over the past five years, Cornwall has lost #4 million worth of fish quota. As boats have been decommissioned, Defra's rules have, in effect, allowed a free trade in the British fish quota. That means that fishermen from outside Cornwall can purchase outright quota that was originally allocated to local fishermen. Spanish-owned boats that have passed the tenuous economic link regulation allowing them to be registered in Britain take advantage of that situation. The boats fish British waters, and the vast majority of the income derived from the quota-hopping boats is realised in Spain, where the catch is generally landed and processed.

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In the present climate, UK fishermen find it difficult to fish the year round on their meagre quota. What steps are the Government taking to reverse the trend of selling UK quota to other member states, who will pay anything to get them? It leaves a generation of fishing families with small inshore boats unable to compete and watching their fleets and communities die out. Within 20 years, Cornwall will lose nearly all its inshore fleet. Cornwall is poor enough; it needs its Government's help. I hope that the Minister will reassure me today. Cornwall and I anxiously await his reply.

In the mean time, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selborne. I had the privilege of sitting with him the last time that we examined the policy. I congratulate him and his committee on a thorough job and commend the report to the House.

12.56 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I congratulate the committee on being so tenacious in returning to this issue yet again. I was on Sub-Committee D the last time that we considered the report. At that time, I felt that the report would lead on to some sort of action, so I shared the committee's great frustration that progress had been not only slow but virtually imperceptible and that, meanwhile, the state of the fish stocks had deteriorated so much further. We know that most stocks are close to collapse. We need only look at the fishmonger's slab to see that. The last report had a vivid cover showing a huge fish, which was by-catch and had to be thrown back, and a small fish, which was allowed to be caught. That situation has continued.

In its evidence, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea said that a reduction in fishing levels of between a third and a half was needed now. "Now", I think, means not in two, three, five or 10 years. Yet, experience with the previous report and with this one suggests that the European Union thinks that we have that length of time to take. The common fisheries policy shows the European Union at its worst, which is a great shame. In every other area of environmental action, the European Union has been at the forefront of moves to get member states to do something about their habitat, their water, their air and the pollution of their seas. It is upsetting to see how, in the common fisheries policy, the European Union gives in yet again to member states with a particular interest.

That is understandable, when the economic fragility of coastal communities puts them under such pressure. I was interested to read in the report that catching employment in those communities had fallen, on average, by 22 per cent and employment in processing by 14 per cent. It is not as though the do-nothing attitude maintains the same employment; employment is still falling, and the reasons for that are not being addressed. I urge the Union to produce the sort of policies for fishing that it has so successfully produced in the rest of its environmental agenda.

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I turn to some specific matters in the committee's report. I agree with its comments on regional advisory councils, particularly the comment in paragraph 49 that they would be "of vital importance". I agree that the way in which the councils are established should be a matter of "considerable urgency". When the report says "considerable urgency", that phrase should be taken to mean real-world time, not the sort of unreal time in which the common fisheries policy has been conducted to date.

The committee's suggestions on the size and process of regional advisory councils are also helpful. I hope that this Government and the EU will take particular note of that. Regional advisory councils will play a crucial role in bringing together different interest groups, which should have a common aim of sustainable marine ecosystems. The aim should not be for a return to "fishing as usual"; that is, fishing as it was in the last decades of the 20th century.

Chapter 4, paragraph 87(v) of the report refers to the importance of supporting long-term development of alternative employment. It states:

    "It is extremely important to find ways of supporting the development of alternative employment opportunities in areas affected by long-term decline of the fishing industry".

On turning to the Government's response to the report on the common fisheries policy from another place, I found that they think they are doing all right in that type of support. The Government believe that their regional strategy is being implemented through regional development agencies in England and that it,

    "enables focussed support to be provided to fishing dependent communities".

That is far too complacent because RDAs have very different targets, which are more concerned with promoting new employment and not alternative employment. The evidence from the South West, where the RDA has a coastal and market towns initiative, does not seem to be addressing the issue of alternative employment with anything like the vigour that the Government—perhaps through their response to that report—assume that the RDAs are doing. I urge the Minister to check on that.

I should like to turn now—incidentally, because it falls within the Minister's remit—to the issue of the Appledore shipyard in north Devon. It is not an alternative employment to be created; it is an alternative employment which exists but is under threat and is likely not to exist shortly. The Government, in their joined-up thinking role, should consider that the Appledore shipyard is in a prime position to help in their off-shore renewables requirements programme. It has considerable expertise in building the infrastructure—namely, the barges and so forth—needed to implement the programme of off-shore wind farms. As the Government have seen fit to bail out British Energy, surely they could help this shipyard. My honourable friend in another place, John Burnett, raised this subject. I would welcome the Minister's comments.

Finally, I turn to the issue of discards. What is the Minister's opinion on this matter raised in evidence given to the committee? It seems that the Norwegians

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have a scheme that any fish caught and landed on deck must be kept. Fish cannot be thrown back, however small. No matter whether the quota has been filled, the fish must be kept. That forces an attitude of responsible fishing: it is clear what has been caught. Perhaps it might answer some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, in his extremely powerful speech.

Some of those measures would force us, in our home waters, to address fishing with an ecosystem attitude. I know that the Government have said in their Seas of Change intentions that they will regard marine ecosystems in a positive way. However, that remains a wish list. There has been no legislation for an ecosystem approach; there has been a bit-by-bit approach so far. Although I understand the Minister cannot comment on what will be in the Queen's Speech, I hope that there will be something in respect of marine legislation.

In the mean time, I hope that we will not be back here in two years' time discussing yet another report from the excellent Sub-Committee D bewailing the lack of progress. I commend the tenacious attitude of the committee. If there is no progress, I hope that it will readdress the issue in two years' time and say so. I congratulate the committee on an excellent and hard-hitting report.

1.5 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne and his committee for their detailed work in producing this important report. Like others, as I read through its pages, I became a combination of extremely frustrated and very depressed by the lack of progress on the reform of the common fisheries policy. At a time when, increasingly, some species are so at risk, there appears to be a lack of will to take action—that is, urgent action. There is evidence of the council backing down from such action as recommended by the Commission.

As my noble friend said in his opening remarks,

    "Too slow; too little; too late",

which has been reiterated by other noble Lords.

On page 5 of the report, the committee states:

    "A promising package of proposals adopted by the Commission in May 2002 was seriously compromised by decisions taken by the Council in December 2002, as a result of special pleading by Member States. The Committee has no confidence that the new basic CFP Regulation agreed at that meeting, despite some positive features, will meet the objectives of sustainable fisheries and prevent irreversible decline in important stocks unless it is substantially improved".

Those are very damning words.

In his opening comments, my noble friend identified several issues, of which I should like to refer to four. First, he clearly stated that there is need for a long-term recovery package and that we should look, particularly, at the amount of biomass spawn taken. Secondly, he reiterated that we should move away from the yearly setting of allowable catches. Thirdly, he said that shabby-deal concessions were being made

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to continue to pay money to modernise fleets. The noble Lord said that that is "unbelievable"; I say that it is unacceptable. Fourthly, he said that there is a need to continue research, particularly into the hoovering of sand eels and other species in dire straits.

The report reflects the alarming state of fish stocks—in particular, that of cod and haddock—as well as the fishing capacity of the Community fleet, which far exceeds that required for harvesting available fish stocks in a suitable manner. The report continually refers to the improvement of efficient fishing methods as "technology creep". We all want to see improvements, but when attempts are made to take more fish than there are available, we must question whether that is wise. Poor enforcement controls have been insufficient to ensure an equitable approach across the Union. As my noble friend Lady Wilcox said, it is not fair. We urgently need an effective control agency.

These are just a few of the issues highlighted in the report, which is summed up on page 8, paragraph 7. The committee was scathing in its comments. It states:

    "The reformed CFP is the result of over four years of analysis and consultation, but it has in our view been emasculated by the back-sliding compromises made by the Council".

It is not acceptable reading. We must do something about it.

However, it is true that some action has taken place. The Minister will be pleased that I am not damning everything. There has been a move to establish fisheries protection zones. Fishing effort has been used as an instrument in fisheries management. There is a plan to eradicate illegal fishing. There are provisions to establish regional advisory councils. I am pleased that that will bring fishermen directly into the negotiations.

There is, too, a plan to move forward towards a reduction in discards of fish, an issue about which all noble Lords feel strongly. Lastly, the creation of a single inspection structure is envisaged to ensure the pooling of Community and national inspection and monitoring resources. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it is no use if we do all this while other states do not. These actions must be undertaken uniformly throughout the Community.

The committee acknowledges that new Regulation 3760/92 is more comprehensive, but it does not deal with three key areas: structural policy, markets and international policy. It calls for better international research and long-term management programmes and concludes by saying:

    "the fatal weakness of the new legislation is that no deadlines are set for when recovery plans must be established".

If there has been any change in that position, I should be glad to hear about it from the Minister when he comes to wind up the debate. The report goes on to state that:

    "Without firm deadlines, the negotiations could continue for a very long time, as is suggested by the still on-going negotiations over the cod and hake recovery plans".

The Commission promised a "definite cod recovery plan" by the summer. Can the Minister explain what is set out in that plan and how it deals with the recent

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scientific findings which suggest that fish seem to band together rather than move around in small shoals. Many fishermen maintain that, when they do find fish, they find a great many and so the shortage is being overstated. Further research is needed to clarify the position. However, scientists believe that while individual shoals are large, they are few in number with long distances in between. How does the definitive plan cope with this situation?

The committee suggests that direct conservation measures such as the control of fishing effort coupled with appropriate technical measures such as limiting mesh size, closed areas, closed seasons and so forth, should be introduced:

    "We urge the Government to press the Commission, and to argue in Council, for the implementation as a matter of urgency of a properly designed and well-considered system of effort control, to work alongside the TACs [total allowable catches] and quotas wherever possible, but especially where precautionary TACs are in force".

The report records its unanimous view that the generally excellent and widely supported proposals made by the Commission to reform the CFP have been emasculated by the Council of Ministers which, as other noble Lords have already said, was held hostage by some member states acting in the perceived short-term interests of their fishing constituencies. Can I ask the Minister to state the Government's view as it was placed before the Council? Further, what do the Government propose to do now to protect our fishing industry and, more important, our fishing grounds?

I wish to put to the Minister a series of direct and practical questions concerning what the report quite rightly reflects as the loss of jobs that has affected many people in this country. Does the social security system support the way fishermen are currently being forced to work? Does the new working tax credit and children's tax credit cut in and out in line with fishermen's earning patterns? Does housing benefit apply to erratic earners? Lastly, following on the point made by my noble friend Lord Eden, has the Commission published its proposals, promised for summer 2003, to ensure that catches of cetaceans are minimised?

What unilateral steps are the Government prepared to take if, say, by December 2003, the Fisheries Council has still not produced a simple, measurable, appropriate and time-tabled plan? What steps are the Government taking to track down illegal fish landings and to apprehend those responsible? Are those measures common to England, Scotland and Wales, and to the other European states?

The report touched on the possibility of the better utilisation of satellite monitoring. I believe that satellite monitoring should be extended right now. I ask the Minister: are there any reasons why that is not being done immediately? Finally, the most criticised aspect of the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance—FIFG—has been the funding earmarked for the fleet renewal and modernisation programme, mentioned by other speakers in the debate. I believe that the programme should be totally halted right now. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why that cannot be done.

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Only a month ago I paid a visit to Billingsgate fish market and had the joy of seeing a wide variety of fish on display and available to us. But I fear for the future of fish stocks more generally, let alone our own cod and hake stocks, if we do not act on the recommendations of this excellent report produced by my noble friend.

Once again I thank my noble friend, the members of the committee and all those who have worked so hard to put together this report. I hope very much that it will receive a positive response, not only from our Government—I realise that the Government can do only so much on their own—but also from the Community as a whole. Again, I ask the Minister to comment on the extremely important points raised by my noble friend Lady Wilcox on the selling of fish quota, which is particularly relevant to Cornwall's inshore fishing fleets.

This is a good report. I took it away with me when I stayed in Wales for a week. However, all I can say is that I found it a depressing read. I should like the Minister to tell us what action he and his Government are going to take in the future.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl, all the members of his committee, its staff and advisers, who have clearly done a very thorough job in producing the report which forms the basis of this debate. I think it is fair to say that all the contributors to the debate, members of the committee and Her Majesty's Government share a general view of the European approach to fisheries. I was glad that a number of speakers referred to the work of my honourable friend Elliot Morley in this respect. Until recently he was the Minister responsible for fisheries for six rather difficult years. The post of fisheries Minister is always an uphill struggle in Europe, given the common fisheries policy structure that we inherited when we joined the European Union and which has yet to be reformed as effectively as all noble Lords in this House would wish.

I think that we all agree that there is an absolutely urgent need to conserve many of the fish stocks in EU waters and to promote the conservation of stocks beyond those boundaries. In relation to some stocks, most particularly those of cod in some of our key fisheries, the situation has become extremely urgent. Far too few young fish are surviving to maturity. The other side of the equation is the need to protect the future of a viable fishing industry and the communities around our coastline still based on fishing activities. It is also important to do that in a way which protects the marine environment more generally.

I turn first to the December deal. Many speakers have expressed serious disappointment with the deal, and I understand and share some of that concern. However, if noble Lords will excuse the maritime pun, the deal does indicate something of a sea change in the

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approach of the Council of Ministers to fisheries policy. Commissioner Fischler has been working very hard on the proposals to put to the Commission and I endorse the comments that he has presented the Council with some very serious choices. While it is true to say that we did not achieve all that both we and the commissioner would have wished, the December deal marked a change of direction and all the realistic negotiation objectives were achieved; that is, given the views of the other member states, we secured the best deal possible. It is not the best deal that is desired, but it is probably the best possible deal. Furthermore, under the new structure of the CAP, it does place social, economic and environmental sustainability at the heart of its policy, which was not the case over the previous 30-odd years of common fisheries policy. Therefore we have seen a move forward, in particular to respect scientific advice and to manage stocks accordingly on a multi-annual basis.

Regrettably, it is also the case that not all the scientific advice made available has been accepted in the so-called "friends of fishing" group of nations, an ironic title which, as the noble Earl pointed out in his opening remarks, is in a state of denial. The advice is also not wholly accepted by certain elements of the British fishing industry. That is why research statistics and so on are needed in this area to continue to reinforce the evidence which, despite the overwhelming scientific view and, as my noble friend Lady Billingham indicated, the tragic and drastic example of Canada which has been before us for more than a decade, not everyone, by any means, accepts.

There is also a commitment to improved enforcements. Rules must be applied rigorously across the EU. We strongly support the Commission's action plan for improving compliance and co-operation between member states. I shall say more about that and the proposals for the joint inspection structure and fisheries control agency which is to be established next year, the feasibility study for which is due to begin about now. Clearly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, indicated, enforcement is a major issue.

As regards capacity, clearly a great deal of the previous aids to the industry have been perverse in their effects in increasing the capacity while, at the same time, destroying some of the traditional vessels and employment in the industry in Europe. Subsidies for vessel building must be ended by 31st December 2004. While the noble Baroness and others say this is too late and, obviously, the earlier the better, the fact is that until a very late stage in the December negotiations the group of six were blocking such an early commitment and were looking to continue until 2006 and beyond. It was therefore a breakthrough to obtain 2004 as the deadline. This means that most continuing aid for vessel construction will end within a year from now. We have not provided grant aid for vessel construction in the UK for many years and we regret that other member states have not followed our example.

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In her closing remarks the noble Baroness asked about the deadlines for recovery plans. There are no specific deadlines in the agreement but the regulation commits the Council to introducing recovery plans whenever stocks are shown to have fallen outside safe biological limits based on the science to which we are now committed. So, as soon as that commitment is triggered, the Commission is under a duty to bring forward proposals promptly and the Council is under a duty to take note of such proposals and to implement them.

There are also measures for dealing with conservation emergencies, which now apply to threats to the environment as well as to the fish stocks. This, again, is a move forward. A number of noble Lords referred to the establishment of the regional advisory councils—again a major step forward. We welcome also some of the action plans under the new framework in regard to discards, improving the science and integrating environmental protection requirements into the CFP. All of these new provisions add up to a major change in direction and intensity of the CFP.

Clearly these new initiatives need to be followed through by Council action and decisions which affect the situation. We needed a much more robust framework in which to argue these decisions. We have now got it and we are now able more effectively to take on those member states which, shall we say, may have a less urgent or robust view on the need for action. Some of these issues will come before the Council this month or next month through to the December Council.

So far as concerns the UK, another significant contribution to planning for the future will be from the No. 10 Strategy Unit's fisheries project announced at the end of March. This will take into account the findings of the Select Committee report. Its terms of reference are to develop a strategy for the sustainable future of the UK marine fishing industry. It will be collecting information and reporting within the next few months.

Returning to the question of enforcement, clearly the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Byford, strongly emphasised the importance of this issue. I agree. The United Kingdom spends #24 million on enforcement, and it has often been remarked that our enforcement is rather better than that in many other areas of the EU. Enforcement co-operation between member states will be much stronger under the new CFP. The Council is to establish a set of sanctions to be applied by member states for serious infringements on the basis of Commission proposals. The joint inspection structure and fisheries control agency will be subject to an immediate feasibility study and it is to be hoped that it will be established next year. So the policing of and sanctions on member states are being tightened up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked about quotas and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, indicated her interest in the situation in Cornwall. We have always attempted to ensure that the economic benefit of quotas which are allocated in the CFP to the UK

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should benefit the UK and its fishing areas. We now require all vessels benefiting from the quotas to have a demonstrable economic link to the UK. This is a significant change following the previous government going down the wrong road and being overturned in the European courts. There will be a fairly tight regulation of future sales of quotas. Although it will not go as far as discriminating by nationality—which would be contrary to the basic precepts of the EU—it will require economic benefits to accrue in the UK.

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