Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 9:26 pm on 17th December 2003.

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Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench 9:26 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

A very similar Bill to this one was introduced into another place last June by Austin Mitchell MP, supported by a cross-party group of Members. Unfortunately, it did not get a Second Reading and, of course, fell at the end of the previous Session. Austin Mitchell was kind enough to pass it on to me with suggestions for its simplification and improvement. I am greatly indebted to the Public Bill Office for redrafting the Bill.

For 62 years of my life I lived within two miles of Fraserburgh, once one of the biggest and most prosperous fishing ports in the country—once, I believe, the biggest herring port in Europe—founded over 400 years ago by my ancestor. The prosperity of Fraserburgh is very dear to my heart and I have witnessed the decline of the fishing industry on which it depends with great sorrow.

The common fisheries policy, after years of failure to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries, was due for substantial overhaul by December 2002. A promising package of proposals adopted by the Commission in May 2002 was wrecked by decisions taken by the Council in December 2002, as a result of pressure from certain interested member states. For many years now the cod and hake stocks have been falling to dangerously low levels, and the measures agreed by the Council to protect them have been too little and too late. There is little reason to suppose that the story will be any different this December. TACs (total allowable catches) are set too high; they are in any case a very inefficient method of controlling the quantity of fish caught leading both to the landing of "black fish" and the wicked practice of discarding; that is, throwing overboard to die fish caught over and above the permitted quota.

The encouragement of effort limitation by grants for scrapping boats has been inadequate, and largely negated by "technology creep"; that is, the fitting of the remaining boats and the building of new boats with more efficient fish-catching equipment, particularly in France and Spain, and financed, believe it or not, by EU funding. Those are just two examples of common fisheries policy inefficiency.

Now, in panic, there is talk of forbidding all fishing for white fish in the North Sea. Not only would that spell final ruin to our fishermen, but it ignores the fact that cod and hake, preferring colder waters, do not inhabit in any quantity the same fishing grounds in the North Sea as haddock and whiting and other white fish, of which the stocks are sufficient for moderate catches to be permissible and for which our fishermen are accustomed to fish.

The plight of our fishing industry has long been serious and is likely to become more so. It is not helped by the regrettable fact that FIFG funding is available only for fishery purposes and not for financing alternative industries in our fishing ports and retraining fishermen who have been put out of work.

Ultimately, we in this country have a far greater interest in the sound management of our fish stocks than do the other member states which fish our fishing grounds and which are anxious to continue fishing our waters because 70 per cent of the European Union fish stocks are in our waters. It is the living of our fishermen and that of their children and grandchildren which is at stake. At present, there are many very unhappy fishermen out there—and not only fishermen, for the ancillary businesses are affected, too. If the decision on who fished our waters was ours alone, our fishermen would fare much better. That is the reason for the Bill.

I turn to the Bill itself. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State power, by affirmative order, to withdraw from the common fisheries policy on such a date as he shall determine, regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972.

Clause 2 amends the Fishery Limits Act 1976 so that foreign fishing boats not registered in a country with a fisheries agreement with the United Kingdom would be forbidden to enter United Kingdom fishery limits. Fishermen from the European Union are specifically forbidden to fish within fishery limits unless their respective countries are designated access under the 1976 Act. No country would be so designated unless reciprocal rights to fish in its waters were granted to UK fishing boats and they observed the same conservation measures as those applied within British fishery limits, or more stringent ones.

Provision is also made in Clause 2 for the following: a licensing regime for fishing boats within British fishery limits; penalties for unlicensed fishing; the landing in the UK, Isle of Man or the Channel Islands of fish caught within British waters, or their being reported to Ministers and available for inspection if landed elsewhere; the conduct of relations with the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland and Norway with regard to fisheries; the use of statutory instruments relating to the fisheries regime; and the taking into account of the devolution of powers.

Clause 3 makes financial provision for any expenditure of the Secretary of State consequent upon the Act. Clause 4 concerns the citation, extent and commencement date. The Bill extends to the whole United Kingdom.

This is an enabling Bill. It does not take the United Kingdom out of the common fisheries policy; it merely enables the Secretary of State to make an order to do so—an order which will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament. But I hope that it will send a very clear signal to the Council of Ministers that people in this country are becoming very fed up and, by so doing, will give the Minister responsible for negotiations with the Council a stronger hand to play. Our Ministers do their best. For many years, Ministers of all political complexions have worked their socks off trying to get our fisheries a better deal. Any help or ammunition that we can give them, we should give unstintingly. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lady Saltoun of Abernethy.)

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat 9:35 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, with considerable approval. I, too, have greatly benefited from knowing fishermen in Arbroath, Peterhead and up the coast, particularly in Wick, and from Ullapool northwards. They are good men and they are suffering. There is no question about that.

There are many reasons, but the plain fact is that one boat equipped with all the modern devices and manned by trained people can catch as much as probably 10 boats could 50 years ago. That really is the reason for the run down in stocks, along with a good deal of incompetence in the EU over the fisheries policy and some incompetence on our part too, including the failure to have any form of control over landings in Spain. At one time, in Spain there were two inspectors for the whole country, which was obviously bad. I doubt whether in France and Spain they are as particular as we and some others are.

We have also had decommissioning in this country, but the decommissioning figures were too low. Many of our fishermen sold their boats and their licences to foreign crews who manned them as British boats. In that way they continued the expansion of catching ability which we must now do something to control.

We are in a different position compared with Norway and Iceland, who are always held up as great examples. Norway and Iceland have open seas all around them and for them 200 miles means something. However, in this country we have opposite us Denmark, Germany, Belgium and France, all with a share of the North Sea. There is no 200-mile limit. I do not see how the Bill will help. I am glad to hear the noble Lady say that it will merely help the Government to correct the common fisheries policy by having a threat to wield. If I thought that that was the purpose I would support it, but I am not sure whether it is. I shall be interested to hear what other noble Lords think.

The need to do something—that old phrase—is perfectly clear, especially when we look at Newfoundland cod, which was the source of a great industry. The fish have not returned; they have been fished out. There have to be changes. So the much despised CFP has done some good. I shudder to think what would have happened if we had no measures. There are bad aspects, such as the giving of grants to equip new boats and so on, which is obvious nonsense, and the paying of money to decommission a boat, but not taking away the licence. That is the kind of madness that has led to the difficulty in which we find ourselves now.

However, we must give some credit to the common fisheries policy. I do not know what would have happened without it. If one looks at the difficulties of negotiating new agreements with all the countries, there is no doubt that we should concentrate our efforts harder on improving the common fisheries policy and making it practical. In spite of all its failings, it is the only machinery left which can improve the situation to the benefit of the fishermen of this country.

Those fishermen are suffering in exactly the same way, only not quite so badly, as the farming population, where, because of mechanisation, there is a total absence of paid labour. On many farms of 300 to 400 acres all the work is done by the farmer. That situation results from competence and new methods. Largely, the trouble that the fishermen are in is partly their fault, partly the Government's fault and partly of course the fault of the CFP. Nevertheless, the policy is the best we have and we should stick by it.

Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench 9:41 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, at this late hour, I shall not detain your Lordships for long. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will be delighted that for once I will not mention biofuels. I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Saltoun on bringing forward this simple but terribly important Bill.

Fishing is very much in my ancestry, as it is in my noble friend's. My great great grandfather founded his fishing dynasty from Wick and later moved to create a very prosperous fishing business out of the port of Leith, which he represented in another place for many years, having been honorary consul in St Petersburg for 16 years.

On reading the Hansard of the debate last week in another place, I think that everyone involved in the UK fishing industry would agree that the so-called science on which Brussels bases its decisions is disastrous for the common fisheries policy and is hopelessly flawed. To give one small example, the white fishing boats in Scotland have been reduced from 351 to just 135, which means in reality that each vessel has a 1,000 square mile radius in which to fish.

I had the privilege of sitting on Sub-Committee D for the statutory three years and was involved in two reports on the CFP. It was very distressing when we came to revisit this subject that nothing had really changed in the three years since our first report. The chairman of the sub-committee, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, when introducing our report in this House, said that,

"it is tempting to sum up the report quickly by saying, "Too slow; too little; too late'."—[Official Report, 10/10/03; col. 561.]

How I echo those words.

I could not agree more with my noble friend Lady Saltoun when she said that the TACs are set at an artificially high level. She referred to the wicked practice of discarding. I would go much further and say that it is criminal and of course environmentally insane. I feel certain that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, with his other hat on would agree to that particular point.

Any outsider looking at the fact that there are EEC grants to decommission with one hand and grants to build new boats with the other would agree what a farce the CFP has become.

My biggest worry is the long-term future for our fishermen and indeed for their families. I live close to the small fishing port of Eyemouth on the Berwickshire coast, and I am particularly concerned about all the ancillary businesses which are naturally affected by the CFP. In sparsely populated areas, fishermen and their ancillary trades have little or no opportunity to diversify. It is for that reason that my noble friend will have my full support in this enabling Bill. I hope that it will receive a quick passage through Parliament and Royal Assent before it is too late.

Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative 9:45 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for introducing the Bill, which failed in another place although it was promoted by the honourable Member for Great Grimsby. There is no time to lose in re-establishing our 200-mile limit round the coast of this country, excluding all fishing boats except those with an exchange of access agreement—those represented by the Faroes, Iceland, Ireland and Norway.

The future of the sand eels is important in the food chain for both our fish and birds. At the last count, the Danes were taking no less than 8,140 tonnes of sand eels each year to put in their power stations to generate power. The UK industry is taking another 1,800 tonnes of sand eels to sell to the Danes; the Norwegians are taking slightly less. That is more than the sand eel population can stand. Even the European Commission recommends that we should cut by no less than 2,000 tonnes the number of sand eels taken next year.

My noble friend Lord Forsyth introduced a debate on the future of the Atlantic salmon round the Scottish coast. When a young salmon goes to sea in its second or third year as a smolt, it needs a good fill of sand eels to get it to the plankton off Iceland. If it does not get that, it will not get there. The supply of sand eels is now so short that most smolt salmon never reach their growing areas so that they can return to this country as grilse or salmon. If the salmon are to return to this country, to the river of their birth, we need the Bill to control the loss of salmon illegally swept up in the nets of the new types of fishing boat.

Having spent 40 years of my life in Sutherland, I know that, especially in the spring, when the fishing was bad, we went to Handa Island off the north-west coast. The population of puffins, terns, razorbills and guillemots was enormous, but during the past 20 years, since the Danes started fishing for sand eels, that population has vanished. The situation is now serious and I hope that the Bill will allow us to control our own fisheries policy, instead of being dictated to by Europe.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench 9:48 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and thank my noble friend Lady Saltoun for introducing it. It contains important principles. The first has concerned me for a long time: we cannot apply processes that might work if the world were a simple place to a complex network of human relationships and expect to obtain the consequences we want. That sounds complicated, but process-driven thinking has completely failed in this area. We must start motivating people to do what is needed. There is a huge conservation issue. The Bill is important because it affects both communities and the environment.

If we want to protect something, we need to give the people who use it ownership of it. Then they will want to protect it for the future. Once we have destroyed the habitat or the stocks, we cannot recreate them. People's livelihoods are at risk. Much local industry is dependent on fishing—perhaps I should say that there is a little left. Local businesses and communities are dependent on it. When we have destroyed them, what regeneration schemes will we try to put in place when they know nothing else?

The Bill gives British fishermen a stake in their own future, because they will feel and know that their children will benefit from their restraint. With luck, they will stop over-fishing. If one feels that one is passing something on to one's own flesh and blood or one's community, one does something about it. That worked well with the cod recovery in either Iceland or Greenland. People who know more than myself will talk about that. People will even invest in the industry.

In the south-west there was an initiative to reintroduce lobsters where they had been over-fished. That went well. If people cannot protect that, there is no point in such initiatives. If, suddenly, strangers and foreigners can come and raid what people feel is their own property, there is no point in investing in the future. But if one gives them ownership, they will defend that. The Bill is important because it starts to move in the correct direction. Instead of having many rules that do not work, because people will always find another way of interpreting them, one should begin to motivate people properly to look after their future.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative 9:51 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, the question which must by now be occurring to any normal person listening to or reading this debate is: "How on earth did we get into this mess?". The answer is, as usual, in our disastrous relationship with the European Union—in that the British people, and even Parliament, were deceived by the Government of the day. Any of your Lordships who wish to understand the whole history of how that has happened over more than 30 years should read a brilliant new book, entitled The Great Deception, written by Mr Christopher Booker and Mr Richard North, published by Continuum Books. It is closely researched and reveals a number of Foreign Office memoranda under the 30-year rule, which show exactly how we were deceived in the late 1960s and early 1970s—and indeed, for many years before that. It is thus essential reading for any noble Lord who wants to understand the history and nature of our present predicament.

As far as the loss of our fisheries is concerned, Messrs Booker and North reveal that on 13th December 1971 Mr Geoffrey Rippon MP, who was negotiating the United Kingdom's access to what was then the Common Market, reported to the House of Commons on the outcome of the final meeting in Brussels which had sealed the fate of one of our most important assets. Mr Rippon claimed that any "outstanding problems" on fisheries had been resolved. He said the Community had been persuaded of the need to protect Britain's vital interests, both by conserving fish stocks and by protecting "the livelihoods of our fishermen". He then claimed:

"it is clear that we retain full jurisdiction of the whole of our coastal waters up to 12 miles".

That was simply not true. First, what he had signed meant that British boats would only have exclusive rights to fish out to six miles, and our control over access between six and 12 miles had been limited. Secondly, that was allowed only under a 10-year derogation which was to expire on 31st December 1982, after which it could only be extended by unanimity. The derogation could thus be ended by a single veto. Thirdly, the United Kingdom had conceded the most important principle of all; namely, the power of Brussels to control our fishing waters right up to our beaches. Even in the six-mile zone our fishermen would still have to comply with Community rules. And when the 200-mile limit was introduced in 1977 at the third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, and was accepted by the EEC, our waters were given away entirely.

No doubt desperate to hide how much the UK had conceded, Mr Rippon told the House of Commons:

"I must emphasise that these are not just transitional arrangements which automatically lapse at the end of a fixed period".

Members of the other place were not able to see the actual wording of the accession treaty until after it was signed, a month later. Only then did it become clear how they had been misled by Mr Heath and his government. So that is a little of the story of how we were deceived into signing up to the common fisheries policy. As I have said, the whole saga is set out in devastating detail in The Great Deception.

It is perhaps just worth repeating what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said: that when we joined what is now the European Union we owned some 70 to 75 per cent of the fish which swam in all EC waters. Now we are allowed to land, I think, some 25 per cent of the catch allowed by Brussels; and it is this transition which has caused the devastation to which other noble Lords have referred.

When we use the expression "allowable catch", we see another lunacy of the common fisheries policy. This is that the Martians in Brussels presumably thought that they could practise conservation by limiting the amount of fish landed in port. They do not seem to have realised—probably because they had never been to sea—that when the nets come up, nearly all the fish in them are dead. So all fish beyond the "allowable catch" have to be thrown back dead, as the noble Lady said. The European Commission admitted not so long ago that some 4 million tonnes of dead fish are thus thrown back dead into the sea every year—good for the seabed, no doubt. That is conservation for you, a la Brussels.

I would end these few remarks by saying how much I look forward to hearing what my noble friend on the Front Bench will have to tell us about Conservative Party policy towards the problem we are discussing. During the previous Parliament, my honourable friend Mr Patrick Nicholls, speaking on behalf of the party, said in the other place that our policy was to repatriate our fish, which had been the blindingly obvious thing to do for many years. The very next day, the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, taunted my right honourable friend Mr William Hague, then Leader of the Opposition, that this meant the Conservative Party wanted to leave the European Union altogether. Mr Blair's reasoning appeared to be, and probably still is—perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies tonight—that because the other EU countries would never agree to us taking back our fish, we would have to break the EU treaty to do so and that would somehow result in our leaving the European Union entirely.

At this suggestion, Mr Hague went into a somewhat undignified reverse and denied that we wanted to leave the European Union. Where that left our policy towards the common fisheries policy has never been made clear. As far as I can see, our policy is to,

"renegotiate the treaties to take back our fish".

But that begs the question, as the Prime Minister indicated: what happens if the others do not agree? And of course they will not—certainly not the Spanish or the Dutch. Do we just accept that we have failed and continue to live with this financial, environmental and ignominious disaster, or do we break the treaty and take our fisheries back anyway? Can either my noble friend on the Front Bench or the Minister explain why that would result in our expulsion from the European Union? I can see that there would be a few uncomfortable cocktail parties for our bureaucrats, diplomats and so on in Brussels, but the British fishing industry could live with that. I can see that there might even be a fine to pay in the Luxembourg so-called "court", but, as your Lordships will be aware, there is no mechanism to make a country actually pay such a fine, as Italy and France have been demonstrating for years. So would the others really force us out when we are such a large contributor in other ways to the whole dismal enterprise? Alas, I fear not, even if that is what many of us want to do anyway.

So I would have thought that this excellent Bill, so ably and courageously promoted by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, can be supported by all sides of the House.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour 10:00 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in congratulating Booker and North on their new book, The Great Deception. The good news is that noble Lords and Members of the House of Commons will receive a complimentary copy of the book, courtesy of Mr Sykes. I recommend that they read it.

I thank the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for introducing the Bill. It is necessary and timely that the United Kingdom should now reconsider seriously reclaiming the power to manage our own fishing industry and fishing grounds, rather than their being managed by 24 other European countries, some of which have no fishing industry at all.

When Britain foolishly agreed to a common fisheries policy in 1972, as a price for entry to the Common Market, only nine countries were involved. That was bad enough, but now that 25 countries have a finger in the fishing pie, the common fisheries policy will surely be completely unmanageable. That can only end in complete disaster. This is an opportune time to reclaim our fishing industry before another 10 countries join the EU next May. Furthermore, the policy of withdrawal from the common fisheries policy is gaining support from all sides, as the debate last week in another place showed. That debate showed that it was not only the Official Opposition calling for the re-nationalisation of fishing, but also speakers from other political parties.

It is clear that there is sheer frustration, all round, at the failure of the common fisheries policies successfully to manage the fishing affairs of the European Union. There is no confidence that matters will improve in the future. Indeed, far from expecting any improvement, speakers in the Commons debate feared that things could only get worse under EU management. Mr Whittingdale quoted figures to show that, since 1995, there had been a 25 per cent reduction in fishing boats and a 33 per cent drop in fish landed in the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the decline had been even more marked, with a 60 per cent reduction in boats, resulting in an annual loss of income of £300 million a year directly and £755 million if ancillary industries are taken into account. Those figures were quoted in the House of Commons and were not challenged.

How have we allowed such a disaster to happen, and why should it be allowed to continue? We shall, of course, be told, perhaps by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that the sacrifice of our fishing industry, fishermen and their families and all those who work in industries concerned with fishing is worth while because of the wider benefits of EU membership. They were sacrificed because they did not lobby loudly at that time. But those benefits are hard to identify.

Like fishing, the UK has been adversely affected by the disaster of the common agricultural policy (CAP), which has destroyed much of our agricultural production and caused many farmers and farm workers to leave the land altogether. We pay a net contribution of £3.5 million a year to the EU, which could be used for good purposes in this country, including to assist the fishing industry. Even on trade we run an annual adverse balance of some £4.5 billion a year. That is equivalent to the loss of 185,000 British jobs, particularly in the manufacturing industry. The constant stream of regulations reduces the competitiveness of British industry. It is quite clear that, in any cost benefit analysis, it is not worth while to sacrifice the fishing industry any further.

We shall of course also be told that to withdraw from the common fisheries policy would mean leaving the EU. I believe that to be untrue and absurd. Why would the other countries in the EU wish to expel Britain, which contributes so much to their economies and coffers and which they consider a milch cow? That would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Are the Government really saying that, when a policy has gone disastrously wrong and is hurting and destroying a great industry and the livelihoods of those associated with it, we should take no action to withdraw from that policy? That is nonsensical and a betrayal of the British people and the British fishing industry. It is quite suicidal and completely unacceptable.

The common fisheries policy really has reached the end of the road. The Government childishly mock the Official Opposition for wanting to negotiate a withdrawal from the CFP as come-outers who want to withdraw completely from the EU—I wish the Opposition were come-outers; they would have a lot more support from me if they were. Instead of mocking the Opposition, the Government themselves should announce their intention to renationalise the fishing industry and start immediate negotiations to bring that to fruition.

The Bill before us points the way to withdrawal and I sincerely trust that the House will not only give it a Second Reading tonight, but will agree to the Bill as a whole in all its future stages, as soon as possible.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 10:07 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, has enabled us to have a very interesting debate tonight. She said that she introduced the Bill in the spirit of giving the Government some ammunition to get a really constructive and forward-looking agreement at the Council of Ministers, which I support. However, that is as far as I am able to go in supporting the Bill. In the powerful speech by my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, we heard about the seas that we share, and although this debate may be useful ammunition, withdrawing from the common fisheries policy is not a practical way forward for us. Indeed, it is not constructive to offer unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy as a hope for our fishing industries at this stage. In fact, it is a cruel hoax to suggest that they will embrace a rosy future by withdrawing from the CFP. That would not happen.

The future lies in constructing a common fisheries policy that does not have the appalling faults mentioned by noble Lords this evening—with a Commission that has always done far too little far too late and that has the most dreadful rules, as noble Lords have explained, on by-catch and discards. This House should be proud of the two reports—as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, reminded us—produced by Sub-Committee D. We expressed strong disappointment at the continual failure of the Council of Ministers to find a way forward.

Technology creep, which was mentioned by several noble Lords, has undoubtedly been a problem. However, technology is now available, were the Commission to choose to use it. The Council of Ministers should encourage the Commission to consider things such as the satellite monitoring technology that is now available. It could produce a more accurate picture of who was fishing where. That might be a good use of technology.

I will be interested to hear the Minister's view on whether EU structural funding will be geared more towards helping fishing communities to diversify and not just to consider fishing-related options, such as effort control and closed area assistance. For some communities, the number of people involved in fishing will have to diminish. For that to happen, those communities will need structural funding help. That will make it easier for politicians from communities that are particularly affected to come to an agreement on the future of the common fisheries policy.

I was interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and I was disappointed that, for once, he did not mention the octopus. It would have been particularly relevant to a fishing speech. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, who referred to the project of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, involving lobster breeding in Padstow. I had the privilege of going round it a couple of summers ago. It was a most interesting day, and I shall be interested to hear any reference to the progress that it has made. I shall also be interested in any reference to the Conservatives' policy on withdrawal from the common fisheries policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, also made an interesting speech about sand eels. It is a big disappointment that the Government have not proposed any form of marine Bill for this year. A lot of work has been done on the need for marine conservation areas. The Government have announced that they will develop offshore wind farms, but they have not produced any sort of marine spatial planning Bill. The wind farms will be constructed without any framework for offshore planning. In the light of this debate and other proposals, it is time that the Government came up with some form of marine stewardship and planning Bill. We face the sort of development at sea that would be unthinkable without a planning framework if it were to happen on land. We ought to think it outrageous that it should happen at sea with no real framework.

We believe that there is a future for the common fisheries policy. We hope that we can embrace that future with more vigour than in the past. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on the progress that is likely to be made.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I must press her on her view that those of us who hold out the prospect of leaving the common fisheries policy are practising a cruel hoax—I think that is what she said—on fishing communities. Surely, it is terribly simple. We take back our fish; we build up our fish stocks; we prevent foreign boats coming in while we do it; and, when we have satisfied our industry, we lease any surplus to foreign boats. It is as simple as that. That is not a hoax. It should be obvious.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the face of it, it is obvious, but many issues arise from it. What constitutes a British fishing boat? What constitutes a British company with a fishing fleet that must still face the technology creep that was mentioned? People will find ways round it, in order to continue to fish in waters that are full of fish.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, when he says that local people need to have local ownership and local management. There is a future in regional management committees, which I believe is a European Commission proposal. Perhaps the Minister would say where the regional management committees will have a way forward. People should be managing their own areas, but within the common fisheries policy.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Conservative 10:15 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, we on these Benches congratulate the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, on introducing this important and long-overdue Bill. It is a pleasure to support her in principle. I found it deeply moving to hear her express her sorrow at the decline of the port of Fraserburgh that her family founded, and which has been such a thriving port in my recent memory and used by my family.

Great Britain has more coastline than any other European Union country. Our waters have always teemed with fish that have been conserved by our own fishermen throughout the years. I must declare an interest. British waters have been fished by my family and me for more than 400 years in the south-west fishery. I am vice-president of the Duchy Fish Quota Company of Cornwall and director of the National Lobster Hatchery at Padstow. Noble Lords have kindly referred to a Private Member's Bill that I took through this House five years ago to license lobster ranching. Perhaps I may say that we are still waiting for the enabling orders to come through.

I am sure that noble Lords need no reminder from me about how crucial it is to get the management of fisheries right, so that the resource is administered in a sustainable fashion, with support to communities that rely on this industry and the associated industries of fish processing, boat building and repair, and so many other connected businesses, which are often in areas of the lowest employment.

This debate is contemporaneous with talks in Brussels to establish permitted fish catches within the framework of the common fisheries policy. Yet again, it looks like there will have to be substantial cuts in cod quotas. That is no great surprise as year on year the estimates of stocks are reduced further and TACs have to be cut. Surely that is the best possible evidence of the continuing failure of the common fisheries policy to maintain what has always been recognised by fishermen as a very delicate balance.

The arrival of technology in the 1980s allowed fish to be "hoovered" up in an unprecedented way. It interfered disastrously with the breeding cycle of so many fish. I am the first to admit that I have seen my own boats do it in their time. But, as an industry, we quickly sobered up. I would not like anyone to continue to think that the technology so liberally used in the 1980s is not now regarded as a very dangerous, but useful, commodity. Science and technology should be harnessed better in future, and I am sure that they will.

The issue of discarded fish is further proof of the inability of the common fisheries policy to provide a proper solution to the problems with the European fishing industry. The fact that as many fish are dumped dead in the sea as are landed for human consumption is a travesty and must be halted. Unfortunately, it is an inevitable consequence of a policy of restricting fishermen through tight quotas and fining them for bringing back more fish than they are permitted. That matter must be re-examined.

A number of other specific problems can be identified with the arrangements as they exist today, not least the flaws in collecting reliable data on stock levels. That is fundamental because it is the bedrock on which the common fisheries policy stands or, more accurately, falls. Effective planning without accurate statistics is an impossibility, and the techniques currently used on commercial and research vessels leave a lot to be desired. "Guesstimation" is dangerous and shameful when the welfare and livelihoods of whole communities are on the line.

There is no question but that the common fisheries policy has failed the British fishing industry. It has failed to conserve fish stocks when they need protection and seems more apt at accommodating the vast Spanish fleet in our waters. During the eight years since 1995, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, noted in his remarks, there has been a reduction of 25 per cent in the amount of fish landed on our shores. Moreover, and equally grave, it has failed to provide help and protection to struggling fishing communities.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. Alternative systems are now operating successfully in other fishing nations. Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Falklands all have well-respected systems in place, involving to a high degree the fishermen themselves, which is key to the success of any policy. It is interesting to consider that British fishermen have no objection to the common fisheries policy as such, and would support it if they felt it was effective at doing its job, but they have been consistently disappointed by the ongoing failure to find a good deal both for British fishermen and for the resource from which they earn their living. We have much to learn from these other fishing nations. Further, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, expressed so well, we must involve our fishermen. They understand best how to create and maintain a sustainable system. Without their support, any system will struggle to succeed.

Consecutive governments have sold our country's fishing birthright; from Edward Heath's government, miserably outlined by my noble friend Lord Pearson, to the Government of the present day. Not enough votes and not enough jobs in it, fishing has been bargained away for other deals at other times. As one Labour fisheries Minister in this House said to me within the past few years, "Judith, don't keep banging on about fishing and the fishermen. Do you realise that we make more money in this country selling mushrooms, and that that is a lot less troublesome?". But it is communities in distant places which suffer, such as over 80 ports in Cornwall alone, along with all the other livelihoods that depend on those ports.

Now, in this Conservative Party, our policy is to attempt to renegotiate the common fisheries policy to take back control of our coastal waters, and if that fails, then we would have no choice but to withdraw from this damaging agreement and restore national control. As my honourable friend John Whittingdale, shadow Secretary of State for agriculture, fisheries and food, explained in another place:

"In the next few months, we will develop a new way of managing fish stocks based on controlling inputs by limiting fishing effort and banning industrial fishing in place of the discredited and damaging quota system of output controls".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/12/03; col. 1000.]

The Government should act now. They have a rare opportunity, with the stalled discussions on the draft constitution, to make this another "red line" in Europe. When the talks reopen, Britain could take advantage of Article 12 of the draft constitution which provides for,

"the conservation of marine biological resources under the Common Fisheries Policy".

Britain has considerable bargaining power on fishing matters. We heard the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, confirm that 70 per cent of all fish caught in the European Union are taken out of our British waters. If that is true, we should be able to exert phenomenal influence over the shape of the European Union policy on fishing. I urge the Government not to waste this chance to negotiate greater national control over our waters and, if necessary, they should not shirk from withdrawing from this failing policy altogether.

Once again, I wish to thank the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for providing us with a forum for such an important debate, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy) 10:25 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, I join with the thanks to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for initiating the debate. I apologise that I was not in the Chamber for the first few minutes of her speech but I believe that the gist of it is quite clear.

Today, my colleague Ben Bradshaw is in Brussels in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, along with his colleagues with responsibility for these matters from Scotland and Northern Ireland, negotiating in the crucial EU discussions which will determine the shape and extent of fishing opportunities for 2004. It is a negotiating challenge of the kind that has faced UK fishing Ministers over the past few decades, as many noble Lords have said.

I do not dispute that the common fisheries policy has been one of the most problematic areas in our relationship with Europe. I doubt that I will agree with much of the blurb in the Booker and North book of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, but clearly the deal on the common fisheries policy was not one of the better aspects of the negotiations in 1972 and it has proved to get worse as we have gone on.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, did the noble Lord refer to the "blurb" in the Booker and North book? If he did, may I ask him whether he has read it and, if not, whether he will do so?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

No, my Lords, I have not read it. I shall no doubt dip into it at some point, particularly if the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is correct and we shall be getting a free copy. I am always happy to read books which are sent to me, but I suspect that I will not be deeply sympathetic to the overall theme. All I am saying is that the common fisheries policy is not the best dimension for those of us who defend our relationship with Europe. It has ended up in a serious problem in fish stocks and the conservation of fish for fishing communities not only in this country but also in other countries of Europe.

However, the Bill proposes that we should effectively provide ourselves with a mechanism for leaving the common fisheries policy. That lacks legal, political and scientific credibility. I can see that it is a seductive thought that all we have to do is announce that we are leaving the system and take back unilateral control over the management of our fisheries. Certainly in terms of the time and frustrations of fisheries Ministers I am sure that in their dreams they also would wish that that were the case.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that this seductive vision is a deception. It does not do any good for those who depend on fisheries or for those concerned with the environmental and conservation dimensions of fish in our waters and in European waters.

As to the legal points and the political points associated with them, the Bill seeks to take back UK control of fisheries within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. It would do so by giving the Fishery Limits Act 1976 priority over Community law—a unique arrangement—notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972. Leaving aside whether that would withstand a legal challenge, the Bill would then attempt to restrict the licensing of fishing to UK vessels, however defined, and those of other countries where authorised. It would require fish caught in UK waters to be landed in UK ports.

It is no use deluding ourselves into believing that, in legal terms, this is a practicable or obtainable plan. It is not. It would require, in effect, unilateral withdrawal from the CFP. That is impossible under EU law as it stands and therefore only achievable, if at all, through a complex series of negotiations with other member states and others. Such re-negotiation is not on the agenda. Even if it were, the chances of achieving the necessary unanimous agreement would clearly be remote.

It does not get round the issue to say, as some people do, that, technically speaking, it would be possible for Parliament to repeal the European Communities Act 1972—at least, the part which could be said to relate to fisheries. Section 2(1) of the 1972 Act allows Community law, under the EU treaties, to apply in the UK. That includes the whole of the common fisheries policy under the treaty establishing the European Community. Repealing Section 2(1) would disapply the treaty in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, says that that is where he wants to be, but the UK would still be acting unlawfully because it would be in breach of the terms of the treaty and therefore of Community law. So while we might remove the obligation from our statute book, we could not remove the obligation from international law. It is a complete illusion, therefore, to suggest that with one bound we are free. We are not—the legal requirements remain.

We can all argue about the legal structure. The legal argument is not in fact the most important. The fact is that Europe, as a whole, needs a common fisheries policy. We have common waters. We have common interests in conserving the fish and other wildlife in those waters. We need a common fisheries policy. The fact that the one we have has proved hugely unsatisfactory in many respects does not remove that basic requirement that the countries of Europe, the countries of the North Sea and the countries that face the Atlantic need a common approach.

If I can put this point rather more crudely than the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, did, hardly a single commercial fish stock obligingly remains static within one country's legal waters—certainly not ours. As he indicated, the concept of a 200-mile limit is a bit cerebral, given that, at one point, we are only 21 miles away from the coast of another EU member and, at many points, a lot less than 200 miles away from Norway. The fish swim about—they are not our fish. They are not, of necessity, likely to be more in UK waters than elsewhere. They do not read notices telling them to stay put in one country's waters. They spawn in certain places, they move to feed in other places and sometimes they migrate over tremendous distances in the course of their lives.

There are patterns of fishing industries and exploitation which go back many years, often to before the common fisheries policy, under which numerous countries exploit the different stocks. Applying a unilateral approach to that would not resolve the issue of conservation, nor would it be practical to enforce it.

The truth is that if, by some leap away from our legal obligations, we found ourselves outside the CFP, we would have to renegotiate with the remaining EU members who remain within the CFP. We would also need to renegotiate with the EU and Norway, the EU and Greenland, the EU and the Faroes, the EU and Iceland, and so on, to conclude arrangements which would, in effect, cover exactly the same ground. Instead of having a CFP, we would end up with a series of bilateral and trilateral agreements which covered much the same level of controls and were hugely more complicated and less coherent than the CFP. That does not seem to us a sensible way of proceeding.

Given the information that is now at our disposal on the level of stocks and the lack of effectiveness of some earlier control mechanisms, we must therefore turn our minds to how we can develop a common fisheries policy which begins to conserve the stocks and returns them to a viable state in those species which are not currently in a viable state and preserves an industry for our fishing communities. That will not be easy; making progress within the framework of the CFP is a frustrating and time-consuming business, as I have said, but we have made some recent progress. The CFP was reviewed by the Council of Ministers during 2002, and the framework regulation is much revised and improved. The Government achieved many of their objectives in the negotiations, which were formulated after wide public consultation.

The new CFP regulations include a much more robust commitment from the Council of Ministers to conserve, and where necessary recover, fish stocks in accordance with scientific advice. It puts environmental considerations at the heart of the CFP and reiterates with relative stability the mechanism for dividing EU fishing opportunities among member states, in accordance with their historical track record. It renews the rights of coastal states after 12 nautical miles—to address the point that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, made. Next year, it prevents member states paying subsidies for building new vessels, which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and other speakers, would be an absurd process. Subsidies of the sort that the UK has not paid for many years will now be banned in all EU states. The new policy also provides for the setting up of regional advisory committees, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred. Those committees will give fishermen and all parties with an interest in commercial fish stocks a much more direct input into their management in localities where they fish.

Those are substantial improvements in the nature of the CFP. However, the last thing that I want to convey is that the Government believe that we have now solved all the problems. That is not the case. To make the difference, the Council of Ministers must now take decisions within the framework that make sense in terms of the level of fish stocks and the strategy that we are adopting in relation to the different species. That is a substantial challenge. Nevertheless, the framework gives other like-minded member states and ourselves a far better basis for pressing the case than we previously had.

The new approach also shows positive signs of a new determination on the part of the Commission and other member states that have hitherto not been at the forefront of effective enforcement to take these matters forward. The regional advisory councils will provide a control mechanism involving the fishing industry. The adoption by the Commission at the UK's request of emergency measures to protect against damage from fishing the unique cold-water coral formations known as Darwin mounds, and the adoption of an EU measure to restrict shark-finning, are also important aspects of the new approach.

This week my colleagues are negotiating in Brussels to set within the new framework the limits and measures that will apply next year. The provisions next year are very important, but we must also take a strategic approach. The Prime Minister has asked his strategy unit to produce a strategy on fisheries to map out a long-term strategy for the industry. In the new year, we shall have the basis for that strategy.

Noble Lords made a number of points during the debate that can be better dealt with within the new framework than has been the case in the past 25 years. Certainly, we need to improve enforcement and do something about discards. The new process for discards will help the situation. An action plan is before the Council and we are confident that there will be measures to reduce levels of discards in the measures to be adopted next year.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we should improve monitoring. Satellite monitoring will greatly assist our control. All vessels longer than 50 metres fishing in our waters will henceforth have to carry satellite positions reporting their position from 1st January 2005. The Government will meet the cost for vessels licensed in this country. Similar measures are being adopted by our Scottish and Northern Irish colleagues and throughout the rest of Europe.

On a matter beyond the issues relating to stocks for human consumption, there are problems relating to sand eels, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, referred. We have had that discussion on previous occasions. The Commission is proposing a 20 per cent cut in the sand eel take next year.

Therefore, I think that there has been a sea change, if I can put it that way, in the way that the balance of opinion within Europe—the Commission itself and the Council of Ministers—approaches fishing policy. I should have preferred that the fishing industry itself and the scientists who advise it had a greater detailed consensus on the level of stocks which need to be conserved and the measures that we have to take. Unfortunately, it is not a complete consensus at the moment.

However, it is clear to the Government that drastic measures restricting catch will be needed for some considerable time in relation to many species. It is no good the United Kingdom taking those measures by ourselves; it requires co-operation across all the fishing nations of Europe. That, to my mind, means a common fisheries policy—not the common fisheries policy we have had in the past but a common fisheries policy of the kind we began to put together with the new framework agreed last year. I believe that sets an agenda and an ability for us to achieve what I think all noble Lords wish to see—that is, a revival of fish stocks on the one hand and a sustainable European fishing industry on the other.

The Government will not oppose the Second Reading—we never do—but we cannot accept the Bill as it stands. However, we recognise many of the concerns expressed in the debate by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, and by other noble Lords. We have a common objective in getting the matter right.

Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he be kind enough to confirm to the House what the protocol is—many of us who have taken part in the debate tonight are from north of the Border—about negotiating the CFP in Brussels with regard to the devolved administrations? At a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers there was no representative from Wales, which, admittedly, has a very small fishing industry, and certainly no one from Scotland. What is the protocol? Is it England that represents the United Kingdom? Perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to enlighten us.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, as with all other issues, the UK Government represent the United Kingdom. On fisheries issues, the UK fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, is normally accompanied by fisheries Ministers for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Ross Finnie normally attends those negotiations with, previously, Elliot Morley, and now Ben Bradshaw. So Scotland is very much represented there. However, at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the UK Government to conduct those negotiations.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench 10:42 pm, 17th December 2003

My Lords, the hour is late, very much later than I was originally told it was likely to be, so I shall not detain your Lordships by responding to individual speeches. However, I shall read what has been said very carefully, particularly what has been said by the Minister, to whom I should like to reiterate that this is but an enabling Bill, and that it might make a nice stick for the Secretary of State in his negotiations with the European Union.

All I wish to do now is to thank all those who have stayed so very late to speak in this debate for taking the trouble to do so and for speaking so eloquently. I am most grateful to all of them.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at a quarter before eleven o'clock.