HC Deb 02 December 1982 vol 33 cc382-3
4. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what evidence he has that foreign fishing vessels are being registered as United Kingdom vessels for the purpose of fishing in United Kingdom waters; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am seriously concerned that some 60 ex-foreign, mainly Spanish, vessels have now registered under the British flag and are fishing in United Kingdom and Commmunity waters. Together with my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade I am urgently examining ways of eding this apparent evasion of Community restrictions on third country vessels.

Mr. Hicks

Is it envisaged that United Kingdom law will be amended in the near future to prevent this real and growing threat to our fishermen, especially in the South-West? Alternatively, is the possibility of achieving a quick and effective solution more likely to follow an approach to the Commission with a view to the introduction of a regulation aimed at controlling and preventing the development of this practice?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall not reject any opportunity to try to deal with the matter.

In regard to primary legislation, the issue is extremely complicated. There is no simple solution. The basic legislation is embodied in the initial Merchant Shipping Act 1894, which has implications far beyond fishing vessels.

Administratively, we have had success in a number of directions. Together with the Commission in Brussels, we are considering other ways which I hope will prove more effective in the shorter term. I also have under consideration one or two other measures.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Minister give an assurance that none of the £15 million of Government aid will go to any of those 60 vessels?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Yes. I am delighted to give that assurance. My right hon. Friend made it clear yesterday that the Government are excluding from the temporary aid scheme those vessels which do not meet the requirement that 75 per cent. of the crew are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom on 27 October. This is one example of how, administratively, we are making sure that the abuse is contained.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the main difficulty in amending the 1894 Act is that the Spanish are largely using the proper system for registering British vessels? Is not the quickest way of achieving reform to bring in a regulation within the EEC?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. He has greater legal knowledge than I. There is no doubt that the fundamental redrawing of the legislation presents certain difficulties, especially in the short term. We shall therefore use every other means available to us. There should be some possibility of taking action, particularly through secondary legislation.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition are prepared to expedite either fundamental legal change or any statutory instrument that may be required?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. I sense that throughout the House there is support for the action taken by the Government and for any other action that we may consider necessary.