HC Deb 22 October 1987 vol 120 cc909-10
8. Mr. Wallace

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how often the European Council of Fisheries Ministers has met since 24 July; and if he will make a statement on the outcome of the meetings.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

The Fisheries Council met once—on 29 September. I issued a press notice on the outcome of the Council's meeting, of which I have placed copies in the Library of the House.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Minister confirm that one of the issues giving rise to concern among EEC Fisheries Ministers is flag registration? Will he make it clear that that is of considerable concern to the industry because it appears to undermine much of the fabric of the common fisheries policy? What steps do the Government intend to take to counteract this growing trend, and when do they propose to take action?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is of great concern to ourselves and to other Governments. We have already taken what interim measures we have been able to take, as he knows, and we have had long discussions with the industry to discover how best we can proceed. He will be pleased to see in the Transport Bill measures which we hope will ensure that ships which are registered as British are indeed British. The Commission has known about the difficulties and we have asked it to do something about them for some time. The fact that it has not been able to do so is of considerable concern to us, because this should have been able to be done on a Community level as it undermines the whole basis of the division of quotas, which is the foundation of the common fisheries policy.

Mr. Harris

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Fisheries Ministers, will they look at the question of the precautionary TACs, which are not always based on scientific evidence, and which result in such madness as we saw this summer of a complete stop on cod fishing by certain boats, although there were masses of cod in the English Channel?

Mr. Gummer

I believe that our first priority in the fisheries industry is to protect the stock for future generations. That sometimes means that we take measures which, in the event, turn out to be more draconian than was necessary. I would prefer to be harshly judged because I was too concerned about conservation than to be blamed for the destruction of whole species. As we have seen with herring, we can fish out whole species. Therefore, if more fish are around, we want more for Britain, but if the choice is between conservation for the future and destruction for present gains, I would always vote for conservation.

Dr. Godman

I believe that the Ministers agreed to a research and development programme budget for the next few years, and that will be greatly welcome to all in the fishing industry. Given that the programme will deal, among other things, with the management of stocks, will the Minister seriously consider the possibility of creating a multi-disciplinary research and development team to examine the extension of TACs from one year to three or four years?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the House will want me to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position.

The Council's decision was welcomed by us. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is also pleased that the United Kingdom, alone, managed to win the battle to ensure that this new research and development was under the control of the Council and was not fixed under some sort of advisory committee under the complete control of the Commission. We felt that that was right, and we won the support of our colleagues for it.

On the multi-disciplinary approach, it would he good if we could have a longer-term programme for TACs, but from my two and half years' experience of negotiating in the Community I think that we must make the present system of year-by-year consideration work more effectively and with fewer hiccups before we can look as far forward as the hon. Gentleman would like.

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