HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc511-2
6. Mr. Bernard Jenkin

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has for reform of the common fisheries policy. [7280]

Dr. Jack Cunningham

The Government are pressing for the common fisheries policy to be improved in a number of ways, including strengthening the economic benefits that countries derive from their quotas, improving the effectiveness of enforcement measures and introducing a greater regional dimension into decision making.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the Minister give the House two assurances? First, will he assure us that coastal strips predominantly fished by the non-sector industry will for ever remain exclusively for UK boats after 2002, when the current derogation expires? Secondly, will he assure us that the North sea will never be fished by other national fleets except those that already fish there? The pressure on quotas is already destroying this country's inshore fisheries.

Dr. Cunningham

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks on both counts. I know that fishermen in Brightlingsea, West Mersea and Wivenhoe in his constituency have had particular difficulties caused by over-fishing. We want to press ahead with restructuring our fishing industry to try to deal once and for all with problems such as those that he has rightly drawn to my attention.

Mr. Andrew George

During the forthcoming UK presidency of the European Union, will the Minister ensure that reform of the common fisheries policy is given clear priority and that Britain sets the agenda for it? Does he believe that our presidency provides an opportunity to bring forward the date of the much needed review of the common fisheries policy?

Dr. Cunningham

We certainly intend to set the agenda. We must recognise that we cannot totally control it, because it is partly set by the circumstances that we inherit from the previous presidency. We want reform of the common fisheries policy to be on the agenda. I doubt that there is any way in which we can advance the date for the changes that the hon. Gentleman referred to, but we have begun to prepare for our presidency. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I had a meeting earlier this week with the leaders of the British fishing industry from all over the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Betty Williams

I applaud the Government's efforts to tackle the problems of the fishing industry, which are in contrast to the empty talk we had from Conservative Members when they were in government. What is being done to improve the enforcement of the measures?

Dr. Cunningham

I am pleased to say that one of the commitments my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received from the President of the Commission was that we would move towards the uniform enforcement of fishing controls across the European Union—something that should have been done a considerable time ago.

Mr. Hogg

In seeking to tackle the problem of quota hoppers, in particular by the proposals on landing and crewing, the right hon. Gentleman is likely to be frustrated by the treaty of Rome, as happened in the Factortame case. Does he accept that, in reality, the only way forward is to amend the treaty of Rome, particularly the provisions that deal with the movement of persons and capital? That can be done only at an intergovernmental conference.

Dr. Cunningham

No, I do not agree. Even if I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was right on that point, we realise clearly that there is no support from other member states of the European Union for such an approach. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Factortame case, over which the United Kingdom was in difficulties. The difference now is that we have a letter of authority from the President of the Commission for what we intend to do. If our proposal was the subject of a legal challenge, the President of the Commission would be on our side, as opposed to being against us, as happened in the past.

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