HL Deb 16 February 1977 vol 379 cc1546-9

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many infringements of fishing rules and agreements by the vessels of non-EEC countries have been reported by the Fisheries Protection Squadron since 1st January 1977; and what action has been taken thereon.


My Lords, United Kingdom protection vessels have detected two apparent infringements by non-EEC vessels of United Kingdom fisheries regulations since 1st January. One infringement involved illegal fishing by a Faroese vessel within the old 12 miles fishery limit. The skipper was prosecuted and fined £20,000. In the second case, a Faroese vessel was found between our old 12 miles limit and our new 200 miles limit carrying nets which appeared to contravene our Fishing Nets (North East Atlantic) Order 1976. The vessel was warned and the incident reported to the Faroese authorities.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my Question referred to non-EEC countries and that there has been considerable perturbation about fishing by Russian vessels? Is my noble friend able to say what, if anything, can be done about ensuring that third country fishermen know what the rules are? Furthermore, can the Government work out a more rapid way than apparently they have been able to do so far of arriving at decisions about the action to be taken over fishing infringements?


My Lords, with regard to the Eastern bloc countries, licences and quota agreements have been arranged with Poland and the German Democratic Republic. With regard to the Soviet Union, the Council of Ministers, under the acting chairmanship of my right honourable friend Dr. David Owen, is meeting the Soviet Government today to discuss regulations and quotas. With regard to infringement, there have been 21 apparent infringements detected within British fishery limits by both EEC and non-EEC countries, but most of these concern the contravention of the nets orders.


My Lords, when a fine is levied, is the ship detained until the fine is paid and, if not, should it not be detained?


My Lords, it depends on the circumstances, but of course it can be detained under the Act. There was a case recently, I am afraid, at Lerwick where the ship was not detained. This was a mistake on the part of the local authority and the law has been brought to their attention.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)

My Lords, can the Minister say how many fishery protection vessels are available at one time for policing duties, and whether they have to double up to protect the oil rigs in the North Sea?


My Lords, the 11 vessels of the Fisheries Protection Squadron continue to be available in coastal waters. So do the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Scotland protection vessels, which number six. Three of these vessels operate out to 200 miles. In addition, Nimrods have been providing aerial surveillance. The Royal Naval vessels have been deployed on protection out to 200 miles and, if need be, additional naval resources can be called on.


My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance to the House that the captains of Her Majesty's ships which are on fishery patrol will have full authority to make arrests of ships infringing the regulations, without reference back to Whitehall?


My Lords, under Section 8 of the Fisheries Act 1968, a British sea fisheries officer is empowered to take a foreign fishing vessel which he suspects of a contravention to the nearest port and there to detain the vessel and the crew until the completion of legal proceedings. Of course, under the Fisheries Act 1976 this power was extended to 200 miles.


My Lords, of the 21 infringements which the noble Lord said occurred, can he say how many were by Russian vessels?


My Lords, I do not think that there were any. There was one for illegal fishing—which was, as I said, the Faroese vessel—and there were 20 contravention of nets orders divided up among the Faroese, the French, the Belgians and the Danes.


My Lords, while it is reasonable that there should be a period of grace after 1st January, is the noble Lord aware that a very large number of Soviet vessels has been fishing around our coasts for the past year or two in the knowledge that our fishery limits would be going out to 200 miles? So far as the Soviet Union is concerned, will the noble Lord consider that it might be wise for countries to approach the Soviet Union individually, rather than to provoke the question whether the EEC is recognised by the Soviet Union as an international entity for enforcement purposes?


My Lords, certainly I will take note of what the noble Lord has said. This is one of the questions which is being discussed at present.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he omitted to answer one part of my question, which was whether any of these fishery protection vessels have to double up for protection of the oil rigs?


My Lords, of course they do not double up; I cannot see a vessel doubling up. However, some of their responsibility does include the protection of oil rigs, the expense of which is spread among that Department and the others.


My Lords, while accepting that under the Statutes the captains of fishery protection vessels have the power to arrest, can the noble Lord give us any indication of the general instructions which have been given to the captains of vessels about giving a warning before arrest, and in what circumstances they are at present exercising those powers and are encouraged to exercise them?


My Lords, I do not think that it would be helpful to make public the detailed instructions under which our protection forces are working.