HL Deb 15 March 1983 vol 440 cc668-83

7.38 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the British Fishing Boats Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is introduced in order to tackle a growing problem for the United Kingdom fishing industry—that of a large influx of foreign, mainly Spanish, fishing vessels which have re-registered as British. Their motive in re-registering has been in order to circumvent the European Community licensing restrictions. A by-product of their action has been, though, a substantial and adverse effect on the interests of our catchers.

The Bill passed through all its stages in another place quite quickly during the night of 7th/8th March, and this reflected, I think, a common desire to tackle what is an urgent problem. While I would not wish in any way to circumscribe your Lordships' proceedings, I would hope that it might be possible for us to pass the Bill through all its stages this month.

In brief, the problem is that since May 1980 some 67 ex-Spanish vessels—or British vessels with a Spanish association—have become registered in this country. There are 63 registered at the present time and there are rumours of further potential applicants for registration who are trying to take advantage of the loophole which is provided by the liberal arrangements for registering vessels which, for broader international shipping reasons, we operate.

Their objective is to evade the restrictions on fishing opportunities which are provided for in the Community bilateral agreements between Spain and the Community; and the main activity of these vessels at present is vigorous fishing of the British quota for hake. Valuable non-quota species, such as the angler fish and West Coast sole, are also caught but hake is their main target and the ex-Spanish vessels are fishing against a British national quota which was set up by the efforts of our own catchers. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this is quite unacceptable. The activities of these vessels not only compete with genuine British catchers, but they make no significant contribution to the fishing economy of this country because most of the catch is landed in Spain, and the bulk of that which is landed here is immediately transported to Spain by lorries direct as soon as it is landed in our ports.

There is the further disagreeable reality that, because of the way in which this is done, catches by these vessels, even when they are landed in the United Kingdom, avoid the levy which is imposed by the Sea Fish Industry Authority, because the fish are not sold here. And not only that but, because of the Spanish connection, the fish so caught benefit from import duty relief and sometimes even access, which is not available to British vessels which wish to land catches in Spain. It is, therefore, to use a colloquialism, a proper mare's nest.

I hope that I have said enough to apprise your Lordships of the nature of the problem and of the reasons for the hostility in many parts of our industry towards the growth of this new "Spanish armada". Your Lordships may wonder why we did not decide to tackle the problem through the registration system. Well, we did consider such a course, but we concluded that the solution to what we regard as a short-term problem would not lend itself to this approach because of the need for consistency with our long-term approach to international shipping questions.

I thought that your Lordships might prefer me not to take the House through this somewhat complicated-looking Bill clause by clause. The heart of the matter in fact lies in Clause 1. This empowers the fisheries Ministers to make, by order, conditions governing the qualification of British fishing vessels to fish in our waters. The key to this is the crewing of the vessels concerned. At present, apart from the skipper and the first hand (who must, in acordance with other legislation, be British nationals) the crews of the vessels in question are mainly Spanish; and the success of their present operations in fact depends on this. In order to close this loophole, we propose to use the order-making power to ensure that the crew of British fishing vessels must, in future, consist mainly of nationals of the Community.

We have in mind, therefore, to specify in the order a qualification that at least 75 per cent. of the crew of a British fishing boat which is fishing in British waters shall be Community nationals. It is possible, of course, that some of the vessels which will be affected by this change will seek to comply with the new rule by employing more British crew. If that is so, then so be it.

The remainder of the Bill deals with questions of enforcement and various other what one might call housekeeping questions, and I do not propose to weary your Lordships with a recital of them this evening, although I am, of course, willing to expand on them if any noble Lord wishes me to do so. With that explanation, I commend the Bill to the House as a significant move to tackle the problem which I have described. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Earl Ferrers.)

7.45 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, with his usual clarity and breeziness, has put the matter to us very well indeed. The Government have asked for this Bill to be got through as quickly as possible and we have no objections to that, but in the time that we have been given—that is, tonight and next week during the Committee stage and so on—we must look at it critically.

The noble Earl has given the overall picture very well. He used the expresion "Spanish armada", which is worrying our fishermen. However, I should like to point out that these boats have been operating since 1980 and they have in that time established themselves in various ports, mainly in the South-West of England and of Wales. I understand that the Government wish to have the order laid before Easter—that is the order which the Minister of State has said will stipulate that 75 per cent. of the crew must be British, which is not in the Bill—and that it will come into effect at the beginning of April.

However much it is considered that these companies are "quota-jumping", or whatever the expression may be, they are not breaking the letter of the law. They are acting perfectly legally in using the British flag of convenience, as it is called, in the various ports they are working in. I feel that a sudden cessation of those activities might do a tremendous lot of harm in some areas. During the debate in another place it was pointed out—I do not know how accurate the figure is—that the area could be affected to the tune of five million, and a tremendous number of jobs lost. Of course, it could be short term: I would not disagree about that. The longer-term benefit might cancel it out: we do not know. After all, when we think that Spain is due to enter the Common Market in less than three years' time—and, of course, there will be a transitional period—in that period the long-term benefit might not cancel out the short-term one at the present moment.

In the same debate speakers from all the areas concerned took part, except South Wales. I know that the Secretary of State for Wales sits for that area and naturally he is inhibited from taking part in debates. But I have had representations from a company running eight of these boats from Milford Haven. A partner in the company which runs this operation is a long-established member of the fishing industry in that port. He maintains that his operations, along with those of five other boats, are the lifeblood of the fishing industry in Milford Haven. He maintains that they only fish about 50 per cent. of their time in the traditional fishing waters of Milford Haven boats. He provided me with a chart showing the areas in which they fish. The rest of the time they fish in the Bay of Biscay, which is, of course, international waters; and they land most of their fish direct into Spain.

He also maintains (and I understand it to be correct) that all the areas fished and all the fish caught are registered with MAFF, so there is no lack of informa tion about how much is caught and where they are caught. They are poviding a lot of business at this port: the ice factory, the local co-operative society, plus, of course, port dues et cetera. They employ—and I have checked this—three handicapped people in repairing fish boxes on the quay.

As regards the crews, they are willing to employ British fishermen but there is none available there, except older men who are unfortunately past their best. They have brought men from Grimsby and other East coast ports, who were unemployed, but naturally those people do not stay there. Some stay for up to six months, but others stay for less than a fortnight. They have started training young men and they have four young "deckie-learners" employed on their boats. At present, they have 12 young men aged from 16 to 18 at the fishery training section of Grimsby Technical College, and another 16 are ready to start again in May. So, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, they are doing a lot to try to crew-up with British people, but it takes time. I was surprised to be told that unemployment in the area is 30 per cent. It seems an extraordinarily high figure, but I have checked it. If these boats are stopped as suddenly as they are likely to be, it will not help that situation.

Your Lordships may think that I have just lapped-up the story of an interested party. Quite frankly, I am a little too long on the tooth for that. I have checked on the partner in this company, and have found that he is a very respected member of the fishing industry in Milford Haven. He has been in the job for the past 25 years, and his father and grandfather were in it before him. I have also checked with the various local fishermen's associations and have found that the picture which I have described is basically correct. I had a word with the chief executive of the council. When I asked for the chief executive, I was slightly amused to be told that he was just called the town clerk. Names like chief executive have not yet reached Milford Haven. But he confirmed the situation regarding unemployment in the area, and the fact that those eight boats had made a considerable difference.

It can be said that you can legislate only for a majority. I have discussed with Members in the other House and various other people the situation in Cornwall and around that area where there is a problem. I agree about the difficulty of legislating for a majority, but I should like to suggest two courses. Can some time be given to crew-up with EEC fishermen, or is it possible to legislate on a regional basis? I wonder whether the noble Earl would care to comment on that. I do not know, but we may have to look at this in Committee next week.

I have raised these points simply because there is another side to the story, and because in hurried legislation like this, although it may be very necessary, there can be mistakes and this House is here to see that mistakes do not occur. Considerable injustice could arise if we did not look at the position very carefully. I look forward to hearing the Government's view on what I have said; but we shall see that the Bill gets through in the time that we are given, provided that these points are looked at carefully.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble kinsman that we must look at this carefully. But if 63 Spanish boats have taken the trouble to register as British boats and employ people who I understand do very little but give them an excuse to work the fishing grounds, after which the fish goes to Spain, there is something very wrong. The Bill must bristle with difficulties. It may well create a lawyers' paradise. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, talked about 75 per cent. of the crew; but I do not think he said that they must be British. I believe he said that they must be citizens of the Community. This raises a lot of other questions. What about Community boats, for example, in waters within the 12-mile limit? Are they to be allowed to fish there?

We all hope that in a certain length of time Spain will be a member of the Community and what will happen then? Will we have a renewal of the traffic? What real harm are these boats doing? I think the noble Earl said that they fish mainly for hake. Is there no market for hake here? Is there a far better market in Spain? Are our fishermen allowed to land in Spain? These are all questions that we need to look at because it might be said that the Spaniards are very enterprising. I should like to know more about the rules governing landing in Spain. I should also like to know whether they get a higher price there, and, if so, why our own fishermen cannot take advantage of the position.

I think that the lawyers will have to look at the other questions which will arise, and when we reach the Committee stage I shall certainly ask some of my noble friends who are lawyers to take them up. It is a little curious to lay down rules and make orders, so that unless a boat has 75 per cent. British employees it cannot do certain things which other British registered boats can do. It raises questions about what happens to foreign-owned companies in this country, which may well have British employees and which take advantage of British markets, British subsidies and other things. It appears to be making a very strong exception of fishing boats, if these registered boats are not allowed to take advantage of British conditions. In other words, while I admit that the Bill must be necessary if 63 foreign vessels have gone to the trouble of registering as British vessels, it appears to me that the difficulties are immense. I should like the noble Earl to answer those questions about Community nationals and about the profitability of this traffic. I should also like to know why our own fishermen cannot take advantage of this traffic, if it is profitable.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this Bill and I thank him for his explanation of it. As he and, I think, other noble Lords who have spoken will know, I have on several occasions in recent months been pressing for a measure of this kind to be introduced by the Government. I believe that action is now essential. There are over 60 of these ex-Spanish vessels now registered at different ports in the United Kingdom, including some ports in Scotland. By masquerading as British, they have been making absolute nonsense of the European Community's fishing agreements. Not only have they been fishing in the European pond, as if they were British, but they have also been enjoying United Kingdom privileges which have been hard-won during nearly 10 years of negotiations within the EEC. It would have been intolerable and totally unacceptable, after the EEC agreements were reached in January, only a few weeks ago, if some measure of this kind had not been introduced.

These Spanish vessels have added to the numbers of the genuine United Kingdom fishing fleet, which is allotted quotas. Indeed, if this measure were not going forward, how many more such boats from Spain or, indeed, other countries outside the European Community would have gone through the process of getting themselves registered in United Kingdom ports?

The main problem in recent years, where our fishing industry and our neighbour countries' fishing industries are concerned, is that too many fishing boats have been chasing limited stocks of fish in European waters. As my noble friend has said, the Spanish vessels have been fishing for one species in particular, which is a quota species—one for which within the EEC quotas are allotted—and that is hake. I know that hake is a fish for which British fishermen have been fishing for many years. In port fish markets over the last 30 years I have seen quantities of hake which have been landed.

These 60 foreign vessels have been making use of the red ensign as a flag of great convenience for substantial fishing operations. Until Spain joins the Community, her fishing boats should be working within any bilateral agreements which are concluded, if they wish to operate within the EEC pond. That is the correct way. What would mostly be available under such agreements would be the species of fish which are not in danger of being over-fished—that is, fish which would not be under quota. That is the kind of agreement under which Spanish fishing vessels registered in Spain should be fishing if they are within the Community's fishing limits.

In this debate we should not consider what happens when Spain becomes a member of the EEC. That would take us all night. We have touched on this matter before, in particular during our debate on the enlargement report of the Select Committee. It is clear—the Government have said so—that a vital part of the negotiations for Spain's entry will be agreement upon changing the fishing policy of the Community. The Spanish fleet as a whole is now larger than the fleet of any member of the Community, including our own. That is indeed an armada which we shall have to consider and deal with later. The Bill deals with the immediate situation, and rightly so. I do not criticise the Spanish fishermen who have been doing this; nor do I criticise the Spanish Government. I must make that absolutely clear. What is being done is entirely legal. But what it does is to upset and distort the purposes of international agreements. Indeed, it drives a coach and horses through the European Economic Community's fishing policy.

If I may turn to the Bill, it is an enabling measure. Clause 1 simply gives to the Government the power to lay orders. I understand that the Government propose to lay the first order in April, which is only a few weeks away. I was very glad to hear this, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm it when he speaks at the end of the debate. It is not in the Bill, but we have heard, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has said, that the intention is to prescribe a percentage—75 per cent. is being mentioned—of the crew who must be, and we understand that it is to be, nationals of the Community. That is rather different from the similar idea which was used when we were considering in a debate here a few weeks ago the question of whether ex-Spanish boats registered in the United Kingdom should be eligible for the grants which the Government were then about to make. The main provision was that 75 per cent. of the crews should be United Kingdom nationals. Like the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, I should like some explanation of the difference and to know whether the Government believe that 75 per cent. of EEC nationals would not vitiate the agreement about our own coastal strips of 12 miles and 6 miles. It would have been outrageous if by the interplay of technicalities these ex-Spanish fishing boats were to be receiving the special interim subsidies which were issued by the Government, and therefore coming from the British taxpayer, during the period when the EEC agreement was being negotiated.

The area to be specified, in which the Bill when it is enacted is to be valid, is, we understand, to be the United Kingdom 200-mile limit, not the whole of the EEC pond. This could be changed in future by later orders under Clause 1. I approve of that system. The advantage of Clause 1 is that the Government should be able to lay further orders if it seems that loopholes have been found—that is, ways of circumventing the provisions of an earlier order.

It is clear that some British people have been providing the brass plates and helping over the required British skipper and mate in order that such vessels should be able to qualify for United Kingdom registration. I am sure that sometimes this has been done with the best of intentions. The suggestion that this has been making some contribution on a modest scale to certain areas, on the lines mentioned by the noble lord, Lord John-Mackie, must be set against the overriding needs of the existing United Kingdom fishing industry and the potential, from British sources, to fill any gaps. Over the last two years the Government have had to grant substantial sums to the United Kingdom fishing industry because many of the boats have been tied up. Although, therefore, some local contributions may have been made, because this situation has been allowed to develop over the last three years or so, that cannot be allowed to override the much more important factors. These ex-Spanish fishing boats enjoy certain advantages. My noble friend mentioned the levy and the duties. This is known to our fishermen who consider they are having to operate on an unequal basis.

Under the Bill, the boats will remain registered as British. Accordingly, I have two further questions to which I should be grateful for answers this evening, if possible. First, I understand that the British shipping industry does not feel that problems will be raised by the Bill. I wonder whether my noble friend could confirm that point. The way in which the Bill is drafted means that the vessels remain registered as United Kingdom vessels. But the Bill applies only to fishing vessels. Therefore, the rest of British shipping should not be affected.

My second question is a little more complicated, but I believe it is important and I hope your Lordships will be prepared to bear with me. It concerns the cooperation which may be necessary with other member countries of the Community. I have Ireland particularly in mind. Let us suppose that some of these ex-Spanish vessels, still registered in the United Kingdom, were, after the Bill has been enacted, fishing within Ireland's fishing limits—that is, beyond the 200-mile limit of the United Kingdom or beyond the median line between the United Kingdom and Ireland. Whether those vessels were fishing for quota species or other species, there could well be complaints from the Irish Government, and those complaints would presumably be directed to the United Kingdom Government. Technically they would be United Kingdom vessels which, as both the Irish Government and Irish fishermen would think, would be making use of the British flag in order to fish in their waters as if they were Community vessels. How are such situations to be dealt with? Have the Government in mind that it would perhaps be possible to extend the area to the whole of the EEC pond rather than simply to the 200-mile United Kingdom fishing limit? Or are there further problems if we try to do that?

The last point I wish to raise is one of speed. I will remind your Lordships that the other place passed this Bill through all its stages from Second Reading to Third Reading and with a Committee stage including amendments, in one day. In fact, it was during a night but it was within four hours. That was because the other place recognised the urgency of this Bill. I hope that we in this House will do the same. I will also point out that there must have been 20 or more speakers, but not a single voice was raised in opposition to this Bill from any part of the other place. Several speakers pointed out that there was quite a bit of lobbying in this country against the Bill, which is understandable. But they also pointed out that the lobbying was done by people who betrayed that they knew very little about the British fishing industry and that many of the arguments were not very significant.

It will be seen that having urged the Government to do something about this problem, because it could have become much greater with more and more vessels being registered in this way, I welcome what the Government are doing and hope that your Lordships will give a passage to this Bill without delay.

8.11 p.m.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, it will not surprise your Lordships how warmly I welcome this Bill. Indeed, I can certainly assure your Lordships' House how well this Bill has been received by the inshore fishermen and the leaders of the Trawlermen's Protection Society in Sutton Harbour and, I am given to understand, by the protection societies in other ports. I have been informed that there was a BBC programme in which the point of view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, had a very fair run. What I find deplorable is that the Secretary of the Joint Trawlermen's Protection Societies for the South Coast fishing ports, Mr. Cooper, has never been contacted, and nor has Mr. Williams, the representative in our port with a view of the genuine inshore fishermen.

I believe there has been some misunderstanding over the fact that this has mainly affected the 12-mile inshore limit. There are certain variations, and for traditional historic reasons it is six miles, but basically it is a 12-mile limit. Within that limit the French cannot fish and the Danes cannot fish. Those are our inshore limits. The main objection is that these boats, through the device of declaring themselves as being British registered, are not only counting against the quantity of fish which is listed against the United Kingdom, but are also taking advantage over their EEC colleagues who are not allowed to fish in that area. This Bill is of enormous importance to our inshore fishermen, who have had a very rough 10 years.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend and his right honourable friend the Minister for the speed with which they have dealt with this flagrant abuse —however feeble it may appear on the face of it—of the regulations covering the registration of British trawlers. I should also like to thank my noble friend and his colleagues for their tolerance towards my persistence on this issue.

Down in the South-West, the inshore fishermen, by and large, have comparatively small boats. They are competing against trawlers worth anything from ¼ million to £1 million, undoubtedly owned and operated from Madrid and registered under the shell of £100 companies, some of which were investigated in Lloyd's List and found to have only £5 paid up capital. They are operating as British owned. Further, their operative skipper and crew are all Spanish with a second English skipper merely preparing and presenting the paperwork at the ports and registering the vessel as British. By this ruse, they fish within our 12-mile limit. If they are allowed to continue pursuing this course, how long before the Italians, the Portuguese, the Danes and others all think that this is a happy and easy ruse by which to enter Britain's 12-mile limit? I guarantee that if a British trawler went within the Spanish 12-mile limit, it would have a gunboat after it.

The trawlermen were heartened by the quota arrangements arranged by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and we were looking forward to a modest increase in the number of trawlers being recommissioned due to the fact that we had an assured quota under the EEC regulations. We felt that the Government had dealt with the Klondikers and the Russian boats, and had dealt with the Danish one-man invasion into our inshore waters. Now, they suddenly have on the horizon 67 trawlers. There were 67 trawlers in southern waters in one day when I went out there, and how many there are in the North my noble friend will know better than I. Many of those vessels had very substantial catches; far better than those which the boats of our inshore fishermen could carry. They went off with their catches to their own real home ports. Not only did they purloin chunks of the United Kingdom fishing quota, for which we fought so hard, but from the point of view of the ports, they deprived them of their legitimate landing charges, which provide the major part of fishing harbour income.

We welcome the increased surveillance by the fisheries patrol and in particular their inspection of nets. Infringements apply to many nationalities, and not exclusively to the Spanish, with the use of much smaller meshes than those which have been agreed by the EEC. This is disastrous for all the attempts to maintain quotas and to ensure that we do not catch immature fish and so reduce the stocks for which we have agreed quotas, and have ordered the mesh size of fishing nets. By catching these smaller, immature fish, all the efforts of the European Community to conserve fishing stocks are being jeopardised. The fishing authorities have already found that some of these Spanish operated boats do not conform to the safety regulations that we enforce. Indeed, they have been challenged on the too small number of life rafts which they carry.

British trawlermen have a long and proud record of fishing skills and seamanship. To the inshore fishermen, the 12-mile limit is their home territory. They welcome this legislation, which will ensure that a trawler flying a British flag or bearing British registration will be truly owned by a British company capable of paying for the type of vessel that is employed, and that it shall be substantially manned by British or, occasionally EEC crews; and that inshore fishing within prescribed limits agreed by the EEC shall be applied nationally and not become international through such ruses as those I have mentioned. I heartily welcome this Bill and hope that your Lordships will see it quickly on its way.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Saint Oswald

My Lords, what has drawn me into this debate is the impression that there is more in this than flashed before the eyes and passed the ears of another place within the last few weeks. We have been told with satisfaction how quickly it went through. The Members of both Houses are busy men and women, and Governments of all complexions like to bring through with expedition legislation to be enacted. This admirable energy can lead to occasional injustice, and I believe it has led to some measure of injustice in this case and up to this point.

In particular—and this is something to which I shall have to return before the end of a suitably brief speech—the promoters of an enterprising and potentially profitable scheme have not been given, so I understand, the opportunity to discuss its merits with a Minister. They have been kept at arm's length, or at least, they feel that they have been kept at arm's length, and should this be so it would seem to me uncivil and a dubious policy in my book. They consider that their enterprising and potentially profitable scheme is being emasculated as one result of this Bill, and certain speeches have made it clear that this is the intention, to emasculate. They seek a normal opportunity to discuss their views with a Minister and officials.

What is concerned is the fishing by some 60 British registered middle-water trawlers, purchased in Spain, the catches being sold by Britain to Spain. As a European I have to see in this a sensible and at least potentially a valuable joint venture to the benefit of our country and Spain. The principal species of fish involved is hake, and I have heard convincing denials that the fishing for hake in the South-Western approaches to our country does disturb the activities of our local inshore fishermen who mostly fish for inshore species. My noble friend and neighbour who is sitting along the Bench contradicted this just now, and she knows the territory better than I do, she knows the coastline better than I do. I find it a pity that she found it necessary to introduce the word "abuse"; and some of the fairly inflammatory language which followed explaining why she considered it an abuse distressed me.

Whatever hake may be caught, whether by the middle-water boats or the local fishermen—and the latter's amount is very limited—it is landed in the Welsh and South-Western ports. This is where my information comes from. It is landed in the Welsh and South-Western ports and exported to the European Community and Spanish markets. The resultant harbour and handling dues from the middle water boats, and other administrative expenditure, accrues to the benefit of our country. Yet, if the Bill is passed in its present form the activity and the benefits of these middle water trawlers must cease overnight; that is to say, it has been suggested that it would probably be in April. The operators cannot recruit the necessary 75 per cent. of European Community crew that they need to recruit over a phased period of time, although they have told me they would be perfectly willing to seek such crews given reasonable time. This modification was in fact tactfully and pleasantly put forward by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie.

Given this span of time—and it could be a variable span of time up to two years—a minimum of 600 to 1,000 jobs could become available to British nationals. There is of course the realistic factor that if and when Spain enters the European Community, Spanish fishermen will become automatically eligible to crew these trawlers. We have been told that this does not matter, that we should not be talking about this. The fact is, if action of the kind contemplated in this Bill is taken as rapidly as proposed it will hardly make for good inter-Community relations when that day comes.

Lord Cambell of Croy

My Lords, I wonder if my noble friend would allow me to intervene. I am most grateful to him. I think I was the only speaker who spoke about Spain joining the Community. I certainly did not say that it did not matter. What I said was that we could not discuss this now because it was such a major matter. Some of us have been discussing this in Select Committee and in debates in this House for a long time, and we have been assured that that will be one of the main subjects in the negotiations for Spain's entry. That is a separate matter, although it is connected, which we really could not discuss this evening.

Lord Saint Oswald

My Lords, I was only responding, I hope, as gently as my noble friend has gently intervened. I was saying that it is pertinent to this Bill and to this debate.

For these reasons, and others, I am persuaded that we need to examine the various issues involved in this Bill with the greatest care during its Committee stage to ensure that injustice is not done and distrust created, through hasty judgment, solely to achieve the speedy enactment of this proposed legislation. I repeat, I am not speaking to criticise the legislation itself, only to note certain details which appear to have been ignored or lightly treated. My information is that local British fishermen concentrate on the inshore species. What limited hake is caught by them is mainly transported by lorry from British ports in Wales and the South-West to the Continent, principally to the North of Spain. The operation of what is called the joint venture fleet, described in a rather excited way as a Spanish armada, offers a means of expanding and rendering more efficient this trade, thereby providing additional employment and export earnings to this country.

Such potential involving, as it does, a friendly country, now an aspirant to Common Market membership, should, I affirm, be given encouragement rather than a cold shoulder. It should be measured encouragement, not wholesale encouragement and not unquestioning encouragement. It should be a measure of encouragement. In the past few days I have spoken to serious, thoughful men who have sought interviews with Ministers to expound their plans. I seriously hope that this can be done. A spokesman might come from the Welsh fish producers' organisation. There are other bodies involved. They have not so far been received and this distresses me. It would be far better from every point of view if a Minister involved in these matters should receive a deputation and so, in all probability, obviate the need for the setting down and debate of amendments during the latter stages of this Bill.

8.28 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate and for the views which have been expressed. It is not surprising that in a debate of this nature the views of the two kinsmen, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, characteristically do not agree. That is something to which we have become used, and charming it is and very helpful. It is also not surprising when there is a degree of urgency that certain views of apprehension have been expressed. I should like to deal with that, if I may, because it is important.

I think that we ought to consider, first of all, exactly what the situation is. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith have said, the situation is that for 10 years we have been trying to get a European Communities fisheries policy. It has been very difficult, as anyone who has been involved in the negotiations knows. The business of quotas was one which took a tremendous amount of work, effort and negotiation. Throughout all this our own British fishing industry was going through a very difficult time, and as my noble friend Lord Campbell rightly said, was given very substantial grants in order to help it through this difficult time.

The quotas which were achieved were quotas caught by our own fishermen. It is not surprising that during that time the fishing and the access to our own waters by Spanish vesels has in fact decreased because, under the terms of the European Community's bilateral fisheries agreement with Spain, fishing opportunities for vessels from Spain in Community waters were restricted. Licences to fish have been reduced in line with the agreement with the result that in 1982 only 130 vessels were eligible compared with 240 in 1978. Some of the unsuccessful applicants for licences acted quickly and they simply became British.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said that there was nothing unlawful about that. That is right. There was nothing unlawful about it, but it so happens, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, that it drove a coach and horses through what we are trying to achieve in the common fisheries policy. Of course, it is perfectly all right for them to do what they did within the meaning of the law as it stood, but we considered that this required redress and, indeed, the fishing industry wished for it.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and others have asked what will happen when Spain joins the Community in about three years' time. That is a longer view. This problem is an imminent one. My noble friend Lord Saint Oswald says that he is a good European and what is done must be done for the benefit of the United Kingdom and Spain, but I ask him to consider whether it is right for Spanish vessels to re-register as British vessels and, crewed by people from countries which are not members of the Community, thereby be permitted to fish in our waters for fish which are quotas of Great Britain. They then possibly enter British ports and unload those fish straight into lorries, thereby ensuring that they are not sold in Great Britain and ensuring that they do not pay a levy. The fish are then transported from the United Kingdom by lorry to Spain where they receive import duty free access, and where they also get access, and yet where our own fishermen who catch the same fish do not sometimes have access and do have quotas imposed upon them. That is not fair and nor is it right.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked what harm is being done by these boats. I hope that I have explained to him that where they take fish out of our waters which are not sold in the United Kingdom those fish are not accounted for by the quota. The fish go to Spain, are sold there, and whether or not that sale is notified depends on the circumstances. If it is not notified it does not count against our quota, but it does mean that our waters are over-fished. If those landings are notified then, of course, they go against our quota and, therefore, it is against the interests of the British fishermen.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am grateful for that explanation. Does this mean that if a pukka British vessel exported fish to Spain it would pay a tariff or it would not be allowed in? In other words, do the Spanish authorities make an exception and, in fact, they know there is a fiddle and let in these fish free of quota, levy and duty?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I would not know whether the Spanish Government consider it a fiddle or not. What I can tell the noble Lord is that on occasions fishermen from these re-registered vessels can land their fish in Spain without the import quotas which are presented when our fishermen land the same fish in Spain.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, also asked whether there is no market for hake here. It is true that the greater market is in Spain. I think that about 3,800 tonnes were landed in 1982, and possibly more than that. These vessels landed a tonnage somewhere in that region, which is a considerable amount and accounted for the majority of our quota of hake.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said that this would create difficulties with employment. I do not deny that there will be some difficulties in some circumstances. Obviously that is the point of changing the law. When one changes the law one does so in order to correct something which is wrong. If that is so there are bound to be at least some short-term difficulties. However, I hope that the noble Lord will see that in the long term it is not right that advantage should be taken of the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves and for other vessels to come from other countries to be registered in Britain and thus operate against the interests of the European Community's fisheries policy and against the interests of our own fishermen under it.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl did not think that I was condoning what went on. I simply said that they were working within the letter of the law. I believe that was the expression I used. I was pointing out, as he rightly said, the effect that that might have because it has been going on since 1980. That was all I said. I am not condoning it by any means.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Lord was not condoning it, although I think he was getting a little close to it. He is quite right in saying that they were operating within the law. I merely come back to what I said earlier, that they were doing so and that is the reason why we wish to change the law.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and one or two others referred to the business of Community nationals crewing the boats and asked why they were not British. It would have been contrary to Articles 7 and 48 of the Treaty of Rome to discriminate and say that vessels in the Community should be crewed by British fishermen. They can, of course, be crewed by nationals of Community member states and that is the reason why that is made in that particular form.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am sorry to keep bothering the noble Minister but why, then, do the present regulations say that the captain and one other must be British?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, because that is so under a different form of legislation which goes back, I believe, if I remember correctly, to the 1947 Aliens Act, but I may need to be corrected on that. I may have that wrong, but that comes under a different form of legislation.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to how far we intended to limit the scope. The scope of the order will apply to British fisheries limits in the first instance, partly because of the difficulty of enforcement by British sea fisheries officers outside those limits and partly because we believe it is for the European Commission to introduce legislation on the Community front and for other member states such as France and Ireland to apply measures directly in their waters. Therefore, there should be harmony of effort and that is what we seek to achieve.

The noble Lord asked when the order was expected to be laid. I expect this will be done, probably, at the beginning of April.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy also asked whether the British shipping industry thinks that any problems will be raised. There has been unanimous support for the Bill. No adverse view has been expressed by the shipping and fishing industries. It is unlikely that the rest of the fishing industry will be affected. He also asked about whether there would be co-operation with other European members. I have explained that that is the idea and that we hope that there will be a harmony of effort.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I do not necessarily need a reply this evening, because this is complicated, but in replying to my point about Ireland, which is the best example, my noble friend said that the Irish Government would probably be introducing an equivalent measure. But that will be concerned with Irish registered boats. We will still have a situation where a Spanish vessel, which appears to be, and is theoretically registered as, a United Kingdom vessel (because it still will be a United Kingdom registered vessel), is doing things within Irish fishing limits which the Irish Government think that it ought not to be doing. Presumably the complaint will then come to us.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is the reason why we hope to have, and indeed are having, consultations with both Ireland and France as to how mutually these problems can be overcome.

Perhaps I could correct one thing which I said to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. The law concerned under which the captain and the first hand must be British is the Aliens (Restriction) Act 1919. I think that I said it was 1947.

My noble friend Lord Saint Oswald referred to the consultations with the joint venture companies. Our decision to legislate against the re-registered foreign vessels in order to prevent them getting round the Community agreements and fishing our quotas, was taken in the full knowledge of the nature of their operations and their place in our fishing industry. If they adapt themselves to the new arrangements in a way which would qualify them to fish, then of course that would be fine, but we have got an urgent problem. It is all very fine for my noble friends to say, "Let us have two years in order to put this right", but we have an urgent problem and our proposed solution takes account of all the relevant factors, including the express views of those who organise the re-registered vessels.

My Lords, my noble friend would be quite wrong if he felt that the views which the people to whom he has spoken have not been taken on board. They have been. They have been considered very carefully, but, for the reasons which I have given, we consider this an urgent problem. We consider that it is not the correct way at present to deal with either the common fisheries policy or with our own fishermen. The conditions are not correct, and that is the reason why the Government have thought fit to produce this Bill in order to rectify what is, frankly, an evasion and a using of a loophole. I hope therefore that I have managed to persuade your Lordships that this Bill is reasonable and that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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