HL Deb 11 March 1985 vol 461 cc64-94

6.35 p.m.

Lord Plowden rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Common Fisheries Policy (1st Report 1984–85. H.L. 39).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the revised common fisheries policy was agreed in 1983 by all 10 member states in the Community after prolonged and somewhat acrimonious negotiations extending over a period of some 10 years. The new policy adds a new dimension to the Community's activities. It makes possible the operation of common arrangements for the conservation, management and prudent economic exploitation of the stocks of fish in the waters of the North-East Atlantic continental shelf. Whether or not these benefits will be realised turns on responsible decision-taking by Ministers in the council; on action by the Commission to frame informed and timely proposals for administration of the common fisheries policy; on resolution in carrying them through and, perhaps most important of all, on firmness in ensuring that they are effectively and uniformly enforced.

Sub-Committee D of the European Communities Committee received evidence from a wide range of fishing interests, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. In addition, members of the sub-committee visited fishing ports in Scotland and on the north-east coast of England. They also visited two fish processing plants; the operations room of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Torry Research Station and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland marine laboratory at Aberdeen. Only time and perhaps prudent control of spending prevented us from paying more visits. We are most grateful to all those who came and gave evidence and so much of their time.

The report is therefore based on much information gathered during a most thorough inquiry. The recommendations of the report fall into five main groups. The first relates to the annual fixing of the all-important total allowable catches which are determined for each main stock of fish. These total quantities are then apportioned between member states; and much of the negotiation leading to the settlement of the fisheries policy was concerned with this issue. National quotas for the main stocks are firmly established and the report warns that these total allowable catches should not be re-opened before at least 1991. We believe that if this warning is not heeded, the whole policy will be in jeopardy.

The report also recommends that the annual fixing of total allowable catches should be based firmly on scientific advice and, particularly, that of the Scientific and Technical Committee for Fisheries, which was set up under the aegis of the common fisheries policy, rather than on (how shall I put it?) the political haggling which on far too many occasions has been the case in the past. The representatives of the fishermen told us that it would be most helpful to them if total allowable catches and quotas were to be settled some two months in advance of the fishing season, so that catching and marketing plans could be settled well in advance. We were most gratified to know that this year agreement was reached in good time, and we hope that this will be the practice in future years.

Secondly, the report deals with the subject of industrial fishing. This is something that is mainly carried out by the Danish fishing fleet. The subcommittee had the benefit of evidence from the Danish Ministry of Fisheries on the subject. We are most grateful to the representatives of that department who made a special journey to London in order to give evidence to us. We learned that the present level of Danish industrial fishing is about 1,100,000 tonnes and because, as your Lordships no doubt will know, small-meshed nets are used in industrial fishing, through which virtually nothing can escape, juvenile fish of human-consumption species are taken along with the industrial species. Further, fish of marketable size for human consumption may also be taken as a by-catch. After careful consideration of all the available evidence, the report concludes that unless industrial fishing is most strictly controlled, it is likely to lead to serious depletion of stocks of the species for human consumption.

With this consideration in mind, the sub-committee were most disturbed when on 10th September last year the Fisheries Council proposed that the allowable by-catch should be raised from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. and the British Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food found himself in a minority of one. He secured that the change should be temporary for a trial period coming to an end on 31st May 1985 and that the by-catch figure should be reduced from 20 per cent. to 18 per cent. As a result of this ruling, British fishermen, not unnaturally, appear to be experiencing considerable loss of confidence in the common fisheries policy which, by then, they had come to accept as reasonable. Shortly afterwards, we were in Scotland and we met Scottish and English fishermen at the ports from which they worked and they described the position as tragic. I am therefore asking the Minister this evening for a firm commitment that at the end of the trial period, on 31st May this year, the Government will urge on the council that the essential need is to conserve stocks of fish for human consumption and that that should have first priority in the review of the situation to be carried our after the trial period.

The report considers the possible effect on fishing within Community waters of the accession of Spain and Portugal to the Community. The Spanish fishing fleet is approximately the same size in number as, and 60 per cent. by tonnage of, the combined fleets of all 10 member states of the Community today. Our fishermen and others in the Community view this as a very serious threat. Indeed, one fishermen's representative said to me that he felt that this was the second attempt by the armada to subdue us and he hoped that, with the aid of your Lordships' House, the armada would be repulsed in the same way as was the first one. They themselves had to make sacrifices when the United Kingdom joined the Community and, as a result of the 200-mile limit, the distant water fishing fleets of both this country and of Germany have virtually disappeared. By and large, Spanish vessels have not been free to fish in the waters of the present members of the Community since 1977. We felt that the clock should not be put back to allow Spanish vessels free access to Community waters any more than fishermen of the Community can regain and expect to go back to fish in the former distant waters in which they used to fish. This is another area in which a re-opening of old issues could easily destroy the really fragile equilibrium of the common fisheries policy.

The fourth main point in the report is that if the common fisheries policy is to work, it must be enforced. It is the responsibility of each member state to verify the landings of all species of fish which are subject to quota, to act to control fishing of any national quota, to stop it when the quota has been taken, and to notify the Commission. Understandably, there is suspicion among fishermen of all countries that other member states take this responsibility less responsibly than do their own government; and it is the responsibility of the Commission to ensure that these quotas are properly regulated and enforced. It was the intention of the Commission to appoint some 40 inspectors to do this. They now have some 13. This number, I suggest, must be kept under review and, if necessary, increased; and particularly so if and when Spain, with its large fishing fleet, joins the Community.

The United Kingdom, whose fishery waters are the most extensive and the most productive in the Community, must maintain the capability of policing its waters even though this will fall to the expense of the Exchequer and not to that of the Community. The committee believes that, despite the potential stability of the future of the fishing industry provided for in the main framework of the common fisheries policy, there remains the danger of too many boats chasing too few fish. Licensing arrangements, in collaboration with the fishermen, we believe, should therefore be encouraged.

The committee is convinced of the need for an adequately-enforced common fisheries policy, fully adhered to by all states. All fishing communities tend to be vulnerable, and fishermen undertake work which is often both dangerous and unpleasant. They provide a unique source of skilled maritime manpower for the nation both in war and in peace, and I should like to think that the leaders of the fishermen's communities, when they read about this debate, will know that your Lordships' House stands firmly behind them. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Common Fisheries Policy (1st Report 1984–5, H.L. 39).—(Lord Plowden.)

Lord Soames

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I agree so much with the main thrust of what he has said, but I know he would like to be scrupulously fair in these matters. Is it not a fact that when our long-distance fleet had to go by the board that was not because of our entering into the Community, but for other reasons? We could not fish off Norway because of an agreement with them; we could not fish off Iceland because of an agreement with them; and because of the Law of the Sea we could no longer go to Canada and off the eastern seaboard of the Americas. So it really was not that we suffered because of going into the Community. Surely, on going into the Community we suffered by being the one country which had waters that were still prolific in fish.

Lord Plowden

My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord misunderstood me. What I said was that it was the result of the 200-mile limit which prevented the distant-water fishing fleets of Britain and Germany from fishing off Iceland, Norway, Canada and so on.

Lord Soames

That is right, my Lords.

Lord Plowden

It was not due to our entering into the Community.

Lord Soames

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, I am accepting the very kind offer of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, to change places with him in the speaking order. Like a number of your Lordships, I think, I had been under the impression that this debate was going to be taken rather earlier in the evening, and I have compelling reasons for leaving as soon as possible after seven o'clock—reasons which I assure your Lordships have nothing to do with attending a dinner party. I hope also that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, will forgive me for not being here when he replies at the end of the debate.

May I begin by thanking the noble Lord for the tremendous amount of work that he and his committee have put into this report? It is yet another example of the very great value of the work done by the European scrutiny committee and its numerous sub-committees. I think it is well-known in your Lordships' House that these documents have become very highly valued, not only in this country but also in Brussels, as authoritative statements brought out by people who are well qualified to investigate the directives and to take a very great deal of trouble to ensure that sound recommendations are made. For this we thank the noble Lord very much indeed.

I should like very strongly to support the recommendations of this Committee. The subject of fishery is of great importance from a number of different angles. First and foremost, of course (although this has not come out so clearly in the report as elsewhere) this is a matter of very great importance to consumers. Those of us who have to shop for fish have realised the difficulties that arise when there is a very erratic market for fish and when fish, which has previously been a staple and relatively cheap article of diet, suddenly disappears from the slab in the fishmongers. Housewives find it difficult to discover adequate substitutes of comparable value for the articles which they have previously bought. For example, the near-disappearance for a period of the herring was a very serious loss indeed; so there is a consumer angle to the matter which is of the first importance.

It is also of course an ecological question. There is no doubt that if proper action had not been taken a number of species of fish would have disappeared, if not permanently, at least for a very considerable period of time. That was something which needed drastic action in order to halt it.

Finally, of course, there is the whole economic question of a great industry being put very much at risk by what had been going on before these regulations came into force. It is an industry important in itself and absolutely vital in certain areas of this country, where for generations men have been dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihood, with the multiplier effect that that has in all those areas for other people who have depended on the success of the fishing industry for their own livelihood even though they may not have been directly involved with the industry themselves. So this is not a minor issue in any sense: it is an issue of very considerable importance.

Perhaps I may underline the point that comes out most clearly from the report: the need for stability. There is also the need, first, for regulation. The fishing industry is not something which can satisfactorily be left to itself and to market forces and all will come right in the end. It clearly does require regulation, and that regulation has been forthcoming from the Commission by the rules that have been laid down.

But regulation by itself is not enough. There must be not only regulation but stability in following those laws. In other words, they must be applied and maintained. I would stress very much two points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. There is the whole question of industrial fishing, the near-disappearance of fish where industrial fishing has developed because of the small-mesh nets and the ease with which small fish are being caught and put into the factory processes of industrial fishing. If that were allowed to continue or if we were to make it easier for industrial fishing to take place than was originally intended in the regulations—and we understand from the report that this is what is likely to happen unless a very serious stand is taken against it—that indeed would undo a great deal of the advantage that has been gained by the regulations that have come from the Commission in the past.

Secondly, of course, there is the whole question of Spain. We on these Benches are second to none in wishing to see Spain become a member of the Community and in wanting a speedy conclusion to the negotiations to get Spain into the Community; but we very much hope that is not going to be settled by relaxing on the question of Spain and the fishing requirement. There must be ways of meeting the needs and requirements of Spain in entering the Common Market without sacrificing the fishing industry to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has made clear, Spain is a very serious threat to the fishing industry, given the size of the Spanish fishing fleet. We must urge the Government to see that in the negotiations, which surely must come to a successful conclusion some time this year, this is not done at the expense of the fishing industry.

In looking as this report, I should like to make one point from a slightly different angle. Many people in this country question the value of the work done by the EEC Commission and of our membership of the EEC. This is surely a very good example of the benefits we can get by being members of the EEC. Is it to be imagined that, without the EEC and the work of the Commission, there would have been the agreement (although after long argument) which has led to these regulations and to the prospect of a stable future for the fishing industry of the members of the Commission? The haggling which would have gone on, and the bilateral basis, would have made it almost impossible to get anything like the kind of satisfactory agreement which has come from the Commission. Surely it is worth while stressing this and publicising the fact that this is the kind of way in which the work of the Commission and our membership of the EEC can be of very great practical value to people in this country earning their living in industries such as this, and to consumers, dependent as they are on the work of that industry.

Along with this goes the importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has said, of ensuring that once an agreement is entered into it is in fact enforced. I do not know—and I am sure your Lordships do not know—to what extent the enforcement of EEC regulations is less scrupulously carried out in some countries than in others. I put it like that. There is a tendency to think that we are the only scrupulous people and everybody else is given to evasion. That may or may not be the case but it is of course a corollary of membership that there should be really effective enforcement. Nothing brings the Community into greater disrepute than evidence that enforcement does not follow agreements entered into. So we urge Her Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to use their influence —but, of course, first, to regain their influence—in the European Community and to use it effectively to see that agreements of this kind, which are a very great benefit, are not only made but are effectively enforced.

7.1 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I almost found myself tonight like the Scottish elder who had a reputation for being able to produce a short prayer very quickly. He ultimately admitted that he had it written inside his hat; but one day he duly lowered his hat correctly and looked into it and started, "My Lord"—pause—"this is not my hat". A few minutes before I thought this debate was going to start I looked at my papers and found that I had lost a lot of my notes. It was only the length of the debate on Northern Ireland that helped me to produce a rather truncated version of my original very carefully summed up and written down notes, but this may help your Lordships to get to dinner a little earlier.

There is no doubt that this is a very important report and we must thank our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, for the way that he introduced it so succinctly and clearly, and for the way that he put the main points to your Lordships. The Commission are making an effort to ensure that the common fisheries policy will work. It all rests on the total allowable catches, the quotas and the policing of the arrangements, and particularly on the correct filling in of the log hooks which we found took about 18 months if not two years to produce which seemed to be a slightly ridiculous situation. But I gather that they are now in the hands of the fishermen.

We were a little worried, and I think we still are a little worried, that there are going to be only 13 inspectors to carry out the work of checking and policing the fishing and the quotas. We should like to think that they will manage to do the job; but we should also like to think that if they cannot do so the situation will be corrected very quickly and plenty of inspectors will be put alongside them. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, emphasised the time factor. It is important that the quotas, and so on, give plenty of time not only for the fishermen but for the trade in general—the processors, etc.—to make their plans. That is very important indeed.

I should like to say slightly more about industrial fishing, which is really very important in many ways. The fishmeal and oil which are produced is a very big industry indeed. Not only does the main body of its raw material come from industrial fishing, but it uses up all the surplus fish and guts from fishing factories as well. We know only too well the importance of fishmeal to all our feedingstuffs and to all our animals which require protein. Most of the oil at the present moment goes into margarine. We all know about polyunsaturated fats—I hope I have the word right—which I gather can be made from fish oil; and the pharmaceutical people are looking into that. There is a big market for this product; it is a big industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said, we cannot possibly ask it to stop because it is one of the main economic sides of the Danish fishing industry.

If one looks at page 90 of the annex provided to us by the Ministry of Agriculture one can see what happened in the 10 years from 1964 to 1974 when the catch for fishmeal and oil was slightly more than half the total catch in the North Sea. What is more, between the years of 1962 and 1970—perhaps a little longer than that—the bulk of that catch was mackerel and herring, and of course we know the result of that. When one looks at the figure—the Danes have 1.1 million tonnes, as the noble Lord mentioned, as their share of that industrial catch of the total of 1.5 million tonnes—one appreciates the situation. We must look a little more carefully at the question of the by-catch. We did not get enough information as to how much of the by-catch of edible fish was from other small fish—industrial fish, sand eels and so on—and put on the edible market. It is a huge amount of fish in total out of the 1.5 million tonnes. If they are allowed to have a by-catch of up to 20 per cent. falling to 18 per cent. by the middle of this year, that still means somewhere around 300 tones of edible fish that is probably going into fish meal.

There are all sorts of plans to try to prevent the edible fish being caught and for the by-catch being much smaller. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, quizzing the witnesses very carefully on the subject of why it had to go up to 18 per cent. The reply was that you could not notice 10 per cent. and that you had to have a bigger amount so that you could notice it. It seemed to me to be a very poor excuse for increasing something which has undoubtedly, as the noble Lord said, made fishermen very doubtful about how serious the arrangements were which they hoped were going to stick until 1991.

As the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said, some Members of the Committee visited various fishing ports, one of which was the marine laboratory in my home town of Aberdeen. There they were experimenting to try to make a double net with the first one in the mouth of the big trawl; a net large enough to let in the small fish but stopping edible fish going in. I thought that this was a very interesting piece of research. Some of the members of the party—I was not there myself—doubted whether it was much more than just an experiment; but personally I cannot see why this double net could not be tried out. There has been suggestion of cuts to research stations, and I hope that the noble Lord will see that there is no cut that would stop the type of research which might solve quite a lot of the problem of the by-catch in industrial fishing. This is an important matter and the fishermen are very worried about it.

On the question of enlargement, I never like to mention rumours but there are rumours that Spain is likely to draw out if they cannot solve the fishing problem. That would be a huge mistake. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who said that they were second to none in hoping that Spain would come in—I would doubt that, but still! However, it would be a pity if the fishing situation was to prevent Spain entering next year. One of the MEPs who sits for my home area of Grampian, Mr. James Provan, has presented a very good plan to give Spain more rights around the Falkland Islands and in other areas, which might satisfy them. I hope that this proposal will be examined much more carefully than it has been.

The confidence of fishermen is something which any common fishery policy must have. This was brought out when we discussed this matter with the Danes who came over and gave evidence. We asked what they thought about other fishermen, and they replied, "Just the same—we all suspect each other". I suggested to them the creation of a common fishermen's association: with fishermen from all nine countries getting together in the same way as our own associations. I suggested that that might help the situation, and there was agreement that it could.

The report is a mine of information if nothing else. It is a handbook that we should all keep if we want to discuss fishing because it presents—not only from the Ministry of Agriculture but from other sources as well—a mine of information and statistics which will be very useful to us. I hope that the report will be read not only in the EEC but in this country as well. It is a mine of information and I support all that is reported there.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. On this particular occasion his speech was so splendid that it was just as well he lost his hat, if I may paraphrase his introductory remarks. I, too, should like to congratulate my chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, on his excellent and comprehensive introduction. In fact, it was so good that it will make it easier for the rest of us to make our contributions, without having to repeat the whole basis of each of the points he has made so clearly for us.

I should like to concentrate my remarks on three specific points. I apologise for the fact that they have been touched upon by other speakers, but they are rather important, and I personally view them as being particularly important. The first concerns the conservation of stocks. It seems to me from a practical and logical point of view, apart from anything else, that this must be the most important aspect of them all: hence the paramount importance of adherence by member states to the total allowable catch, and that the catch should be based on the best scientific advice that can be obtained. I gained the impression as we conducted the inquiry that the scientific basis is improving all the time, and it is by no means at its best as yet. One hopes that this will continue to be the case and that there will be no skimping in injecting the money necessary to ensure that the scientific support for this whole programme is the best possible. Paragraphs 35, 36 and 37 of the report make that point particularly well.

As an observer, rather, of the affairs of Sub-Committee D—because, after all, I am a food processor and not a farmer, a fisherman, or anything fundamental like that—it is interesting to reflect that the problems of the CFP appear at first sight to be the very opposite of those of the CAP. In the latter case, the difficulties of the Community are in the production of excessive stocks. In the common fisheries policy, however, the problem is more one of overconsumption of limited stocks. Your Lordships might agree that a closer look shows that in each case, up to now, there have been similar problems for the actual practitioners—the farmers and the fishermen. They have both suffered from an uncertainty by way of threat to their activities by a distant body in Brussels which may apply that threat without any warning. Sadly, I believe that is still a problem for farmers but I like to think that, if it is given the necessary stability to which other noble Lords have drawn attention, the CFP as we have it now should much diminish that threat to fishermen.

My next point concerns the threat to conventional fishing by industrial fishing—and this, too has been mentioned before—which can lead to a serious depletion in stocks of fish for human consumption. In this respect I, too, take the view that the breaching last September of the 1983 and 1984 agreements for by-catches for a trial period was most disappointing. Indeed, I still do not understand from all the explanations which have been given why those concerned were allowed to get away with it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, I hope very much that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to reassure us that when the trial period comes to an end priority will be given to the conservation of stocks and not to the specious needs of industrial fishermen.

My third point relates to the entry of Spain into the Community. One can understand that country, with its vast fishing fleet, wanting to gain increased access to the waters of the existing Community. One can understand Spain wanting to make a great issue of it at this stage as part of a reward to them for coming into the Community. I personally think that the reward is with Spain, if it is allowed into the Community. Be that as it may, one can understand the points made. Such access to our waters could only be at the expense of the rest of the Community—and mainly at the expense of ourselves, with the greatest sea area. The Community has only just hammered out, after many years of discussion, an acceptable agreement. So it is a particularly inopportune time to effect further changes.

I know that there is some similarity, if one examines this point, between Spain's position and our own entry into the Community, when the other members hastily cobbled together a CFP to try to keep us under control before we gained membership. But on that occasion it was a case of cobbling something together—or so it appeared—whereas in this case the Community has, methodically and slowly, tried to produce a good result over many years, and has at last achieved it. The coincidence is not that the Community did that and then Spain wanted entry: the coincidence is that Spain happens to have reached the stage it has just at the moment when the CFP has been thrashed out.

The problem comes back to the available stock of edible fish and the paramount need to conserve. In this respect I very much support the possible solution (which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said was thought up by Mr. James Provan) of doing something with the fishing stocks around the Falklands. As I saw it. this proposal was made by the Marquess of Douro, MEP, in an excellent article in The Times about a week ago. It seems to me that this line of approach could show the Community as being not totally dog in the manger in its attitude to the problem.

The solution that is suggested is that we should get on with declaring a 200-mile fishing limit around the Falklands and their dependencies, which we have not yet done, and invite Spain to share in fishing there. It seems to me that that is a most imaginative proposal. As has been said, after the sad loss of the Icelandic fishing rights our own long-distance fleet has been much depleted. As has also been said, Spain has many craft of the appropriate size. I should have thought that that was an excellent means of giving them a chance of dealing with the problem in a way that does not appear too mean.

To conclude, like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I believe that the common fisheries policy is a rare success story in patient, co-operative development in the Community. It has a structure which can withstand all but wanton destruction on the part of several member states. In addition, provided it is not eroded by measures such as the trial period of increased by-catches for industrial fishing, it seems, on the whole, to meet the requirements of the practical fishermen and now we need to give it a chance to work.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has very effectively introduced the report of the Select Committee; and he also presided over the inquiry into sea fisheries with wisdom and skill, which we would expect from him. I am not a member of that sub-committee, but I was paid the compliment of being invited to join it for the inquiry; a compliment because I had received the same invitation, or co-option, four years ago when the subcommittee last carried out an inquiry into fisheries. I can only presume that this is because of long years of some familiarity with sea fisheries and also my continued contacts with the fishermen.

In the report of four years ago, the earlier report, we made a recommendation that a corps of EC inspectors should be established. My right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker, who was then Minister of Agriculture, took this up and pursued it. Indeed, it was the United Kingdom which pressed for that, and it has happened. In our present report we record that there are only 13 inspectors, which may not be enough, but those inspectors play an important part in the enforcement system. In considering the numbers one must remember that they inspect the national inspection teams. They are not themselves the people who do all the checking on the vessels; those are the national inspectors. That was a significant link between the two Select Committee reports.

Most of the fishing boats of sizes which can operate over all the EC fishery waters—that is, within the EC fishery limits—have greatly increased the industry's productivity in recent years; let us recognise that. But the efficiency of modern methods means that large quantities of fish can be caught by comparatively few boats. Therefore, the stocks of fish need protection now more than ever. The requirements of conservation must take first place.

The revised common fisheries policy was agreed after strenuous and lengthy negotiations. Coming to the present, since the report went to print the decisions on national quotas within the total allowable catch for 1985—the present year—appear to have been reached satisfactorily and have been generally welcomed by the British fishermen's organisations. They were based on scientific evidence, as our report advocates. Indeed, some of the fishermen were a little worried because they thought the scientists had been rather too optimistic this year. Those decisions were taken by EC Ministers on 20th December, just before Christmas. In our report we recommend that as much notice as can reasonably be given should be given before the fishing year begins; but may I say that the current situation has been a great improvement on the past.

Coming up to date again, a new addition to the enforcement systems is the EC fishing log book. Our report regretted that at the time of going to print the log books had not yet been issued. They have since been issued to all British fishermen and the scheme is due to start on 1st April. British fishermen will certainly be watching closely to see how conscientiously catches will be logged by the skippers from other EC countries.

I now turn to the question of Spain. Negotiations are continuing and I believe that they are at present at a critical stage. It is hoped that the accession of Spain and Portugal will take place on 1st January; and that is less than 10 months away. The questions which I put to the Government in your Lordships' House towards the end of last year received a response which indicated, in my opinion, a realistic and robust attitude by the Government. Noble Lords will remember that the Ministers concerned said they were not prepared to upset the new common fisheries policy, or to disturb it for at least 10 years, by the accession of the two new member countries. If there is to be a transitional period, I suggest that it should be at least eight years where fishing is concerned, so that there can be no question of disturbing arrangements before the 10 years of the common fisheries policy have expired. I hope that the British Government will win the support of the Governments of the other EC countries in this robust attitude which has hitherto been taken.

There are solutions which should meet the interests of Spain. Solutions are available. First, Spanish boats have habitually fished in southern seas, for example, off the coasts of African countries. This should be encouraged to continue and be increased. If necessary, it would be better for the EC to help with the payments to African countries for this privilege than to allow the revised CFP to go into the melting pot, causing chaos and confusion in EC fishery waters. Secondly, the Spanish fleet has also been catching species of fish in EC fishery waters, but they are those species which are not in demand in the EC, or on quota. That could continue, provided the by-catches are properly monitored and enforced. I shall say a little more about by-catches in a moment.

The other members of the EC may not regard fisheries as so important a matter as we do. British Ministers might find support flagging among partner countries. I hope that the British Government will, if necessary, cause the date of accession to be postponed, rather than leave agreement on fisheries in suspense on accession. To fudge the issues instead of settling them will only store up worse trouble in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby—I am glad to see that he is to speak later on in the debate—knows that I have been in situations of this kind as a Minister in the past and that I can speak from some experience. With respect, but with all earnestness, I urge the Government to reject any proposals to obscure the main unsettled fishery issues simply to meet a date—1st January, 1986.

I should like to recall an article in The Times of 7th September last on the accession of Spain and sea fisheries negotiations. A point was made in the article that a large part of the Spanish fishing fleet is based at ports in the Basque country. It was suggested in the article that a factor in the negotiations might be that of helping to pacify the Basques. I hope not. The reason given was that they are independent-minded and that the Spanish Government, and perhaps some EC Governments, would be willing to recognise them as a special case. I cannot resist reminding your Lordships that about half the British fleet is based at Scottish ports; this is since the virtual disappearance of the distant water fleets which were based at ports in England, caused by the universal adoption of the 200-mile limit a decade ago. Scotland has about one-tenth of the population of the United Kingdom and is in a somewhat similar situation to the Spanish Basque country.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, does my noble friend say in that respect that the Scots require pacifying in the same way as the Basques?

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend is taking the words out of my mouth. My next sentence was to be that we in Scotland do not need to be pacified—yet. It would, however, be invidious and inequitable to give the Spanish Basques a special status which was not available to Scots and at the expense of Scots.

Lord Parry

My Lords, does the noble Lord also include the Welsh and the fishing industry there?

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, there is a strong fishing industry in Wales, but if one looks at the numbers, one sees that it is a much smaller proportion of the British fleet.

If there were to be doubts about the aspirations of the Spanish fishing fleets and their intentions, I would recall that about 50 Spanish boats managed to get themselves registered at British ports in recent years. They did everything they could to qualify to be so registered, including having British skippers and mates. Some of us raised that matter in your Lordships' House and others raised it elsewhere. I am glad to say that the Government of the day put through changes to make sure that the qualifications were made more sensible, so that those Spanish boats could not continue to do that. But that illustrates the lengths to which the Spaniards are prepared to go in order to obtain access to EC fishery waters.

I turn to industrial fishing. Last September the arrangement was made, which has already been described, whereby the Danes were for eight months to be allowed to fish for pout with a by-catch of 18 per cent. instead of the previous 10 per cent. That was a shock to British fishermen. They had not realised that such a sudden change of the rules could be made. The United Kingdom Minister was isolated, and he did not receive support from any of the others. Before that the pout box—the prohibited area for industrial fishing—and the 10 per cent. limit had become acceptable conservation measures, to prevent over-fishing of species for human consumption. The British fishermen have the recent memory of the near extinction of the herring in the North Sea, which had to be followed by a total ban on fishing for herring for six years.

I bring up-to-date news learnt from fishermen and the local press. Only a few days ago a Danish vessel was boarded and brought to port by British fishery protection services.A sample was taken from the hold and it was found that the by-catch was 41 per cent.; that is, over twice the new limit of 18 per cent. The skipper went to court and a fine and confiscation of his gear followed. Other Danish vessels are very scarce. They are not pursuing this fishery in the way that they have in the past at this time of the year. That is because they are finding it very difficult to keep below the 18 per cent. limit.

Those incidents confirm that there are many immature, edible fish mixed with the pout. They are the equivalent of seed corn for the British industry in future years. In the review expected after May there may be pressure, because of such incidents, to raise the by-catch rather than to lower it. The false argument may be advanced, with the example of a 40 per cent. by-catch, that there are so many young whiting now—because most of these edible fish are whiting—that it no longer need be regarded as a scarce fish, needing protection. But if that argument were accepted, it could lead to the whiting being decimated. EC Governments concerned with conservation must oppose such arguments. As our report advocates, it is scientific advice which should receive priority.

The Government are engaged in difficult negotiations concerning Spain and Portugal. As regards Spain, I and others have on previous occasions said that we favour the accession of Spain and we welcome Spain becoming a new member of the EC. But a number of fisheries issues must be settled before accession. They should not be left in the air. If necessary, the date of accession should be postponed.

As regards Denmark, I am fully aware that the Danish economy relies on domestic supplies of fishmeal and other products. It is an important matter for Denmark. In winning the raw material from the seas—that is to say, catching pout—there is a danger that they will kill off in their early life huge numbers of fish which are valuable for human consumption when mature.

I trust that we shall all in this House press the Government to take the strongest line to protect fish stocks and to persuade other EC Governments to support it. Such a policy coincides with the long-term interests of millions of consumers and of the large majority of fishermen.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and his excellent team on producing an extremely interesting and admirable report which we have all read with the greatest of interest. I also have great pleasure and some relief in asking the Government to accept my warmest congratulations on a signal economic triumph. I have not done that for a very long time! But their handling of the inshore fishing industry's problems cannot be faulted.

This is a long story. I remember when I first went to East Aberdeenshire we were exporting over a million crans of cured herring to Russia and the Baltic states alone and a lot more to Germany. I saw that industry gradually dwindling away until it was on the brink of destruction. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said there had to be a total ban on catches in order to save it. That was because of the ruthless fishing of immature stocks for industrial purposes carried on mostly by the Norwegians and the Danes. We did not do so much of it, but we very nearly had the herring industry ruined.

Then after the war came a very difficult time and a moment when the whole industry was again threatened with extinction when we joined the Common Market. Under the Treaty of Rome, which we had played no part in framing, we were obliged to allow foreign fishing vessels right up to our beaches. The industry was saved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. Without him I have no doubt that there would now be no inshore fishing industry in this country. He stuck out for the 12-mile limit, he won his way in the Cabinet, and, happily, he is here today, hale and hearty, to enjoy the fruits of his labours.

I think one ought also to pay tribute to Mr. Peter Walker, because he brought long and difficult—many of us thought impossible—negotiations with the other European countries to a successful conclusion by brilliant and skilful diplomacy in Brussels. It took him a long time. The agreement is not absolutely perfect, but it is the best that we have ever had with the other European countries so far as fishing is concerned. He went a long way towards persuading the Europeans that some conservation was essential if the fishing industry was to be saved. They have not come completely round. I think the Danes may still give a little trouble. We must squash them politely and assure them that it is in their own interests not to go on fishing for immature stocks of fish to make fishmeal or other industrial substances.

The other point I should like to make is to echo what has already been said. We cannot now throw away all that has been achieved. At the moment the inshore fishing industry in this country is very prosperous, largely due to Government aid and Government action. They cannot allow it to be destroyed by letting the Spaniards impose terms upon us which would wreck it—and they could do that. We should encourage them to go to Africa, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell said, where they are wanted. Also, remember that they are insatiable consumers of fish. That is why they are so hale and hearty, and live so long. They eat twice as much fish as we do. I was even told by a friend of mine who made a tour of Spain the other day and visited a number of their cities that, in conversation with businessmen in Spanish cities, particularly Madrid, he had learnt that there was a market for processed British fish and that they missed not having it because we are not processing as much as we could. Anyway, all I should say about this is that we have had one invasion by a Spanish Armada and we certainly do not want another.

The two problems which have been touched on by noble Lords who have spoken and who still remain are these. There is first of all the problem of processing. I am thinking particularly of fishing towns like Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Lerwick, where, when I first went there, the processing factories were going at full speed. They enjoyed an awful lot of prosperity and processed an awful lot of fish. Now they are closing down, and it is rather alarming. I have Fraserburgh particularly in mind. They will lay off 100 men this week simply because the smaller processing factories cannot any longer hold out against the big firms and, for example, the Russian factory ships to which the fish is sold at sea.

I have no solution to offer to this problem. However, I ask the noble Lord whether he can just give me an assurance that his boss, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, together with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the fishing organizations, will look into this problem of processing. That is because, at a moment when the fishing industry itself is enjoying something like a full operation, it is hard that the processing factories—the smaller ones, at any rate—should be closing their doors and laying off men.

I should like to end very briefly by making a comparison which I think it is useful for us all to bear in mind. That is the comparison between the mining and the fishing industries in this country. They are both old industries, the fishing industry older than the mining industry. They are both basic industries. I have been looking recently, as I dare say have your Lordships, at the mining villages on televison. There I saw and we all saw hatred. Never mind the rights and wrongs of the matter. However, you will not get that hatred if you visit any of the fishing villages round our coasts. I represented three of them for over 30 years and visited most of the others in Wales and in England. They do not hate each other; they help each other. Both the mining and the fishing industries are hard professions and not without their dangers. But there is a community spirit which once existed in the mining industry and does not any longer but which has always existed in the fishing industry and is perhaps stronger today then it has ever been.

The lesson to be learnt from this comparison is surely this: there must be consultation—and the Government have consulted the fishermen's organisations at every stage in recent years and secured their agreement. Consensus is better than confrontation. The fishermen are happy, but in the mining valleys they are not happy. I think that to some extent that is due to causes which the Government cannot control but which they should master. Perhaps the basic reason is that the fishermen share profits. They have profit sharing. Wages bear some relationship to production. All the fishermen who are sailing in a boat are partners in it. If the boat goes out to sea and does well, they get a jolly good amount of money, but if the boat does very badly, they get hardly any. They accept that. I think that it is a lesson which we have to learn throughout industry.

Before the war I was a member of a small group in another place which was dubbed "the YMCA". The noble Earl, Lord Stockton, was another member. Our policy was based round a slogan: "a property-owning democracy". That is what we in this country want and the inshore fishing industry shows us the way. I am very happy to think that we have saved that industry and that the Government have been of such great assistance. I am sure that we can get the assurances for which we have all been asking, about Spain in particular, and about industrial fishing.

7.47 p.m.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, may I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, for his painstaking and outstanding chairmanship of the committee and also for allowing me to be a member of this particular investigation into the fisheries? I have another reason to be extraordinarily grateful to him, as, indeed, are my colleagues in the south-west. For over 20 years I have sat on various fisheries committees in this House and, even more, in the other place. One would have thought, over that period, that nobody in the south of England fished at all, because never did we see representations, memoranda or requests for delegations. They were just ignored. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, for his very great understanding. If your Lordships look towards the end of the report, your Lordships will find that both the south-eastern Channel ports and the south-western Channel ports have put in their observations and their apprehensions about the fishing industry.

I am on common ground with all my committee colleagues in my apprehension about the entry of Spain into the Common Market. At the risk of endorsement rather than of repetition, may I say how very much we in the Channel ports are concerned with the enormous fleet available to the Spanish fishermen. They have some of the finest, largest and most modern trawlers, which will undoubtedly brave the rigours of the North Sea and plague our fishermen in those parts of the United Kingdom. But the bulk of their fleet, in the middle, are smaller boats whose happy hunting ground will be the English Channel and the Irish seaboard, where they have already made illicit invasions and have poached from time to time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, mentioned, we in Plymouth, with our association with Drake, have for a year been talking about the advent of the second Spanish Armada. We are concerned at the advent of the Spanish fleet coming in under some controlled degree, because we have suffered their poaching in our waters. We have had some successful prosecutions. We have seen their phoney "shell" companies, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, which required only a British skipper and mate for registration. I have met some of these skippers. The only job that the man was allowed to do was to present the documentation at the ports. Otherwise, he was told to stay out of the way while a Spanish skipper and crew ran the trawler, fished in our waters and depleted our quotas, as British ships. We are grateful to my right honourable friend the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for his very prompt legislation, which to a large degree stopped this racket.

The difficult negotiations on the current fisheries policy which were concluded a couple of years ago produced national quotas aligned to the conservation of stocks and the requirements of a viable fishing industry. Therefore, we have to face the fact that any Spanish quota that ignores this formula will either seriously deplete the existing limited national quotas of the current members of that policy or it will wreck the conservation of our stocks. I am wholly at one with the Members of your Lordships' House who have already said that the fisheries policy as agreed must be allowed to continue through its term of years without its current members within the EEC having their whole estimates and arrangements turned upside down yet again. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne and my right honourable friend the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will require all the support that we can give them in these extraordinarily difficult negotiations.

I now turn, if I may, to the controls on abuse, which, to us, are inadequate, monumentally slow and rarely effective. The United Kingdom has a reputation for honouring the international agreements that it signs and for implementing the legislation or regulations that ensue. Some of our EEC partners too often have not the same sense of responsibility. We have seen the Danes overfish their quota of juvenile herring by 170,000 tonnes in 1983 with no retaliatory action by the EEC taken at all. We have seen the Dutch overrun their mackerel quota by 300 per cent. before any action was taken. We were promised 40 inspectors. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that to cut the number down to 13, with the enormous coastlines that they have to patrol, means that their strength is totally inadequate. With modern aids, the mere sight of a patrol boat sends a message flying through the trawler fleets, "Get out of the area!" It is extraordinarily difficult to get the boats that may be overfishing or, indeed, the foreign boats that are not members of the EEC which are poaching.

The EFP, as other Members have said, introduced logbooks. We have waited two whole years. With the speed at which we can print Hansard, it is a pity that HMSO did not have the job of producing those logbooks a little more quickly. It is an outrageous delay that for two years they have been ignored. Catches have been under-reported when, if there had been a big enough inspectorate or a logbook as a guarantee, we might have had a truer picture of the actual catch. The south-west, the south-east and the Channel protest vehemently against the too-small mesh of nets which, in our experience, in our waters, are used by French, Spanish and Danish vessels and which take in so many of our immature fish. The size of the mesh is the best tool that we possess for conserving stocks. The whole question of the size of the mesh must be re-assessed. Unhappily, the advent of vast trawlers catching for industrial purposes, which has been fully discussed here tonight, whereby immature cod, haddock and white fish are swept up, minced and put through liquefaction in bulk storage tanks, makes it extraordinarily difficult for any inspector to establish what fish have been caught. We believe—I think that this is common to all the fishing areas of the country—that there must be much more stringent control of these vessels.

The fishing industry in this country has suffered savage cuts and setbacks over the post-war years. Trawlermen who put their personal savings into their trawlers found their traditional living gone, heavy mortgages round their necks and their trawlers laid up and fetching only scrap metal prices. Their job—and here I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby—is as tough and hazardous as that of any miner. When they lost their boats, they lost their living; they were without jobs. Who shed a tear for the trawlermen? No industry responded so rapidly and so fully to our call during the war for the Merchant Navy convoys. Many of those who responded lost their lives. I hope that our Government will continue, with all their strength, to fight for the rights of our United Kingdom fishermen, to uphold their just claims on quotas and controls. I hope that they will also look sympathetically upon more investment to modernise the fleet and to improve, modernise and bring up to date, as we need to do in competition with some of the most modern fishing ports in the EEC, our distribution, marketing and display of fish in dockside areas.

7.58 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, perhaps I may add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, for the admirable way in which he conducted the team which in the autumn visited Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen. I was one of the lucky people who accompanied him. We spent an extremely interesting four days and probably learnt a great deal. I have had a fairly long experience of Scottish fisheries. I knew that we would be talking to some of the most independent people in Scotland; and we did. They were extremely friendly and anxious to meet us.

I was vividly reminded—the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, will also remember this—of how, 50 years ago, when my husband Walter Elliot was Minister of Agriculture, many of the problems were the same as those we are asked about today; the problem of overfishing, the problem of net mesh sizes and failure to keep to the agreed limits for each country. In the years 1934, 1935 and 1936, the Minister of Agriculture was struggling with just the same matters. In those days the size of the fishing vessels was often far larger and the areas that they covered were much wider because there were no limitations. That was all before the loss of the cod war.

Today there are more limits and the area is much smaller. On the other hand, the problems, curiously enough, seem to be very much the same. The limitations to which we are now accustomed—the 12 miles off the coast reserved for the coastal states, and six miles off the coast reserved exclusively for the countries concerned—have meant that the huge vessels of the past are something we see no more. But, as many noble Lords have said, one of the problems is still over-fishing, which was best illustrated in 1960 when we had to stop herring fishing altogether for about six years. I hope that that will never happen again.

The fishermen we met all asked that the permitted amount of the catches which they are allocated should be fixed in good time; at least two months before the season begins. This delay in allocating both fishing and agricultural amounts is one of the great problems, not to say failures, I think, of the common agricultural policy, because it affects farmers, of course, and it also affects fishermen. I hope that the Government will pursue this very hard because the Commission simply must realise that if the decisions they take on fishing or farming are going to be as late as they are, it will make the situation impossible for those people who are earning their livings and organising great fisheries or farms.

It is one thing to make rules and regulations and another to enforce them. When I look at a map and see the vast areas of sea covered by the fishing industry and bear in mind the very few naval vessels and others which can police these areas, I think that this problem needs to be tackled hard. We know that inspectors have been appointed; I believe the number is 13. I cannot believe that is enough; I cannot believe that 13 ships can cover the whole of the North Sea, the Minch and all the other areas where our fisheries are carried on.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned the extraordinary way in which the logs were to be put out for all the fishermen so that records could be kept. When we were in Scotland in October there were no log books at all. I believe that they have now come out. It was very slow; it was two years before they could get the log books ready and have them distributed. When sitting round the table with the fishermen of Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen we had interesting and chatty meetings, and we learned that they are fairly hostile to the Common Market, to Europe and the other fishing fleets. To overcome this the Commission should make known all that is happening in the fishing industry. Throughout the EEC countries many people said to me "Are you in favour of Europe and the EEC?" I said, "Yes". They looked at me with amazement, as though I must be slightly batty. I am quite sure that they would understand and co-operate, but they are not told anything, and at the last minute some decision is taken which absolutely knocks them out. I think those things are very bad indeed, and I hope that the Government will try—I know they do try—to see that the problems which arise because the EEC and the Commission will not make decisions can by some method or other be changed. The delays and incompetences just increased the opposition, I thought when I was talking to the fishermen, and certainly did no good to the fishing industry.

Many noble Lords have spoken about industrial fishing. We did not talk a great deal about industrial fishing to those we saw because I think most of them were engaged in the ordinary fishing of edible fish and were not concerned with the industrial side. I think it is most important that the regulations which have been drawn up for industrial fishing should be very clearly adhered to and enforced.

I should like to sum up my impressions. We must support our fishing fleet in every way we can, and one way is to see that the waters are patrolled and protected by the inspectors, so that the laws are kept. Secondly, we must see that the Commission publishes its information, its regulations and all the other paraphernalia which is involved in the EEC, at least two or three months before the decisions come into effect. Thirdly, with the advent of Spain and Portugal those fleets must be restricted to the waters agreed with them and must not trespass on the waters which have been allocated as our own fishing areas. Fourthly, we must ensure that the disasters of over-fishing, as in the past, shall never be allowed to happen again.

I think the Minister we have is highly competent and excellent in all these matters. I hope he will realise that this committee and the people who went out are enormously interested and enthusiastic about fishing. We shall watch with great interest what is done by the Government and I hope and pray that they will take the advice of our committee.

8.6 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, on his presentation and especially on the way he conducted the inquiry. I think there is quite a contrast between his vigour on this fishing inquiry and the unit pricing; I know I sympathised and agreed with him about the unit pricing being a difficult inquiry.

I should also like to say how much we in the committee appreciate the readiness of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the production of evidence which has been excellent. Throughout the whole of the time that I have been on Sub-Committee D I do not think we could have been better served by any ministry; even at short notice it has produced detailed evidence to us in a most courteous way.

I hope that this debate will really strengthen our Government's hands in dealing very firmly with the problems which face them on the Spanish position, on the question of long-term decisions, on quotas and on proportions of catches, because the committee has gone into these matters in great detail.

I shall not take too long tonight because everything which needs to be said has been said, in an extremely able way. I thought the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was exceptionally valuable.

We have said that we must have stability in the industry. I should like to suggest that we must make sure that there is still flexibility in other matters as well. If I tell your Lordships about what happened in the Irish Sea, it may explain why I am worried about there not being flexibility. I think it was three years ago that on scientific advice the herring fishery off the Mull of Galloway was closed. The British fishing fleet had to go to the Isle of Man to get its quota. For some unknown reason there came into that fishery an awful lot of immature fish; the proportion of immature fish was 90 per cent. This was seen by officials at first hand; they went out on the boats and saw it. Yet it took two years before it was dealt with. We must have that kind of flexibility. The fishery off the Mull of Galloway has been re-opened, with the exception of the spawning area and that is now operating satisfactorily.

Today fishermen are pleading to be allowed to take mature fish off the north-west coast of Northern Ireland rather than fish outside the 12-mile limit where they are at present, because once again immature fish have gone outside the 12-mile limit and the mature fish are inside. There needs to be that kind of flexibility to react to that situation fairly quickly, without affecting the total conservation stock. As noble Lords know as well as I do, one of the problems of the herring fisheries is that herring are very easily killed. They are killed when they are being hauled in, and there is no question that once they are in the trawl they are finished. The only way to conserve in that area is to make sure that they never get in the net.

Mention has been made of the "armada". I think the west coast of Ireland suffered from the "armada" to a greater extent than nearly anywhere else. It completely changed the breed of the people down that coast. There is no doubt that the fishermen in Northern Ireland, with whom I have talked, are extremely worried about this question of the Spanish fleet coming into the Irish Sea. If it were to come in the effect would be absolutely devastating. Other noble Lords have talked about the problems of the Spanish boats and about the extreme methods they will use to avoid the regulations. I can only repeat my hope that the Government will be extremely tough in dealing with the Spanish accession.

We must see that our conservation is right. We must see that the policing is right. We must see that the Commission demonstrates to our fishermen, by publishing the results of prosecutions or inquiries, that the CFP will be operated fairly. There is no doubt that British fishermen believe that our policing is more strict than that of anybody else. I repeat that I support everything that has been said here tonight, and I hope that this debate gives power to the Government's arm.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Bancroft

My Lords, I speak briefly and diffidently, following so many experts. I have sat at the feet of my noble friend Lord Plowden for nearly 40 years, so he needs no bush from me. I recall that the sub-committee which undertook this inquiry was regarded in some quarters as a posse of gullible Peers being bamboozled by knowing fishermen. Innocent, I have no doubt we are. Knowing, the fishermen certainly are, because that is, after all, the guts of their trade. But although we are innocent, I do not think we are gullible. I think that, of the members of that subcommittee, I am perhaps the one that that epithet touches most nearly, and a quarter of a century in the Treasury taught even me a certain rude scepticism.

If I may, I ask your Lordships to pay attention to the need of those of us in the grip of advancing years for aids to memory. I find it increasingly the case, and I rely on mnemonics. I commend to your Lordships the word "sticese". It sounds a bit like East-End language for comfortable corsetry, but it is in fact not so. It touches on and signifies the seven most important factors in the whole of this area. I add two factors to the five which my noble friend Lord Plowden mentioned. The seven factors are: stability; total allowable catch; industrial fishing; conservation; enforcement; scientific input; enlargement. Those are the factors which seem to me to be the most important.

Other noble Lords have already spoken on all these points. I will speak on only one—stability. I note what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said on this point. Fishing is a rough business, as all of us know. The destabilising factors are beyond count: weather, the mysterious movement of fish stocks, the mortality. The regulatory system should therefore be as stable as may be. Stability, as the report says in paragraph 58, does not exclude sensible flexibility on the margins of the policy". The report is not pleading for an indefinite and unalterable status quo. It is asking for the optimisation of what is already in place; and what is already in place is, on the whole, good. Compared with the CAP, it shimmers with symmetry and with logic. Of course there must be change, but it should be organic change, planned and executed at a digestible rate. I agree with other noble Lords that that is what we must insist on in the CFP. We certainly do not want it breached after 18 months.

The news we have had since the report was published has been, on the whole, encouraging, and we are very grateful to the Minister and his officials for that. I join my noble friend Lord Plowden and other noble Lords in pressing the noble Lord the Minister on the by-catch position following the end of May. There seems to be a shared belief in the importance of stability in order to achieve the common fisheries policy's main objectives; namely, the conservation and proper maintenance and administration of fisheries resources. There is a whole literature about the management of change. May I ask the Minister to consider arranging, either from public or from private funds, the endowment of a university chair on the management of stability? I have a natural hesitation, in present circumstances, about suggesting which university.

I am a north countryman, born and brought up with the sea in my ears and in my nostrils. We owe no conventional debt to the men, and indeed the women, of the sea fisheries. I can remember the great fishing fleets putting into Whitby, not so many years ago. Not so now. Like others of your Lordships, I go from time to time to the garden—that remarkable garden—at Trinity House. It commemorates those who gave their lives from the Merchant Navy and from the fishing fleets. I suggest that we should put a proper value on the fishermen's contribution in peace—as much as, if not more than, we do in times of war. I agree with other noble Lords who know far more about these matters that they are a truly remarkable people.

8.18 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I should like to congratulate Sub-Committee D on its report on the common fisheries policy, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. Under the noble Lord's chairmanship the committee has produced a detailed and penetrating piece of work which the noble Lord introduced with characteristic clarity and vigour. If I may say so, I have learned a good deal this evening from the very interesting speeches that have been made by your Lordships all round the House, not least the last, brief speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. Obviously all noble Lords who spoke are proud of the very detailed document which has been provided and which is going to he a remarkable source document—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, about this—for anyone interested in this subject in time to come.

In the introduction to the report the Select Committee fully endorsed the common fisheries policy in the form in which it was finally agreed in January 1983 after a very long period of intensive and difficult negotiation. But the committee emphasised that the policy has to be made to work through proper enforcement and sound management, and that the United Kingdom has a major role to play in this. I should like to try to illustrate the efforts which the Government are putting in to achieve just those objectives. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, in his opening speech, emphasised the importance of the fact that the CFP's arrangements for access to coastal waters and for apportioning the total allowable catches are not to he changed for 10 or probably 20 years. We also see this as a great advantage, in that it gives fishermen a secure base from which to plan their activities and investment. It should also prevent a recurrence of the damaging uncertainty and lack of regulation that has tended to go with periods of protracted Community negotiation.

Perhaps I may reply to the specific conclusions of the Select Committee. First, the Government certainly do not dissent from the view that short-term political calculations have sometimes resulted in the bidding up of total allowable catches to levels not fully consistent with the longer-term needs of conservation and rational fishery management. However, the Government really do believe that there is an increased willingness to accept the need to take a sensible long-term view in setting TACs, and I am aware of few instances in the last two years when the advice put forward by the Scientific and Technical Committee has not been adequately reflected in the figures set.

The Select Committee noted that the scientists usually offer a range of options in formuiating their advice for each stock so that fishery managers can be fully aware of the likely effects of different courses of action. Here of course we must strike a balance between the short-term needs and the long-term future, a balance which we try to keep in our consultations with the fishing industry at all times. It should also not be forgotten that the level of TACs for the main North Sea joint stocks has become an important bargaining point in the annual consultations between the Community and Norway. After all, Norway does not catch her share of most of the total allowable catch and that is another factor that must be taken into account in assessing the most appropriate levels to go for.

In setting TACs, the Commission and member states are already very conscious of the need to avoid wide fluctuations in permitted catches from one year to another, a point which the report rightly highlighted, as this creates practical difficulties for both fishermen and the onshore industry. However, as your Lordships know very well, we are to some extent at the mercy of nature here, as the total availability of any stock can vary greatly from one year to the next.

Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for repeating those points, which I know are familiar to members of the committee and to your Lordships, but I do so because the fixing of total allowable catches inevitably involves a complex scientific and political process. While it is not always possible to set total allowable catches at the optimal level identified by the scientists, I do assure your Lordships that we make every effort to get as near as we reasonably can to those levels.

The report also highlights the need for total allowable catches to be fixed well before the start of each new fishing year when technical considerations make this possible. This is a matter to which many of your Lordships have referred in your speeches. The Community has taken significant steps towards fulfilling this desirable objective, as again your Lordships were good enough to recognise. When, on 19th December last, the Fisheries Council adopted the 1985 total allowable catches and quotas in their entirety, there was only one more step to take, which was that the United Kingdom put on a reserve pending a parliamentary scrutiny by having a debate in another place. Our reserve was lifted following that debate, which took place on 10th January this year in another place, a debate in which my right honourable friend received a wide measure of congratulation on what the Government had achieved in obtaining both a timely and a satisfactory deal. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, for his words of approval this evening. Thus, for the first time, the Community had effectively agreed total allowable catches and quotas before the start of the year to which they applied.

However, the top priority must surely always be to get the answers right which, in relation to the very important North Sea joint stocks, first involves getting a satisfactory agreement with Norway for the year in question. I would just say here that one rather more welcome aspect of the current unsatisfactory situation in which we do not yet have a solution to the share of North Sea herring which Norway ought to have, is that, unless a further agreement is reached, Norway may not be able to fish for North Sea herring in our zone during 1985 at all, and they will not therefore be directly competing with our fishermen.

The Community has set a total allowable catch for Community fishermen in line with the kind of quantity we had hoped to negotiate with Norway, and this will allow for a United Kingdom North Sea herring quota of 68,890 tonnes, which is 90 per cent. more than it was in 1984.

The Select Committee indicated that industrial fishing is an important element in a balanced common fisheries policy as it spreads the fishing efforts of the Community over a wider range of species. It was the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, who also reminded us that it is a practice which enables stocks unsuitable for human consumption to be exploited economically. Indeed, this is a subject to which almost all your Lordships have referred at some stage in your speeches. I think that it is understandable that the industry representatives who gave evidence to the sub-committee would have had industrial fishing very much on their minds at the time, as the amendment to the rules relating to the Norway pout fishery was at that time very much under discussion in Community institutions. Because of this I wonder whether I may suggest that the Select Committee may have been led to place a little too much emphasis on this aspect of the industry's evidence. From its inquiries, the Select Committee felt that the decision on the Norway pout fishery had undermined the confidence that many of our fishermen had in the Community's commitment to pursue an effective policy of conservation and fisheries management.

While feeling is no doubt still high on this particular issue—and I absolutely accept that the Select Committee was reflecting what was said to it—I believe that the warmth of the industry's welcome for the package of total allowable catches and quotas for the current year, which includes significant improvements in the availability of the main human consumption whitefish stocks in the North Sea, indicates at least some recovery of confidence. This has, I am sure, been reinforced by the steady progress made throughout the latter part of last year in the tightening up enforcement arrangements generally.

Nonetheless, your Lordships may say to me that before I leave this point I must say a few words more about this derogation. I should like to take the opportunity to report on the latest results of the monitoring of the Norway pout fishery which, as noble Lords will be aware, was one of the conditions attaching to the temporary derogation. The results of the sampling carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland in a total of 78 inspections since October show that in 80 per cent. of the catches the by-catch has, in fact, been less than 10 per cent. Figures returned to the European Commission by Denmark show that landings in the last quarter of 1984 were 88 per cent. Norway pout. This does not, so far at least, suggest the sort of mayhem which some fishermen seem to have feared.

In the evidence given to the Select Committee, reference was also made to the practical difficulty of enforcing the by-catch rules in industrial fisheries. Because we recognised this difficulty we insisted as a condition of the derogation that a Commission regulation be introduced to clarify the sampling procedure. This regulation was made on 5th December 1984 and establishes for the first time a clear procedure to be adopted during sampling. On the subject of enforcement, in the one instance, which was mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Campbell of Croy, where a Danish trawler was found to have a by-catch in excess of the 18 per cent. limit, proceedings were, of course, brought in the Lerwick Sheriff Court, and the skipper was fined and his net confiscated.

The derogation on the Norway pout by-catch limit expires on 31st May of this year. Thereafter, unless the council decides otherwise on a proposal by the Commission, the original 10 per cent. by-catch limit will apply. Any proposals to vary the 10 per cent. rule will have to be considered in the light of the current scientific advice and of the results of the monitoring of the fishery between October 1984 and May 1985.

In answer to the direct question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy, Lord Mottistone and others, I can give an assurance that the paramount consideration in the view of Her Majesty's Government will be the adequate protection of the juvenile components of the human consumption stock in the North Sea.

The third point on which the committee has made specific observations is the enlargement of the Community to include Spain and Portugal. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, showed in clear terms that Spanish accession presents considerable potential problems in the fisheries sector—the main difficulty for us of course lying in Spain's desire to improve her access to Community resources and current member states' waters to the possible detriment of British, French, and Irish fishermen in particular. A solution to this problem is critical to the conclusion of the fisheries chapter of the accession negotiations, and it is not proving easy. The Foreign Affairs Council will be addressing the remaining unresolved issues at the next meeting to be held from 17th to 20th March.

The Select Committee's report highlighted the need to ensure that opportunities for Spanish vessels should continue to be limited to those species for which there are no total allowable catches and quotas, except where Spain already has fishing rights for stocks that are currently subject to TACs and quotas. Spain does of course have established fishing rights, as we know, under the European Communities/Spain fisheries agreement for certain species subject to national quotas; namely, hake, monkfish and megrim.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said that the Government's attitude so far has been robust, and he expressed the hope that this attitude would continue. May I say that one of the basic elements of the Community's position in the current negotiations with Spain is that where the total allowable catch for a particular stock has already been fully allocated between the existing member states there can be no question of reopening the allocation to allow Spain a share.

This is a point to which the Government attach very great importance. The precise level of Spain's share of the total allowable catches for hake, monkfish and megrim after accession is still a matter for negotiation. Your Lordships will forgive me if at this point I can only say that the Community has so far held firmly to the view that the principle of the "relative stability" of the existing member states' shares of the total allowable catches as agreed in 1983 must be preserved, and that the danger against which the Select Committee has warned—namely, that member states' quotas might be reduced in order to increase the quantities available to Spain, is most unlikely to materialise.

The Select Committee also referred to the need to limit the areas in which Spanish vessels will be allowed to fish after accession. One of the main subjects of the present negotiations with Spain concerns the scope, extent and duration of the direct controls on Spanish fishing effort after accession. Again your Lordships will forgive me for not being too precise about the negotiating position of the two sides at the moment; but I should make clear that the Community are rightly insisting that the number of Spanish vessels operating in the waters of the existing member states should continue to be subject to specific and enforceable limits for a very long period, if not for the full duration of the present common fisheries policy.

There is also a determination to maintain the "Irish Box" for a long transitional period, and to ensure that access to waters not currently fished by Spain—if indeed any such access is provided at all—should be subject to the strictest possible controls. Therefore the Government have so far been successful in ensuring that the Community's position is such as to safeguard the present balance of the common fisheries policy and the interests of our fishermen.

May I say just a word about enforcement. While it is right for each member state to be responsible for enforcement in its own waters, it is also of importance to ensure that the rules of the common fisheries policy are properly enforced by all member states. A good deal of progress has been made so far in this area. The Commission's Inspectorate of Inspectorates—for that is what it is—which was set up at the instigation of the United Kingdom, made over 50 visits to member states in 1984 and has uncovered a number of irregularities. As a result, the Commission has opened the procedures under Article 169 of the Treaty in specific cases.

We are satisfied that the number of inspectors is adequate for their present duties; but I can assure your Lordships that we shall not hesitate to press for more if in the future this appears necessary. My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood referred to the need for the Commission inspectorate's findings to be published in order that fishermen should have confidence in the system. We have already asked at the Council on 4th December for a report from the Commission, and we trust that this is going to be forthcoming.

The importance attached by the Commission to observance of quotas is demonstrated by the fact that they closed over 40 fisheries prematurely to other member states last year, and have recently written to all member states asking for explanations of why certain quotas were over-fished in 1983 and 1984. I agree with my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith that we must do everything we can to prevent over-fishing, and we shall continue to press the Commission to take appropriate action on any systematic over-fishing of quotas which is substantiated.

I am also sure that further improvements in quota observance will result from the introduction of standard log books and landing returns in all member states, about which again your Lordships have spoken in not particularly approving terms this evening. But nonetheless at least we are on course, and on 1st April those items are going to be put into place.

It is fair to say that this is, to a great extent, due again to efforts from Britain, and not least the efforts put in by the two reports of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House. We realise that there is going to be an extra burden placed on our own fishermen so far as log books and landing returns are concerned; but we know that the industry as a whole, which has supported us all along in this, is pleased that this additional measure of control is coming into effect.

Finally, your Lordships' committee also drew attention to the dangers of loss of economic viability in the industry. In particular, your Lordships referred to the use of licensing arrangements to regulate fishing effort and to relate capacity to fishing opportunities. Vessel licensing is in fact the basis of all our arrangements for managing the United Kingdom quotas. Last year, 1984, was the first full year-of managing quotas, and various arrangements were introduced to ensure that there was equitable allocation of quotas among United Kingdom fishermen; that there was sufficient flexibility to maximise fishing opportunities; and that fisheries lasted for as long as possible throughout the year.

Before introducing any measures, we fully consulted the fishing industry in developing quota management arrangements to suit the particular needs of each fishery. But as regards the other use of licensing—that is to say, simply to control capacity—we introduced a system of restrictive licensing last February to protect the benefits of the decommissioning grant scheme and to place a limit on the number of vessels fishing for those pressure stocks where quotas were already insufficient to maintain the existing capacity of the fleet.

I believe that the industry generally have recognised the need for the scheme, and while inevitably it met with some criticism from those who have been unable to obtain licences I believe that we have operated it fairly and have given due consideration to a variety of special cases. The Select Committee—and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, specifically mentioned this—regretted that other member states have made little progress on the development of licensing arrangements.

If I may say so I do not think the Government feel that it would be in Britain's interest to promote a Community-wide scheme of licensing and all this would imply. Other member states are having to tackle the problem of living within a quota. Some of them have their own arrangements for supervision of investment in new vessels, for example. But it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that we recently received a report from the Netherlands on the introduction there of a system of restrictive licensing for vessels catching quota species which seems in certain respects to have followed the example of this country.

Briefly, I shall answer a question or two. A point was put to me both by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and by my noble friend Lord Mottistone about a proposal put forward by Mr. James Provan, a member of the European Parliament, about Spanish fishing in waters around the Falklands. Just a word of caution here: I would have some doubts about whether increased fishing opportunities in the South Atlantic, if available, would be of great interest to those Spanish vessels based on Spain's northern coast, which are accustomed to looking nearer at hand for their livelihood and which are the vessels which would wish to have their eyes upon the northern waters of the Community.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, made an important point about fish processing. I should like to put on record that the Government provide aid where necessary to enable those involved in fish processing and marketing to qualify for aid from the European Community and, through the Sea Fish Industry Authority, we make money available to small companies for loans towards the purchase or improvement of fish processing plants. On top of this, the Government have recently announced that we are spending nearly £8 million on the Sea Fish Industry Authority's development programme, which should improve all stages of fish handling and marketing. The Department of Trade and Industry also provides grants in the form of regional aid and selective financial assistance; so, in no way contradicting what the noble Lord has perceived from his own experience, we are now trying to do something to reverse the process.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked me a specific question about areas closed for herring fishing in the Irish Sea. I give my noble friend an assurance that closed areas for herring fishing in the Irish Sea was a question raised at the Council of Ministers in December when the total allowable catches and quotas were set. It was agreed then that these areas would need to be the subject of review by the international scientific experts. I am sure my noble friend would agree that it is right in these matters to act on the basis of proper scientific advice.

I hope that I have made it clear that for the most part the Government share the views of the Select Committee and are working actively in the directions recommended by the Committee. I again thank your Lordships for a most valuable report and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, for initiating this debate this evening.

Lord Plowden

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and in particular to thank Lord Boothby for speaking from his wide experience of the fishing industry. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, who took part in our consultations and brought a wealth of experience which none of the rest of us could possibly match.

I welcome the speech of the noble Lord the Minister. I think he felt that we perhaps paid too much attention to the fears of the fishermen's representatives about the increase in the allowable by-catch from 10 per cent. to 18 per cent. and the explanation was given that, with some exceptions, the by-catch had not been very distant from 10 per cent. But the fears were based on uncertainty. The agreement had been reached in 1983–84 and in September 1984 suddenly there was a change. It was only, as far as I can understand it, at the insistence by the British Minister of Agriculture that it was not a permanent change: it was to be a limited change. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will agree with me that it was perfectly justifiable on the part of the fishermen's representatives to feel uncertain about the whole of the common fisheries policy if after it had just been concluded, it could be altered in such a way.

I welcomed the speech of the noble Lord the Minister and his assurances about the Government's intention not to allow the by-catch to be increased arbitrarily. I believe he said that from 31st May it will revert to 10 per cent. from the present 18 per cent. No doubt that will be subject to negotiation. I welcome his assurances about the resolute stand that the Government take on entry of the Spaniards to the Common Market because it was that even more than the by-catch that, as noble Lords have said, alarmed Britain and the other fishing countries in the Community. I thank everyone for the constructive way in which this debate has taken place.

On Question, Motion agreed to.