HL Deb 02 March 1992 vol 536 cc571-2

2.56 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in respect of the submission to the European Communities of nominal fish catch statistics by member states fishing in the North-East and North-West Atlantic, as required by Council Regulations 3880/91 and 3881/91 of 19th December 1991, they will provide the estimated cost, and the administrative steps necessary, to ensure compliance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the United Kingdom has been compiling this information both for its own purposes and to submit to international bodies for at least 20 years. These regulations convert long established practice into Community legislation so that the Commission can meet its obligations under certain international conventions. It is not envisaged that compliance with the regulations will require additional costs or administrative steps for the United Kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Government's explanatory memorandum on the original proposal stated that: The purpose of the proposal is to convert into Community legislation the Statlant 21A questionnaire adopted informally several years ago and used since then by member states to report annual catches to international organisations"? Is he further aware that what happened was that a number of underworked bureaucrats decided to convert an informal arrangement into legislation requiring 31 pages, oceans of paper and thousands of man hours, all for a completely redundant purpose which was already being served? Does that not provide a further example of the cascades of regulations descending upon this country and other member countries from the European bureaucracy, at least 50 per cent. of which are redundant and quite useless and should never have been incorporated in any statute book?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that the arrangements in the United Kingdom were adequate. But within the Community there were member states whose arrangements were not operating successfully. The regulation was introduced not to catch out Britain but to catch out other countries.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the House will be pleased to hear the points raised by my noble friend and the replies of the Minister. It is an important issue. Can the Minister say whether the proposed enhancement of the scheme for joint international inspection adopted last September by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission will reduce the need for fish catch statistics? That is especially so because the aerial surveillance promised by the Canadians will be provided free. Will that not allow the statistics to be incorporated into the scheme of international inspection and make it much simpler than it is at present?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that the offer by the Canadians to introduce free aerial surveillance will be useful. However, that is only half the story. It will help to show who is fishing where and in what boats but it will not provide a statistical return of what is caught. That is why the regulation was introduced.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what a nominal fish catch is?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that that is the word to describe fish which are measured as whole fish as opposed to gutted fish.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are so many generalisations and let-outs in this mammoth regulation that any figures which are produced and made available are probably completely worthless? Will he tell the House what has happened to what has euphemistically been called "the deregulation initiative" which I understand has been in operation for some time? Is the noble Lord also aware that its objective is, as stated, to get rid of useless and redundant regulations? Can he tell the House whether this kind of regulation will be included in that new initiative?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, clearly this Government have been very successful in getting rid of redundant legislation introduced by the Labour Party when it was in government. This is European legislation and we are committed to it under our international obligations.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I have been very charitable in not referring to the Government. However, if the noble Lord cares to treat this matter on a partisan basis I am more than equal to the challenge.