HL Deb 10 November 1992 vol 540 cc91-106

3.9 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Howe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Licensing of fishing boats]:

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No.1:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert: ("() In subsection (I), leave out ("may") and insert ("shall")").

The noble Earl said: The purpose of the first amendment is simple. It is to lay an obligation on the Government or future governments to license all commercial fishing vessels. To date, those under 10 metres in length have been largely if not completely ignored. That does not adequately take account of the potential of ships of that size or indeed their number. We are dealing with the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill and it seems ridiculous that it should be left at the behest of governments to decide whether or not they license all ships.

It is my suggestion that governments must do so unless we are just playing with words. To go into a sensible scheme of whatever kind without taking notice of the smaller vessels would be rather like going into a boxing match with one hand tied behind one's back. There are plenty of precedents, or at least one salient precedent, to show that the fact that smaller vessels are not licensed has been detrimental to sea fish conservation. I refer to an earlier decommissioning scheme of which one fault was that the bigger ships could be decommissioned. The owners, having taken their money, were able to purchase a number of ships of under 10 metres and continue trading as before, having put a sum of money into their pockets. At least, that is how I understand it.

I make that one of the main planks to support the amendment because, as the Committee will know from the Second Reading, decommissioning must eventually be the answer to dealing with this rather difficult situation of sea fish disappearing. Eventually, if that happens, fishing communities will go down the same road.

The force of the Bill is to limit fishing by tying up. As the Committee will remember from the Second Reading, this was unpopular or very unpopular indeed. But it also seems to me that, if we reach a situation of having to tie up vessels to reduce the fishing effort, by the same token as decommissioning, it is unfair on vessels over 10 metres to have to tie up if the potential for catching fish is left with the smaller vessels. Possibly, the same difficulties might arise as with a previous decommissioning scheme.

This is a simple matter and I end by repeating that it seems ridiculous to deal with any Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill without knowing what is going on so that we can organise matters. That seems wrong. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

I am sure that my noble friend will be pleased to know that the Government have already announced their intention to extend fishing licences to vessels of 10 metres and under so that this sector of the fleet cannot extend further. This step has been widely welcomed by the fishing industry. It was part of the package of measures which we announced earlier this year, with the aim of reducing effort and capacity in the UK fleet. We are now finalising the details of the new licensing system and hope to make an announcement soon.

Once the Sea Fish Licensing Order is amended, the licensing regime will apply to all vessels wishing to fish for sea fish (except salmon and migratory trout) for profit in domestic waters. There is no need to amend the primary legislation to achieve the aim of extending licensing to cover the 10 metre or under fleet. I therefore hope that my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Radnor

I am content. I was not absolutely clear what was the Government's position regarding the licensing of smaller vessels. It still seems strange that it should be left to the discretion of future governments whether or not they license, and that is how I understand the matter stands under the 1967 Act. I cannot remember the precise clause under which licensing is permitted.

It is encouraging to hear that it is the proper intention of the Government to carry out licensing and that we shall hear further details soon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No.2:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert: ("() After subsection (2) (which provides for limitations concerning the type of fish, method, season or period) there shall be inserted— (2A) An order made under this section in respect of fishing in an area may make provision for controlling fishing in Specified Areas being areas delineated by the Ministers following advice from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on the effects of fishing on the marine environment." ").

The noble Lord said:This amendment has not been put forward in the hope of reducing fishing effort, indeed it does not tackle the rather sticky and controversial issue of tie-up or decommissioning. It looks at the other aspect of the Bill—conservation.

The idea of the amendment is to introduce areas or boxes in which fish stocks or certain types of fish can be protected and therefore restock the whole environment. I wish to give an example of one area where boxing has worked. Sand eels have been protected around the Scottish coast under legislation which can be removed. As they are at the bottom of the food chain, with most other stocks of fish eating them, that can only benefit the long-term future of the fish industry.

The fishing industry is in such straits because of the over-fishing that has taken place. One of the areas lacking is that there has not been enough research over a long period into fish stocks and what fishing will do to sensitive members of the marine eco-system such as sharks, sand eels or other elements apart from the main staple stocks.

The idea of the boxes would be to protect more vulnerable members of the marine eco-system and also areas in which breeding stocks of fish could be maintained. The proposal is that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee should look into this aspect of the amendment and see where the boxes ought to be set up. The amendment concerns the future of the fishing industry. No one here will deny that many groups of fish are under threat due to over-fishing or will be threatened in the future.

I wish to put forward a recommendation by the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities common fisheries policy which recommends that: more use should be made of closed boxes and marine protected areas".

Such boxes are a vital, essential management measure of the goal of a fishing policy. I beg to move.

Lord Gallacher

On this side of the House, we have some sympathy with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, particularly as he is able to pray in aid the observations of your Lordships' Select Committee in the report on the common fisheries policy. We are also familiar with the position regarding sand eels because it is frequently the subject of Questions in your Lordships' House.

Our anxiety as regards the amendment, however, is based on its practicality. It is certainly in line with conservation aims, but I wonder whether, when the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government, he will be able to tell us, on their assessment of its terms, that it is a practical amendment from the enforcement angle and whether, if enforced, it would not unduly restrict those who must fish in the areas in which they are entitled to fish without the imposition of boxes where they are not allowed to fish. If, for example, in order to protect fish, boxes were created where catchable fish were not allowed to be caught because they were in the box, what effect would all that have on TACs which already concern fishermen under the provisions of this Bill? We have sympathy for the proposition but we are hoping for clarification from the Minister.

The Earl of Selborne

While I agree that the proposal is a highly admirable objective I rather wonder whether the clause under discussion is the appropriate place to try to achieve such ends. It seems to me that unless one puts these closed boxes and marine protected areas into the common fisheries policy, as opposed to a national fisheries policy, one is discriminating against one's own fisheries industry. I should declare an interest as chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Nothing would delight the committee more than to try to help to establish marine protected areas. I believe, however, that the amendment is not the appropriate vehicle for achieving those commendable aims. I hope that when the common fisheries policy is reviewed next month the Council of Ministers will bear in mind the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has made a powerful case and it is a case with which the Government have a good deal of sympathy. I understood from the general tenor of his remarks that this may be a probing amendment to ascertain what action the Government intend to take in the environmental field and specifically what action the Government intend to take to meet their obligations under the European Community habitats directive so far as this relates to sea fishing. I am glad to have the opportunity to put the Government's position on record.

The Government recognise that fishing practices can have an adverse effect on the marine environment. That is why we supported the passage earlier this year of the Sea Fisheries (Wildlife Conservation) Act. That requires fisheries regulators, including Ministers, in discharging their functions in relation to sea fishing, to have regard to the conservation of marine flora and fauna and to balance that consideration with others which they are required to take into account.

We recognise that additional measures will be required to implement the provision in the habitats directive for Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), which may include areas of sea. However, we need to consider carefully how this should be done in consultation with interested parties, including the fishing and environmental interests. Separate primary legislation may well be required and we propose to issue a consultation paper on this next year.

The noble Lord's amendment would pre-empt that process. I hope that he will recognise, as the Government do, that this is not a matter which can be dealt with appropriately by an amendment to an Act concerned with the regulation of fishing rather than with the marine environment. That is an area that is not really covered by the Bill. However, I should tell the noble Lord that the mid-term review of fisheries that is currently under way will support the maintenance of the Shetland box which is an important ingredient of the common fisheries policy. As I said, the amendment would pre-empt the process of wide consultation that I have outlined. I have tried to be reassuring about the general point of principle here, and I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Redesdale

I thank the Minister for those comments and for informing me that the Government are looking closely at this issue. I look forward to seeing the legislation when it appears. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("which restriction shall be no greater than that imposed on any vessel of any other Member State of the Community having an entitlement to fish the stocks which are fished in common with any vessel which may be restricted in terms of this paragraph." ").

The noble Lady said:The intention of the Bill, it is understood, is to ensure that a reduction in effort leads, first, to a reduction in the capacity of the fleet and, secondly, to making more difficult the possibility of quotas being exceeded. Ministers have undertaken that a reduction below the 1991 level of effort, which is to apply in 1993, will not be introduced unless they are satisfied that member states which share our fishery stocks have taken effective steps to meet their own multi-annual guidance programme targets. Those "effective steps" are not defined.

The purpose of the amendment is therefore to ensure that the effective steps are the same as those being taken in the United Kingdom and no less restrictive. Our Ministers may argue that a member state with a fully fledged decommissioning scheme is taking effective steps. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, on Second Reading of the Bill at cols. 980 to 981 of Hansard of 26th October, said that although the decommissioning schemes, may help to rationalise the structure of the internal fishing industry of any particular country, they have not reduced fishing effort".

Ministers should understand therefore that the introduction of expansive decommissioning schemes in other member states of the Community can never be regarded as the equivalent of days at sea restrictions imposed in the United Kingdom. It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, has virtually said that. It is essential to ensure that United Kingdom vessels are not operating at a commercial disadvantage compared with their competitors in other member states. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I rise to support this amendment to which my name is added. It is a simple case. Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber know of the depth of feeling and fear aroused among many fishermen as regards this issue. It is essential that the Government are able to show they have a level playing field. All of us here and indeed the Government know of cases of what is termed "quota hopping", or some such phrase, which means that foreign vessels which are registered in this country and land their fish elsewhere register doubtful counts against their quotas. For this enormously unpopular and draconian measure to be accepted, the fishermen of this country must know they are not being penalised unfairly while fishermen elsewhere are not faced with the same restriction.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The amendment raises quite an important point regarding protection of our fishing industry. I wholly agree with what the noble Lady said about the necessity of securing that restrictions should be no tougher than those imposed by other countries. However, I am a little puzzled by the fact that Members of the Committee opposite whose names are attached to the amendment limit its wording to, any other Member State of the Community". It is at least possible that states which are not members of the Community will impose restrictions. It is surely the case that we want to make sure that our restrictions are no more severe on our people than those imposed by any foreign state, whether a member of the Community or not.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I, too, support the amendment to which my name is attached. I wish to speak to Amendment No. 3A as it tries to achieve the same purpose but in a different way. The remarks of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, are supportable. Indeed, if the Government are right in their arguments that future conservation can only be achieved by this method of time at sea—the measure will apply not just to British fishermen but to fishermen in the whole of Europe—they should be pursuing with all active power at their elbow ways to persuade other countries to adopt the measure.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, rightly says that British fishermen, who at the moment are deeply worried about their future viability, their businesses and their bank loans, should be given the comfort that this provision will only be applied if other countries within the European Community follow suit. Leaving aside for the moment the point raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, which is a very good point, I believe that at present it should be restricted to Community members.

I am sure that none of us disagrees that the issue of conservation is vital for the future and that any encouragement which the Government can give, not only to our industry but for the future of European fishing, will be welcome.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

We on this side of the Committee support the amendment. For that reason I added my name to it. It is an important amendment because it goes to the heart of the problem of our participation in the common fisheries policy. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, raised the wider issue, and quite rightly so. Perhaps in framing the amendment we have been too limited in our vision and too narrow in our objectives.

The nature of TACs is such, as we know from our experience of quota hopping, that they are not really the province of the member state. The member state admittedly administers the quotas, but other countries in membership of the Community may, under certain conditions, take their share of the fish covered by the quotas. Provided the regulations are observed, at present there can be no objection to that. British fishermen have always lived, somewhat unhappily, with that position. In legislation relating to marine transport the British Government attempted to place some restrictions on foreign vessels from other member states fishing here, but in the event an adverse ruling by the European Court of Justice meant that the relevant clause of the Act in question was no longer sustainable.

Therefore, in a situation in which a Bill of this kind, with the tougher penalties which it imposes and its modest attempt to introduce a decommissioning scheme, is necessary, while conditions for the moment are unlikely to be worse under the Bill than they were in 1991, it behoves the Committee to consider the future. That is the purpose of the amendment. I believe that it is fair and reasonable to ask the Government to make that, if not an article of faith, then at least an objective of policy. If that were done I believe it would satisfy all parts of the Chamber. It would certainly be welcomed by the fishing industry and it might give cause for some satisfaction that the Bill in its totality will not be as harmful as fishermen believe it to be at present.

The Earl of Selborne

I have some difficulty with the amendment and with the debate so far. We do not seem to have recognised that in 1991 one of the problems was that we were one of the countries which had failed to bring its capacity into line with the required multi-annual guidance programmes. I believe that, if we are to consider the matter on a European basis, as the amendment suggests, we should at least acknowledge in this debate that we are well out of line with a number of other countries in trying to bring our capacity into line with that proposed in the common fisheries policy. I draw the Committee's attention to page 61 of the European Communities Committee's report, which sets out those countries which were in default, of which we were one of the major offenders. A number of countries which are often alleged to be encroaching on our fisheries, such as Spain, Ireland and the like, are not in default. That point should at least be acknowledged.

However, I do not believe that quota hopping is particularly relevant. It is a separate issue, and a serious one, but I do not believe that it is applicable to this particular amendment. If a boat from another national fleet joins our fleet, thereby quota hopping, it has to abide by our own regulations. Therefore, that issue is not relevant to the present situation.

I believe that we have to consider the issue in the context of total allowable catches (TACs). That is the basis of how the fishery effort is divided. As Members of the Committee know, that in turn allows national quotas to be determined. Those national quotas are then allotted by species for each fisheries area. Therefore it has to be recognised that tying-up does not reduce the national quota or total allowable catch. However, if one has failed, as we lamentably have, to match one's capacity to one's quotas, then one simply has to do something else. Sub-Committee D and almost every speaker at Second Reading agreed that it would be much better if we could achieve a balance between capacity and effort so that tying-up would not be necessary.

We cannot ignore the fact that we have failed lamentably in our responsibilities under the common fisheries policy. It would appear that until we have achieved a balance we have to consider tying-up as an alternative.

The Earl of Radnor

I should like to endorse what my noble friend has just said. It seems to be almost impossible to figure out what a level playing field will be because as a country we did not enter into the multi-annual guidance programme. Therefore, we did not decommission vessels on the same scale as the rest of Europe. Also, we did not take the bonus that would have resulted from doing so to provide for the modernisation of the fleet. That is another complication. We went down a different route altogether. It will be impossible to say whether or not there is a level playing field.

There appears to be a good argument in favour of us now turning quite vigorously towards decommissioning and away from tying-up so that at least we can start to operate on the same level as our partners in Europe. Then we can begin to compare our position and see whether or not we are being done down.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I had not intended to intervene in this debate. I see the point of the amendment. However, there is one point relating to negotiations with the other member states which concerns me. I believe that it ought to be borne in mind that over the past few years we have been able to benefit from the Hague Preference, which allows us to have a greater TAC for haddock in the North Sea than would otherwise be possible. I hope that in any negotiations with Europe my noble friend the Minister will not endanger the Hague Preference, which has been so valuable, particularly to Scottish fishermen, in the case of haddock.

Lord Campbell of Croy

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, mentioned quota hopping and the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, spoke of the reference to the European Court in relation to the same subject. I should like to say a little more on the subject than my noble friend Lord Selborne, who pointed out that that is a completely different problem. It must be dissociated from the matter we are discussing.

I have raised that issue at Question Time and during debates, as Members of the Committee will remember. Quota hopping is a problem which relates entirely to Spanish vessels which are registered at British ports. They do all they can to employ a percentage of British crews. About two years ago we adopted an Act of Parliament introducing a new register. That would have made it very difficult for Spanish vessels to get on to the register and qualify for the British quota. Subsequently cases were referred to the European Court. Everything is now held up while we await further legal proceedings.

I have pointed out that that is a weakness in the EC policy. Within individual fisheries, quotas are allotted among EC members entirely according to nationality. On the other hand, another part of the EC Commission is doing its best to try to bring the nations together and do away with differences between nationalities. It is that aspect which has commended itself to the European Court and which was the reason for its judgment so far. As long as quotas are allotted according to nationalities and as long as the European Court takes the view that difference of nationality should not be allowed to stop Spanish boats fishing for our quotas, we are in a cul-de-sac.

However, that is a separate question. As I see it, the Spanish boats which succeed in qualifying to fish for our quota, and establish themselves as British boats operating from British ports, will be subject to exactly the same conditions as our own British boats. Our fishermen are always quite rightly annoyed about it because theoretically it increases the British fishing fleet who have to fish for the limited British quotas, but that is a separate question. I would ask my noble friend Lord Howe to confirm in his reply that quota hopping does not arise here because those Spanish boats that are qualifying at the moment will be subject to exactly the same regulations as British boats.

Lord Moyne

I suggest that we look at the wording of the amendment, which does not have much to do with national quotas but is concerned with individual vessels. It seems to me to be exceedingly unfair if it is possible for an individual British vessel to be penalised to a greater extent than an individual foreign vessel. It seems to me that that is the point of the amendment. That is why I support it and hope it will go through.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

In relation to quota hopping, our fishermen are deeply suspicious that registration of fish landed at a Spanish port under the British quota may be erratic, to put it mildly. Another point is that in the negotiations over the common fisheries policy and the MAGP, only three states were in line at the time. I do not think that that point will stand examination.

Lord Campbell of Croy

The point is that those vessels would be subject to the tying-up scheme in British ports. If this Bill and the scheme go through, boats that are Spanish but manage to register as British will be tied up in British ports.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The point I was trying to make was that our fishermen fear that in their time at sea those vessels might well be able to exceed their quota through landing it elsewhere. We have a fishery policy; and the Norwegians, for example, adhere to their waters and protect them and adhere to the rules as regards ours. I believe it is up to the Government to give us the arguments against it; but the main thrust of the point is that a sense of unfairness will not make the regulations work well.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I, like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about this. There is no question but that the amendment relates to the letters we have all had from fishermen all over the country who are extremely worried about the effects of the Bill, probably not as it stands at the moment but how it might be in the future.

I do not know whether the Minister would agree, but the solution suggested in the amendment could not really work from what we discovered on Sub-committee D, which looked at the whole problem. It would be very difficult to know precisely what was happening in some of the other countries. It would be ideal if one could. Quite apart from the legal problems to which my noble friend Lord Sanderson referred, it would be difficult to find out. The problem is not quite as clear-cut as we would like it to be. To depend on finding out what the people who were doing least or getting round the questions the slowest were doing before we did anything would be very damaging to our fishermen.

As I am sure will be revealed as we go along to those who have not looked into the matter in any detail, the Bill is as much about protecting our fishermen from what others of their number are doing as it is about protecting them from fishermen in other countries. It seems to me that this particular solution would be very difficult to implement and could not work. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says and, if possible, what the Government are going to do to make sure that Community policy ensures that our fishermen are on as level a playing field as possible. That is what is behind all the fears.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Moyne

Is the noble Baroness not confusing that which foreign fishermen are entitled to do with that which they are doing? People can always break regulations, but what is important is that legally there should be a playing field and it should be ensured that administratively the playing field is level. But I suggest that legally it must be made level by this Parliament.

Earl Howe

We have listened to a number of powerful speeches reflecting many of the concerns expressed at Second Reading and the depth of feeling that I know exists in the fishing industry. I intend to respond in some detail.

Perhaps I could start by asking all noble Lords, including some of my noble friends who may entertain doubts about the Bill, to listen to what I shall be saying in its justification and to accept that this is not some hasty or ill-considered government measure but one designed to help our fishing industry and one which I believe the industry can adopt and implement successfully.

I understand the concern that lies behind the amendment; namely the wish to ensure that United Kingdom fishermen are not treated more harshly than their European counterparts in national and Community efforts to conserve fish stocks. But I must make it clear at the outset that the amendment, which goes to the heart of the Bill, is in substance and consequence a wrecking amendment and can in no circumstances be accepted by the Government. It is a wrecking amendment because it prevents the United Kingdom from using effort control to meet our MAGP targets if any other member state chooses not to do so. That means all other member states must introduce effort control before we can. This is simply unacceptable. We cannot allow our whole conservation policy, upon which the future of our industry depends, to hang upon detailed rules generated in other member states. Even if the point of principle were not so offensive, the amendment could mean that in practice we might never be able to implement this part of the Bill.

Why is it so important for the United Kingdom to introduce effort controls? Noble Lords opposite would like a larger decommissioning scheme and to place greater reliance on technical measures. Even in conjunction, these will not do. Technical measures, though valuable and important, cannot, as I explained at Second Reading, be appropriate for mixed fisheries, nor can they prevent excessive fishing. As the Government have acknowledged, decommissioning has a part to play, but the good done by decommissioning can be undone at a stroke by allowing those vessels which remain in the fleet to increase their fishing effort either by increased time at sea or by adopting technological improvements.

The advice of scientists—international scientists as well as our own—is that the remaining necessary measure if we are to control our fish stocks successfully is effort control. Noble Lords have questioned why we intend to impose days at sea restrictions on our fleet when other member states may not see fit to do so. My answer to that is to question the need to draw international comparisons when what we are trying to protect is our own industry.

The United Kingdom fleet accounts for 89 per cent. of the haddock quota in the North Sea, 52 per cent. of the whiting quota and 46 per cent. of the cod quota. In comparison with other member states, the United Kingdom's share of fish stocks around our coasts is very substantial. Yet it is these stocks which in some cases have reached critical levels. If we are serious about conservation it is up to us above all to take the necessary steps to conserve. No other member state will protect our industry for us. It is no good our saying that effort control is not a perfect instrument or that we should move at the pace of the slowest; the problem needs to be addressed now. If not, the stocks will disappear and with them our fishing industry. Other member states will have their MAGP targets and they too will have their annual entitlements of fish. Those entitlements will not be increased simply because the United Kingdom is introducing effort control.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, mentioned the so-called quota hoppers. I do not want to belittle the concern and resentment generated by the problem of quota hoppers but I do not think we ought to over-emphasise the size of that problem in relation to our conservation difficulties as a whole. Quota hoppers are registered and licensed in the UK and will be subject to the provisions of the Bill, as my noble friends Lord Campbell and Lord Selborne rightly pointed out. I remind the Committee that this Bill has teeth in the form of substantially increased penalties for the infringement of a licence condition. There are also a number of ways in which our ability to police the quota hoppers can be tightened.

Let me clear up another point of confusion. The effort control measures to be brought in under the Bill are not in the least intended to prevent fishermen from catching their full entitlement of quota. We are not out to curtail fishermen's income from legitimate fishing. What effort control does aim to curtail is the discarding and the black fishing which unrestricted days at sea make easy for some vessel owners. Black fishing, illegal fishing above quota entitlements, is a serious problem in some sections of the fleet, and it is that problem on which the days at sea restriction should make an impact.

In the first instance we intend to freeze fishing effort at last year's levels. That should not cause fishermen undue difficulties. After that, we may decide that it is necessary to reduce days at sea to a lower level. But if we do, we shall come to both Chambers, as I shall be explaining in a later amendment, with an affirmative resolution order, which we shall not make unless we are satisfied that other member states are taking effective steps to meet their MAGP targets. That is a commitment previously given by my honourable friend in another place, Mr. Curry, and I am happy to confirm that, when any such affirmative resolution is debated we shall provide the Chamber with an account of the actions of other member states.

I hope that Members opposite will feel that that undertaking meets the essence of their concerns in this amendment and that the noble Lady will not press it. As I said, the United Kingdom must be left free to take the action which it thinks necessary to conserve the stocks on which the livelihood of our fishermen depend. We cannot allow our hands to be tied by other member states, as this amendment proposes. For many other member states fishing is a much more marginal activity than it is for ourselves. They have different conditions and different targets. Our targets will be all the more important for us to meet because the stocks we need to conserve are predominantly ours. Without effort control, the other measures that we take will be in vain and public money spent on decommissioning will be wasted. I urge the Committee not to be deflected from that central truth.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Before my noble friend sits down perhaps he could answer a question. I am a little puzzled by what he said. Is he saying that decommissioning is ineffective unless there is also restriction of days at sea? If so, what is wrong with the philosophy of the amendment which, as I understand it, wants other countries to restrict their days at sea in a like manner to British fishermen? Or have I misunderstood him?

Earl Howe

My noble friend has misunderstood me. As I tried to explain, the circumstances of each member state vary tremendously. We have a large fishing industry which accounts for very substantial proportions of the quota, especially in the North Sea. It is up to us to address that problem as best we may. It is no part of our business to look over our shoulder to see what our partners across the Channel may or may not be doing and to allow those actions to influence what happens as a result of this Bill. That is my point of objection to this amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Surely the Minister must see that we are not objecting on behalf of the fishermen to efforts to control the stocks and keep the stocks there. We agree that that is absolutely vital and that strong measures have to be taken. But the whole point about the amendment is that although we must control our own stocks, we do not have the ability to control the other people involved who have a substantial portion. If they do not control their 50 per cent., or whatever it is, our efforts will be frustrated. That is why we urge Her Majesty's Government to make every effort to ensure that the restrictive measures, whatever they may be, of our partners—it is equally important for them to preserve the stocks—are at least equal to ours, although they may not be the same.

Earl Howe

With respect, I do not think that is what the amendment provides. The amendment is much more draconian than that. I wanted to address the central concern of the amendment in my remarks about the government amendment which immediately follows it. That amendment fulfils a pledge made in another place which arose from exactly the same kind of concern as those just expressed. We agreed that before reducing days at sea below the levels fixed for 1991 we would come back to both Chambers and demonstrate that other member states were taking effective measures to meet their MAGP targets; and that is what we shall do.

Lord Gallacher

The point has been made that, in a sense, the problem is of our own creation. The noble Lord, Lord Selborne, pointed out that the fleet is too large for the amount of fish that we are entitled to catch. The blame for that surely cannot be laid at the door of fishermen who need licences to fish. The Government have to reckon with the fact that in the past, having regard to the growing problem of TACs, they have been too liberal in licensing British vessels. That is acknowledged, if not openly, certainly in the context of this Bill.

There is another point that I should like to raise with the noble Earl. He mentioned—conveniently for him and his case—the two stocks where the United Kingdom have the highest share in the Community. Looking at other species and other sea areas, the United Kingdom has only a small share—of cod, for example—in the English Channel. The United Kingdom share is 8 per cent. One has to view the amendment and the problem in the round and not simply be selective in the statistics one uses.

Lord Grimond

I had intended to view this amendment with some doubt because I felt that it would be extremely difficult to implement. For that matter, the whole Bill would be almost impossible to implement. What has converted me entirely to the amendment is the argument that it is a wrecking amendment. It is not a wrecking amendment. It may be a wrong amendment, a foolish amendment or an unintelligible amendment; but it is not wrecking a Bill to say that this shall not happen unless certain things are done.

Secondly, we may control a very big proportion of the European fish stocks at sea, but the fishing industry is nothing like so important to this country as it is to Norway. Norway has the biggest interest in maintaining a fish industry which will enable it to employ its people. For us it is a small matter compared with what it means to some of the Scandinavians.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said that I was selective in my figures. I think that he was selective in his figures. Taking just about any of the quotas west of Scotland, we have 60 per cent. of the herring quota, 51 per cent. of the cod, 79 per cent. of the haddock, 64 per cent. of the whiting, 60 per cent. of the plaice and so on. Those are high figures. I do not feel that the point I made was unfair.

The noble Lord said that in the past the Government may have been guilty of too liberal a licensing regime. Doubtless we could have a debate about that. The point of the Bill is to address the problems that we have now. It is our view that decommissioning with effort control will be more effective than decommissioning on its own. It so happens that many member states have relied heavily on decommissioning in the past. Some member states already share our view about effort control and we naturally hope that that view will gain ground. It is a view that we push at every opportunity. But it is not realistic to expect in the Community that we can convert others to our views all at once. At the same time we should not refrain for that reason from doing what we think is right.

4 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Will my noble friend clear up one point which I failed to identify in his speech? If he dealt with it, I apologise. If the Bill goes through without amendment, and if subsequently it turns out that our European friends allow to their fishing fleet longer hours of fishing than the Bill allows to our fishing fleet, and it appears that several of the major fishing fleets of our European friends will have longer hours, will the Government amend the Bill?

Earl Howe

We do not expect all other member states to introduce a days at sea regime. We have said that we shall look at the way in which other member states are tackling their MAGP targets and use that as the justification for coming to both Houses with any proposals to reduce the days at sea regime that applies under the Bill.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Will the Minister clarify one point? As I understand it, the Hague Preference so carefully negotiated in 1983 was a permissive order which allowed British fishermen to obtain more of the haddock quota than they would otherwise receive. My noble friend indicated that the haddock quota, which is so important to Scottish fishermen, is 89 per cent. of the total European catch in the North Sea. Will he indicate what that figure would be without the Hague Preference? As I understand it, if the figure has to be renegotiated with the Council of Ministers there is no guarantee whatsoever that the Hague Preference would be implemented. That is a serious position for British fishermen.

Earl Howe

I agree entirely with my noble friend that the Hague Preference is an important measure. At present I do not have an answer. I shall find one and write to him.

The Earl of Selborne

If we assume that there will be justice only if each member state has equal numbers of days at sea, that seems to deny the premise which noble Lords, including myself, made earlier—that some national countries have not addressed the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, is right. We should have addressed the multi-annual guidance programme years ago, when it began in 1985–86. We did not do so. We kept the larger capacity. Therefore, if one tailors capacity to the national quota one has to get on with decommissioning; and also limit access to the sea.

It is no good saying that that means other countries will have more days at sea than we do. Those countries simply have their act more in balance. They have fewer ships fishing for the national quota. It is quotas which ultimately will limit the ability to take fish. My noble friend on the Front Bench puts it clearly. We are seeking to ensure that we do not go for discards and black fisheries, all of which are a terrible blight on our fishing industry at present. We cannot be complacent and say that we are in no position to reduce our days at sea until everyone else does the same. The problem is not a level playing field and that is partly our own fault.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

We have had an interesting debate. This was not intended to be a wrecking amendment but to ensure that effort limitation was not confined to ourselves. I have listened with great interest to what noble Lords have said, in particular the noble Earl. I shall read the noble Earl's speech, and others, and then consider whether to return with a different amendment at Report stage. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.