HL Deb 26 October 1992 vol 539 cc937-84

5.14 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Amherst of Hackney

My Lords, I seek your kind indulgence for my maiden speech. The necessity for fish conservation, so far as I am aware, is not contested by anyone anywhere. However, conservation must surely be achieved in a manner that is both fair and equitable to all those who earn their living from fishing in the waters of the EC.

The Bill requires our fishermen to live with the other EC fleets in the same seas on totally inequitable terms. Those fleets are to be voluntarily pruned by the availability of an EC decommissioning scheme which pays the sterling equivalent of some £750 per gross registered tonne. That is a scheme to which the United Kingdom is a non-contributor. Those EC fleets, as a consequence, are to be permitted unlimited sea time. On the other hand, the United Kingdom fleet is, as we have heard, likely to be compelled through this Bill to reduce its sea time, possibly up to 30 per cent., in lieu of a comparable decommissioning scheme existing in the United Kingdom.

I ask the Minister to consider the position of the skipper of a typical 40 metre stern trawler based on Hull or Grimsby. Her fishing ground could well be off the Shetland Islands, some three or four days' steaming from her home port, and her likely voyage duration would be 16 to 18 days. In the winter in that area of the North Atlantic gale force conditions are recorded as prevailing for 17 per cent. of the time. I understand that it is customary practice to suspend fishing operations when conditions deteriorate to storm force 9. Conditions therefore frequently require a decision by the skipper on whether or not to continue to fish. He must put the safety of his ship and her crew first. However, imagine a situation in which he and his 10-man crew have already lost valuable days of rationed sea time owing to bad weather on previous voyages. They, being remunerated on a no-catch no-pay basis and being pressed to meet financial commitments, would inevitably find themselves under tremendous compulsion to continue fishing regardless of deteriorating conditions.

That skipper would be called upon to go beyond the shadowy line of good seamanship when assessing the risk of injurious gear failure or the possibility of a broach and capsize. The Danish, German, Dutch, Belgian, French and Spanish skippers in the vicinity, being without the constraint of sea time, would suffer no such dilemma. They would just heave to and wait for the weather to moderate.

Does the Minister agree that the Bill poses an inherent risk to life and limb by the imposition of blanket sea time restrictions? Permitted sea time must surely exclude gale force conditions for the offshore fishermen. The existence of such conditions is readily proven by the weather facsimiles which are issued daily to shipping from both Bracknell and Northwood and then recorded.

The consequences of the Bill as it stands will be that only the older and less capital intensive units in our fishing fleet will survive. The vessels that remain in the United Kingdom fleet will therefore rapidly become outdated, less efficient, less safe, less well maintained and less competitive than those of our unfettered competitors.

Our fishing industry sees itself as having already played the role of sacrificial lamb on the altar of the EC. An oft quoted example is that the United Kingdom furnished the EC with two thirds of its fish resources and received back only one third of the fishing quotas. As we have heard, our fishing fleet has also suffered the influx of 80 Spanish, Dutch and Danish controlled trawlers. They have driven a coach and horses through the United Kingdom fishing vessels register and thereby obtained a share of the United Kingdom's precious quotas.

There is a very real feeling in the fishing industry that the ball is being tampered with. As noble Lords may have seen, "Panorama" recently depicted undersized—and therefore illegal—fish happily being sold in the La Coruna fish market. I am assured that the same can be found occurring in the Boulogne fish market. I understand that the Spanish have appointed 17 full-time fishery officers to supervise what is by far the largest EC fleet and that they all reside in Madrid. The United Kingdom has 180 full-time fishery officers who do not live in London. Furthermore, it is well known that the French fishermen receive a fuel subsidy and grants for new trawlers, which are built under the guise of research vessels.

Surely we can and should afford support for our fishermen which is equitable to that received by their counterparts in Europe? In the event that this most unfortunate Bill becomes law, will the Minister ensure, as he has stated that he will, that both the permitted sea time and the associated licences can be aggregated. Those who are forced out could therefore sell for some further consideration over and above their portion of the proposed minuscule United Kingdom decommissioning budget while the few who can afford to aggregate can at least stay in and stay fishing.

Lastly, I urge the Minister that no legislation be enacted until it is absolutely clear that every other EC Fishing Ministry is properly enforcing the same rule book. I thank your Lordships for your patience.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I congratulate most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, on his maiden speech in this House. I do so on my own behalf and on behalf of the whole House. He has expressed clearly his apprehensions over the Bill. His sincere concern for and interest in the fishing industry, together with his experience in maritime affairs generally, will add to the resources of this House. We shall look forward to hearing from him many times during our debates.

I wish to thank my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Selborne for introducing the Bill and the report of the Select Committee respectively. In the time available for an acceptably short speech I shall comment on the Bill and make reference to the report where it is relevant.

All the principal fishermen's organisations appear to be opposed to the main proposals in the Bill because they are worried about the likely consequences. The EC is providing for national schemes of decommissioning. The UK is exercising its right of subsidiarity and has opted for a scheme of tying up, limiting the days in the year when boats can be at sea fishing. It is not a scheme for reducing the British fishing fleet. The British fishermen's organisations have always supported conservation. They are in favour now of reducing the British fishing fleet. I make that clear because some of the media have misunderstood the position in recent days. I give as an example a television news report last Friday evening showing a demonstration concerning a ferry entering Plymouth. The commentator at the time stated that the fishermen were demonstrating against proposals to reduce the British fishing fleet. That is exactly the opposite of what they were doing. Even in their demonstration they seem to have been misunderstood. They are in favour of reducing the British fleet. They are against the tying up scheme.

Most of the difficulties arising from the Bill are because the UK has adopted a different system from the other EC countries: a system of restricting days at sea. Although a small decommissioning scheme was announced earlier this year, it will have little effect and is not comparable with the schemes of the other countries. It will not start for several months. Will my noble friend who is to reply confirm that the other fishing nations of the EC have decommissioning schemes except for the Republic of Ireland? Will he indicate whether he knows what the intentions of Ireland are?

The Select Committee made it clear in its report that it is in favour of decommissioning and regards a tie-up scheme only as an interim measure. The main difficulty with having a different scheme is in judging whether equal treatment will apply to fishermen of different countries, in particular those within the EC. At present British fishermen are worried that they will be worse off than their foreign competitors for reasons I shall seek to explain.

First, the Bill is an enabling Bill. There is no indication of how many days will be defined for the boats to be tied up. That is left in the hands of Ministers and may be promulgated at short notice. The system will be based on the year 1991. Boats were engaged in a variety of different tasks and fisheries during that year. Some were not fishing for protected species for which there was a quota and therefore did not need to keep records. Others were doing so. How will it be possible to work out a scheme which is fair to all boats if it is based on arbitrary behaviour during that year?

When the boats are tied up in harbour their expenses will continue. For example, the Decca navigation scheme which most boats have has to be hired; it cannot be bought. The cost of that hiring will continue whether or not the boats are at sea. A skipper whom I met among others in northern Scotland a few days ago told me that it will cost him about £1,000 a week just to keep the boat tied up. Will there be any funds to meet those continuing expenses? Since it is not a commissioning scheme, will the scheme lose the EC financial aid available to other EC countries? I hope that my noble friend will give me some answers today.

Of course I welcome the announcement which my noble friend Lord Howe made today about the amendment: that proposals for the number of days a year in which boats have to be tied up will come before Parliament as orders.

Technical advances have greatly increased the catching power of fishing vessels. A new boat will probably have four or five times the catching ability of the boat which it replaces. To me that is an overriding argument for reducing the numbers of boats in an orderly and equitable manner. The alternative—to have no restriction on numbers but a regime of staying in harbour for unknown lengths of time—gives rise to uncertainty, erosion of confidence in individual enterprises and inability to formulate any kind of business plan. Virtually all British fleets in the EC area are individual or family businesses, or they are operated by "share" fishermen whose wages depend on the success of their boat in its catches. Gone are the days when the crews of the large trawlers, operating in distant waters, were employees of companies. The few of those who remain have different factors also to consider which need not concern us today. The British fishermen affected by this Bill are working in many private enterprises of no great size.

The quota system in the EC continues for those species which need protection. So far as I know the quotas for the coming year are still to be announced. They are supposed to be based on scientific research. Can the Minister tell us more on how the scientists and governments reach conclusions? By what methods do they keep up-to-date with changes in the fish populations?

A few months ago I stated publicly that I was receiving information direct from fishermen that stocks of some protected species are recovering. Recent reports that I have received from skippers bring further good news. They state that some of the fish of the protected species are no longer scarce and are of good size. Conservation measures have been succeeding and certain fish quotas can with caution be increased. Decisions on total allowable catches and quotas need great care. If the quotas are too small and appear to the fishermen to be unrelated to the quantities that they observe in the sea, they are regarded as unrealistic. That encourages the black market in landed fish. During the past year or two there has been an illegal black market in this country of regrettable size—secret landings of "black" fish without records or the benefit of fishery officers. This is a development which I deplore.

Quotas and regulations should be such as to discourage the discarding of unwanted or small fish. After being caught in nets and then thrown overboard those fish do not survive. That is a lamentable waste which could be reduced, as our Select Committee points out in its report. British fishermen are asking for level fishing grounds, to adapt a much used metaphor. I am sure that the Government mean well. Everyone, including the Government, is in favour of conservation—there is no argument about that. What is at issue is the method chosen, because it is different from that of the rest of the EC and it raises doubts and difficulties.

I do not claim any metaphysical powers as a medium but I have been reflecting on what the late Lord Boothby would have said about the matter. I have a fair idea of what it would have been. He was a champion of fishermen and at the same time was dedicated to European ideals of European nations working closely together. Your Lordships may remember that in the last two or three fishery debates in which he spoke, from that Cross Bench, he stated, much too generously, that I had saved the British fishing fleets in the negotiations in 1971 and 1972 before we entered the Common Market. That was an overstatement but was in character for him to say. My noble friend Lord Rippon, who was then involved in the direct negotiations, will remember that I as a fellow member of the Cabinet was pressing hard for what I felt to be necessary in sea fisheries.

When the United Kingdom joined the EC in January 1973 I believe that we obtained the best conditions possible. Later, when Spain and Portugal acceded, I was a member of the sub-committee of the Select Committee which dealt with that enlargement. I was also co-opted to the sub-committee which reported on the fisheries side of the matter. Again, I believe that the results were as good as any that we could have hoped for. With that background, but with all modesty, I find it most disheartening that the present rift between the fishermen and the Government should have occurred. The quarrel is not about objectives; it is a disagreement about the method, which gives the fishermen great anxieties and worries over their future livelihoods. I hope that those differences can be narrowed during the passage of the Bill.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, Cornwall is a depressed area male unemployment runs at about 25 per cent. for most of the time. Tin mining has disappeared. Agriculture is out on a geographical limb and in most parts suffers from sour land. Tourism is seriously blighted by the recession. However, there remains one bright spot; that is, the fishing industry. The grants and receipts are good and people are still making money. How long will that continue?

I have talked to fishermen in Cornwall. I do not agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that the fishermen do not accept the Bill. There is a feeling that they can live with the Bill as it stands but as it is an enabling Bill other measures can be taken—for example, a further restriction of fishing days—with which they say they cannot live. That is their main anxiety.

The report on the common fisheries policy was reassuring in theory. It was intelligent and dealt well with the national quota of ships, the possibilities of decommissioning and the limitation of days at sea. The report appears to recognise the total lunacy of the discarding policy. However, it does not mention the fact that when many tonnes of fish are discarded not only are they killed but they can pollute a wide area of the sea bed. That makes the discarding problem more urgent than the report implies. However, the "wrongness" of discarding is certainly realised.

The report also realises in part the unfairness of what is referred to as "quota hopping"; that is the arrangement under which Spaniards and others can finagle their way into the English quota. That madness is compounded by an unfortunate decision of the European Court that such ships which make it on to our quota cannot be kicked off. In fact, if we kick them off they have the right to reapply.

The trouble is not so much the theory as the practice. The report states in so many words that the UK spends far more time and money on enforcement than any other Community state and adds that some states seem to carry out no policing at all. In the introduction to the Bill we are informed in quaint language that we are to receive 60 more man years. I believe that in English that means 60 more inspectors. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst, stated that we already have 180 inspectors but my information is that there are 200. However, in Spain there are only 17. Our inspectors sit in our ports and are very active. The Spanish inspectors sit in Madrid and go upon notice to the ports. They have a drink of brandy with the skipper, presumably, who has made everything shipshape in anticipation of the visit. I do not call that fair and even as between states.

The Bill will not help fish stocks in Area 7, which is the Cornish area. Foreign ships, including those which have fiddled their way onto our quota, will carry on in exactly the same way because of the inadequacy of their inspections. The foreign ships carry out 85 per cent. of the fishing in that area.

Satellite technology has been mentioned. It was described in the report as being uncertain and probably too expensive. Surely the possibility of satellite technology alone is not adequate.

I am afraid that what has happened is that the Bill has been hurried on rather too quickly. It should have been in parallel with similar measures elsewhere and it is not. I am afraid that the Government's attitude to this measure must be contrasted with that of France. The other day the French fisheries Minister, Mr. Josselin, faced with an EC order that France should reduce its fleet by 27 per cent. said, in so many words, that France would not accept that. When did a British Minister last say, in that kind of language, that Britain would not accept something? I await that happening because, paradoxically, when it does we shall be full and proper members of the EC.

The European Community, like all human communities, is competitive as well as co-operative. It is an arena as well as an alliance. We must fight our corner as the others do otherwise we shall have no fish left and unemployment in Newlyn will rise from 25 per cent. to 75 per cent.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege on behalf of the whole House warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, on his excellent maiden speech. It was an extremely challenging and probing speech but I feel that it carries on in the tradition of his late father, whom I knew very well. He was an extremely caring and respected Member of this House.

I note that the noble Lord has been a journalist, an author and a banker. He is also a director of a well-known company which makes a product connected with the waves and sea breezes with which we are closely associated on this Bill. I wish the noble Lord every happiness and success and I hope that he will participate often in our debates.

I wish to commend the business managers of this House, the legal department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Printed Paper Office for the considerable amount of relevant background information which has been made available on the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill. When the Bill was in Committee on 19th June the proceedings had to be adjourned for five days because essential documents were not available to Members of the Standing Committee. We know that the Bill had a rough passage in another place when some 4,000 fishermen lobbied Parliament and government party Members joined Opposition MPs in the Lobbies to vote against the Bill's Second Reading. That was in spite of strong whipping instructions.

This enabling Bill was considerably, but in my view somewhat equivocally, amended by the Government in another place. Those amendments seem to me to indicate that the proposed legislation was hastily drafted. The Bill raises matters of principle as regards essential sea-fishing conservation needs and a truly equitable common fisheries policy. It appears to me that the legislation's proposals were framed without due and full consultation with the sea fisheries industry.

The Bill now commences its passage through this House. Since July there have been considerable political and social attitudinal changes throughout the EC, including the United Kingdom, which will bear on the general outcome of our debates in this House. I believe that we are now in a much better position than were Members of another place to take a reasoned and informed approach to the critical sea-fish conservation problems and the sea-fish industry's policies. Those are problems and policies which this Bill should effectively and remedially address.

However, we know that the Bill is not welcomed by the fishing industry throughout the United Kingdom. The fishing communities throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still strongly opposed to the Bill's present amended form. It is stated to be draconian in its approach to the livelihood of fishermen as well as being unfair and unworkable. It gives to Ministers virtually unlimited powers to restrict the number of days on which fishing boats may go to sea. If the Bill is enacted in its present legislative form, it will create much social distress in already hard-pressed sea-fishing communities and it will create chronic upheaval in family life in seaports and towns throughout the United Kingdom.

I noted and welcomed with pleasure the Minister's opening remarks when he said that further amendments will be tabled during Committee stage. He referred to the Hague Convention in connection with Northern Ireland and Wales. I am certain that his remarks and his intended proposals will be warmly welcomed both in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

I noted also that the Minister proposed that parliamentary approval would be sought for changes in respect of the days at sea and how that system should operate. Again, I look forward with pleasure to seeing the Marshalled List of amendments. At least some progress has been made during the Bill's passage through this House.

Like many men and women of my age group in Northern Ireland, I am one generation only removed from the farming and fishing communities. I have friends and relatives whose livelihood is closely linked with fishing ports and communities in the Province. I know at first hand how anxious those people are about the serious social implications which this Bill could have for sea-fishing ports like Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie. In those towns and fishing village communities in Northern Ireland the main source of earned income and employment is derived from fishing. I must say that I cannot agree with the remarks made in this House that people will be protected from the social consequences which will arise as a result of the Bill. I do not see that and nor do the fishing communities and the industries directly involved.

I have met and discussed the Bill with officials of the two producers' organisations—the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation and the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation. While both those organisations address distinctive Northern Ireland sea-fishing problems and operational policies, they both firmly support the United Kingdom fishermen in their opposition to the Bill. In other words, they are not making special pleadings for Northern Ireland affairs. They see themselves as part of the whole of the United Kingdom and its fisheries problems.

I should emphasise that all the fishermen and organisations who have contacted me and with whom I have had discussions support fully effective, efficient and equitable sea-fishing conservation measures. There is no dispute whatever that such measures are needed. Fishermen are realists. They know that their future lies with the effective nurture—and I do not use the word "nurture" in a scientific way—of sea-fish stocks. The fishermen realise that and they have adopted attitudes which take cognizance of those problems.

Principles of equity will be much to the forefront during our discussions in Committee. There are various opinions and conclusions as regards decommissioning by means of tendering. I feel that the matter requires full debate and exploration. In that connection, provision needs to be firmly enshrined on the face of the Bill; it should not be left to the whims and fancies of some form of discussion or regulation. The decommissioning must be fully understood and accepted.

The helpful benefits of having the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal under the supervision of the Council on 'Tribunals are important. Those are measures that should have been clearly stated when the Bill was first drafted. However, there is still a need for a considerable amount of detailed information regarding the appointment of members and how the tribunals will work, notwithstanding that they will work under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals. I hope that during the debate the Minister will give us some detail on the effective use of tribunals. It is an important aspect of the whole operation.

There are many features of the Bill which I should like to raise, some of which have been mentioned during the debate. But I should like to deal particularly with a matter mentioned by the Minister of State, Mr. David Curry, when he spoke in the House of Commons on 14th July. Forgive me for quoting in full but it is relevant to the matter with which I wish to conclude. At col.1053 of the Official Report, Mr. Curry said, During the Second Reading debate and in Committee I explained that the Bill is enabling legislation which makes provision for the broad principles of a certain course of action. There will be very detailed consultation about how it should apply specifically. I have made it absolutely clear that we hope that the industry will come to us with its views on how we should apply particular measures. We are still open to that course of action. Several hon. Members have asked me whether I will consult on this, that and the other. The answer is that if the industry is in a consulting mood I shall consult, but I cannot compel it to consult. It is known that my door is always open to people who want to see me, and that will remain the case. I have never taken up any contrary position". In some respects I understand the Minister's point of view. But from long experience I know that open-door consultations and that form of diplomacy are not the way to conduct business of this nature. I feel that matters should be taken in hand to provide a proper consultative machinery for the industry. Northern Ireland is regional and does not have the full exploratory needs, but there is a sound constructive working relationship between fishermen of both organisations and the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.

The Minister said that there are some mischievous people. However, I could go to some length to show that in Northern Ireland, as the report indicates, compliance with EC and UK legislation is almost 100 per cent. There is no attitude of trying to put a quick one over on somebody else by cheating, although I know that does go on. In fairness I must say that during the period of the report—1991—seven vessels were prosecuted for violating the specific agreements. Along with that, the report goes on to say that, Two members of the EC Fisheries Inspectorate paid a week long visit to Northern Ireland to examine performance of the Department in carrying out its responsibilities and were satisfied with their findings". In other words, it is important to have supervisory and monitoring arrangements, but they should be properly vetted and conducted. This cannot be done on an ad hoc basis. It must be done by sound consultative machinery. I suggest that the Minster should take away and consider the establishment of a sea fish industry consultative council representative of all the fishing organisations in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to enable the Bill to be concluded in a proper and constructive way.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, if anyone in any doubt that the fishing industry in Scotland was in difficulties had been listening to an early morning radio programme last week his doubts would quickly have been dispelled. An indignant tourist was complaining that she had been to Arbroath and could not find an Arbroath smokie. It is therefore reassuring to see my noble friend on the Front Bench who I am sure would have gone into action in another place.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, can probably recall many parliamentary Questions and debates on fishing matters in the Scottish Grand Committee during the early 1960s, in those days with more emphasis on herring than on white fish. I well recall the then Member of Parliament for Caithness and Sutherland, Sir David Robertson, using the word "conservation" over and over again. He said that it is no use trying to work out policies for this or that, conservation is everything. Sir David should therefore be pleased, wherever he is. The herring stocks have enormously improved, at least so we were told in the Select Committee, thanks to sensible methods undertaken.

As the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, said in what I thought was an extraordinarily authoritative and excellent maiden speech, no one argues against the principle of conservation, although I recall in my days in the Ministry of Agriculture that it can clash with calls for efficiency. I have in mind the beam trawler which is a thoroughly efficient way of fishing but is not the best instrument of conservation.

Is the Bill considering conservation in the right way? I am bound to say—and slightly sad to say so—that it is not. It places most emphasis on limiting days at sea. As has been frequently said, it enables Ministers to take unlimited action in that area.

Boats of under 10 metres are to be licensed, quite rightly. There is no immediate intention to restrict their activities but power to do so is requested. In my senility—and my hearing is perhaps not as good as it was—when my noble friend the Minister was telling us about the affirmative resolution I thought I heard him say that the Bill would enable him, each time he required to do so, to call for a further restriction on days at sea. If that is what he did say, it looks to me as though the outlook is even less rosy than one might otherwise believe.

What are other nations going to be doing while our boats are tied up? To again quote the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, one has the bad weather prospect. I believe that probably one has worse weather off the North Sea around the Pentland Firth than one has further south. Therefore, one would have discrimination against the boats up there. What do they do if the weather is so rough that they cannot go out or, if they do, they are caught halfway?

Supposing that several nations have already decommissioned and taken the action which is thought wise. Are they to be able to ignore the need to tie-up, while we have to? That brings me to the subject of decommissioning. It is accepted on all sides that one must have regulation in order to conserve: license all our boats; keep mesh sizes for nets; keep the TACs and quotas, but reduce the capacity to catch. Then the existing available catch is shared out among fewer boats which become more viable.

I am not for one moment saying that there is no case for tie-ups but that should be secondary to the limitation of effort by decommissioning. In my view reducing capacity is much preferable to limiting effort. My noble friend will say that we are offering £25 million for the decommissioning scheme, but alas that is calculated to reduce the fleet only by 5 per cent. when about four times that reduction is needed. Therefore, I fear we shall have a situation in which £25 million will have been paid out to little effect and we shall have had the worst of all worlds.

European Commissioner Marin wrote the following words: The British face the problem that their fishing grounds are badly depleted and Britain is the one country in the Community that has the worst problem with too large a fishing fleet. Had they only reduced their fleet, say, five years ago, as did many other countries, the situation would not be so critical today". Despite my noble friend's protest this afternoon, that amply justifies the expression of the Select Committee that the scheme was too little and too late.

That brings me to the subject of the report on which I wish to make two points. As the first member other than the chairman to speak, I must put on record my view of his outstanding feat of navigation. This is one of the best reports of its kind to have been submitted to your Lordships. As I say, on many occasions we managed to sail by Scylla without hitting Charybdis. There are only a few points in the report on which I wish to dwell. First is the subject of discards. I wonder how many people realise that a discarded fish thrown back into the sea is a dead fish. It applies not only to small fish, and that I believe has been emphasised this afternoon. If someone goes out to fish and he still has a quota for cod to fill, it is very difficult to keep the haddock out of the net. He is not allowed to take haddock so overboard go all the haddock. It was horrifying to be told by the Sea Fish Industry Authority that in 1985 500 million individual haddock were landed alive in this country while 460 million had to be thrown back. It strikes me that whoever did the counting of the haddock had his hands pretty full—but no doubt my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was put up to it.

Being quite serious, it is indefensible treatment of good food. Norway wishes to ban discards and at least to use the smaller fish for industrial purposes. Our reply seems to be that it would be too expensive to put inspectors on to large vessels in order to enforce that. I question whether it will be more expensive than the value of the 460 million haddock alone which were discarded.

As regards industrial fishing, to which my noble friend referred, the Select Committee recommends a general phasing out in Community waters. That was advocated by several of the bodies which gave evidence to us. In response to that I received a letter from the secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Association protesting at the idea of a blanket ban when there was, a very large fishery for blue whiting to the west of the United Kingdom". I must confess that I am the biggest bore in the country on the subject of blue whiting. Twenty years ago I was provided with a brief by MAFF. It might be interesting for my noble friend to go into the archives and look out that brief. It was prepared immediately after the debacle of the Icelandic cod war in which I was involved. It is worth digging that brief out of the files because I was told (I followed the instruction) to inform the Cabinet that there were millions of blue whiting off the west coast of Scotland and that that was at least a partial stemming of the haemorrhage which the fleets had suffered as a result of the dispute with Iceland. Admittedly, the fish swam very deep and, alas, were full of bones although, so the brief said, the Germans were reputed to have solved the problem of filleting them.

The Prime Minister of the day expressed the greatest interest in blue whiting and asked if he could have some specimens. The Torry Research Institute was contacted and sent down 144 blue whiting, which were immediately sent round to Number 10. It happened to be the day of the final meeting between the Prime Minister and the miners. I have often wondered whether the gnashing of teeth that was caused by trying out those blue whiting as canapes led to the breakdown of the negotiations.

At any rate, here we are 20 years later with the secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Association talking about a very large fishery. But how large? He says that in 1990 the Faroese caught 45,000 tonnes and the Norwegians 300,000 tonnes. That is a large fishery considering that in the most recent year for which figures are available the total fish landeddemersal, pelagic, and shellfish—in the United Kingdom by United Kingdom vessels was 608,000 tonnes. That means that those two nations are taking a tonnage equivalent to half of the United Kingdom's total landings. The secretary went on to say that one Shetland boat has caught 5,000 tonnes in each of the past three years. Is this the start of the successful blue whiting fishery which MAFF heralded 20 years ago?

I end with a reference to what noble Lords may have heard described as the "Scottish question". There is a general consensus at least on giving Scotland the maximum amount of administrative devolution and an immense amount has been done in that area. Indeed, so little is left in the administrative area that there is now a call for legislative devolution. There is one obvious candidate for administrative devolution. The Forestry Commission moved north because the bulk of the new planting was going to be done in Scotland. The Secretary of State leads on forestry matters, supported by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Secretary of State for Wales. Twenty years ago 52 per cent. of all the United Kingdom's fish landings took place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with 48 per cent. in Scotland. Today Scotland's 48 per cent. has risen to 75 per cent. while landings south of the Border have dropped from 52 per cent. to 25 per cent. I mean no reflection whatsoever on the Ministers concerned, but I have had the privilege of serving as what today would be called the Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Office and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I am quite convinced that not only is it logical that fisheries should follow forestry into the Scottish administration, but that it would be thoroughly desirable.

6.14 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I live near Fraserburgh, in Grampian region. It is a fishing port with a population of about 13,000 people. Forty-five per cent. of employment there is fish-related and in Grampian region over 10,000 people derive a living directly or indirectly from the fishing industry, operating out of 14 ports, large and small, around its coasts. Fifty per cent. of the total value of the fish landed in Scotland between January and October 1990 was landed in Grampian ports.

In 1991, over 8,000 people were employed full-time catching sea fish in Scotland. In the United Kingdom, over 19,000 people were employed full-time catching sea fish, while nearly 80,000 were employed full-time in ancillary industries such as selling and processing fish and in working in fish and chip shops and fish restaurants. Those figures take no account of the number of people employed in building boats, in manufacturing nets and other equipment and in repairing and servicing them. Indeed, it is estimated that for every fisherman fishing at sea eight shore workers depend on fish for their jobs. In 1991, we exported nearly £470 million-worth of sea fish (fresh, frozen or processed) of which £224 million-worth was white or pelagic fish.

I have bored your Lordships with these dreary figures in order to demonstrate that sea fishing is an important industry—smaller perhaps than farming or coal-mining—but nonetheless a large industry on which a large number of people depend for their livings and which contributes substantially to Britain's exports. Nearly half of those people live in Scotland, which has only about one-tenth of the total population of the United Kingdom. Your Lordships will therefore have realised that the fishing industry employs a much larger proportion of the total population in Scotland than in England and is of correspondingly greater importance to the Scottish economy and the Scottish people.

In recent years, diminishing stocks of herrings and more recently of haddock and cod have made conservation measures and a reduction in the size of catches a very necessary part of European Community and United Kingdom fishery policy. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation is keenly aware of the importance of conservation measures to the future of the industry. The problem lies in ascertaining which measures will be both the most effective and the least damaging to the industry. The federation believes that a combination of the licensing of all fishing boats—not just of those over 10 metres in length, which is the good thing in the Bill—combined with a decommissioning scheme, the introduction of a one-net rule, the use of nets with a square mesh window, a ban on certain forms of industrial fishing and the licensing of all salesmen and buyers of fish would be the most effective way of conserving fish stocks while preserving the industry and would make tie-up periods unnecessary.

The research that has been carried out into the effect of using a purse net with a 90mm diamond mesh, with an 80mm square mesh window to facilitate the escape of small fish from the net, is interesting. Some of your Lordships may have seen a video showing how that works. The use of such a net would greatly reduce the number of small fish being caught and discarded. As the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, said in his excellent and interesting maiden speech, the practice of discarding fish, mostly by then dead, is the greatest enemy of the conservation of fish stocks, besides polluting the fishing grounds, and may ultimately lead to unhealthy or diseased stocks and possibly even to no stocks at all.

One of the disadvantages of total allowable catches is that fishing in a mixed stock fishery, such as the North Sea and the west of Scotland white fisheries, may have to be halted because the quota of one species has been used up. That is what has just happened. Our quota of haddock is finished until next year. So the fishermen have two options: one is to cease fishing until January if the Government cannot negotiate an increase in the quota and the other is to continue fishing for other species such as whiting. But, as several noble Lords have said, when you are fishing for whiting you cannot prevent some haddock entering the nets. Under present rules you have a choice. Either you throw them back into the sea, mostly dead, or else you sell on the black market and risk a huge fine, besides taking business away from the legitimate markets, which of course depend financially on selling as much fish as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, in a most distinguished maiden speech, has given us a marvellously clear and lucid outline of decommissioning versus tie-up. A properly worked out decommissioning scheme, such as the European Community operates, for which grants of 70 per cent. are available from the EC, would result in a sizeable reduction in the capacity of the fishing fleet. The arguments Ministers have used against it are simply not valid. They have said that they do not believe it represents value for money because it would not necessarily secure the withdrawal of the right vessels. They also say that, because of the way the United Kingdom contribution to the Community budget is arranged under the Fontainebleau Agreement, the Chancellor would end up paying around two-thirds of the Commission's 70 per cent. contribution to a scheme plus the remaining 30 per cent., which would produce a 70: 30 per cent. ratio instead of a 30: 70 per cent. ratio. This takes no account of the revenue from tax that will not be collected from fishermen who have gone bankrupt, as many of them will if the 135-day tie-up continues for long, or the cost of paying them the dole.

In the September before last, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation proposed to Government Ministers an alternative approach to decommissioning to that provided under European Community regulations. I have read the federation's proposals and they seem to me eminently sensible and workable, although I should like to know how the crews of the decommissioned boats will be cared for. The proposals are to be found on pages 36 to 39 of the evidence in the report which we are also debating today. I understand that the European Commission would be prepared to pay the grants towards the cost of this scheme. However, the Government will not accept it and have offered one of their own for which they are prepared to make available only £25 million and which will only reduce the catching capacity by about 5 per cent. When one takes into consideration that a large purse-netter can cost up to £5 million, this really is quite ludicrous.

At present, fishermen are obliged to accept the 135-day tie-up rule, with an alternative of using 110mm mesh size nets and half the number of days tie-up, or 120mm mesh size nets and no tie-up. On the east coast of England, where the principal fishery is for cod, this may be a viable alternative, but in north-east Scotland, where the fishing is mainly for haddock and whiting, this is not a viable alternative because they are smaller fish than cod and with 110mm mesh nets you would catch few haddock and no whiting. Thus they are forced to opt for the 135-day tie-up scheme. As a result, they are obliged to fish not only in all reasonable weather, weekdays or Sunday, but often in dangerously stormy weather on the remaining days in order to meet their commitments.

Fishing boats are expensive: a large purse-netter costs up to £5 million; a herring drifter around £1.5 million; a 60-foot trawler from £600,000 to £1 million. In order to purchase their boats the owner or owners will have obtained a considerable loan from the bank, and those loans have to be serviced and repaid, whether the boat is fishing or tied up. In the same way fishermen often have a mortgage to service as well. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has spoken of the cost of hiring Decca navigational equipment. Where the boat belongs to a person or a company who engages a crew, the crew still have to be paid during the time the boat is tied up if their services are to be retained. If they are not, then if they can find other employment they may very well not be available when the tie-up period expires. Most usually, the crew do not receive wages but have a share in the proceeds of the catch. If there is no catch they get nothing; and as they are self-employed I am not sure whether they get unemployment benefit. I think they do if they pay a special stamp. Perhaps the Minister knows the answer to that.

I hope I have now explained why it is that fishermen will find it necessary to go out in bad conditions to make up for lost income, however much Government Ministers blithely say that they are not obliged to. Of course the result is that the catches are not really being reduced much; they are just being caught in more dangerous conditions which put men's lives and equipment at even greater risk than they usually run. That is not in the interests of conservation. It is also a cause of great concern to their wives and families, who are very unhappy about it. It has occurred to me, having listened to speeches earlier this afternoon, that a further result of this will be that the occasions on which the crews of lifeboats have to risk their lives to rescue the crews of fishing boats which have got into difficulties may well increase considerably.

As well as introducing the licensing of boats under 10 metres in length, the Bill seeks to perpetuate the tie-up regulations and impose draconian penalties on anyone who infringes them. I think it is a bad Bill and I am sorry that any Scottish Member of Parliament voted for it in another place. It is tempting to defy convention, vote against it and ask the Government to think again. Although I shall not do that, I shall certainly try to amend it at Committee stage.

Mr. Alex Salmond, Member of Parliament for Banff and Buchan, leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote an article about the present plight of the fishing industry in Scotland in the Scottish supplement of The Sunday Times yesterday, which is for the most part excellent and explains the situation very clearly. I do not think the Library here has the Scottish edition, but I can give any noble Lord who is interested a copy of it. I am not a Scottish Nationalist; I never have been. It is a sad day for me when I find myself in agreement with their leader. But I have to say that unless the Government put far more money and effort into producing an adequate decommissioning scheme so that the limitation on fishing time can be phased out very soon, they can forget all about reforming local government and other measures designed to make the Union more acceptable to the people of Scotland, for it will be too late.

6.28 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I have no particular connection with the fishing industry and therefore I speak with not nearly as much authority as others who have spoken this afternoon. However, I was privileged to sit on Sub-Committee D under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Selborne and so perhaps I learnt a little then. I do not have my fingers on a great many statistics and therefore simplicity in this case may be advantageous in that it may lead us to one or two conclusions which are perhaps less distressful to the fishing industry than those that are suggested in the Bill.

The seas around our shores are shared by vessels from all Common Market countries. I heard during the committee's proceedings and at other meetings that a net in the North sea is allowed to be two and a half miles long. That was news to me. I asked what such a net could contain. Mr. Holden said that it could contain whole shoals of fish—and certainly the Houses of Parliament. It is a very large net indeed. One could get quite a number of Houses of Parliament in it. The way in which the problem has been tackled has obviously not worked because the stocks are going down.

I visit Billingsgate frequently because I am a fish farmer—which has nothing to do with sea fishing. It is amazing to see the number of foreign fish at Billingsgate. One sees no big cod at all. All the traders will state that there used to be great cod there. I can remember well—and the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will probably recall—Folkestone in the days when monstrous cod were caught from the end of the pier. That is no longer the position. Speaking from personal experience, I believe that there is now only one transport company which carries fish in my part of England up as far as Grimsby and Hull, because there are not the fish to be carried any more.

We should look at what has gone wrong so that we can learn what to do right in the future. The matter has been dealt with by total allowable catches—a quota system. There are two fundamental faults with that system, and possibly three, if one adds in the discards, a waste which I find it disgusting to think about. I should like to mention the least important point first, which concerns policing, ensuring that people do not cheat, black fish and all the matters that have been mentioned this evening. That is a serious fault and it makes forecasting the numbers of such massive species into the following year extremely difficult.

The most important fault is that, however good the scientists are and however clever they are at Lowestoft and Weymouth, or wherever they forecast on the Continent, there is no way whatsoever that the forecasts can be considered to be accurate, except by luck, given that they are taking information from catches. That is an awkward area to forecast. Very often it must produce the wrong answer. As we know, the only calculation attempted is on the main species and the other limits are precautionary TACs which I would describe as complete guesswork in scientific terms.

The Bill is an enabling Bill which enables the Government to lock in, tying up restrictions to licences. That appears to be the major complaint of the fishing industry. I admit that I have a great deal of sympathy, having received a certain amount of post and listened to the fishery federations, but there are all kinds of difficulties attaching to a system of reducing the effort for catching fish. Such a method achieves the worst of two worlds. If vessels are tied up long enough to help fish stocks recover and become sustainable, then the fishermen will not make enough money to survive. If the vessels are tied up for a short enough time to allow the fishermen to survive, then the fish will not. We are the losers whichever option is taken because, if there are no fish, there will be no communities, there will be unemployment and there will be all the downstream difficulties that will arise from that.

That brings me to the subject of decommissioning. It must be a matter for regret that we did not join in what I call the multi-annual guidance party and take benefit from the Community budget when it was available. I should like to ask my noble friend whether we can still join in and obtain funds to help us with decommissioning. I believe that, in order to achieve sustainable fisheries, a reduction of 25 to 30 per cent. should be aimed for. As many noble Lords have stated, licensing throughout to below 10 metres is absolutely vital. Otherwise, as some person put it to me in a letter, decommissioning takes place and the skipper or the owner has the opportunity to enter the industry by another door. Obviously that door must be closed.

The Bill is an enabling Bill. All the other powers are already incorporated in the 1967 Act. We cannot throw the Bill out or do anything dramatic. I suggest that the Bill should be kept as an enabling measure but not used; that we should use Clause 10 of the 1967 Act to activate a thorough decommissioning scheme with any bonus or money that may be available from the Community.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, noble Lords may think it rather fishy to find my name on the list of speakers in the debate. I confess at once that I have no piscatorial qualifications. My sole reason for detaining your Lordships quite briefly is that I have been written to by fishermen from fishing communities which are otherwise unrepresented in the debate and on the Select Committee—the small fishing communities of South-East England. Having failed to get their case accepted by another place, they thought perhaps that a Peer living in the area might be a suitable vehicle for their views.

What are those views? I am speaking of representations that I have received from Dungeness, Hastings and Norman's Bay. The latter two concern small boats that launch from the beach. These are not fishing ports such as the ones we have heard about in Scotland and the North East of England. However, they have provided a livelihood for many years for a number of individuals and families. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to the fact that the services of lifeboats may be required more often if fishermen have to go out in stormier weather. They also provide the lifeboat crews which are very important in one of the most crowded shipping areas of the world. In war time they have had other uses. If people of that kind state that the proposals—and once the tie up is extended to smaller boats it will cover them all—mean the destruction of their livelihood, we ought to take the matter very seriously.

These fishermen are concerned with conservation, a point that has been made in relation to other fishing communities. They admit that there must be conservation if the fishing industry is to survive. However, they feel that to limit the fishing capacities of our own fleet is to give freer play to the fisheries of other countries. They claim—and I thought that it was an extravagant claim—that this is the only country that seriously polices adherence to the targets laid down by the fisheries policy. However, on reading the Select Committee's report I find that the Commission itself admits that Britain is the only country which carries out a full inspection. The fishermen of the South East feel that there are constant violations of the limits on mesh and the other technical ways in which greater catches than are allowed for can be taken. Both our maiden speakers, to whom we have listened with great interest, made that point in one form or another. This is not unusual in our relations with the European Community, because we know that Britain takes a totally different view of its obligations under community law. Other countries have Ministers who, as the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, pointed out, defend unashamedly their refusal to do things which might damage their own producers—fishermen or even farmers who take part in the burning of our lambs when we export them to France.

We believe that we are in honour bound to fulfil every letter of our obligations. Their Ministers go to meetings to defend their national interest. Our Ministers appear to go to meetings to bring back what the Commission would like us to do. Therefore there is no level fishing ground. That explains why those who have protested about the Bill are so bitter about it. If there were a general understanding; if there were equal monitoring of restrictions in respect of conservation, they might feel differently, but, knowing that the monitoring is ineffective—that appears in more than one place in the Select Committee's report—they feel that they are being singled out to sacrifice their livelihood, and to sacrifice small communities of fishermen who have been there for centuries, for matters which are beyond their reach and against which, apparently, their own government are not prepared to protect them.

If those fishermen had heard, as I and some noble Lords have heard for the first time, the appalling story of the discards and knew that, at a time when fish prices for our own people are rising and the world is in great need of protein, fish is being destroyed in the name of some kind of conservation policy, they might feel that there was no point in protesting because the kind of people who produce the regulations might be beyond reason.

I have said what those fishermen would like me to say. I hope that those who are more expert in these matters than I am will find amendments to limit the impact of the Bill upon the fishing communities in the South East as well as in the other parts of the United Kingdom that have been mentioned, and, if they do, I look forward to supporting them.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, f apologise for the fact that I will not be present for the end of the debate due to a prior commitment. It is the first time that I have had to leave a debate, and I hope that it will be the last. The number of speakers taking part shows how worried noble Lords are about the issue, and rightly so.

I welcome the fact that the Bill is being debated with the ECC report although I shall confine my remarks to the Bill. It is important to look realistically at the state of fish stocks when tackling the problem of fishing because without fish conservation there will be no fish industry. Fish are a finite resource. Competition for that resource will not increase it. I listened with interest to noble Lords' complaints of European fishermen taking our stocks. I agree with them. However, if we go to Europe and say that we are doing something for conservation, we may be able to force them to do something also.

Over-fishing in European waters has reached such an extent that stocks are seriously threatened. That has a profound impact upon the marine ecosystem and, if not addressed, will fundamentally change the animal community of our seas. To date, conservation measures have been insufficient, often because they are unenforceable. Much faith has been placed in technical measures such as special net designs and ever larger mesh sizes. However, fishing with sieves does not go far enough to safeguard our precarious stocks. Technical measures are no substitute for a reduction in the total fishing effort and that is what we need urgently. Enforceable and extreme controls need to be placed on the fishing effort now. Restricting access to vulnerable stocks—the proposal for limiting days at sea contained in the Bill—is a means of keeping fishermen away from fish. It is enforceable and controversial but it is likely to put fishermen out of business.

The Bill may warrant our support merely because of the urgency of the situation. But it is a short-sighted approach and a had Bill. The only long-term solution is a reduction in the size of the fleet. The UK has been slow to adopt a realistic decommissioning scheme. It is as if the Government see the crash in fish stocks as a temporary problem and believe that the fish will return in a year or two when they will be able to release the fleet again. The fleet is too effective. No foreseeable stock recovery will be able to support the present fishing effort. There is no magic recovery of cod in sight without a long-term commitment drastically to cut the size and effectiveness of the fishing fleet.

The crisis in our fishing industry needs to be addressed urgently, but I do not believe that the Bill provides a suitable long-term solution. The motivation behind the Bill seems to be a desire to avoid the expenditure necessary to tackle the root problem—the over-capacity of the fishing fleet. No doubt the bankruptcies which will result from the Bill will reduce the fleet's capacity to an extent, but that will inevitably inflict hardship on many families and decimate many fishing communities.

A major, well-founded decommissioning scheme has been called for widely. That seems to be the sensible long-term solution to the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, pointed out, it is estimated that the £25 million decommissioning scheme that the Government propose will reduce the fleet by approximately 5 per cent. I have been informed that a 25 per cent. reduction is needed five times that which the Government are offering. If further decommissioning is the answer, when will it be done?

That brings me to another flaw in the Bill. It will allow the Minister a free hand to impose further restrictions on licence holders. The Minister will be able to tighten restrictions on the number of days boats may fish, so leading to more bankruptcies. In order that the fleet size is not cut by creeping restrictions, the Minister should be required to report annually to Parliament on the state of the fish stocks and what effect our EC partners are having.

If stocks are low and the restrictions are clearly not working, Parliament must have the opportunity to assess the options, decommissioning being the obvious one. Such an annual review would avoid our setting in train fleet reductions through bankruptcies rather than a reasonable decommissioning scheme. For those small fishing communities where unemployment is predicted as a result of bankruptcies the market in fishing licences poses a worrying long-term threat. How will they compete for licences against those able to raise large sums of capital? Surely they will not be able to do so. Are we not in danger of seeing the concentration of fishing rights resting in fewer and fewer hands?

For those boats that remain viable under the restrictions there are many problems. Not least among them is the short notice on which the annual restrictions are given. In a period of slim margins for many fishermen, that makes planning even more vital. A three-month warning, which has been suggested by fishermen, seems reasonable. I reiterate the need for an appropriate decommissioning scheme to deal with the over-capacity of the fleet head on. The problem of over-capacity will clearly have to be dealt with at some time as there is not a sufficient increase in fish stocks on the horizon.

I hope that the Minister will look closely at conservation of the more vulnerable members of the marine ecosystem. The fishermen who cannot fish for stocks such as cod and haddock may turn to more vulnerable members of the marine ecosystem such as sharks and rays. Those fish have not been properly studied and the effect of fishing on them may be devastating. I hope the Minister will consider those species carefully and will limit the numbers that fishermen can take before irreparable damage is done.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, there is a desperate need to conserve our fish stocks. However, in common with many noble Lords, I find it difficult to support the Bill. It will not conserve our fish stocks, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stodart. Further, it will disadvantage and demoralise our fishermen, as has been ably pointed out by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. It will also increase the risk of accidents. A number of noble Lords have pointed that out.

I believe that we have the best maritime rescue services in the world, but it is best not to tempt providence. The Bill will encourage law breaking because its provisions will not be enforceable. That is the most important aspect of the Bill. I believe most noble Lords have referred to the matter.

The law has been broken with regard to the common agricultural policy. The law is being broken and will continue to be broken in the fishing industry. The way forward—as has been proposed by your Lordships' Select Committee and other noble Lords—is a comprehensive decommissioning scheme and the phasing out of industrial fishing. Unfortunately, I understand that a decommissioning scheme would cost five times the amount of money the Government have pledged. I suspect the main reason for the Government's reluctance to adopt as comprehensive a decommissioning scheme as that of other countries is the Fontainebleau Agreement, which, I believe, will claw back approximately 80 per cent. of the 70 per cent. EC grant.

The Fontainebleau Agreement may have been hailed as a victory for the United Kingdom; I doubt that it will he so proclaimed by British fishermen. This Bill, aided and abetted by a so-called common fisheries policy, will do for British fishermen what the so-called common agricultural policy has done for the British farmer and indeed for the British housewife. It will wreck the fishing industry in more ways than one. Noble Lords cannot throw out this impractical Bill on Second Reading—I repeat it is impractical—but I hope that they will do their best to amend it in such a way as to mitigate its worst effects. I feel sorry for my noble friend Lord Howe who has to steer the Bill through the House against what I hope will be a force 10 wind against tide.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, the hardest part of fishing used to be finding the fish and fighting the weather. Now the greatest threat to the livelihood of fishermen is felt by them to be the blunt and bureaucratic regulations imposed by the Government and the EC.

To conserve the stock of fish the EC introduced the quota system. That was intended to be a convenient distributive arrangement. However, it was never intended to be the primary means of conservation. That was to be fulfilled by technical measures such as the shape and size of the mesh. The industry has supported a range of conservation initiatives which, allied to decommissioning, would address the conservation problem without forcing boats to the wall.

Then the EC introduced a decommissioning scheme by which many Danish, Dutch and Belgian vessels were scrapped. The scheme offered 75 per cent. of the cost of reducing the UK fleet provided the British Government offered the balance, which they for long refused to do. The Government have at last done so, but the grant is linked to tie up days. The UK fleet is about 30 per cent. over capacity for the available stocks. That figure includes Spanish owned British registered vessels, mentioned already in the debate, fishing our quotas and landing in Spain. But while the measure is damaging to the British fleet, lack of enforcement in Spain means that there will be no effect on its flagships. That point should be addressed by the Government as it constitutes a glaring anomaly in the system.

The latest EC proposals aim to reduce fishing days by up to 30 per cent. on the 1991 base which would allow only 140 fishing days. As an example the average Scarborough vessel fishes some 200 days in the year, the remainder of the time being taken up with repairs, maintenance and holidays. All crews are self-employed and their pay is based solely on the value of the catch less expenses. There is no doubt that crews could not live on the earnings of 140 days at sea, nor could ships be maintained.

The fittest to survive in the industry would be those with older vessels which are now paid for. Those with newer vessels would be unable to fish enough to repay loans to the very government who issued the loans in the first place to build the vessels. That imbalance of ship ages would spell trouble for the future and it is due to the failure to limit the size of the fleet early enough. It would be a tragedy if the British fishing industry were to be decimated while other nations fish and laugh at the British tied up in their ports.

Redundancy is rife throughout industry and farmers and fishermen must, and do, expect to suffer their share. Fishermen do not want charity: they recognise the need for conservation. In recent years they have increased the size of meshes to avoid catching immature fish. They have pleaded in vain for the closure of the central North Sea spawning grounds. They would like to see a ban on industrial fishing by which the Danes take at least 100,000 tonnes of immature white fish. I do not believe that the Bill provides the solution to the problem. It is fundamentally flawed; in particular it does not deal with the main problem of conservation. And it does not apply to other EC states. That is a highly emotive point particularly as the French and Spanish do not adhere even to existing conservation rules.

The Bill will encourage fishermen to abandon selective methods in order to fill up their ships in the shortest time. It also undermines the climate of opinion necessary for conservation to work by creating antipathy between government and fishermen. That is a difficult matter to quantify but even the Minister has admitted that it is important.

Amendments were proposed at various stages of the Bill in another place in an effort to improve the Bill. However, all those amendments were rejected. Therefore the industry now has to hope for the complete rejection of this Bill. In another place the Minister, under pressure from Members, agreed to lay before the House an amendment to ensure that the restrictions on the EC countries would be as stringent as those imposed on the UK fleet. However, in a letter to the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations the Minister stated that he would not introduce the amendment unless the UK was satisfied that member states which share our stocks were taking effective steps to meet their fleet capacity targets as defined by what the EC calls the multi-annual guidance programme.

The assurances given to MPs and the NFFO's chairman are not the same. Thus the industry does not have much confidence that the government amendment to be tabled at Committee stage in this House will be adequate. It is strongly resented that the UK fleet should be subject to more stringent regulations than our Community partners fishing the same stock which place our industry at a competitive disadvantage.

The UK fishing industry is ancient and traditional. It has provided the seafaring experience which manned the navy and shaped British history. This is not the time—and the time will never come—for it to be cast out of existence.

7 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I was privileged to be a member of the sub-committee which conducted the review of the common fisheries policy we are considering today. It was, in my view, a timely and important inquiry. It was certainly a very thorough one, during which all of us learnt a great deal. I know that I did. I pay tribute to our admirable chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, to our very knowledgeable and helpful specialist adviser, Mr. Boyd Gordon and our excellent clerk.

Our recommendations are set out clearly in the report. I hope that the Government will consider them carefully because I believe that they point to a very necessary reform of the CFP and are realistic and constructive. We know from the Parliamentary Secretary's Written Answer of 21st October (Official Report,21/10/92; col. WA90)) that the Fisheries Council has had a first discussion of the new draft regulations. I hope that we can be given some more information about that discussion and about the way in which policy is likely to develop.

I subscribe to all the conclusions of the report. I should like simply to draw attention to one or two points which seem to me particularly important. First, I believe that our recommendation that the CFP should have a new additional objective—namely, to protect the whole marine environment from damage caused by fishing—should be taken very seriously. This was not mentioned by the noble Earl in his opening speech.

It was clear to us that at present some fishing practices, especially beam trawling, are often very destructive. Page 17 of our report spells out the concerns of conservationists. I for one had no idea that the entire bed of the North Sea was trawled every year and that of the Irish Sea three times a year, or that, according to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, for every kilogram of commercial fish caught by beam trawlers, which scrape up the sea bed in an appallingly destructive way, between two and four kilograms of dead and damaged fish are thrown back into the sea.

I think it essential that, as the sub-committee recommends, more use should be made of closed conservation boxes and marine protected areas. That again was a matter not mentioned by the noble Earl. The Shetland box must be maintained and perhaps extended, and other conservation boxes should be established.

Everyone agrees that the Community has far too many fishing boats and that fishery effort is excessive, resulting in enormous pressure on fish stocks, especially cod and haddock. Our recommendation was for decommissioning as an essential long-term measure. We need something much stronger than the scheme announced by the Government last February. Tie-up restrictions should, as we said, be only a short-term solution, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, explained earlier in the debate. Against that background the tie-up proposals in the present Bill seem to me unfair and unsatisfactory. I have been impressed by the eloquent letters I have received from trawler skippers and their wives about the serious effect on them of a permanent tie-up scheme. However, I think that it is right that Ministers should have powers to revoke the licences of those who persistently break the rules.

We came down in favour of reforming rather than abolishing TACs, and I think that that is right. Since monitoring and enforcement are clearly far stricter here than in countries such as Spain, we argued that the Commission's inspectorate should be given powers to carry out spot checks, followed up if necessary by infraction proceedings.

I should like to lay particular stress on our recommendation that industrial fishing should be phased out. I know that Mr. Gummer has raised his voice against that practice, and I found what the noble Earl said on the matter reasonably encouraging.

However, against the background of the serious situation in the North Sea, we must demand that the Community addresses the problem more vigorously. It is not acceptable that half the tonnage taken from the North Sea should be tiny fish, the basis of the food chain for many important species—birds and mammals as well as fish—and including many juvenile cod and haddock, all destined for fish meal factories or even, in Denmark, to provide oil for power stations. The problem must be addressed urgently.

I think that all of us were horrified by the fearful waste of fish produced by the practice of discards at sea, which is described in paragraphs 48 and 49 of our report. The quantities of fish killed in that way are scarcely credible. I very much hope that we can investigate alternative policies, as proposed in paragraph 116 of our report, although I fully understand the difficulties which the noble Earl described.

In present circumstances it is clearly important that technical measures should be strengthened, as recommended in paragraph 119 of our report, to enable more young fish to survive. The Government should press vigorously for the compulsory introduction throughout the Community of square mesh panels, not merely for nethrops but for all fish.

Good research is clearly essential if we are to come to sensible and realistic conclusions about fisheries policy. I was impressed by what we saw and heard when we visited MAFF's research laboratory at Lowestoft but I was struck by the fact that, because of limited resources, that laboratory was unable to do any research on some species—for example, turbot and lemon sole, which are important in the market. I believe that the laboratory ought to be given the modest extra resources necessary to enable it to look at the state of stocks of those species. I hope that the Government will address that point.

We have all heard of the problem of quota hopping and the consequences of the Factortame judgment, which will allow 100 or so essentially Spanish boats, manned by Spanish crews, to fish our British quota, and now a dozen or so Dutch beam trawlers to operate out of Aberdeen. The Government tried manfully to avert that situation but lost the battle and seem now to think that nothing more can be done. I do not believe that we can leave the matter there. The CFP, rightly or wrongly, is based on national quotas and the coming of foreign boats to fish our limited quotas makes nonsense of that policy. The Government must roll up their sleeves and tackle the problem, difficult though it may be, in Brussels. The present situation is clearly not acceptable.

As vice-chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, I should like to draw attention to the memorandum from that trust submitted to the sub-committee and printed on page 178 of the written evidence. The sub-committee addressed the problem of industrial fishing but the other points made in the trust's memorandum—the lack of a Community policy on wild Atlantic salmon, the acceptance of the principle that wild salmon should only be taken in their rivers of origin and their estuaries and that interceptory fishing for mixed stocks should be banned, the need for more research, the better control of illegal high seas fishing and the introduction of carcass tagging on a Community basis—are important. I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, whether the Government will encourage the Commission to introduce a policy for salmon. It is badly needed.

In my view the CFP is not nearly as bad as the common agricultural policy, but it is very important that Western European countries should act quickly to reduce their fishing fleets to a size which will enable fishing effort to be substantially reduced—by at least 30 to 40 per cent.—so that the fish can survive and reproduce and a sustainable fishery, giving a secure living to a reasonable number of fishermen, can continue. If the stocks are destroyed the fishermen will lose their jobs anyway. The Commission has, to its credit, recognised the seriousness of the problem, though some European countries have not. It is essential that we should play our part in securing a realistic and sensible policy for European fisheries. I believe that our report indicates how that objective may best be secured.

7.9 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, the Bill addresses a difficult problem. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Howe on his clear exposition of how the Bill intends to tackle it, although I am not happy about many of its provisions.

As other noble Lords have said, there is no dispute about the need to conserve fish stocks. British fishermen accept the necessity to reduce the capacity of European fishing fleets if fish stocks are to be conserved in the long term. They also accept that the UK fleet must play its part. But they rightly insist that inevitable restrictions and sacrifices should be shared as fairly and equitably as possible. In particular, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, they want level fishing grounds for all EC fishermen.

At this late hour many of the points I had intended to raise have already been well made and I shall not repeat them, but I would like briefly to draw attention to ways in which the Bill seems to me to need amendment. It has several objectionable features. First, it gives the Minister very wide powers under delegated legislation. There is virtually no indication of how he will use those powers or of the criteria on which his decisions will be taken. Those decisions are subject only to an appeal to the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal, the members of which are appointed by the Minister. How will the boats be chosen for restriction of the days at sea? Will all of one type have the same restrictions or will all boats in specified areas have the same restrictions? How will restrictions relate to the principle of total allowable catch? How will days at sea be defined? All those are matters which should be more clearly indicated in the Bill.

Secondly, the Bill will cause a major increase in bureaucracy. It will require fishermen to provide much detailed information, again at the Minister's discretion. As the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, has indicated, that is most unwelcome to fishermen. It is difficult for them to carry out bureaucratic processes in the conditions under which they work.

Thirdly, the Bill is excessively draconian. Licences, which represent the fisherman's livelihood, will be revocable at the whim of the Minister not only, as now, to regulate fishing but in future also for breach of the new days at sea limitation regulations rather than, or perhaps as well as, punishment in the courts.

Fourthly—and worst of all—the Bill does not attack the basic problem of too many boats—that is, the size of the fleet—unless, as fishermen fear, it is the intention to make fishing so unattractive by the restrictions of days at sea that they will have no alternative but to accept decommissioning at knock-down, inequitable prices.

We must look closely during the Committee stage at several points, particularly the Minister's accountability to Parliament, how he will use his powers and what reports he will have to make to Parliament to indicate how the scheme is progressing. We must ensure that there is a provision in the Bill that advanced warning is given to fishermen of the restrictions which will be imposed upon them about days at sea. We must ensure that proper compensation is paid for loss of earnings due to being tied up in harbour. We need to look at the composition of the Sea Fish Licence Tribunal which is set up under Clause 2. I do not think it is entirely satisfactory that all the members should be appointed by the Minister when they are going to have to judge the decisions taken by the Minister. Finally, there should be a date set after which the Act will cease to have effect.

The fact is that the Bill is widely and intensely disliked by British fishermen. Their concern must be recognised and not ignored, as must the effect on local fishing communities so well put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. Fishermen fear that the major new restrictions on days at sea will put them at a serious disadvantage compared with their foreign competitors and so will destroy their livelihood. There is also concern that the restrictions will make fishing so unprofitable that they will be forced to decommission and sell out at unfair, depressed prices.

I could not quite understand the logic of my noble friend Lord Howe. He seemed to be saying that since days at sea would be maintained at the 1991 level, there was nothing much to worry about because it would not unduly affect the economy of the fishermen's activities or their livelihood. But how does that line up with the objective of reducing their catch? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord in his reply can explain that apparent anomaly.

Fishermen have served their country well in peace and war. They are not whingers. They want to go on doing a hard, difficult and often dangerous job, and we must listen to their views. Some 50 years ago I had the privilege of serving with the fathers and grandfathers of today's fishermen, catching mines. They earned our gratitude when we had our backs to the wall. There is no doubt that today's fishermen are no less courageous, hard-working and deserving of our gratitude and support, which I hope we will demonstrate in our treatment of the Bill at its subsequent stages.

7.15 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I have no connection with the sea fishing industry but I consider myself to be lucky to have served on Sub-committee D under the excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Selborne. Our problem today is lack of stocks of most species of fish. The only way to allow them to recover is to reduce the number being killed. That can be achieved only by legislation, and this Bill may be part of it. However, the fact remains that our fishing fleet, not the numbers of vessels but the fishing effort available within it, is too great by over 25 per cent. The types of measures contained in the Bill may be used in the very short term but even in the medium term decommissioning should be used to reduce the fishing effort. Measures such as those in the Bill should then be used for fine tuning towards achieving the TAC targets.

I do not feel that the arguments for the Government's reluctance to bring in a large decommissioning scheme in the near future are sustainable. I am not ignoring the welcome announcement recently made of the £25 million decommissioning scheme which will begin next year and go on for three years. Before we applaud that we must put it into perspective. As can be seen in the evidence, the natural increase in fishing effort due to technological advances is slightly over 2 per cent. a year. That is not an increase in the number of vessels. Therefore, the size of the proposed scheme will only halt that increase. It will do nothing to reduce total effort. Effective policing of measures such as those before us today will be almost impossible. Discards at sea—which are always dead fish—will continue or even increase as fishermen throw away one species in favour of another. As we see on page 57 of the report, globally the discards are horrific, often exceeding the numbers of fish actually landed. There are obviously problems with the tie-up scheme. Those have been illustrated in the report and by other speakers.

We come back to the basic problem: why will the Government not introduce an effective large-scale decommissioning scheme? We and the Republic of Ireland are the only two nations in Europe which seem to shrink from doing it. Now that boats of under 10 metres are to he licensed it removes the one practical problem of decommissioned boat owners transferring their fishing effort to unlicensed boats of less than 10 metres. It is accepted that it would cost a large amount of money to decommission and that it would go to the fishermen. The fishermen seem to be all for it. We could not find any who were not. As Mr. Curry said, so would everybody about to be given money by the taxpayer. But do we not already compensate farmers for conservation measures left, right and centre?

There is some doubt about the effectiveness of certain measures, such as mesh size and tie-ups. However, there can be no doubt about the effectiveness of a 25 per cent. reduction in fishing effort by decommissioning. There is not much policing to be done if the vessels do not exist. The mechanics of decommissioning the right vessel capable of catching certain species in certain areas is obviously complicated. But it looks as if the fishermen would co-operate. So it is possible that it would he successful.

The setting of a price at which fishermen would go is difficult. There are a number of suggestions in the report as to how it might be done. However, in answer to question 429 on page 141 Mr. Curry talks about having to change rules within the European Community if the tenders are above those grant aided by the Community. He seems to be at odds with Mr. Van Depoele, head of the task force from the European Commission, who points out in answer to question 547 on page 170 that there is only a limit to the pay back from the Community. If the tenders are low, then the Government and the Community save money; if they are high, government would be allowed to top them up. That does not involve a change of rules, as I understand Mr. Curry to have suggested.

In the final analysis, too much dependence by the Government on measures such as tie-ups will entail an inefficient fishing fleet. Boats will go out of business because they will not be financially viable. Fishermen will lose their jobs without special provision being made for them. That would be uncontrolled and quite uncaring of our hard pressed fishing communities, especially the outlying ones in Northern Ireland and the islands of Scotland. Decommissioning could take care of those problems by virtue of targeting and compensation.

I hope that it is not too late for the Government to realise that, although decommissioning on its own will not work, it must be the basis for future management. The measures in this Bill, though necessary, should be used for fine tuning and further control. I hope that amendments placed at a later stage will be accepted in order to make the Bill much more user friendly.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Saint Levan

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long this evening. I came ashore yesterday from an island off the west coast of Cornwall in a force 9 gale and I plan to return tonight, leaving on the midnight train.

For many years I have been on the council of the Fishermen's Mission at Newlyn. As noble Lords will know, if there is a disaster at sea it is always the man from the mission who has to tell the families. It is the mission which, for many years afterwards, looks after the welfare and the spiritual needs of the fishermen and their families. I know that the fishermen in Newlyn fully accept the need for conservation and are fully aware that difficult and unpopular decisions have to be made. However, they want to have more consultation and very much hope that the Bill will be amended in this House.

There are many families who have fished for generations. They might be forced into bankruptcy and leave the industry which they love. Fishing is part of our Cornish heritage and tradition. There is enormous sympathy for fishermen in every part of the Cornish community. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, even with restrictions on the days at sea, many fishermen will have to carry on with the only way of life they know. That will be despite economic hardship and the enormous capital and repair costs of the boats and fishing gear, and with the worry of incurring bank loans which it may be impossible to repay.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, reminded noble Lords that 50 years ago he served on a minesweeper. I was First Lieutenant and then Captain of a minesweeper for some years during and after the war. Trawling for mines seemed much the same sort of life as trawling for fish. What I remember most about those days was that we were not nervous about being blown up by mines but we had the constant strain, worry and responsibility of working at sea with powerful high-speed winches and strong steel wires which could cause a terrible accident if they parted. A lapse of concentration from any man for a moment, either because he was tired or sea sick, could lead to death or being maimed for life.

I wonder whether decommissioning could be targeted at the particular types of vessels which extract valuable stocks of fish from parts of the seabed which other fishing boats cannot reach. Perhaps more compensation might be paid to gill netters or beam trawlers. The present decommissioning scheme seems to the industry to be little more than a competition to see which vessels will take less money.

I do not know very much about the technical problems of fish conservation. However, I wonder whether other boxes and sea areas free from fishing could he established while fish could spawn. Perhaps scientists could designate the fishing grounds which might be chosen. Off the coast of Cornwall there might be a fishing free zone of 70 square miles off the Lizard and another 70 square miles off the north coast. I know that there are difficulties in policing. It would be necessary to have the agreement and co-operation of other European states.

Last week I received a letter from the skipper of a fishing trawler. It was written while he was fishing five miles off Land's End at intervals between his other duties of keeping watch, hauling and stocking. Certainly his biro ran out and I only received half the intended letter. He said, like every other fisherman who has written to me about this Bill, that he felt very strongly that most of Britain's fish had been given to Europe and the pittance that was left was being swallowed up by flags of convenience vessels of other countries.

I hope that this Bill will be amended along the lines suggested by the fishing associations. The port of Newlyn used to be a very prosperous fishing port. Only a few years ago Her Majesty the Queen opened a new pier so that more fishing boats could berth alongside it. One of the main reasons for building the Penzance bypass was so that Newlyn fresh fish, with an excellent EC grade, could be transported to other ports for export. Also, many fish are brought from the smaller Cornish ports to Newlyn for sale.

It is estimated that in the port of Newlyn there are about five ancillary workers behind each fisherman. About 5,000 people could be affected by any serious decline in the fishing industry. I hope that more money can be found to pay for other methods of conservation which might even be more expensive. Newlyn used to be a prosperous fishing port.

Finally, I should like to endorse what has already been said about the compensation which should be paid on decommissioning to the crews of fishing boats as well as the owners and skippers. Many fishermen will have left school at the age of 16 and will have only a few GCE qualifications. West Cornwall is one of the most depressed areas of the country. It would be very sad to see so many excellent English seamen join the tin miners on the dole.

7.25 p.m.

The Earl of Iddesleigh

My Lords, I came from Devon today because in the past month I have received between 30 and 40 agonised letters from fishermen in the South West. I have listened to the debate and have learnt a lot. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, put most succinctly and well the points which I wanted to make. I shall therefore concentrate only on the one message that came from the many letters that I received. That is the problem of all our fishermen who are forced to keep their boats tied up in port knowing that fishermen from our EC partners are happily fishing sometimes even in sight of our coasts. I have every possible sympathy with such a complaint.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining so clearly to us his reasons for the need for such an arrangement. I must confess that I am only very slightly happier now than I was when the debate started. I hope that the number of days that our West Country boats have to be tied up will not be too numerous. I fear that we are almost giving the Government a blank cheque in that respect. To my mind the tie-up scheme is an iniquitous arrangement.

As has been said already, it will make very little difference to the conservation goals if the number of days that one has to tie up one's boat is small. I should have thought that a combination of an agreed increase in the size of mesh, perhaps additional special panels to allow through immature fish or even more areas of conservation boxes would be a happier arrangement and certainly far easier to police.

We know that the French are or soon will be compensating their fishermen for laying up their boats. I wonder whether we could be told, perhaps at the end of the debate, the amount of money that has been allocated by the French for that and perhaps the maximum sum that they are giving to their fishermen. It may be that those figures are not available but I suspect they are.

I appreciate that individual EC countries are at present being allowed to do their own thing. To my mind that is a great pity. When it comes to fishing, this is such a very important issue to so many individuals as well as local communities that I feel it must be highly desirable for all the EC fishing interests to come closer together. We badly need the level playing field, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has already said. I can add nothing to the debate that has not already been said. I only dread the additional letters that will arrive on my desk from Wednesday onwards.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I confess that I have to catch an even earlier train than other noble Lords—at 8.35. I hope therefore that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not remain to the end of the debate.

I congratulate the Minister on his presentation of this difficult Bill, parts of which I am glad to support. Even the most partisan will confess that it has some imperfections. However, they are as nothing to the imperfections in the fishing industry which the Bill seeks to regulate.

The fishing fleet capacity has expanded enormously in response to technological advances. Together the combined fleets of the European seas are able to fish out beyond the level of natural recovery the whole of the Western Approaches of the North Sea and West Atlantic fisheries in the course of two years.

The fishermen agree on the vital need for conservation. However, they find a conflicting interest in their traditional rights to fish home waters while we have granted such overwhelming rights to our European partners to fish our own waters. Some believe that all we obtain in return is poaching and disregard of Community rules, as many other noble Lords have stated.

Fishermen have responded to approaches from the Ministry with demands for decommissioning grants. Noble Lords from all sides have supported the suggestion that decommissioning should be adopted. However, the fishermen are under the impression that the European Community will apply a 70 per cent. grant. As we have been told, as a result of the Fontainebleau Agreement that grant is reduced to only 25 per cent. for the United Kingdom. It makes decommissioning much too expensive for the British Government in the present circumstances. There must be some other way; or we must modify the Fontainebleau Agreement.

Your Lordships' committee, which produced an incisive report of great clarity and depth—for which we thank noble Lords—rightly concludes that the effort put into fishing needs to be controlled. The Bill sets out to achieve that objective in the light of the fact that decommissioning is considered by the Government to be too expensive, although no one doubts that it is the most desirable.

I also greatly admired the evidence in the report of Mr. Holden and the ideal of a quota per boat. That has limitations. Whole quotas can be snapped up in early days, with a devastating effect on stocks. It also has disadvantages since today's boats are highly specialised and designed to fish in only one configuration.

However, perhaps I may dare to make a suggestion to your Lordships. There may be a way of granting licence quotas not to one boat but to a group—a flotilla of four boats, each one designed to fish with its own specialised gear, and fishing from and landing at designated ports. Each boat would be granted its own quota in the activity of fishing for which it was designed. There would still be a required reduction in effort. But that would be achieved by allowing a limited nominated crew complement for the flotilla, sufficient perhaps to provide three crews for four boats. Thus with limited crew levels the boats would effectively be decommissioned for a percentage of the time. Fishermen would have flexibility of choice of boat and catch according to the markets and the season. The reduction in manning levels would require heavy compensation. It would be a reduction of perhaps 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. But that is intended, and is necessary. Presumably there may be EC help for that.

The fishing industry is largely a family and community affair. I suggest that such a plan fits the need. Those employed would enjoy higher catches and wages and fuller employment. Any plans for conservation of fish stocks require the agreement and co-operation of owners, skippers and crews—people who are rightly renowned as fierce defenders of their way of life, which is hard and dangerous, as noble Lords have pointed out, and as I know from my own experience.

I suspect that the plan to fit boats with transponders would be received with considerable scepticism. However, the Monicap system may also be seen as the thin end of the Brussels wedge. Nevertheless in the important area of safety at sea, especially in the crowded waters around our coasts, the Monicap system deserves serious consideration so that all ships navigating those waters may have access to vital information about neighbouring activities in their immediate vicinity. This is an international maritime need as well as a means of fishery control and should be costed accordingly. Obviously it would also give us the opportunity of monitoring fixed boxes designated at specific times of the year to allow fishing to be prevented in areas where spawning was taking place.

The plan is largely based on statistics. The fish stock levels, as quoted through landings, are irrelevant, as has been clearly pointed out. They cannot take account either of discards or of illegal, unnotified landings. It is only if there is seen to be a fair and effective control system that we shall receive the essential co-operation of fishermen which is needed to achieve the preservation of the species so that we may have a vital, natural resource and continue to answer the country's daily needs.

At present there is great suspicion that foreigners, supposedly our partners in the European Community, are cheating. As noble Lords have said many times over, that is used by our own men as an excuse to bend the rules. Unfortunately we, the British, are seen to be more effective at controls and that exacerbates the resentment. Controls are more and more disliked. I am very glad to hear the Minister's affirmation of the intention to use the intervening time—a whole year until 1994—to reassure the industry that a level playing field, or fishing ground, will be enforced.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Harvey of Tasburgh

My Lords, I rise with some diffidence because, although I wish to speak about the impact of the Bill on the Cornish fishing community, I do not pretend to be an authority on the fishing industry. Nor am I a Cornishman. I lack the credentials of my noble friends Lord Falmouth and Lord Saint Levan. However, I have lived in Cornwall on the waterfront for 30 years or so. Having been part of the sailing community I see a good deal of the fishing community. It is a measure of the intensity of their feeling against the Bill that they should urge a foreigner to stand up for them. At first I thought that they were really scraping the barrel in looking to me for help. But then I realised that few of your Lordships live permanently in Cornwall. I hope that among them we may number the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, who spoke so eloquently about the problem of Cornwall. I also thought that, if an outsider spoke for the people concerned, he would not be suspected of special pleading. Therefore I concluded that I should be failing in my duty to this House as well as letting down my friends and neighbours if I did not try to express their anxieties.

As has been well described by many noble Lords, the principal concern is the restriction on days at sea, the tying up, backed by very severe penalties, when there are no restrictions on foreign fleets. I consider that a form of rationing. I believe that any rationing damages competition or creates the wrong competition, such as black markets for smuggling. Even worse is to have rationing imposed unilaterally on our own fishermen while others are left free, or their misdeeds connived at by their authorities. Aggravating that situation are the foreign-owned British-registered boats whose catches come out of our quota even if landed abroad.

The time restriction might be acceptable if it were applied and were seen to apply to all nationalities. But rightly or wrongly that is not believed to be the case. Even if it were, it is not regarded as the most efficient or fair means of conservation because it would encourage a scramble for the higher-value fish and lead to the dangers vividly described by the noble Lord, Lord Amherst. I know that the following is not a true parallel but I ask how farmers would react if they were ordered to restrict their harvesting to 10 days a month in August and September. Would anyone suggest protecting the pound sterling by limiting only British foreign exchange dealers to a three-day week?

I do not wish to give the impression that the criticism is purely hostile and destructive. On the contrary, for obvious reasons the fishing community is entirely persuaded of the need for conservation. There are constructive ideas floating around which are considered to be safer, fairer and more efficient. I am not qualified to explain them technically but many have been described by other noble Lords this afternoon. For instance, there is the box system, or closed ground, where, in order to protect spawning grounds, there is an absolute prohibition on fishing in designated areas during particular periods of the year. That is fair, effective and easily enforced. Another idea is the specification of minimum limits on mesh size and the shape of nets; for example, the box and diamond. Of course, in the background is the necessity for a proper decommissioning scheme such as was carried out some years ago by the French. The best method of conservation is that adopted in my area, the Fal Estuary, where the working boats are allowed to dredge for oysters only under sail. Regretfully I admit that that cannot be applied to the offshore fleet.

Speaking again as a detached outsider, I do not wish to imply that all fishermen are saints. They have a tough life and they are a forceful lot, as they must be in their profession. They are often at loggerheads with each other and with those around them. In fact, it is remarkable how strongly this Bill has united the fishing interests and aroused the sympathy of the rest of the community. The fishermen are vigorous and courageous characters. In this context "the salt of the earth" is an inappropriate phrase but "the salt of the sea" does not seem right either. I shall only say that there are not many people these days whose main complaint is that they are prevented from working as long as they want to. I know that they try to bend the rules when they have the chance, as do many people today. However, they believe that the theme of the Bill, as they understand it, is, "Find out what they are doing and tell them to stop it! "

I noticed with amusement that the Bill was passed in another place on Bastille Day, the quatorze juillet. Certainly it seemed to tilt the balance in favour of the other side of the Channel. But many circumstances, and in particular our relations with the European Community, have changed dramatically since then. Surely that justifies a new look at some of the provisions of the Bill, a new study of alternative methods of conservation and a new attempt to urge other EC countries the need to impose comparable restrictions and disciplines on their own fleets. The Minister has given me some reassurance on all those points. I shall try to convey that to my friends in Cornwall.

It would have been pleasant to have restored the balance by Trafalgar Day, which was a couple of weeks ago. Personally I would plump for St. Piran's Day, as I am speaking from a Cornish point of view, but no doubt that would be too parochial. Perhaps I may say without being chauvinistic—on the contrary, with genuine European unity and co-operation in mind—that I hope the Bill, which is an enabling Bill with admirable objectives, will no longer drift by accident into becoming a British Sea Fisheries Disabling Act and that we shall have in place a real Sea Fisheries (Conservation) Act by St. George's Day.

7.45 p.m.

Viscount Falmouth

My Lords, I congratulate the two excellent maiden speakers who spoke to the point and showed great knowledge of the subject. I thank the Minister for explaining the Bill fully and I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for the excellent report of the committee which he chaired successfully. I too come from the fringe or end county of Cornwall. It is a fishing county; therefore, I have a certain experience of fishing problems in that area.

The hour is late and I shall not detain your Lordships too long. Perhaps I may be allowed to make one or two points that have not yet been mentioned. My noble friend Lord Saint Levan mentioned Newlyn. That is an important port which has the highest value of landed fish in England. It is not, therefore, a negligible part of the country. In Cornwall there are about 1,300 fishermen who have craft of all shapes and sizes; for instance, potters, toshers, trawlers, beam trawlers, long liners, those with nets and so forth. I shall not elaborate on the county; I shall return to the principle of the Bill.

Everyone in your Lordships' House and elsewhere is agreed that fish stocks must be conserved. We have before us the dreadful example of the North Sea where large species such as halibut, ling and turbot are rare and the size of cod and haddock are much smaller. Whatever else we may say or think, conserving fish means killing fewer fish. All methods of conservation, therefore, affect the incomes and earnings of fishermen, especially when they are first introduced. Fishermen in this country are to be congratulated on being united in realising the importance of conservation. I shall not deal with the various methods of conservation which have been explained eloquently today; for instance, large mesh nets and blocks controlling spawning areas which are difficult to enforce. It is clear that we are concerned with the limitation of fishing effort; that is the number of days at sea. It is the hook on which we are all attached today.

Like noble Lords on all sides of the House, I too have received a large number of letters expressing the fears of honest and upright fishermen, in particular those from the west of England. They fear that fishing effort will be substantially curtailed. It springs from what the scientists have said—that most fish stocks in the North Atlantic are over fished. In some cases stocks are believed to be close to the point of collapse. The need for reduced effort is evident.

The choices for management produced by scientific advisers focus on the progressive reduction of fishing effort, usually in the region of between 10 and 30 per cent. The figure of 30 per cent. has stuck in the minds of fishermen. Perhaps I may quote from a letter that I received from the wife of a fisherman based on Newlyn. She said: He owns a 36 ft fishing vessel… We employ one man. A reduction of time spent at sea would result in a drop of income as our income is solely dependent upon the amount of fish we catch… The effect of a 30 per cent. reduction to our income would be disastrous. In today's climate we are struggling not to become one of the numerous small businesses going bankrupt each week". The figure of 30 per cent. has frightened fishermen tremendously. If the fisherman I have mentioned has to stand off his one crew member, the fear expressed—the English Channel being one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world—is that with one less crew member on board to take a shift on watch the possibility of collision is increased.

Another extremely valid point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, is that it may be necessary to put to sea in weather conditions in which one would not normally sail were the restriction on days at sea to be carried through.

The Bill is spoken of as a means of conserving our fish stocks. In reality, we do not have exclusive rights over fish stocks. So while the Government force the UK fishing fleet to stay in port, any of the EC countries, in particular the French and Spanish who have no such restrictions, will be able to fish without competition from the United Kingdom.

The letter from the fisherman's wife goes on: Daily we encounter the French and Spanish fishing fleet. Their vessels are larger, more modern and better crewed than Ours". It is feared that when our fishing boats are in port, our seas—the common seas—will be fished by our European partners all the more, with scant respect for the fishing laws and quotas of their own countries, and with no restrictions such as we have on their fishing effort. That will make a complete nonsense of our attempts at conservation by limiting effort. That fear has been expressed to me time and time again both in the fish market at Newlyn and in a wide range of letters which I—and I am sure other noble Lords—have received.

I shall give two examples to explain the grounds for those fears. The first is the obvious one of quota hoppers. In July there were about 77 such vessels, mostly large craft from other countries in the Community. They are landing in ports on the Continent their fish and probably our fish beyond quotas. This country does not even receive the benefit of the exchange which might be won from the fish which they land.

Let us look for a moment at the staffing of the inspectorate of fisheries in Europe. It was, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, who mentioned Spain which has 17 inspectors to cover a very large seaboard. Those inspectors are all based in Madrid. What could be a more inefficient way of managing an inspectorate? Presumably, they ring up the port to say, "We will be arriving to inspect the fleet on Tuesday. Be ready for us." We know how they would be ready for them. Therefore, can anybody in our country have faith in the way in which fishing laws are enforced in other parts of the Community?

My noble friend, who made an excellent speech in introducing the Bill, may think it a very good thing to set an example in paving the way for conservation in this manner. However, I suggest that he should beware of giving away too much—perhaps giving away everything—at the start of any negotiations because there is then absolutely nothing left with which to bargain. It is perhaps naive to believe that where we lead, others will follow. Our fishermen believe that other member states will take full advantage of our absence. The Bill will do nothing to conserve our stocks. When those other countries have fully trained inspectors of integrity on the scale that we have, then perhaps it will be possible to control fishing effort to conserve stocks. I am glad that Government have undertaken in another place to introduce no resolution under the Bill unless they are completely satisfied that member states which share our fishery stocks are taking effective steps to meet their multi-annual guidance targets.

I do not believe that such a provision will do much to satisfy the industry that other member states are really playing their part. But it is a step forward. To reduce fishing effort there is a long voyage ahead of us. We must see whether our European partners can change their attitude as regards obeying laws which do not suit their interests. It is a great fear, which goes right through the fishing industry, that our European Community partners will not obey the fishing laws and that it will be a long time before they do so.

I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will do everything that they possibly can to protect the interests and efforts of our fishermen. If fishing efforts are kept down for a few years, some benefits may accrue, but the scientists advise that those benefits may not be permanent. However, benefits will arise only if all states keep down their fishing efforts and if laws are enforced. If that is not the case and only one country—Britain—restricts its efforts, and no conservation will result.

As has been mentioned before in your Lordships' House, the importance of fishermen to this country is considerable. We are still an island race in spite of a tunnel. A very wise Member of another place said a long time ago in a fishery debate—indeed, he was a seaman of great distinction—that if you give up the fishery, you lose your breed of seamen. Conservation of fish stocks must sail side by side with a proper and fair administration of a common law for the common seas. That law must be made and kept by the members of the EC and not made and kept by one country only. Otherwise this Bill can have no hope of success in its long term objective of preventing the seas around Europe from being fished out.

8 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, this has been one of the most interesting debates that I have heard in the House for a long time. There may have been some feeling that there was repetition in the debate, but it is important to note that everyone was giving experience from their own areas. I have seldom taken part in a debate and heard people speaking about Orkney and Shetland and others speaking of Cornwall, the North-East of Scotland and the Western Isles all with the same basic argument in regard to the specific problem of conservation of fish.

Perhaps I should first say something in regard to the noble Lords who today made their maiden speeches. Both were extremely interesting and thoughtful. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, could not be described as non-controversial. I should prefer to call it inquisitorial. He expressed a great deal with which I agree.

Around 20 years ago I took part, with others, in a couple of radio programmes debating the EC in which I confessed that I was not an authority on fish but felt in my bones that the Scottish people would not do well in the EC in relation to fish. I am glad that that is on record so that it can be seen that I am not inventing something or trying to raise a point that was not true. The comments of the noble Lords, Lord Amherst and Lord Moyne, fully justified my early fears.

The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, raised a point which I hope to mention later; that is, that it is an enabling Bill with powers that are far too wide. The references made by the noble Lord to some aspects of European legislation would be funny in an Ealing comedy script. But in the situation where British fishing communities are at stake they are anything but funny.

Perhaps the most pertinent point made by the noble Lord was that in Cornwall he found that the fishermen were not so much against the Bill but more against the possibility of it ever being properly policed. In other words, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said earlier, we are back to the level playing field. I am sure that the House will be privileged to hear from both noble Lords in the future. I am hopeful that we shall hear from them during the Committee stage of the Bill.

From what has been said today I know that we are all well aware and concerned about conservation. Having met the Scottish and Northern Ireland fishermen last week, I am convinced that they have an even stronger sense of the importance of conservation than the rest of us. They see at first hand the depletion of stocks, the lowering of their catches and the threat to their standards of living or even their very livelihoods.

No one could claim that fishermen, or for that matter farmers, are easy for governments to deal with. There is always uncertainty in the work of both groups of people and their incomes can vary greatly. When legislation comes before the House they will always try to include in it a belt and braces protection. The Government's proposed scheme contains neither of those. I believe that it would have been apparent if before drafting the Bill the Government had had meaningful consultations with the industry. Perhaps the Minister can say just how much consultation with the industry there was. Our information is that there was very little. Many people who have spoken in the House today also seem to take much the same view.

The Government proposed a decommissioning scheme and that is where I find it difficult to see a thread of logic. The proposed scheme is rather pathetic in terms of the problems of conservation. The noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, said that around 5 per cent. of the fleet would go on the basis of £25 million compensation. I believe that that is correct. That will not make a great deal of difference. However, even that is compounded by the proposal that fish producer organisations may be given the power not merely to buy up the boats of those wishing to quit the industry—which would be logical—but also to buy up the fishing track records of those boats.

Unless I am totally misinterpreting the situation, we will have a decommissioning with no element of conservation. If fishing effort is to be curtailed boat by boat, the judicious purchase of track records would logically mean that the blank fishing days of one boat could be filled by the fishing track record of a purchased boat. That may be wrong. but that was my interpretation of the Bill. Thus the whole effort of a most complicated bureaucratic scheme would be nullified. I hope that the Minister will be able to help by answering that point.

Can the Government give any help in trying to assess the viability and economics of the British fishing industry? Has an overall picture ever been produced which includes the effect of what the industry calls "quota hoppers"—that is, people who come into British waters, catch the fish and then go to another port? I believe within some of the European rules that is permissible. I can see that we cannot keep people out of our waters when they are registered. But in order to preserve our stock they should at least land the fish in a British port to enable us to learn how much fish has been taken out.

I am glad to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, in his place. A point was raised in another place and not satisfactorily answered. It referred to foreign fishing vessels coming into our waters. I wonder whether the Minister has had time to look at the point raised in another place where there appeared to be a loophole in the 1976 Fishery Limits Act. It did not seem to contain any sanctions against foreign vessels entering and fishing in UK waters. The Minister will he aware that that defect was first pointed out in 1983. But in June of this year, just before the Bill went to Second Reading in another place, the charge against a foreign vessel was found not to be viable at Stornoway sheriff court. There was a technical flaw in the 1976 Act. I was asked by people from the Western Isles and other parts of Scotland to ascertain from the Minister whether that loophole has now been closed.

Perhaps the most important feature of the Bill—a subject of importance to us all and vital to the fishing industry—is the fact that it is basically an empowering Bill. A number of noble Lords referred to this in the debate. It gives the Minister and the Government great powers to do by regulation what could be more difficult to do by a more comprehensive and better thought-out Bill. The House should be told what scope the Minister proposes to give to the proper discussion of licence conditions which may become part of a licence before they are enforced.

It is a great pity that the Government felt unable to await the publication of the report of your Lordships' committee under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. It was published a matter of only a week or two after this Bill was given a Second Reading in another place. The report is very comprehensive and it is one of the best that I have ever read. A very large volume of evidence was taken. Thirteen groups gave oral evidence and about 30 gave written evidence. I believe that noble Lords will agree that the report has a great deal more behind it than the Bill before us. That would appear to be so from this debate and the speeches which we have heard from people who know a great deal about the industry.

As is frequently the case, the report is exhaustive, authoritative and most thoroughly researched. It is long, with evidence which runs to about 300 pages. Its recommendations should give the Government food for thought and perhaps the incentive to think again before implementing the more controversial aspects of the Bill. I recommend to any Member of the House who has not read the report and who is perhaps not totally immersed in the fishing industry merely to read the summary and the conclusions. If those are read, when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill there will be a great many more people supporting the amendments which have been promised will be put down by a number of those who have spoken in the debate. They are amendments which people wish to be incorporated in the Bill. This is not really a well-received Bill either in this House or in another place. Perhaps the correct amendments could be tabled in order to make the Bill more acceptable to the fishing community and the nation as a whole.

8.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, this has been a long but very interesting debate. I believe that there have been about 25 contributions to it, but I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not respond to each and every speech that has been made. I also trust that I shall be forgiven if I do not answer, or attempt to answer, the many questions that were put to me—about 30 or 40 during the course of the debate.

At the outset I join with other noble Lords in first paying my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Amherst and my noble friend Lord Moyne for their distinguished maiden speeches. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, may not have been entirely without the tinge of controversy, but nevertheless it was not only direct but showed a deep and clear knowledge of the subject. I am sure that his contributions on this matter and on others will be very much appreciated by your Lordships. I extend the same compliment to my noble friend Lord Moyne who exhibited the same degree of knowledge and lucidity in the presentation of his arguments. I am particularly grateful to him that he has found one fisherman in the West Country who seems to be in support of the Bill as it might begin.

The only other person I wish to compliment at this stage, and it is obviously a compliment which reflects on others, is to congratulate and thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for the report of the Select Committee over which he presided. There seems to be some indication that those who are interested or knowledgeable about fishing matters will find this report interesting and useful. I would go further than that. Those who have little understanding of the complexities and problems of conservation affecting our fishing industry at the moment have a great deal to learn from this very well set out summary of the problems and the various approaches which might be suggested. I am very grateful to all concerned.

In my time in another place I recall the time when herring was a principal part of the Scottish fisheries. Because of the extensive over-fishing there had to be a period of seven years when the herring fisheries of Scotland were simply closed down altogether. Until that happened there were great arguments that it was unnecessary and that fish were still available so that we could carry on. The reality was that, in time, the herring industry had to be closed down completely. I am relieved to say that, subsequent to that, herring fishing in Scotland has improved dramatically. That of itself would appear to be encouraging. The difficulty is that during the period when there was not the opportunity to fish for herring the daughters of housewives (who knew exactly what to do with the silver darlings) have forgotten how to use them. A significant problem in the marketing of fish is that the herring has never been restored to the place which it rightfully held among the great foods of the United Kingdom.

It is against that background that we have to look at conservation not only in the short-term sequences, but in the longer-term. We have to see that we do not get unnecessary or unacceptable peaks and troughs. If that were to happen similar damage would be done to the market. We believe that the CFP is essentially sound although there is, of course, as always, some room for refinement. It is essential that the system of total allowable catches and quotas remain at the heart of the CFP and that relative stability and Hague preference arrangements should be maintained.

Since the Select Committee report of your Lordships' House was published earlier this year and since we sent in our response to it in September, it might be useful if I briefly outline that there have been some developments in Brussels which would bear on the debate which your Lordships have engaged in this afternoon and this evening. One is a replacement of the overall CFP Regulations (EC Regulation 170/83) and includes provisions which time extend the local access provisions and the terms of the Shetland Box which was a matter of concern to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond.

In addition that proposal includes some new ideas on how to agree fishing TACs and quotas, suggesting that the EC Council of Ministers agree an internal framework every three to five years for stocks and thereafter allow a Commission-chaired group to agree simply the annual TACs and quotas within that framework. We are still looking at this. The Commission proposal needs to be explained in more detail by the Commission. We shall be striving to obtain an agreement which balances the long-term conservation interest of fish stocks with a decision-making process where member states' interests can be taken into account.

In addition the new framework proposal has put forward the prospect of an EC fishery licensing scheme. That too, for obvious reasons, requires to be very closely analysed bearing in mind that at the present time in the Community if there is any issue which concerns us it is how the principle of subsidiarity should be applied. The question then arises is whether the Community itself should be running such a scheme.

The other proposal from the Commission concerns enforcement. Almost without exception your Lordships have raised individual concerns on that point. It is recognised in the Commission's report on the CFP and by member states that there needs to be a better and more uniform standard of enforcement throughout the Community so that all fishermen from all member states are subject to strict control and monitoring rules. This new proposal aims to do that, extending the enforcement provisions to all elements of the CFP including structures and marketing. As some of your Lordships have remarked, and following on what was said to the Select Committee, there is even a proposal to introduce satellite technology so that boats can be monitored more efficiently.

Negotiations on that proposal will be difficult with some member states, as has been observed, having significantly less rigorous powers of enforcement activity than the United Kingdom itself. The observation has been made that in some way we have lost out over the common fisheries policy. While that is a point to bear in mind when we are looking again at the CFP, we are not in a position to renegotiate the common fisheries policy that was agreed in 1983, under which the United Kingdom received 37 per cent. of the quotas for the seven major white fish species. My recollection is that at that time the agreement was well received by the industry and was regarded as a fair and proper settlement.

There is, however, one area on which there continues to be real concern, possibly because it is an area in which we as a nation have little fishing interest. I refer to industrial fishing in Community waters. The argument has been advanced during the debate that over the next 10 years or so we should look to phase out such industrial fishing. I entirely agree that it is time for the Community to look again at whether additional measures should be taken to control industrial fishing operations. The European Commission was due to report on industrial fishing in the North Sea, Kattegat and Skagerrak by the end of August. That has not as yet been done although we are pressing the Commission on it. We hope to take forward discussions on that matter as quickly as possible.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said that he hoped that the Government might re-open the Hague Preference—notwithstanding what I have said—to remedy a particular unfairness in relation to Northern Ireland. That issue was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. As my noble friend Lord Howe said in opening the debate, the Hague Preference is an integral part of the relative stability of the common fisheries policy. It needs to be appreciated that Ireland is seeking to re-open the Hague Preference to increase its share, which would work to the detriment of the United Kingdom's fishermen. Although we would seek to help the Northern Ireland fishermen as much as we possibly could, re-opening the Hague Preference would be a dangerous course to take.

I have been asked a number of questions about decommissioning schemes—in particular, about whether other member states have such schemes. The answer is yes, all except Ireland, as was observed. The problem about the schemes is that although they are expensive they have not succeeded in reducing fishing effort. Although they may help to rationalise the structure of the internal fishing industry of any particular country, they have not reduced fishing effort. Stocks have not benefited as was intended. That is why we regard a restriction on days at sea as being a necessary complement to decommissioning.

I believe that it was the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who asked whether a generous decommissioning scheme might not be the way forward, reducing fishing effort by some 25 per cent. I fear that reducing the number of fishing vessels does not of itself reduce effort. An increased effort by the remainder—not least as a result of technical developments—could well leave the fishing effort at its original level or, indeed, higher.

As my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston stated, I once represented Arbroath and, like the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, I understand the distinctive character of fishing communities and how important fishing is to the fringes of Scotland. While I was a Member of Parliament—and since then—I have noticed a significant decline in the size of the fleet fishing out of ports such as Arbroath. However, when one looks at some of the boats that remain, at their traditional expertise coupled with some of the most elaborate and sophisticated technical aids, my firm suspicion is—but I would not like to quantify it too accurately—that literally a handful of boats achieve the same effort, and probably more, as was achieved when the fleet was three or four times its present size.

Decommissioning schemes in other member states have too often had the effect of restructuring the industry rather than reducing total numbers. I was asked a specific question about France. The figure that I have—I shall correct it if I am given an updated one—indicates that the French decommissioning scheme is costing about £16 million and the effect of that has been nearly to reach their target of a reduction of just 10 per cent. in the fleet. Perhaps I should add, going round the other Community countries, that the Dutch operate a strict tie-up regime for most of their vessels. Their days at sea have remained frozen, but they may well be reduced in the future.

Although the position of the Government is that a single reliance on decommissioning is not the way forward, we have considered carefully what the Select Committee said. In particular, we noted its recommendation that if decommissioning is to be carried out tendering would be an appropriate way forward because it would ensure the best value for money. We believe that tendering is the best way to determine levels of decommissioning payments and we are at present in discussion with the European Commission on that point.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy put some questions about the emphasis that we have given to research in relation to fishing. I thought that that was a slightly churlish point for him to make given the evidence that was provided not only to the Select Committee but also in the memorandum in response. I entirely agree with him that research is a very important element in determining the future of fishing. Co-ordinated research should continue under the present arrangements. We spend around £15 million per year on research and monitoring relating to marine fisheries. Our research is particularly directed towards the assessment of stock size and at what is described as "recruitment"—that is, young fish growing up—for the fish stocks which are of considerable importance to our industry. Research is also focused on the design and selectivity-of fishing gear to promote conservation. The square mesh nets that were introduced recently by the EC stemmed from research that was commissioned by the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, asked me a number of questions about designated ports, public auctions, and the licensing of fish buyers and the like in an attempt to control what are described as "black fish". Perhaps I may say immediately that all parts of the House share a real concern about the problem of black fish and there may, indeed, be solutions in some of the noble Lord's ideas. I cannot say that we have any immediate plans to follow them through, but it is a matter that should be kept under review.

The noble Lord also asked about the timing for the extension of controls below the 10 metre mark. We shall be using the licensing system to build up data on the under 10 metre fleet. This will then enable us to decide what controls are needed. It is unlikely that we would want to extend the days at sea controls in the first two or three years.

Finally on this part of the debate rather than specifically on the Bill, we were accused on a number of occasions of standing back and fighting the battle on behalf of British fishermen with our hands tied behind our backs. Perhaps I may say that we should approach carefully the argument that all other member states break the rules with impunity. All member states will be subject to the 1996 MAGP (multi-annual guidance programme) targets. I must remind your Lordships that the United Kingdom failed to reach its 1991 target. Perhaps we had better put our own house in order before we too vigorously attack other members of the Community on this point.

Just last week we joined the French in calling for more modest reductions in what are described as our MAGP targets. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked about bringing salmon within the EC regime. The Community already participates in the North Atlantic Salmon Organisation which is concerned with the proper management of these migratory fish.

I turn briefly to what has been said about the Bill itself. For the sake of brevity, I invite noble Lords to look carefully at what my noble friend Lord Howe said in opening the debate. Although the Bill is concerned with taking time out and requiring fishermen to stay in port, that should not be seen as the only part of our approach. What will be appreciated is that earlier this year we put forward a fairly extensive package, including decommissioning and other measures. What is different is that this is the only aspect of it which would require primary legislation. The extension of licensing to vessels under 10 metres has been very much welcomed by the industry as a necessary move to halt further expansion in this sector of the fleet. The industry has also rightly placed great emphasis on the role of technical conservation measures—in mesh sizes and net design. Here too we have succeeded in securing agreement over the introduction of a range of new Community measures, as well as taking additional unilateral action following consultation with the industry. There is no question but that technical measures have an important part to play in an effective conservation policy, but they are not in themselves sufficient to redress the current imbalance between fishing effort and available stocks.

We have announced changes to the rules on licence transfers between vessels and are considering further changes to allow producer organisations greater flexibility to help their members in restructuring the fleet. All these measures will contribute towards reducing capacity.

Then there is the decommissioning scheme and the £25 million of public money going directly into the industry. The benefits from the decommissioning scheme and the other measures are clear, but those benefits would be rapidly undermined if the remaining fleet was simply allowed to increase its effort. The imbalance between the capacity and capability of our fleet and the stocks available to it is clear. We need to have the ability to contain fishing effort if the industry is to reap the benefits of the other conservation measures. The powers in the Bill do just that—allowing us to freeze fishing effort at last year's level.

I understand the very real concerns of the industry, but it is essential that this Bill and the powers contained in it are seen in perspective. The industry knows, as we do, that action must be taken to protect fish stocks if we are to protect the long-term viability of the industry itself. As my noble friend emphasised in his opening remarks, the intention in the first instance is simply to freeze effort at the level which many will have chosen themselves last year. The fishermen will retain maximum flexibility to decide when they go to sea, as in the past. With fish stocks at their current levels there is no question of the fleet being unable to catch its full quotas. Regrettable as it may have been, the west of Scotland haddock fishery was closed to all United Kingdom vessels on 7th October. Equally regrettably, the North Sea haddock fishery was closed on 16th October to the two biggest groups of fishing vessels in Scotland. It needs to be recalled that those fishing vessels are at present subject to schemes that involve a degree of tie-up. What we are introducing in the Bill is not an EC scheme but a freestanding United Kingdom one.

We are establishing an appeals tribunal which will give any fisherman who is concerned over the level of his initial allocation of days at sea the right to appeal to an independent body. I appreciate that some noble Lords will wish to return to this point at the Committee stage.

In future years it may prove necessary to reduce days at sea allocations for some sectors of the fleet if we are to meet our MAGP targets. But again, as my noble friend has assured the House, while this is an enabling Bill we intend to introduce an amendment to the Bill at a later stage which will ensure that there is a further parliamentary debate before there are any overall reductions in days at sea allocations.

It is unclear at this stage what, if any, reductions may be needed in future years. That will depend on the extent to which the other measures I have referred to are successful in reducing capacity and fishing effort. But what is clear and remains beyond doubt is that there is a very significant imbalance between the capacity of our fleet to catch the fish to which it is entitled in terms of the common fisheries policy and the fish available to it. That imbalance threatens the very existence of those stocks and therefore the future of the industry. We must take action and take action now. The package of measures presented by the Government will go a long way towards readjusting the balance between fleet size and available fish stocks, but the other measures are not enough on their own.

I trust I will be forgiven if I have not responded to all the detailed points raised in the debate. They are points to which we shall be able to return at the Committee stage if they remain points of concern. The powers in the Bill are needed if we are to secure real conservation benefits and the long-term viability of this important industry. I commend the Bill to the House.

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