HL Deb 26 July 1993 vol 548 cc954-6

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they will ensure that fisheries policy takes account of the needs of the marine ecosystem as required by EC Fisheries Policy Council Regulation (EEC) No 3760/92 of 20th December 1992.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government were instrumental during the United Kingdom presidency of the EC last year in securing the obligation to which the Question of the noble Baroness refers. I can assure her that the Government will seek to influence the development of the common fisheries policy in ways which take proper account of that obligation.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. My concern is with the quality of the information on which the Government base their decisions. Can he say what research is currently done by MAFF and the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department which would enable sustainable thresholds to be understood? That is a vital point in the discussion. Does he agree that the sea fisheries committees could play an important role in safeguarding marine habitats? Will he say, for example, whether their membership could be improved to include people with expertise who could advise on the ecosystem?

Earl Howe

My Lords, for many years the fisheries departments have undertaken stock assessments of the most important species of fish. The material from that work and from comparable work by other countries contributes to the scientific assessments available to the EC Commission. That information, which includes an estimate of the amount of fish that can be prudently taken, provides the background against which the annual total allowable catches for each member state of the Community are calculated. With regard to sea fisheries committees, as the noble Baroness will know, they were originally established some 105 years ago around the coast in England and Wales. Therefore they have unparalleled knowledge and experience of coastal fisheries and marine environmental issues. Because of their specialist experience, we consider them the most appropriate bodies to be given additional powers to regulate fisheries for wider conservation reasons.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an update on the designation of marine nature reserves? To some of us, certainly to myself, they seem to be extremely slow in coming into being. Will he accept that the most recent information that I have is that some two out of eight proposed by the former Nature Conservancy Council have been designated in the course of 12 years?

Earl Howe

My Lords, as the noble Lord just said, two marine nature reserves have been designated in England and Wales under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Those are Lundy (in 1986) and Skomer (in 1990). The Countryside Council for Wales is currently undertaking public consultation on a proposed marine nature reserve for the Menai Straits. We consider that marine nature reserves should be established only after full consultation. Before designation every effort should be made to secure the agreement of those with legitimate interests in the area. That process can take longer than we ideally would wish. But we remain of the view that the time spent in gaining local support is time well spent.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, on a reading of the regulation to which the Question refers and which comprises some four preambles and 22 recitals, it is most difficult to obtain from Article 2 anything more than a very general idea of the scope for the eco-marine activity to which my noble friend referred? Will the Minister be a little more precise in indicating how the Government intend to proceed, particularly in the light of Article 5 and the appendix showing the various areas of influence and fishing over which it appears that very few people have any control?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I have already indicated to the noble Baroness the way in which we see the sea fisheries committees developing. The Government will continue to seek to protect the marine environment and the fish in it from the effects of pollution and other adverse influences. Our approach will continue to be that of retaining a balance between conservation, management and exploitation of fish as a renewable resource while also addressing environmental aspects which go far wider than fishing methods.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the EC regulation mentioned in the Question says that: provision should be made for the adoption of emergency measures in the event of serious upheaval"? What action are the Government taking to deal with potential damage to our fisheries and ecosystem resulting from the activities of the French, Spanish and other boats which are now fishing in our waters, having denuded their own?

Earl Howe

My Lords, one of the ways in which we can respond to threats of that kind is through the Commission. As the noble Lord may know, at the Fisheries Council in June political agreement was reached on a new control regulation which will strengthen the Commission's power to audit the enforcement procedures operated by individual member states. It will also generally tighten and extend existing control procedures to increase the effectiveness of enforcement and ensure that Community rules are implemented to an even standard by all member states. We very much welcome that.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, can the Minister say whether birds and birds' eggs on cliffs form part of the marine ecosystem as defined in the regulation?

Earl Howe

My Lords, while the common fisheries policy does not extend to sea birds or their eggs, we are aware that sea birds are predators of fish and therefore are dependent for their survival on a healthy marine ecosystem. I shall be delighted if the noble Baroness will allow me to write to her on that detailed point.

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