HL Deb 30 March 1995 vol 562 cc1761-82

6.21 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are the consequences of the recent European decision on fishing in Irish Box waters for the British fishing industry and for conservation, particularly in the light of the recent dispute over Greenland halibut in North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) waters.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I would like to thank in advance noble Lords and my noble friend Lady Elles, for indicating that they will be taking part and, I am sure, giving us the value and wisdom of their views on what I believe is a very important subject. Although the duration of the debate is limited—I shall try to keep myself to far less than 10 minutes—the timing of it is fortuitous.

The Newfoundland dispute, which has become such a high profile and acrimonious confrontation off the Canadian waters, has many similarities to fears for the future of the Irish Box waters. These fears not only focus on too much capacity chasing dwindling fish stocks but, more vital, on the present lack of faith and credibility of the present system of conservation and the effectiveness of enforcement procedures.

The desperate measures taken by the Canadian Government and their alleged evidence of the Spanish trawler "Estai", arrested with illegal nets and false holds stuffed with young fish and differing ship's logs of catches, confirms the worst fears of flagrant abuse and continuing damage of our fish stocks despite the bureaucratic assurances of conservation control to which everyone pays lip service.

It is not difficult to understand the frustration and patience snapping when the Canadians see 40 Spanish and Portuguese boats fishing in the straddling waters just outside their own waters, scooping up the fish that they seek to conserve, particularly the half-grown fish which, sadly, know nothing better about the boundaries of the sea and the safer Canadian waters. It is less difficult to understand why Commissioner Bonino does not advise the Spanish to back off and stop being provocative while she seeks to settle the dispute on quotas. After all, the Spanish are only one member of the group of 12 which she represents.

As I have said, the Irish Box waters face, I believe, some problems similar to the Newfoundland dispute after 1st January next year. I am sure that they face a similar determination by British fishermen.

I believe that the Government should act now to persuade European fisheries to delay the Irish Box decision until new conservation protection measures and effective enforcement procedures are adopted. I am not persuaded by the argument that because some understanding was given some years ago over the fishing of these waters the Irish Box decision is cast in stone. Circumstances have changed: them is a lack of confidence in conservation measures and the Spanish have not exactly improved their case.

I am told that scientists have advised very recently on the Irish Box waters and have stated that these valuable waters need conserving and that to safeguard their future no extra fishing effort should be contemplated. So is it really in the long-term interest of these waters to introduce 30 Spanish boats at any one time, each capable of scooping up fish from the fish beds?

What is the likely result of that policy? It will undoubtedly hit hard financially British fishermen in the south west. It is also likely that very soon, by increasing this fishing capacity, no one will have a viable operation in these waters as fish become scarce. Is it time that Brussels paid more attention to scientists than to try to politically accommodate members' fishing fleets?

I turn briefly to the future measures for tightening up conservation and enforcement. Besides reducing the capacity of fleets, which I am sure my noble friend will be confirming as regards de-commissioning—I am very pleased that the Government have supported that forcefully in the past few months—I hope that my noble friend can say what extra measures Her Majesty's Government may be proposing at the next fishing conference beyond increasing the number of inspectors or fishery protection boats. For instance, should the larger boats have observers on board? What use could satellite surveillance be on the problem? Should certain fish nets, designed specifically to scoop up from the sea bed in an industrial manner, be banned?

As regards enforcement, if we are serious about it—one has to say that in the past British fishermen have been renegades, as have others—should we not seek a penalty for flagrant violation that is really penal, coupled with a ban for a period of time?

I recognise that the fishing industry is extraordinarily complex. Even in recent history, apart from the Newfoundland dispute, there has been a number of ugly incidents in other fishing grounds. Last weekend I re-read the Select Committee report of 1992 on the fishing industry and I found a mine of information with very sensible conclusions. I was glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was a Member of that committee and that he is taking part in the debate tonight. I hope that in future some suitable committee of the House will continue to monitor the industry from time to time and the progress of conservation: it is a pretty important subject.

Finally, I hope that tonight my noble friend will be able to confirm Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the support of our hard-pressed fishing industry and support of the goal of better conservation measures which clearly the Canadian Government are still seeking.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for bringing this Question before the House. I feel quite sure that British fishermen and the fishing industry will be most grateful to him for the way that he has expressed what in fact are their worries and their case. I shall take a slightly different line from the noble Earl, but nevertheless it will be in support of the British fishing industry.

I believe that the first thing we should note is that in 1971 landings by British fishing vessels were 913,000 tonnes. In 1990 that figure had fallen to 528,000 tonnes. As far as imports are concerned, in 1971 we imported 166,000 tonnes of fish and by 1990 that figure had risen to 405,500 tonnes. So it can be seen that there has been a great diminution in the British fishing effort.

I believe that British fishermen—and certainly they believe—have been very badly treated by the Government over a very long period and their interests subordinated to those of the European Community and the countries within it. In my view, the common fisheries policy was a huge mistake. It has led to the decimation of fish stocks around our shores and to the near demise of our fishing industry.

It is clearly the aim of the European Union, apparently supported by Her Majesty's Government—I hope that that can be denied—that there should not be a British fishing industry, only a European Union fishing industry. That appears to be confirmed by an answer that I have received to a Question about the number of British-owned fishing vessels. The answer that I received did not come from the Minister, but from Mr. Bradley, the chief executive. of the Marine Safety Agency. It stated: With the introduction of the 1993 Act the only requirement for eligibility in respect of companies is that they be incorporated in a member State of the European Economic Area, and have a place of business in the United Kingdom".

In other words, so far as I can see we are being told that there is no longer any such thing as a "British fisherman".

The problems of the common fisheries policy intensified with the accession of Spain and Portugal to the EU, and were further exacerbated by Spain's blackmailing tactics—I use those words advisedly—over the admission to the European Union of Sweden, Finland, Austria and Norway when Spain threatened to blackball those new applicants. Of course, Norway sensibly decided that it did not want to come in after all. The failure of Mr. Waldegrave to vote against bringing forward the date of full accession to the CFP from 2002 to 1996 was a complete betrayal of British fishermen and their families. As we have heard, the advent of 40 additional Spanish trawlers into the Irish Box can only further decimate the British fishing industry and lead to an even more rapid depletion of the fish stocks around our shores.

I come now to the fish war with Canada. I believe that the British people were outraged that Britain allied itself with Spain and the EU and the strident militancy of Mrs. Bonino. Even before the full facts could possibly have been known, British support was apparently indicated by our permanent representatives. I want to know what right those civil servants have—that is what they are; nobody elected them any more than anybody elected me—to speak for the British people or for the Commonwealth. Did they first contact the British Foreign Secretary or any other Foreign Office Minister? I want answers to these questions. Was the Prime Minister informed of the crisis; and, if so, did he consent to taking sides with Spain and the EU against Canada? Did those representatives even contact our fisheries Minister; and, if so, what was his attitude?

According to the latest reports, only today Britain has again been threatened by Spain if we fail to back the Spanish in their dispute with Canada. Of course, we are used to threats from that country. I have already mentioned Spain's threats with regard to the accession of Sweden, Austria, Finland and Norway. There is also the question of Gibraltar. We are used to unfriendly acts by Spain in that regard. Indeed, Spain has shown herself to be a country that is neither friendly towards, nor a partner of, Britain in many respects. As was shown on that fateful weekend, Spain has failed to recognise our position as a member of the Commonwealth as well as of the European Union. Spain's policy is geared towards taking everything that it can get, even when that means piratically depredating fish stocks around our shores and everywhere it can in the world—while giving nothing in return.

I sincerely hope that the Government's policy is now firmly aligned in support of Canada. That is certainly where the British people and Parliament want it to be. As my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Shore said in an excellent letter in today's Daily Telegraph: This is a defining moment … the real question is where Britain's loyalties lie: with the European Union or with Canada to whom we are bound by ties of history, language, people and common endeavour in both peace and war".

We should remember those things. I hope that we shall. I hope that the Government will remember them. The British people have certainly expressed their views in no uncertain terms. They are with Canada and they are appalled that there should have been any doubt of that in the official mind.

The time has come for Britain to assert itself, as the Prime Minister and, indeed, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales seemed to be saying only yesterday. This is an issue upon which a start can be made in asserting ourselves by telling Spain and the European Union that we will not join in their bellicosity against Canada, and that we shall no longer allow the decimation of fish stocks by the Spanish and Portuguese. Towards that end, we should give notice that we intend to renounce the agreement on the CFP at an appropriate moment.

6.36 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for this opportunity to speak about a matter which is very much of the moment, of both today and the past few days. However, we have to recognise that there is over-fishing worldwide. There is an urgent need for the conservation of stocks. Equally urgent is the strict enforcement, according to results, of negotiated agreements. The governments of the member states are faced now with the question of how to share declining resources.

There are many British and, indeed, Spanish fishermen who would like to see the end of the common fisheries policy. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has implied that Britain should renounce the common fisheries policy agreement. But the fact of the matter is that if we were to do that, it would be a severe blow to British fishermen. I wonder whether the noble Lord realises that if we were to return to allocations based on traditional fishing performance, that would mean severe losses for British fishermen. At present, they can fish in foreign waters in the south west, in the British channel and in Irish waters. In effect, British fishing boats are no longer confined to our own waters thanks to the CFP, whether you like it or not. We also have to remember that our biggest export market for fish among other member states of the European Union happens to be Spain which imports several million pounds of fish from British fishermen's catches. Despite the limited access of the 40 Spanish boats to the Irish Box, it is worth recalling that our quota remains the same. The British quota for British fishermen has not decreased since it was first decided. Therefore, renouncing membership of the CFP would be to the detriment of our own fishermen. I am sure that no noble Lord intends that.

There are two points to be made about the dispute between Spain and Canada. First, I do not know whether this is correct, but the British press this morning carried reports that the "Estai", the Spanish boat involved in this adventure, was examined by senior inspectors. There was no false hold; the log books were in order and the nets were not illegal because, as I understand it, no limit has been imposed by NAFO on the minimum size of turbot which can be caught by that boat. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will reply to those points and that he will be able to state whether that report is correct. That is what I read in the press today.

My second point on this issue is that the Canadians are understandably anxious to prevent Spanish fishing vessels or any other foreign fishing vessels fishing in their waters or near to the 200-mile limit, and would like to fish in as wide an area as possible themselves. That is a perfectly legitimate aspiration for the Canadian people, and I support it totally. It is to be hoped, however, that calmer views will prevail and that a negotiated settlement can be reached between the Canadians, who are our old friends and allies and who are part of the British ethos, culture and traditions, and other countries of the European Community, using the British as their mediator and helper in reaching such a settlement.

No one has yet said that the real enemy of British and other fishermen is not other fishermen and other boats but, regrettably, the seal. Seals may be attractive, especially to the thousands who lobbied the European Parliament in the 1980s, but the result of that lobby was that the culling of baby seals and the import to Europe of seal skin were stopped. Grey seals around the United Kingdom number anything from 100,000 to 150,000. The numbers are growing annually at the rate of from 5 per cent. to 8 per cent.; and 40 per cent. of the British grey seal population is alleged to eat 76,000 tonnes of fish, including sand eel and cod, every year.

In a recent article in the Financial Times, British fishermen allege that seals consume about 240,000 tonnes of fish. That is more than the quota of catch under the CFP, which is 194,000 tonnes of fish a year. A similar story applies to Canada. The grey seal population is 144,000. It is growing fast at the rate of 13 per cent. a year. It is alleged that there are 4 million harp seals around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Such is the danger they present that the decline in the number of cod has resulted in the virtual ending of commercial fishing off Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and areas along the Atlantic coast in that part of the world. It is no wonder that the Canadians are anxious about preserving their fish stocks. They have every right to be anxious. We in this part of the world are anxious to take the necessary measures.

The conservation of fish is urgent for fishermen everywhere to enable them to continue, rightly, to earn their living. If measures such as the rigorous enforcement of quotas are applied strictly, then governments must face the issue, be courageous, and take measures to apply scientific management to the seals which are the greatest consumers of fish that we have to face.

6.42 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, this is an opportune moment to discuss the vital matter of finding effective means to preserve fish stocks. It is a truism to say that fish are a vital element of the food chain, the ecology of the sea and indeed of our own livelihoods. We take our fish stocks for granted at our peril. We have only to consider the condition of our east coast towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft which used to house huge herring fishing fleets. They have gone.

The distant water fleets of Hull and Fleetwood have been practically decimated. The biggest fishing fleet today works out of Newlyn which in the old days was a relatively minor fishing port. It is the major port which will be involved in fishing the Irish Box. It is a relatively small fishing community.

The whole tale of commercial fishing is a sorry one of competition. There are ever more efficient means of detecting whole shoals of fish which can be effectively and totally harvested. I used to fish for pilchards off the west coast of Africa with a 100-foot boat and a perseine net. We used to have to wait for the moon to come up in order to be able to find the fish by their phosphorescence. When we did, we had to put a boat out and put the net around the fish. Today, no one does anything stupid like that. The fisherman have sonar and every kind of technical device which can detect whole shoals of fish and harvest them totally.

That is not all. Ships can be equipped with more powerful engines, unbeknown to anyone except Lloyd's A.1. They can tow their nets that much faster, and thus reduce the size of the nets and so gather more fish. We have reports of all those activities from our friends in Canada, who are rightly determined to protect their traditional fishing grounds which do indeed extend beyond their 200-mile limit. But we are talking about the conservation of fish. The fish which breed are not necessarily interested in the 200-mile limit. They breed on the Banks. It is the Banks that need to be protected and that is what the Canadians are doing. That is why the Canadians' activities are justified. We should sympathise with them and reflect that only a few years ago we were involved in a cod war with Iceland. Iceland had the same problems as the Canadians are now facing.

We must also have great sympathy with the Canadians of Nova Scotia, especially those whose livelihoods are being put at peril by the piratical pillaging of their fish stocks by the marauding Spanish fishing fleet. At Question Time today I asked my noble friend by what authority the Commission, without the consent of the Council of Ministers, addressed itself in provocative terms to the sovereign nation of Canada. I was told that I would receive an answer to that question from my noble friend Lord Howe this evening. I look forward to hearing his remarks.

We must demand of the Spanish Government, and of the European Union, that those fishing methods be stopped and that proper controls be put in place by the fishery inspectors of Spain. Can my noble friend assure us not only that those inspectors are in place at the ports—there are reports in the Daily Telegraph today which indicate clearly that they are not—and not, as in the past, in the fishing ministry in Madrid, but also that they are fully equipped with the authority and the steely nerves necessary to enforce the rules.

Mr. Peter Derham, a former chief fisheries protection officer for England and Wales, a man of great authority, said: We found no government fishery inspectors at La Coruna—the main fishing port in Galicia. When we inquired, workers asked: 'Inspectors for what?' There were not even any weighing scales around in the port's vast fish market. Fishermen's leaders said inspectors did not make stringent checks because they did not agree with the Common Fisheries Policy".

I do not agree with the common fisheries policy nor do most of our fishermen. Unfortunately, our fishery inspectors do not pay any attention to their complaints. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that we should disregard the common fisheries policy. I shall interject into my speech my special agreement with him in that respect.

But it is not only the Spaniards who are a problem; we must realise that this is a worldwide problem. Fish stocks through the North Atlantic are already in deep peril. They will be in far greater peril when the Irish Box is opened to the Spanish. To some extent the rules are self-destructive. There is a requirement that small fish be rejected and put back into the sea because they do not match the limit rule. That rule may be necessary to convince the Brussels regulators that their pet rules are not being contravened, but, frankly, I am not over-impressed by that argument. If fish are caught, they should be brought home and used. It is of course the net size that matters and not the size of the fish. Unless we can control the net sizes we shall not get anywhere.

What is perhaps more important is positive control of the remaining fishing grounds. Will my noble friend tell us what progress is being made under the IMO rules on installing transponders on all seagoing vessels? Will those transponders be reactive to aerial patrols rather than to the more expensive satellite system? That is all the more important, because while we are considering the Atlantic—the North Atlantic at that—there is also the world problem of the Pacific fishing grounds, the north-west Pacific in particular, which has been brought to light only recently. I understand that there are two vital grounds which are about to be decimated by the world's fishing industry.

National traditions in eating habits combined with modem technical and engineering capabilities make the international problems insoluble without the active co-operation of the fishermen. A more diverse and individualistic collection of human beings would be hard to find. They are fighting for their livelihoods. There needs to be sympathetic management of the people involved. It cannot be done by regulators regulating for regulation's sake from some Brussels office. It must be done by consent and co-operation between the fishermen.

My noble friend may tell me that that is easier said than done, and I readily agree. I congratulate him on the work that he has done as regards working with the fishermen. I see that I am being looked at from the Front Bench and so I conclude by saying that we should give as much support as possible to the Canadians in supporting their own fishermen and foster a bond between our two groups.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Howe in fielding this hot potato. However, I hope that he will not try to defend the indefensible. I hope that he will assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will climb down off the fence and ignore hollow threats from the Spanish Government, in particular from the European Union Fisheries Commissioner, Mrs. Bonino, and state that they will veto any attempt to impose sanctions on Canada. My noble friend was unable to give that assurance last week in answer to my Starred Question.

The dispute between Canada and Spain is a beacon as regards what lies ahead. From 1996 Spanish fishing boats will have access to the Irish Box. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, they should not have had that access until 2002 and they gained it, in effect, by blackmail. To that sorry story we must add persistent, and proven, over-fishing worldwide and illegal fishing. During the Canadian fisheries dispute that was shown by the Canadian Minister for Fisheries, Mr. Brian Tobin. I believe that he demonstrated conclusively that the nets used by the Spanish fishing boat "Estai" were illegal and I hope that the Government will accept that. The Canadians demonstrated outside the United Nations building in New York and showed the nets that they had pulled up from the bottom of the sea. My noble friend Lady Elles quoted a newspaper report stating that the fishermen arrived in Spain without illegal nets. During their travel across the Atlantic the fishermen in question had ample time to get rid of any illegal nets and therefore there would be no incriminating evidence. If I were a Spanish fishermen I would have done exactly the same.

The Spanish fishing fleet is too large and cannot be sustained. How can anyone believe that the Spanish fleet, with its record for catching undersized fish for its home market, will reform overnight when it has access to the Irish Box and in 2002 will have full access to all our fishing waters? Of course it will not.

I wish to quote from a speech made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He said: we do not believe that the Spanish play according to the rules. We are not alone in the world in believing that the Canadians and the Norwegians tell the same story".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/1/95; col. 783.]

Will my noble friend enlarge on the measures that will be effective in, first, stopping the Spanish exceeding the controlled number of fishing vessels, which I believe is 40, entering the Irish Box; secondly, in ensuring that their methods and gear are strictly legal; and thirdly, that they do not exceed their quota? My noble friend will agree that enforcement is problematical and does not offer a solution, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Elles. Persistent over-fishing is the real threat. There does not appear to be an answer to that problem or the political will to redress it.

The best estimates are that most fleets, including our own, need to be substantially reduced over time, most by about 50 per cent. and the Spanish and Portuguese fleets by up to 80 per cent.

My noble friend the Minister will be aware of the report by Sir Crispin Tickell on sustainable development. I am afraid that there is little comfort for the current fisheries policy. He said that without further substantial decommissioning of fishing boats there will soon be few fish left to catch in any sea. In the light of that, will the Government consider an idea that I float lightly across to the Minister? It is that they use their veto at the Inter-governmental Conference in 1996 and propose radical reform—not our withdrawal, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—of the common fisheries policy. I believe that without such reform we shall still be fiddling around with the problem at the edges. I hope that my noble friend will indicate whether that is possible or can be considered.

6.56 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull consists of 47 words. However, there is one important key word. It is "consequences". He asks: what are the consequences of the recent European decision".

I wait with interest to hear the reply of my noble friend Lord Howe. On 7th February I asked a supplementary question to the Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Caldecote regarding the fishery protection ships of the Royal Navy. I asked whether Her Majesty's Government were worried about the prospect of the Royal Navy being ordered to turn on its countrymen in order to protect Spanish fleets from fishing our stocks.

I believe that that is a real possibility. My noble friend replied that he very much hoped that the situation would not arise. He went on to say that we have undertaken to ensure that enforcement is adequate. I subscribe to that hope. But hope is one thing and actuality is another. What are the adequate enforcements to which my noble friend referred if he does not mean physical enforcement? Surely that is why ships of the Royal Navy are to be present to protect ships of the Spanish fishing fleet. We are faced with the possibility of the Royal Navy turning on our Cornish fishermen, or any others, who try to prevent the Spanish from fishing around our shores.

There is a real possibility that that may occur. I do not know whether my noble friend knows much about the character and resilience of Cornishmen. I know that they are extremely patriotic, principally where Cornish matters are concerned. That being the case, I strongly suspect that the Cornish fishermen, and indeed others who have their interests at heart, will do everything in their power to try to stop the Spanish armada from cleaning out their remaining fishing stocks. If that were to happen the Royal Navy, which I understand will be entrusted with the task of defending the Spaniards, will be forced to turn on its own countrymen. That is not a fanciful or exaggerated idea; nor is it a situation that I should like to see. But the fact remains that unless those wretched European Union directives are withdrawn, that is what may happen. That is the specific point that I should like to make on this Question.

But the general point to be raised is that we shall be told that it would be illegal to withdraw from the directives which have been imposed on us in the context of the Treaty of Rome, Maastricht and so on. To that I should say that this is not the moment for a wide-ranging debate on the whole principle of the European Union. But the fact remains that any matter relating thereto must bring into question the desirability of our continued association with the bureaucrats in Brussels to whom the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred. They are not elected and they issue directives like confetti and expect us to go along with them. But that is the wider issue.

The Cornish fishermen are not interested in the general picture. They are interested in their fishing boats, their fish and their livelihood. I hope that my noble friend will assure us that their interests will be taken fully into account.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Morris

My Lords, like other noble Lords taking part in the debate, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for initiating it.

At the outset perhaps I may pray in aid a maxim in equity which I hope will appeal to my noble friend Lady Elles, whose speech I greatly admired. The maxim is: he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. The hands of the Dons are some of the dirtiest around. Let us snake no mistake about that. They have no right to plead equity on the issue.

The reasons are well known. Perhaps I may quote from an article in the Financial Times written by Mr. Brian Tobin who, as your Lordships well know, is the Canadian Minister of Fishing and Oceans. He stated: Out of 44 Spanish vessels active on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in eastern Canada, 36 have been issued with citations over the past four years".

Those are not citations for excellence. I presume that that is a Canadian legal term of art for documents which state that the authorities are well aware of what is going on. The article continues: Their offences included misreporting catches, using illegal nets and net linings and retaining under-age fish. One of the most destructive of these practices is the taking of juvenile fish before they reach sexual maturity and can help to ensure healthy stock levels are maintained".

All those findings were confirmed and proved after the inspection of the "Estai". That cannot be gainsaid. I cannot believe that the Canadian Minister of Fishing and Oceans is about lying in public.

Perhaps I may mention again the speech of my noble friend Lady Elles. She was absolutely right to refer to the dangers in relation to seals. The false representations made by the seal lobby arc based on the thinnest of evidence. It is monstrous that seals should be allowed to cause so much destruction to the fish stocks of the world. They destroy fish stocks in all areas of the world and they should be culled. I agree entirely with that point. However, that is no excuse for the Government's stance with regard to the dispute.

I should like to ask my noble friend a very simple question. Will he tell the House the form of words which the Government used in their undoubted apology to the Canadian Government for their apparent, in the early days, support of the European Union's stance with regard to that matter? I hope sincerely that they have apologised to the Canadian Government, because it is monstrous that our name was attached to those appallingly provocative words which were used by the European Union. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has already stated, and he is quite right in that regard.

Modern technology makes possible the complete destruction of virtually every commercial fish stock. That has been stated over and over again, not least by the United Nation's Law of the Sea Conference in 1982. It made all the right noises with regard to the conservation of fish stocks; and yet there is a total absence of the political will to implement laws which are already extant.

I hope sincerely that my noble friend will make a statement giving the strongest possible support to the Canadians for their extraordinarily brave stance in this connection. As Mr. Brian Tobin rightly said at the end of his article: The steps we have taken in the past week were not solely in the interests of Canada. We are concerned with the conservation of a resource for the sake and future of the world. The rectitude of our actions will he praised in generations to come".

How right he is. I hope that my noble friend feels the same shame as I do that the fishermen of Cornwall raised the Canadian flag and not the Union Jack. That is positively shaming. I hope that my noble friend will answer the questions that I have raised.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, on these Benches, together with noble Lords throughout the House, we regard the maintenance of the world's capacity to feed its people as of the very highest importance. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to think of anything more important.

Until fairly recently—certainly within our lifetime—the oceans of the world were regarded as a seemingly inexhaustible supply of protein. Now we have had to learn that, owing to a combination of pollution and over-fishing, not only is the harvest of fish not increasing, it is decreasing, especially when we look at the matter in relation to per head of world population. Therefore, we have an even stronger duty to nurture very carefully the stocks.

Indeed, we are told that the stocks of cod, plaice and sole in western waters are already outside safe biological limits and that we shall soon be reduced to a situation where, like Marie Antoinette, we shall have to tell them to go and eat hake.

But the art of the international conservation of fish stocks is very much in its infancy. Therefore, we very much welcome the Question posed by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, this evening. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, told the House on 7th February, the Government already spend £26 million per annum on fisheries enforcement, of which £14 million is spent on surface surveillance and enforcement at sea. He told us also that the need for further resources was being assessed in the run-up to January 1996. It is surely now clear, not least from looking at this week's newspapers, that considerable further resources are needed and it will be helpful to hear the Government's thinking on that matter.

As always, we shall need more information than we have at present in order to solve some of the more difficult problems. In that context, I have given notice to the Minister to ask for information as to how many Spanish-owned fishing vessels are operating under British flags. I accept that there was a case for thinking that that information was not only superfluous but also vaguely insulting. But that situation no longer exists. It is clear that we need to know the answer to that question.

Finally, perhaps I may say that the present series of crises underline the need to make the present machinery work. That would be nice. We certainly will not do any good by merely demolishing such machinery that exists or by just attacking broadside-on the whole EC. We must make the machinery that we have work. Some of those situations and organisations that we have set up, like the common fisheries policy and the EC, are tools to be used—not abused—and must not be abolished.

However, in addition to making the present machinery work, we must start a major rethink which will result in a long-term restocking programme. If that means that we must look again at the seal situation, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, well, then, that consideration will have to be borne in mind. We need to go back and rethink from the beginning how we are to save the fish stocks of the world.

We find ourselves in the situation where greed, competition and high technology have got the better of our ability to cope. Perhaps I may suggest that what we need is a worldwide husbandry of fish stocks and an encouragement of the kind of fishing that will maximise employment rather than either catch or cash. The people who need to be in control of fishing policy are not actually the economists; they are the ecologists. The people who need to be administering the policy are fishermen—admittedly, the kind of fishermen who do not tell tall stories and whose words we can trust. Nevertheless, they are the people who need to be administering it. I hope that the Government will continue to do their very best to ensure that we move in that direction.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for providing us with the opportunity for such a timely debate. It is quite clear from the events of recent months that the so-called common fisheries policy is beginning to make the common agricultural policy look like a beacon of common sense and sweet reason. We can all agree what the features of a successful policy should be. There is a need to reduce the fishing effort so that stocks will be conserved; there must be more effective enforcement in both national and international waters; there must be a greater range of technical conservation measures, which should be based on scientific advice; the decommissioning scheme has to be made much more effective and fairer as between member states of the European Union; and, finally, there must be some proper help for communities which are dependent on fishing.

The background involved has been covered by many speakers. We know that agreement was reached at the Council of Ministers last December for the new arrangements in the Irish Box. But we must remember that our own Minister of Agriculture abstained in that vote. I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for that action. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us one in his response.

It would also be helpful if the Minister could explain the mystery as regards the timetable. First, there was mention of the year 2002, then it was changed to 1996, and, indeed, other matters were reviewed in 1993. Therefore, it would be most helpful if the Minister could set out what has changed in the timetable, and if he could deny the remarks that have been made that the whole matter has been brought back to 1996 as one of the side deals in the Maastricht negotiations.

The overriding objective of any fisheries policy for Britain, for the European Union, for Canada or for anywhere else must be to manage the fishing stocks so that they are conserved for the future. It is hard to see any area of the world seas, especially those which are controlled—to use a term of art—by the common fisheries policy, where that objective is being met.

What is the situation regarding the review of the common fisheries policy? I have already mentioned the confusion over the various dates. It would be most helpful if we knew exactly what opportunities still exist for reviewing the policy, which clearly is not working. Such matters as the standard of vessel measurement, vessel capacity, the use of those units for the measurements of fishing effort, the question of standard vessel days, the possibility of individual transferable quotas and improvements to the decommissioning scheme have all been suggested. Are such matters still negotiable, or is the CFP set in stone?

The agreement reached at the Fisheries Council in December was that member states would play the major role in defining how their fleets' efforts would be controlled in the relevant areas, with safeguards to prevent abuse. How exactly is it proposed to monitor the enthusiasm with which the different member states set about controlling their fishing effort? For example, in the question of enforcement of the Irish Box, I am told that the largest responsibility for enforcement rests with the Irish Navy. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what proportions of the Irish Box are controlled by the Irish Navy and by the British Navy and what resources the Irish Navy has for the task.

In October 1993, the Minister of State in MAFF said that it was the Government's objective that Spanish and Portuguese fishing activities should be confined as closely as possible to their current pattern and that there should be no access to the Irish Box. We know that under the new arrangements, the Spanish—and, indeed, the Portuguese—vessels will have some form of access from the south-west of England right up to the north of Scotland; and in fact will be able to take in large parts of the Irish Box.

I return to the previous point about control and enforcement. What resources will be devoted to enforcement as the policy, as well as the fish, start to bite? Surely the crucial question is: how can a new fishing effort by the Spanish fleet be added to the already over-large fleet which is pressing on a shrinking stock without some consequent reduction in the British effort? Effective enforcement is central to the problem.

Perhaps the best description of the common fisheries policy was in Lloyd's List on 14th March:

The most cursory scrutiny of the European common fisheries agreements show a system that is chaotic, politically manipulated almost at will, and totally ineffective at properly managing the fish stocks contained within the European 'pond'. Quota cheating is routine, the manipulation of catching capacity through the use of flags of convenience cynical in the extreme. The European fisheries are, in short, facing a disaster, with many stocks on the point of collapse… European officials are in no position to lecture the Canadians about legal niceties and maritime law. When considering the moral high ground, Europe remains in the valley".

The Motion on the Order Paper also obviously deals with the Canadian dispute. Perhaps I may return to a point that I raised during Question Time recently. I asked the Minister whether it was correct that five years ago the European Union catch in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation area was 2,000 tonnes but that it is now 82,000 tonnes. If those figures are correct, one can see why the Canadians have taken the action that they have. It also explains why most of us were appalled—as, indeed, was my noble friend Lord Stoddart and other speakers—that the Government had apparently agreed to the statement by the ambassadors to the European Union (all, no doubt, expert in fishing) which said; The European Union and its member states are forced to reassess their relationship with Canada in the light of this deplorable situation and reserve their rights to take any action which they deem appropriate".

I shall be interested to know what input the British Government had in the drafting of that statement.

We know that Canada has experienced a virtual wipe-out of the Canadian Atlantic cod stock—a wipe-out to which their own fishermen contributed. One can understand their concern. They have certainly learnt the hard way. It is clear that international arrangements to deal with fishing in international waters are even less effective than the European Union arrangements for dealing with the fishery control in European Union waters. The UN Standing Conference on the Law of the Sea is supposed to help, but it seems to have been singularly ineffective in the current dispute.

As I understand it, the basic dispute in the North Atlantic is not now about the total allowable catch, which has been agreed at 27,000 tonnes; it is about how much of the quota is for Canada and how much for the European Union—which means Spain. If we can all agree that quiet diplomacy is to be the way forward, does the Minister not agree that that process is not helped by the intemperate comments of the European Commissioner whose Latin temperament seems to be more suited to the corrida than to the corridors of power?

What proposals are there for policing and controlling the fishing effort in international waters? Is it practicable to set up an enforcement operation with observers on the boats? Who is investigating the allegations about mesh sizes, registered and declared engine sizes, hidden holds and all the rest of the stories that have appeared recently? Is it the responsibility of the European Union or of NAFO? How long will the investigations take, and who will report to whom?

Before concluding I should like to draw the attention of the House to an article which appeared today in the New Statesman which includes some extremely interesting figures concerning the wider problem in international waters. There were facts of which I was not aware. The article states that it is a little-known fact that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea puts about 90 per cent. of the world's fish stocks under the jurisdiction of developing countries. Here the fishing disputes go much further than flour thrown at Ministers or fines.

Claiming that India's waters were under-exploited, the Indian Government hoped to earn more than £300 million in foreign exchange by selling licences that could allow as many as 255 foreign fishing vessels to operate there. Boats from Denmark, Japan, South Korea and the US are among the foreign fleet. We can all imagine the effect on the small Indian fishing boats, which can catch only 1 tonne, of competition from trawlers catching 2,000 tonnes.

The European Union has 16 agreements with African countries. Senegal has signed a two-year fisheries agreement with the EU that comes to an end at the end of this year. Senegal is the largest of the ACP countries exporting to the EU and accounts for 80 per cent. of all ACP fish exports. Under the agreement, the quota set for EU vessels fishing for deep-water species was increased by 57 per cent. It appears that Senegal's 35,000 traditional fishermen now have to venture much further out to sea in boats which are not designed for it. There have been drownings. In addition, there have been accusations that large EU vessels, with the Spanish as the main transgressors, often run through the nets of the fragile boats, mainly at night, killing many Senegalese fishermen. Is that correct? The waters around Africa, in particular, swarm with European and Asian ships fishing illegally.

Those are just a few of the facts in that very interesting article.

In conclusion, I repeat our thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for putting down the Question. It is clear that this whole problem of conserving fish stocks worldwide can only be resolved by international agreement about stocks, quotas and, above all, enforcement. I suspect that this is not the last time that we shall discuss this vital issue. It is a long, long way from being resolved.

7.22 p.m.

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

My Lords, this has been a very interesting, if somewhat impassioned debate, during which, despite the shortness of time available, many questions have been raised. I shall reply to as many as I can this evening; but if any remain, I shall follow them up in writing.

I begin by reminding the House of some history. The accession of Spain and Portugal to the European Union in 1985 was rightly welcomed by all political parties. The wider political and democratic merits of that enlargement were recognised. That was the right view then; it is still the right view now. The risks attendant on such enlargement were also clearly recognised. That is why the Government have been so concerned to ensure that the terms of any changes to the fishing arrangements under the Iberian Accession Treaty should contain genuine safeguards.

The main features of the accession treaty as they related to fishing were as follows. First, that Spanish access would be limited to western waters but that that should specifically exclude, until the end of 1995, the Irish Box. Secondly, there should be restrictions on the overall number of Spanish vessels (the so-called "basic" list of 300 vessels) and periodic restrictions governing the number of vessels allowed to fish at any one time (the "periodic" list of 150 vessels). Thirdly, in the light of a Commission report on the operation of those arrangements, any review of the arrangements would apply from 1st January, 1996. Fourthly, that at 31st December, 1995, the Irish Box would come to an end. Additionally, Spain and Portugal of course have no rights within the UK six to 12 mile limit; nor will that be affected by the agreement reached last December.

Therefore, the first point that I shall make relates to the 10-year review. Since we effectively signed up for that review in 1985, we could not subsequently wish it away. It is however true that there was an option to do nothing, and simply to let the deadline of 1st January, 1996 pass. However, in that case, the Irish Box would have ceased to exist and over 200 Spaniards could have fished all round Ireland, up the Bristol Channel and in the Irish Sea from the beginning of next year. Our industry adamantly opposed such an outcome and was right to do so.

It was thus inevitable that there would be a negotiation within the Community and that we would have to negotiate if we wanted continued protection in the area of the Irish Box, and if we wanted to have any say in the outcome of the review. It was bound to be a difficult negotiation since apart from Spain itself only the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland were seriously affected. The negotiation was a continuous process over the past two years, during which my right honourable friend and my honourable friend in another place fought hard for British interests.

In the December agreement we achieved significant gains. The whole area of the Irish Box has been recognised as a sensitive zone, with access for Spain limited to 40 vessels at any one time. This, as I have said, needs to be compared with the unambiguous ending of the Box provided for in the treaty of accession, and with Spain's aspiration that more than 200 of her vessels would be allowed to fish up to our 12-mile limit.

We secured the complete exclusion of Spain from the Irish Sea and the Bristol Channel. It is no wonder that Spanish fishermen were angered by continued discrimination against them. There is no provision for the Spanish to fish in the North Sea. There will be a key role for Britain and Ireland in enforcing the rules in western waters. There is provision for no increase in effort as a result of the new arrangements.

We shall have a system that allows Britain to choose its own methods for managing fishing effort and which, so long as fishing effort does not increase, should impose no new constraints on where and when our fishermen can conduct their business. We shall have a system with minimum bureaucracy, which effectively applies only to vessels above 18 metres. All British boats over that limit will be listed as entitled to fish in western waters.

There will be no change to relative stability, and our right to fish our full entitlements of quota, as well as non-quota species, is explicitly protected in the agreement. We have not given up a single fish to Spain. And there is provision for proposals to come forward to improve technical conservation measures in western waters, especially with regard to the selectivity of fishing gear.

Those who have taken the trouble to look at the issue carefully—and I have to say that that does not include all noble Lords present this evening—recognise that that was a considerable negotiating achievement.

Of course fishermen were disappointed. Their objectives were maximalist. They wanted continued exclusion of Spaniards from the Irish Box, tight controls on them everywhere else in western waters and no change in the provisions applying to British fishermen. We understood that. Any industry would have started from the same place. It is a fair starting point, but it was always going to be an unachievable end result.

Given that, it is understandable that some reactions to the agreement have been emotional ones.

Lord Morris

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. His words sound so comforting, but why is it then that Spain still has the fourth largest fishing fleet in the world behind Japan, the USSR and the United States of America? I take those figures from the Lloyd's Register of December 1993.

Earl Howe

My Lords, to answer that question would take a great deal more time than I have at my disposal. I shall be glad to write to my noble friend with a brief exposé of the position.

It is important that all those involved move forward in as constructive an atmosphere as possible. That is what we have sought to do since the beginning of the year. We have been working closely with the industry over implementation and will continue to do so as the remaining details are put into place.

I should like now to turn briefly to the question of decommissioning. It is wholly wrong to suggest, as some have done, that the additional funds announced in January are to help make room for the Spanish. As I have already said, the Western Waters Agreement does not involve us giving up a single fish to Spain. The reason we need to remove capacity from our fleet is because of the general pressure on stocks and the need to meet targets which have been set for all member states under the so called multi-annual guidance programme.

The industry is also concerned about enforcement, a subject which has reared its head on several occasions this evening. The Government entirely agree that effective enforcement is a key issue in making the future arrangements work. Under the arrangement, there will be a requirement for vessels to hail in and out, both to flag state and to coastal state. This will mean that we have far better knowledge of where Spaniards are than we do now and we should be able to target our enforcement activities better and therefore more cost effectively. We already have good co-operation with other enforcement services, particularly with the Irish, and we have already started discussions with the Irish on the most effective ways to take advantage of the key enforcement role we both have as coastal states.

Just as important, the agreement reached in December provides that the Commission will make a report every year on enforcement activity by member states and by its own inspectorate. This report will be published. In this way illegal activities by any member state will be shown up in a way which they are not now. My right honourable friend has already given a clear assurance that we will do what is necessary to ensure that we have the men and equipment in place to enforce the new rules effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked what steps the Government will take to ensure that we know how many Spanish-owned vessels are fishing under the UK flag. I am grateful to him for giving me prior notice of that question. From our monitoring of landings abroad by British registered fishing vessels, we estimate that around 100 UK vessels have a significant Spanish interest. Up-to-date information on ownership in terms of shareholdings is no longer available because with the introduction of the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Shipping) Regulations 1993, the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen no longer collects details of shareholdings in UK companies owning British registered vessels.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull asked whether we could delay Spanish entry into the Irish Box until the conservation measures are agreed. The Commission is required to bring forward proposals for enhanced conservation measures by June; and the Council is to reach decisions on them before the end of the year before new rules on the Irish Box apply from 1st January 1996.

The noble Lords, Lord Stoddart, and Lord Carter, asked why the UK abstained in December. As I have already explained, there was a legal commitment to integrate Spain and Portugal into the CFP. We fought hard for two years and secured major concessions to limit the extent of that integration. Beyond expectation, we secured continued measures to limit Spanish fishing in western waters and exclusion from the North Sea. As I indicated, the measure of our success is Spanish fishermen's fury at the deal.

However, what we need is an effective voice in 1995 while the implementing regulations are being discussed and finalised. A vote against the deal in 1994 would have been a silly tactic, satisfying perhaps emotionally in the short term, but disadvantageous in the long term if our aim is, as it is, to maximise the UK take. It is a practical matter. We abstained because we had not achieved 100 per cent. of the very ambitious negotiating objectives that we set ourselves.

My noble friends Lord Kinnoull and Lord Clanwilliam raised the subject of satellite monitoring. The UK fisheries departments are currently in the early stages of trials to test and evaluate the use of electronic systems for the continuous position monitoring of fishing vessel movements. Parallel trials are being undertaken by other member states. Those trials are due to be completed by 30th June of this year and will then be assessed by the Fisheries Council. If successful those systems undoubtedly have the potential to be an effective tool in the Community's enforcement effort.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about the detailed implementation of the Irish Box agreement. As the noble Lord said, it is the responsibility of member states to draw up plans for implementation and control of effort. However, those plans have to be submitted to the Commission by 31st March. It will then make proposals to the Council for a decision in June. The measures will therefore be the subject of Council regulations, but the details remain to be settled.

The noble Lord also asked what proportion of the Irish Box was in Irish waters and what proportion in British waters. The larger part of the Irish Box falls in Irish waters. The Irish and British Governments are co-operating closely to ensure that they will be able effectively to enforce the limit on 40 Spanish vessels in the Irish Box.

My noble friend Lord Mountgarret posed, I hope, a hypothetical question as to what would happen if fishermen—perhaps British fishermen—attacked Spaniards in western waters after 1st January next year. During 1995 all the member states will be working with the Commission to set fair and clear rules for western waters from January of next year. There should therefore be no misunderstanding of the rules by any EU fishermen. It is for each member state to police the fisheries policy in its own waters against all the member states. I do not want to go down the road to which my noble friend points. I simply say that the Royal Navy fisheries protection squadron is tasked both to protect fishermen fishing lawfully and to enforce the rules even handedly—and that is what it will do.

Let me turn to conservation. In the Irish Sea, we are particularly concerned about the state of the cod stocks. The annual setting of total allowable catches is of course informed by the advice from scientists on the state of the stocks. But more is needed than simply cutting permitted catch levels. Improvements in fishing technology rapidly catch up with attempts to control effort.

So the provision in the new rules for the Commission to bring forward, later on this year, proposals to improve technical conservation, is very welcome. As a first step, the Commission has already arranged a meeting of scientists to consider, in the light of the state of fish stocks in western waters, what measures might be appropriate. Clearly, we and the industry will be taking a close interest in these discussions and urging the Commission to take action where this seems appropriate in order to conserve fish stocks.

My noble friend Lady Elles referred to predation of fish by seals. The noble Baroness may be interested to know that a recent UK population estimate for grey seals is 102,700 with a year-on-year increase of about 10 per cent. The number of common seals is also rising. It is now estimated to be in the region of 26,000. MAFF is funding a research project with the sea mammal research unit to examine the impact of seal populations on commercial fisheries in the North Sea through a study of seal diet, numbers and foraging behaviour.

I turn briefly—time is against me—to the dispute between the European Union and Canada in the Greenland halibut fishery off Newfoundland. In substance, I can add little to the answers that I gave last week in reply to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. However, I wish to say this, in particular to my noble friend Lord Morris. We have said that we have sympathy with Canada in its concern for conservation. We also have sympathy with Spain in its concern for NAFO rules and international law. The important factor is that something good should come out of this dispute. It is encouraging that Canada and the EU are now negotiating for better enforcement which everyone agrees is critical for effective conservation.

My noble friend Lord Morris said that Her Majesty's Government should apologise to Canada. The Canadian Government have made no criticism of the British Government. On the contrary, the Canadian Government have several times expressed their appreciation of the role Her Majesty's Government have played in seeking to keep the temperature down, to promote negotiation and to obtain a settlement to the dispute. That is what we continue to do.

The UK occupies a unique position in the affair. That has real advantages because it means that, as friends of Canada, we can interpret its position in the best possible light and seek to ensure that Spain's point of view is also fully understood. I believe that that is constructive and also, ultimately, in our own interests if it leads to better enforcement in fisheries closer to home.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke referred to the record of Spanish fishermen in terms of cheating. If one looks at enforcement within the CFP rather than NAFO, it is true that some Spanish vessels have been found guilty of cheating. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the Spanish commit a higher proportion of serious offences than other member states. In 1993 there were more inspections of Spanish vessels by the various enforcement bodies than of vessels from any other member state. Despite that, only a relatively small number of offences discovered were considered serious enough to take to court.

My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke raised the question of sanctions. I do not believe that it is helpful to speak of economic sanctions. That kind of talk can only escalate the dispute with Canada. Sanctions would be an unconstructive way of proceeding and, in the view of the Government, totally disproportionate to the issues under discussion.

My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke also asked what the Government would do to ensure that the Spanish ships allowed into our waters do not catch more than their allotted quota and that they use the correct nets. The Government have already committed £26 million to ensure effective enforcement within British fishery limits. That includes £19 million on enforcement at sea.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to the UK's action in Brussels in relation to the European Union's response to Canada. The initial note verbale, as it is called, was couched in general terms and reserved the Union's right to take any retaliatory action. When detailed proposals were discussed, we made it absolutely clear that we were completely opposed to economic sanctions or any other disproportionate action.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam asked what locus the European Union Commission has in addressing itself to Canada. The European Union and Canada are both contracting parties of the regional fisheries organisation in whose waters the dispute occurred. They need to resolve the dispute through diplomacy. The EU's common fisheries policy involves all fisheries in which EU fishermen engage, both within and outside EU waters. So the Commission has a duty to represent the member states' interests in discussions and negotiations with other countries on fisheries matters.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. I appreciate what he says about the initial reaction to the taking into custody of the Spanish ship. However, was Britain associated with the intemperate remarks made by Mrs. Bonino? It seems that we were. And, if so, were those remarks supported by British Ministers? That is what we want to know.

Earl Howe

My Lords, my right honourable friend in another place has already indicated that he regards it as unfortunate that intemperate words were used. That is on the record.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to enforcement and ways in which monitoring and control might be improved. Possible improvements to monitoring and control of fishing activity and the setting of quotas and fishing methods in international waters are governed by various regional fisheries management bodies throughout the world. In addition, those are among the important issues before the United Nations conference on straddling stocks and highly migratory species which meets for its third session in New York this week and up to 14th April.

In international waters generally under the CFP, boarding, inspection and arrest of a fishing vessel can only be carried out by an inspection vessel from the member state concerned. In the NAFO regulatory area, boarding and inspection may be undertaken by inspection vessels from any NAFO contracting party, provided that the vessel acts under the scheme of joint international inspection and surveillance. But arrests and prosecution can only be carried out by the flag state. Within exclusive fishery limits, enforcement is for the coastal state. That is an area where we believe Canada has raised some valid concerns. There is much talking to do about how enforcement can be strengthened over future years.

I hope that what I have said tonight will have served to illuminate the key issues raised by my noble friend's Question and also to dispel some misunderstandings. The negotiations in which the Government have been engaged with regard to the Irish Box have been both extremely difficult and unavoidable. We would have liked to secure more, but the outcome we achieved was considerably better than many had feared. What it gives us is a satisfactory basis for agreeing the detailed implementation rules which need to be put in place by next year. That is the process on which we are now engaged.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before eight o'clock.