§ Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether the worst effects of the recent European Court of Justice decision regarding compensation to foreign owners of British fishing vessels could be overcome by a suitable amendment to the vessel licensing arrangements.
My Lords, the Statement that I made to the House on 6th March explained in detail that the European Court of Justice's recent judgment in the Factortame case confirms the principle that those adversely affected by national legislation in breach of Community law are, if the breach is sufficiently serious, entitled to seek compensation through national courts. The ECJ judgment is now for national courts to consider. It cannot be undone by any future amendment to vessel licensing arrangements by fisheries departments.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and also for the extremely helpful letter that he sent me earlier this week on the subject. Will the Minister confirm that, if we look to the future, the fisheries Commissioner, Mrs. Emma Bonino, has suggested that there are ways to deal with the problem of quota hopping in the future within Community and national law? Might that include: the payment of social taxes— for example, national insuranceto—the country of registration; a condition that the skipper and mate of the British registered vessels should hold UK issued tickets; and a requirement to land a proportion of the catch at a restricted number of nominated ports?
My Lords, we are greatly encouraged by the attitude that Mrs. Bonino is taking. On the best advice we have, we do not believe that any of the routes which she proposes will work but we are nevertheless examining them with a will. Nothing would please us more than to discover that we were wrong and that there is a quick way round the problems. The noble Lord mentioned the possibility that the skipper and mate might be British. Many other countries try that regulation and the Spanish have a highly practised route around it. They merely install in a cabin on the boat an equivalent of Captain Haddock and his bottle of whisky, and the mate Alan, who is Spanish, runs the boat. So far as we know, there is no way round the problem that works, either in practice or legally.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, as the Court's judgments have been based on a principle of non-discrimination between nationalities and as the fishing quota system is operated, in contradiction, entirely on separating nationalities, 'will the United Kingdom Government insist on changes in the common fisheries policy? Can my noble friend say any more about Signora Bonino's suggestion that there could be regional arrangements for the south west of England or off Scotland? Might it be another way of solving the quota hopping aberration?
My Lords, we will consider all ways round quota hopping. We are committed to pursuing it at the IGC if that is the only way forward, as looks like being the case at present.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, have Her Majesty's Government thought of consulting the French Government? They know the way round most of the European regulations.
Yes, my Lords, we have. We have researched what happens in France where people are suffering as we are, although not to the same extent. They have about 20 Spaniards quota hopping on them and the French are among the most active of the European countries in the process of becoming distressed at what is going on.
§ Lord Tebbit
My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that he said that the Court of Justice had clearly established that there was a right of compensation where national governments breached Community law and damaged the interests of Community citizens? Can he say whether that right also applies in a case where the Commission is in breach of the law? For example, there is the flagrant breach of law by the Commission today in banning exports of British beef to third countries outside the European Community. Will the British Government now support British beef producers in suing the Commission for compensation?
My Lords, I cannot answer that legal technicality. The noble Lord may know what the Commission has decided but I have not yet received the news. If what it has done is to support what its veterinary committee said, we would find it an extremely distressing, unwelcome and unreasonable development. It will doubtless have repercussions for a long time to come.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I have been cut out on two occasions recently so I am standing my ground. Is the British Government's view about our ability to secede from the common fisheries policy the same as that of Commissioner Bonino? She told fishermen in the South West that whether we did secede from the common fisheries policy was a matter for the British Government and the British Parliament—something that has been denied on several occasions in this House.
My Lords, I do not believe that I have said anything other than that it is a matter for the British Government and the British Parliament. I have merely pointed out that the negotiations that would be involved with our other 14 partners in bringing an end to that part of the treaty would be likely to be so expensive and so burdensome on us in their result as to make the whole exercise supremely not worth while.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, will the Minister give the House an undertaking that at the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference the role of the European Court of Justice will be thoroughly reconsidered with a view to its political role being separated from its legal role, where that becomes possible to determine?
My Lords, that is rather drifting away from the Question. I refer the noble Lord to our White Paper. I am very satisfied with what is said in it.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, is the Minister aware of a recent report which revealed that, of 371 infringements of the common fisheries policy notified in 1994, 119 involved British vessels; 73 French vessels; 62 Irish vessels; and only 22 involved Spanish vessels. How many of the 119 so-called British vessels were registered here, but were in fact Spanish?
My Lords, regarding the rate of infringement by Spanish vessels, according to our records—I cannot comment on the European report, of which we have not formally received a copy or had a chance review—generally last year, I believe there were 117 or 119 infringements in total. Of those, two involved Spanish-registered vessels and seven involved British-registered vessels landing in Spain. At those kinds of levels it does not seem possible to prove, or indeed perhaps likely, that the Spanish are worse than the rest of us.