HL Deb 05 February 2001 vol 621 cc995-1036

7.5 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, Unsustainable Fishing: What is to be done with the Common Fisheries Policy? (3rd Report, HL Paper 12).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the common fisheries policy is a 20-year programme which will end in 2002. The Commission is required to review the workings of the policy, which has been in place for 18 years, and fundamental consideration must be given to what, if anything, will take its place from December 2002.

There is widespread agreement that, like fisheries throughout the world, those in European waters have not been successfully managed. It is a common problem that many of the global fisheries are either fully exploited or over-exploited. We see daily evidence of the fact that, however hard we have striven during the past 18 years to put together a common fisheries policy, we have not succeeded. The current regulation is an amalgamation of four different strands which were put together during the mid-term review in 1992.

Later this year we shall see the publication of a Green Paper by the Commission which will explore what should be expected of the common fisheries policy. That document will be extremely important and we timed our report in order to make an input into the paper. I am grateful to the business managers of the House for enabling us to debate the report so soon after publication. I accept that the Government have not yet been able fully to respond. We did not expect that and are not asking for it. We wanted only to have an opportunity to make a contribution in good time and we welcome this debate before the publication of the Green Paper.

I begin by expressing heartfelt thanks to our Clerk, Mr Tom Radice, and our two specialist advisers, Professor John Shepherd and Professor John Pope, who took us through the issues with great care. We have produced a report which I hope Members of your Lordships' House believe is clear, relatively concise as Select Committee reports go and does not pull any punches.

We are also grateful to all those who gave evidence, in particular Mr Elliot Morley, the Minister for Fisheries, and his officials in MAFF who briefed us before we began the report. That alerted us to some of the concerns which we later expressed. We also benefited from evidence from the Director-General of Fisheries at the European Commission, Mr Steffen Smidt. On behalf of the committee, I thank them and all the witnesses who helped us with our inquiry.

I return to the four strands of the common fisheries policy. It must be remembered that the policy which began 18 years ago was something of a ragbag. The fact that the policy was brought together in the midterm review does not disguise the fact that it remains unbalanced. The four strands were the structural policy, bringing socio-economic aid; the market policy, helping to promote the sale of European fish; the external policy, dealing with our relations with third countries; and the conservation and management policy, about which, together with other issues, we are greatly concerned.

At the time of the interim review in 1992 this House had an opportunity to debate a report by the Select Committee whose sub-committee I had the privilege to chair. It is helpful to note that there is continuity in this matter, in that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who is to speak in this debate was also a member of the subcommittee. As I reread the report of 1992, which went into greater detail about all aspects of the common fisheries policies, it was depressing to reflect that its conclusions were little different from the report which we debate today. We made a conscious decision that on this occasion we would not produce a heavy volume but try to concentrate on the essential issues, in the hope that that would concentrate the minds of the readers and those who took note of our report.

Therefore, the report that we debate today is slimmer but comes to the same conclusions: that the common fisheries policy has not worked in almost all aspects that it set out to achieve 18 years ago. The scale of failure in terms of conservation and management is such that it is in danger of bringing into disrepute not only fisheries management but all other aspects of EU affairs which seek to apply the concept of sustainable development. After all, fisheries is the one sector which must take into account what we mean by "sustainable development" and "ecological approach". The very fact that emergency action has had to be taken to try to take pressure off cod and hake stocks in the North Sea demonstrates just how unsuccessful have been the measures after 18 years.

Quotas have been drastically cut in the past two years. Mr Elliot Morley has had a terribly hard row to hoe in enforcing what has certainly been necessary. That is also a reflection on the failure adequately to grapple with issues which go back to the early years of the common fisheries policy. We now have a situation in which there is widespread recognition within the fishing industry that the present scale of the sector is unsustainable; in other words, too much capacity seeks to exploit diminishing stocks. Equally, there is wide concern about the environmental impacts of the fishing industry and the lack of ability to put in place environmental auditing of aspects of the common fisheries policy.

There is further concern about the impact of the European Union's policy on third countries' fisheries. Very often we have tried to alleviate our own problems by imposing things on others in ways which have caused serious problems for those third countries. All the witnesses we saw, whether it be the Minister, the Director-General, representatives of the fishing industry, environmental interests or those involved in research, accepted with varying degrees of force that there was a need for a fundamental reshaping of the common fisheries policy.

I should perhaps ask rhetorically whether the common fisheries policy really matters. Clearly, it matters for reasons that I list. First, it is the livelihood of those in Europe who try to derive a living from the fishing industry. Frankly, those communities have been let down by the failure of policy. Secondly, there has been a demonstration of the European Union's lack of ability to implement sustainable development and concern for the environment, which again brings into doubt its ability to manage a much wider range of policies. There is also criticism from our neighbours Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Canada, all of whom have an interest in ensuring that we get our fisheries act together, instead of seeing their own efforts thwarted in part at least by our inability to act as they would hope. There is a failure to order our affairs so that we act when decisive, fast action is needed. Iceland and Greenland, which admittedly have fewer problems, have demonstrated that ability in running fisheries, but Europe has never been able to act in that way. That is why we must record that the failure has long-term implications that go way beyond the fishing industry.

I move on to one or two more positive aspects. In paragraph 22 we state that since the interim review we have seen the phasing out of tuna drift nets and the introduction of the precautionary principle in fish stock management. A much greater consensus has been built up between the scientists and industry in determining stock levels, albeit everyone now accepts that, sadly, the dire forecasts of the scientists have proved accurate. There is also a much greater inclination on the part of member states, not least the Commission, to accept shared responsibility in managing fisheries. As a concept the sub-committee warmly welcomes zonal management which means that in future responsibility for administering the policies is shared between those who are involved at the sharp end. One of the disastrous aspects on which we reported in 1992 was how little communication and agreement there appeared to be between the different links of the fishing industry.

Having pointed out one or two matters which have perhaps improved, the basic problem is over-capacity: too many vessels with too great a capacity try to exploit declining stocks. It is astonishing that, in spite of the existence of a financial instrument for fisheries guidance to try to match capacity with effort, it has been so organised that, if anything, multi-annual guidance programmes have increased rather than deceased capacity. That takes some believing. True, the number of vessels has declined, but as new technology comes along and the common fisheries policy in its wisdom gives grants for modernisation of the fleet, which means increased capacity, so all we have achieved over the years is more modern fleets and capacities which have not greatly changed. The Director-General himself agreed that fundamentally the multi-annual guidance programme had not achieved what it had set out to achieve.

There has been a failure to achieve uniform enforcement. I do not fall into the trap of blaming one country after another. Nevertheless, if one does not have standard enforcement between member states clearly there is a problem of credibility. Many member states believe that they enforce respectfully when others do not and that is their justification for disobeying the regime. There is also a failure to protect juvenile stocks, which is becoming ever more chronic, and, above all, a failure to integrate the structural policies with common fisheries policy proposals for management and conservation.

Having listed that catalogue of disasters, perhaps I should repeat once more that, although European Union fisheries are just about as bad as they come, other countries have had problems that are almost as great. We know about the need to close a large proportion of the Canadian fisheries off Newfoundland and the US fisheries off the Georgia banks. However, when rethinking the common fisheries policy in the EU there is now an overriding need for clear long-term strategies. There must be political will that we have failed to galvanise in the past. Inevitably, as far as concerns the United Kingdom the responsibility for negotiating in the Council of Ministers is left to a Minister at the MAFF. There was a time when the Minister of Agriculture himself attended such meetings relatively regularly. Fisheries have become more and more marginalised and it is now relatively rare that the Minister of Agriculture himself attends the critical meeting of the Council of Ministers in December.

I wish to place on record my great admiration for the way in which Mr Elliot Morley has handled the negotiations. I said earlier that he had had difficult decisions to make. He is well aware that his inherited problems arise from a failure to take action in earlier years. But we now need to enlist the help not only of the MAFF but of all the other departments that are involved in and responsible for putting in place a common fisheries policy and the funding of it. In relation to the United Kingdom, the DETR, the DTI, the devolved administrations, and, above all, the Treasury must be brought into the discussions and accept ownership of the problem.

We set out an overriding objective in paragraph 83. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is to speak in the debate because in the committee—although we all have Cabinet responsibility for the report—it was she who urged us to put in place this overriding objective. I willingly agreed with her. The objective in paragraph 83 states: To ensure that the exploitation of marine resources takes account not only of ecological processes but also social and economic consequences". Every future measure taken in the common fisheries policy should be tested against that kind of objective. One would not pay people to modernise their fleet if that was a clear objective; and zonal or regional management would be put in place much quicker because only those involved at sea know precisely how to manage one fishery as opposed to another. If ever there was a case for not having blanket proposals over European waters, this is it.

In paragraph 85 we list seven other objectives. Time does not allow me to go into each of those. But I would draw attention to the socio-economic elements. I hope that others, when speaking in greater detail, will be able to deal with some of those. The socio-economic elements are our key concern. If it is recognised that we need to reduce capacity and balance stocks, it must be recognised that the full impact is ultimately carried by the fishing community. One cannot address one's responsibilities to the fishing community in the halfhearted way that has happened in the past. There was a policy called PESCA which has come to an end. That did not rigorously address the need to find alternative employment, facilities and support for these communities. The issue needs a complete rethink.

However much long-term strategy is put in place, inevitably we shall have a problem which can only be addressed by complementary measures such as effort control. That means limiting days at sea or quotas.

In paragraph 99 we say that we would like to see a long-term licensing system put in place. That equates making a living out of catches with the interest of conservation. At the moment, it would be unrealistic to start charging for licences.

A few witnesses argued for returning fisheries to member states. Having listed my criticisms of the European Union, one might wonder why anyone would want to suggest that there should be another go at that. Fish have no respect for exclusive economic zones. One must have collaboration. We collaborated with Norway. We should collaborate more with Iceland and Greenland. This is a case for collaboration within Europe.

We are failing the fishing industry. We are failing in our responsibilities to future generations. I am talking of sustainable development and the environment. We are failing third countries. I have not had time to deal with that matter. The Green Paper must demonstrate a fundamentally changed attitude. There must be a response to the Green Paper from the Council of Ministers and others which is much more far-sighted than anything which has emanated from their deliberations before. Once the Green Paper is published, I am certain that the committee will wish to return to the subject. We are determined to make sure that we do not get the inadequate response we were given in 1992. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, Unsustainable Fishing: What is to be done with the Common Fisheries Policy? (3rd Report, HL Paper 12).—(The Earl of Selborne.)

7.24 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I am never sure of the protocol of the House, having been a Member for a very short time. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, to the debate. She has had a very difficult time over the past few weeks. I am sure that she understands how we all feel.

I commend the report for its content and approach to the issue. The report begins with five trenchant comments on and severe criticisms of the common fisheries policy. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, the CFP failed totally in its sustainability objectives. Warnings about the difficulties facing fishing have been ignored because of a lack of political will. That is partly true. I shall return to that matter later. I am not sure that "lack of political will" is the right way to describe it. No one would disagree that the fishing industry must be helped to address the changing circumstances. Fishing communities deserve attention from senior politicians. In some senses, the senior, and perhaps junior, politicians have paid too much attention to the siren cries of, especially from the catching side of the industry, "There are plenty of fish in the sea"; "The scientists are wrong"; and "Allow us to manage the matter and it will work out all right". Whether that is not enough attention to detail or too much of it and not enough standing back and looking at the whole picture is perhaps a matter for debate. Everyone agrees that a comprehensive approach is needed.

The difficulty is in arriving at an agreed set of solutions. The common fisheries policy has few, if any, friends at all. But, equally, there are few solutions, in totality, which will meet with unqualified approval.

When discussing the common fisheries policy and what might take its place, I am reminded of the story of the village idiot who was asked by a passing motorist for directions. He scratched his head and said: "Well, I would not start off here". Many people feel that about the common fisheries policy. Yet the truth is that we have to start off with the common fisheries policy. It is all we have. In broad terms, for the foreseeable future, it is all we are likely to have.

There are those with the view that the only way to deal with the matter is to have national control of fishing; to abandon the common fisheries policy. I see a couple of heads in front of me nodding in agreement. I suspect that, although I do not have eyes in the back of my head, there are a couple of heads nodding behind me. I do not mean to be sarcastic, but a dislike of the common fisheries policy and the European Union not only crosses the Floor of this House but extends to every quarter of the House. There is nothing new in that.

There are three strands to the common fisheries policy: the catching side, which some people regard as the most important because it is a primary element of the industry; the processors and the retailers together, certainly the processors; and there are the consumers. The consumers are the most important part of the chain. But they all depend on one fact—there has to be enough fish in the sea to be caught in the first place. That remains the starting point.

The catching side of the industry, which I have known for many years, in my experience—I come from fishing stock on both my father's and mother's side—does not like regulation. It does not like controls. It does not and never will want controls. It will never be happy with regulation. But I am happy to see that fishermen are coming to terms with the fact that more control is essential for the stocks and the industry to have a future.

The Select Committee identified the cause of a great many of the difficulties as the member states having not enough of a political role. There is some truth in that. I spent 27 years as a Member of Parliament in the other place listening to the strident voices of the fishing industry saying, "The real problem is that you will not let us control our own affairs. The real problem is that the scientists have got it wrong. You do all these fancy calculations but we can tell you that there are plenty of good-sized fish in the sea". They denied the evidence in front of their own eyes. I remember going to a small fishing port in the north east of Scotland where boxes of whiting had just been landed. They were passed as being the right size to be sold. I said, "You must have grabbed hold of every one of these whiting—grabbed the head with one hand, the tail in the other and stretched as far as you could to make them long enough to pass the minimum size". They were fairly puny things.

The same is true of the cod stocks. As a boy, I remember cod being landed not by deep-sea vessels but by in-shore vessels, which were as long as I am tall. They may not have had quite my girth but they were certainly as long as that. Now, when you see a cod, you are lucky if it is a large size. That has been happening year after year. No one has grasped the nettle that the fishing effort has to be controlled. I do not know how you can have a sustainable fisheries policy that does not control the total allowable catch—the amount of fish taken out of the sea—and control to some extent how it is shared out. No one will give up relative stability. No one will give up "their share".

I ask noble Lords to consider what would happen to any fisheries Minister who went to the European Union to demand that the total allowable catch be reduced beyond what the scientists had said. He would be hung, drawn and quartered. He would be pilloried everywhere. That might represent a lack of political will in facing up to that kind of pressure. I am not sure whether that is what the Select Committee means. If it does mean that, it does not spell it out clearly enough for me.

No one doubts that the industry should adjust. I do not like the word "rationalisation". It is a euphemism for cutting down the number of vessels and jobs. We talk about rationalisation and restructuring when we mean that we have to cut the effort. I accept that perhaps too much money was spent on refurbishing vessels. I ask noble Lords to cast back their minds 10 years or so when it was being argued that we were sending fishermen to sea in dangerously old ships, that we were putting lives at risk by making them go to sea in dreadful old tubs and that they had to have modernisation for the safety of the fleet. We should not ignore that point. Unfortunately, in any consideration of the common fisheries policy there are issues to be weighed on each side of the argument. We cannot take a view that we should not have modernised the fleet. The fleet had to be modernised. At the end of the day, perhaps the only way forward is a licensing system.

Figures are constantly being bandied about. We need to know what the Government's thinking is in the immediate as well as in the long-term future. The figure of £75 million to restructure the fleet was given by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation in its evidence to the committee. That figure has now become £100 million. I honestly do not know where that £100 million comes from. I do not know what it means. I suspect that no one will know what it means until there is further discussion with the industry. However, if we are to have a real reduction in catching effort, it will not be done painlessly and overnight. We have to accept that. Fishermen do not like being told that they cannot go out to sea, but that has to be part of the solution. Slowly but surely, they are beginning to come forward and accept that. We are seeing restructuring taking place on land as well as sea. Several quite large processing companies in the north east of Scotland have gone to the wall in recent times. Many jobs have disappeared and more are likely to go.

There are only two ways in which the industry can come down to the size that is sustainable—given the amount of fish in the sea. One is through government support. I am certainly attracted to the idea of having not just a decommissioning scheme but also making sure that money goes into helping communities to adjust to the change in jobs. That can happen either in a regulated and planned way or through bankruptcy and a war of attrition. To some extent, that is what has been happening up to now.

I do not know how this package of help will be put together. Support for the industry depends on structural funds coming from Europe. My understanding is that we can get structural funds from Europe only if our MAGP for reducing the size of the fleet is on target. When I last looked at the figures, we were quite short on that. So where will the money come from? How will it be handled? It is all very well speaking about zonal management—certainly zonal management has a part to play—but the central funds are distributed at the moment partly by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and partly by the Scottish Parliament. I am not sure what role the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly play in this area. I hope that we shall achieve a uniform UK-wide package. We cannot allow ourselves to be bullied, browbeaten or seduced by one part of the country saying, "The Scots are getting more than the English" or "The English are getting more than the Scots". We have to have a uniform package in order to achieve unity in the industry. Achieving unity in the industry for the future will be extremely difficult because the different parts are historically at odds.

I am pleased that the committee has drawn the attention of the House to the problems of fishing in third world, especially African, countries. They do not have the capacity to patrol and conserve their own stocks. Perhaps I may give an example. A few years ago—it was certainly after Namibia became independent—I saw video evidence of Spanish vessels, which had no historical right to fish off Namibia, painting out their names and numbers, coming into Namibian waters, fishing until they were fully loaded, going out, then painting their names and numbers back on and going off to Spain. I hope that I shall not fall into the trap of saying, "It is all Johnny Foreigner's fault". It just so happens that the vessels were Spanish, and we have enough trouble with the Spanish in their own waters without them being anywhere else. But we have to understand that we have a part to play in what happens in fishing throughout the world. We need to be forward thinking. I am glad that the committee is indeed forward thinking.

The committee has produced an extremely valuable report. As it says at the start, it is one of a long list of reports over the past decade, most of which have been, if not totally ignored, almost totally ignored. One hopes that the Government will give take more action and accept more ofthe recommendations of this report than has been the case in the past.

7.38 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, before I address the topic of the debate, I should like to express my profound appreciation to noble Lords on all sides of the House and indeed members of staff of the House for the deep support and sympathy they have given me over the past few weeks. It has certainly enabled me to be here today.

I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate. The chairman has correctly highlighted the issue of the report which I should like to address. I refer to the balance between the environmental and socio-economic aspects of fishing. In paragraphs 86, 87 and 88 of the report, the committee highlighted certain recommendations on the protection of the marine environment. It stated: There must be a much more effective liaison between DG Fisheries and DG Environment. The whole ecosystem of the ocean is greatly affected by fisheries activities". The committee went on to highlight that the common fisheries policy is lagging very far behind the common agricultural policy in even recognising that environmental considerations have to be a fundamental part of any activity.

It took agriculture a long time to realise that it was making a terrible impact on the ecosystem and to understand how that then impacted on the attitude of consumers to food and its production. With the common fisheries policy we are still at the beginning of such a process. In paragraph 88 the committee highlights the fact that the fisheries sector still seems to be lagging behind most others.

When I read the government responses to the committee's report, I was struck by the fact that the Government's priorities pleasingly include, an economically and environmentally sustainable industry". However, their second point states only that there should be, greater integration of environmental considerations into policy making. I should like to ask the Minister whether, on reflection, she feels that that statement is strong enough. I believe that the lessons we have learnt from the common agricultural policy demonstrate that we should pursue total integration of environmental considerations into policy making. I hope that, when the Government take their reply to the Commission, they might ask for total integration rather than simply "greater" integration, because the starting point is already so low that it would be hard for it not to be greater than is the case at present.

One of the difficulties that we must face is that, institutionally and structurally, both the Commission and the UK have failed to integrate in any way their fisheries and environmental policies. Evidence we heard included several powerful examples of where significant improvements could be made. Perhaps I may begin with an example from English Nature, which when commenting on the national position states that: We have given advice to the Ministry of Agriculture in the UK: we have asked to be on the Fisheries Conservation group of the Ministry and have been told that the time is not right for that". That is a little depressing, given that English Nature is one of the Government's advisers on matters of conservation. If it feels that it has a contribution to make to the fisheries conservation group, I should have thought that the Government would be pleased to welcome its representation.

English Nature goes on to say that, an EU Biodiversity Strategy for Fisheries and an EU Fisheries Integration strategy is being developed", and that those dialogues need to be brought together. The committee heard a great deal of evidence concerning how little such dialogues are being brought together. That should start with policy making and then feed through to what the World Wildlife Fund pointed out; namely, that, environmental conditions should be attached to the existing structural policies". It goes on to say that environmental conditions should be attached to the funding streams which will then result. To that end, the Royal Society for the Protection for Birds highlighted the fact that, structural funds should shift away from capital investment towards promoting environmentally-friendly fisheries". The society continued by developing a theme which ran through our entire inquiry; namely, that environmental and socio-economic advantages can be delivered effectively, in particular for inshore fisheries, on a regional level. The government response does not specify whether they are pressing for a redefinition of Europe's inshore fisheries and how best such fisheries might manage themselves. A number of examples were cited to the committee which demonstrated that their managers understand the importance of biodiversity and they want to be able to exercise the degree of management which would enable them to achieve the desired environmental advantages.

In our discussions, the Minister, Mr Elliot Morley, said that, In institutional terms I think environmental issues are being taken into account". Later he pointed out: So you are beginning to see environmental considerations actually being applied to fisheries management". The noble Lord, Lord Judd, pressed the Minister further on that point by saying: Do you feel that is going to happen or is it still a bit laid back? The Minister replied by saying, No. I think it is going to happen but there are still issues of conflict". I believe that all members of the committee would agree with me when I say that I do not feel that that was a sufficiently strong response.

Perhaps I may turn for a moment to regional or zonal management as a method of bringing together fishermen and those responsible for the economies of their regions, along with scientists. Striking evidence has shown that management formed on a more regional basis will be far more effective at delivering the benefits we want the revised common fisheries policy to achieve. I was struck by the suggestion put forward by the World Wildlife Fund to the effect that, pilot regional or zonal management committees Mould be formed for all European regional seas". Have the Government considered pressing for such pilots, which could come into being well before agreement is reached on exactly how the CFP is to be reformed?

One difficulty that we need to face on a national level is that, at the regional level, fisheries are seen rather as things apart. Funding streams are in place which take into account the restructuring of agriculture as well as the regeneration of towns. However, funding delivered through MAFF or rural development plans has never taken on board to any significant degree the restructuring funding that should be made available through PESCA, to which our chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred earlier. Our regional policy as regards all areas with fishing-dependent communities needs to take into account the more political question of whether such communities should continue to depend on fishing or whether they can diversify. If they do wish to diversify, then it is no good if fisheries money can be spent only on fisheries activities. Fisheries funding which comes from Europe needs to be spent in a relevant region on projects completely different from fishing. Otherwise, we shall never see adequate diversification.

The fact is that regional dialogue is still in an infant form. If we are to see reform of the CFP by 2002, then as a nation we need to make the regions, government offices and RDAs far more aware of the kinds of actions they should be taking to make such dialogue more effective.

I shall conclude by saying that I was extremely convinced by the case for regional management. It was favoured by many members of the committee. I hope that we as a nation could be at the forefront of demonstrating how effective regional management can be delivered. Furthermore, we should build on partnerships already established, for example, between parts of the south-west region and our fellow local authorities in France, where they, too, are facing the same kinds of problems. We could build on a great deal of common ground. If we were to adopt a common approach, then we should be able to develop strategies that will deliver a rounded policy for fishing in the future.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, back in her place after the awful tragedy that she has had to endure. I feel particular sympathy for her as I narrowly missed having my daughter in a similar situation a few days later.

I should like to pay an enormous tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for chairing this committee. I feel that I have learnt a tremendous amount from his brilliant chairmanship. We were also most ably assisted by our Clerk, Mr Thomas Radice, and his assistant, Marilyn Byatt. I should like to thank them most sincerely for all their assistance so freely and courteously given.

The noble Earl has probably said all that needs to be said about this report. However, I should like to emphasise one or two points. The whole subject of discards is one that worries me terribly, not only because of the dreadful waste, often of commercial species, equivalent to 40 per cent of the final landed catch—I repeat, some 40 per cent of the catch—but especially with regard to the damaging pollution of the seabed. Here I should like to quote one of our witnesses, Mr Venmore, who was a shell fisherman. He said: That ground was then barren for three months because it polluted the sea bed and I could catch absolutely nothing". In this case he was referring to discarded mackerel. That is happening throughout the whole of British waters. It is a crime, quite frankly, against humanity. It cannot be justified". I should also like to quote Mrs Murray, who, on page 74, stated: That is why I say to you that it is absolutely essential that the United Kingdom Parliament actually grasps the nettle…and says 'Enough is enough, this policy is lunacy' and to safeguard not only our fishing industry but to safeguard the fish stocks, we do need to initiate some sort of domestic legislation. The fish stocks do not have the seven years that it took between 1976 and 1983 to actually negotiate an agreement with our European partners. They will not survive that long". A big part of the future of our fish supply, I am sure, lies in aquaculture, but fish stocks must also be preserved for our own and future generations, and that in turn means a complete restructuring of our entire fishing industry. I urge Her Majesty's Government to take action now before it is too late.

I wonder how many people saw the headline in Fishing News on 19th January. It stated: House of Lords EU Committee issues powerful warning—Whole Industry Could Disappear. A hard-hitting report by an influential House of Lords committee into the prospects for reform of the CFP concludes that the 17 year old policy 'has totally failed to achieve its fundamental objective of ensuring that fishing capacity and effort is consistent with self sustaining fish populations and food chains'". MAFF has been ignoring the seriousness of this situation for far too long and it must recognise that, sadly, the situation is not going to disappear overnight. I believe that action is required, and required now.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Selborne for his chairmanship of our committee. He was immensely tactful and had to reconcile some rather differing points of view from time to time. He can rest assured that he has produced a report which, as he said, does not pull any punches. That is obviously true to anyone who has read it.

Like him, I am very disappointed that we are treading a well-worn path in this debate. Like our debates on the common agricultural policy, our debates on the common fisheries policy always seem to be very well received; they gain an enormous number of compliments and we are told how well regarded they are in both Brussels and in government circles. What a pity, in that case, that they never seem to be acted upon.

The report we are debating today is a good example of what I am talking about. On page 9 of the report, Box 1 lists the previous reports of parliamentary Select Committees. There have been six of these since 1992, all increasingly critical of the common fisheries policy. This, our most recent report, turns up the heat even more. It is studded with conclusions that highlight the disappointment, and even anger, at the lack of progress—and, still, the apparent lack of political will to find a solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, quoted from the report that the CFP, has totally failed to achieve its fundamental objective". Paragraph 1 of the report continues: This has happened despite repeated warnings from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and despite reports from Committees of both Houses of Parliament and others". In paragraph 6 it states that, disappointingly little progress has been made on the key recommendations of the earlier reports, and indeed in many respects the position is getting worse". Wherever we look we find that the common fisheries policy has been a disaster.

In relation to capacity reduction, the report states that the Multi-Annual Guidance Programme IV, has so far dismally failed to produce reductions in total EU fishing capacity, which on the contrary has continued to show net year-on-year increases". Even worse, British taxpayers' money is being used to modernise the Spanish fishing fleet. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, of course, that we have to modernise. I agree—but we are paying to modernise the Spanish fleet, not our own. If we are going to modernise, let us modernise our own fleet, at least. Even worse—this is the contradiction at the heart of this matter—we are paying to modernise the Spanish fleet on the one hand, and also our money is being used to pay for effort reduction on the other. The two things are mutually contradictory. It is not just barking up the wrong tree; it is just barking, quite frankly.

Effort control is another failure. The use of square mesh panels which would allow juveniles to escape was recommended by the Select Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Selborne in 1992. It took eight years before the recommendation was acted upon—which is absurd—and then only in the North Sea and the west of Scotland haddock fisheries.

Meanwhile, net sizes were not increased elsewhere. The Commission and the member states managed somehow to agree among themselves in December 1999 to allow smaller fish to be caught because the net mesh sizes were not reduced, thus ensuring that more juveniles would be caught, more breeding stock would be caught, the breeding stock would be destroyed and, therefore, scientists would say "There is a crisis here. They will have to become quota fisheries as well".

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned the scandal of discards. The illustration on the loose cover of the report is of a young boy, Andrew White, 16 years of age, holding up two fish. In one hand he is holding a nice big saithe—not as big as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is used to; it is not nearly as big as he is, either up or around, but it is nevertheless a sizeable fish—and in the other hand the boy is clutching a kind of super sardine, which turns out to be a whiting. In that picture it is the big fish that will be thrown overboard and discarded and the little fish that will be retained. That is absolutely scandalous.

Enforcement is another major failure, I am sorry to say. I shall not be as squeamish as my noble friend Lord Selborne; I shall point the finger. We had quite convincing evidence that British fishermen are subject to strict enforcement at sea, whereas we had evidence from Dr Christian Lequesne that the French view was that "social peace" should be traded off for what he euphemistically called "flexibility on controls"—in other words, anything for a quiet life. "We'll leave you alone but do not debag the Minister". I have yet to hear of anyone who believes that the Spanish fishing fleet is properly policed. We had an example of its activities in Namibia. It is hardly surprising that under those conditions the British fishermen feel that they are seriously disadvantaged when it comes to enforcement.

The overwhelming evidence we took showed that the common fisheries policy has been a failure, is a failure and will continue to be a failure. The Fisheries Minister's job, quite frankly, to quote a previous Minister of Agriculture, Mr John Gummer, is, to ensure that if there are only ten fish left in the sea, you get your share and if possible a few more". That is not a policy at all. If it is a policy, it is a policy of despair.

Whether we look at it from the point of view of the fishing industry, of fish stocks, of the environment or of social policy, there appears to be no prospect at all of the common fisheries policy being radically altered for the better. Indeed, I believe it can only get worse with enlargement, if it ever comes in. Then there will be more boats chasing fewer fish. I cannot see how that will lead to anything better than we already have.

Britain's fishermen have been particularly harshly treated under this policy. That is borne out by documents released recently under the 30-year rule, in particular a Scottish Office memorandum dated 9th November 1970 which says of British fishermen that, in the wider U.K. context, they must be regarded as expendable". That is very nice for British fishermen to hear, I am sure!

If it is still the view of this House and of the Government that our fisheries are expendable, then we must agree that responsibility for our fisheries policy should remain in Brussels, in spite of the catalogue of failure that is the history of the common fisheries policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that the common fisheries policy is all that we have. That is true. But there is an attractive alternative to jumping out of the window—it is not to jump out of the window. There is an alternative to the common fisheries policy; namely, to return control of our fisheries to Westminster. The principle of "equal access" to UK waters for EU fisheries was a political bargaining counter, to allow us to enjoy the manifold benefits of membership of the European Union. It had, and has, little to do with fisheries, conservation or social policy.

We heard convincing evidence from a number of witnesses that national control of fisheries works. It is, after all, likely that with a fishery, as with anything else, if no one owns it, no one looks after it. Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, Namibia and the United States are all examples of countries which have found ways of managing their fisheries that work—if not perfectly, then certainly much better than the shambles that is the CFP. Morocco can also be added to the list. The Moroccans have recently discovered that it is in their much greater interest to control their own fisheries than to continue in agreements with EU countries, particularly Spain, and they are refusing to renew those agreements.

Britain's waters provide, or provided, about 75 per cent of resources for the EU fleet, as it will become in 2003. The example I have given shows that national control of fisheries can work; indeed this was supported by evidence from non-EU members of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission as to how it was possible for precautionary fishing bans to be declared in their waters within hours of receiving scientific advice. This requires a speed of executive decision-making that is quite beyond the bureaucratic abilities of the European Union and its institutions.

I agree that fish do not respect national boundaries and that there must, therefore, be international agreements. But these should be intergovernmental. It is not necessary to have a common fisheries policy in order to have international agreements on fisheries. It should be possible—indeed it is possible, as in the examples I have mentioned—for an individual state to manage its fisheries and to have legal agreements with other nations which have an interest in and border on its fisheries.

National control would enable the UK to licence all vessels to fish in our exclusive fishing zone. It would allow us to introduce and enforce agreed conservation measures. We should be able to introduce closed fishing areas immediately. It would enable short-term transitional aid to be paid as the enforcement measures bite. It would allow us at last to enforce our own rules, regulations and conservation policy.

The reason the common fisheries policy is such a disaster is contained in a 1991 Commission report which is so self-condemning that it needs no further comment. The report states: the fisheries sector will behave in a way consistent with the achievement of the European ideal". Exactly! That is what it is doing, and that is why it is such a failure.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, at the outset I should declare an interest, as recorded in the report, as a trustee of the World Humanity Action Trust and as a member of other voluntary organisations concerned with the environment.

I should like to begin by paying a warm tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for his magnificent leadership in the committee. It is a joy to work with the noble Earl. His drive and spirit are quite special: they are matched only by his scholarship and knowledge. On this side of the House we ought also to say a word of appreciation to the Clerk, Tom Radice, and to the advisers for the sterling work they did in producing our findings.

As I listened to my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside, I, too, thought of the witnesses, particularly those from fishing communities, who came before us in the committee. There was tremendous strength of feeling. However, what impressed me was that it was not only strength of feeling—I must honestly say that, perhaps a little surprisingly, there was a real willingness to face the issues and to face up to the scientific evidence that was being produced. But there was exasperation, because they believed that this was exactly what politicians were failing to do. What they wanted was a real sense of convincing direction. I believe that we owe it to close-knit communities that have served the nation so well to provide that leadership. We have seen similar situations in this country: we have seen the harrowing things that have happened to mining communities, steel communities and farming communities. In each of these situations, the most important discipline for us is to be able to speak forthrightly and honestly about what we believe needs to be done and then meet the consequences of following that through.

There is a tendency in this House to use measured language and to be careful about not over-egging the argument. However, it would be difficult to over-state the gravity of the situation that faces us in fishing. It is a catastrophe. Stocks are diminishing, perhaps irreparably; and at the same time we have continuing over-capacity for the fishing operation. Drastic reductions in fishing are necessary, and firm regulation to achieve that is vital. If ever there were an example of international interdependence, it is to be found in fishing. Fish are no respecters of national or coastal waters or of exclusive zones. If we are going to manage the crisis that confronts us and survive it, we must work together as an international community. If we cannot start by handling this matter effectively on our own Continent of Europe, what prospects are there on the wider global stage?

As I reflect on the report that we produced, certain priorities keep coming back to me. First, there has to be an agreed strategy. We cannot go on with an approach governed by tactics alone. There must be a strategy within which the tactics find their place—a strategy towards which everyone can work.

My own view is that part of this strategy, eventually—perhaps not eventually, but very soon—needs to be on licensing fishermen, as distinct from trying to control the boats or equipment with which they work, so that we have a limited professional body of people working to an agreed strategy and taking their place within it. We also need to move towards zonal management—an aspect that is covered in the report—in which stakeholders, not least the fishermen themselves, have a part to play within the total overall strategy. It is by that kind of approach that we can build up a feeling of responsibility for the industry, for conservation and for all that guarantees the future.

Then there has to be effective enforcement. It is extremely aggravating for fishermen who take the situation seriously, and who are themselves subjected to stringent regulation, to see others escaping such regulation.

There must be strengthened enforcement. I can hear the words before they are expressed. The reservations we all have about bureaucracy and the European Union and about the overblown bureaucracy in parts of the European Union are known, but that is no reason for not strengthening European administration where it is needed. It is a sick joke that only 25 European Union inspectors are responsible for ensuring the policy is followed across the waters of the European Union as a whole.

There must be convincing support for communities when the changes are implemented. That needs to be part of the strategy and clearly spelled out so that people know where they stand and can make plans for the future. I also believe—there has not yet been much reference to this—that part of this essential approach involves giving greater emphasis to aquaculture, not overlooking the dangers of parasites and disease, for example, and also the environmental problems inherent in aquaculture, but working to achieve a responsible approach to aquaculture which can boost and stabilise the stocks of wild fish.

I come back to two general points which have already been mentioned in the debate which I believe are crucially important. First, I spent most of my professional life outside Westminster working on third world and development issues. I am appalled by what is happening to vulnerable small communities in third world countries dependent upon artisanal fishing as the irresponsible behaviour of Europe destroys their livelihood and the prospects of their families and communities. That matter deserves urgent attention. There must be far better co-ordination in Brussels between the development directorates and the agricultural directorates responsible for fishing and the rest. We also need to be certain that such co-ordination is strong in the counsels of our own administration and government in the United Kingdom.

The second general point to which I want to return is the issue of the environment, which was well spelled out by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I sum it up this way—this is very much the way I look at agriculture as well—if we are taking the prospects of our children and grandchildren seriously in terms of inheriting any kind of environment worth living in, indeed, inheriting an environment in which it is possible to live, we must have a fundamental change of mindset. We must stop thinking about agriculture which has certain environmental responsibilities or fishing which must take the environment into account. We must have environmental policy into which we fit agriculture and fishing as part of our general management of the environment. Until we can get that discipline into our overall approach to policy, I believe that we shall always be trying to run up an escalator which is going down faster and faster out of control.

There have already been assurances from MAFF and we look forward to its full reply. There has been emphasis on the indispensability of political will; our chairman has been right to emphasise this again this evening. I believe that in Elliot Morley we have a good Minister who understands the arguments and wants to do his best. But he is a junior Minister and he deserves the priority attention of senior Ministers who can really make things happen. What we need above all is clear leadership and honesty about what is necessary. There is no room any longer for fudging or for preoccupation with tactics because we are faced potentially with a terminal crisis in terms of the availability of fish stocks but also because if we take seriously our responsibility to those communities that have served us well, nothing would be more unforgivable than to fail to speak forthrightly and clearly about how grave the situation is and what needs to be done to put it right.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, I was honoured to serve on the committee under the able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Selborne, so ably supported by Tom Radice, our brilliant Clerk. Our chairman was patient with me. He seemed to cope well with my sometimes furious, sometimes emotional, outbursts.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, I, too, was born to a seafaring family. My family has fished out of Plymouth in Devon for hundreds of years. At one time we were proud to say that we had the largest fleet of fishing smacks in the South West. We have always been inshore fishermen. Our communities are small and close. They share their inherited knowledge and skill. They know their waters intimately, and are dependent on them for food and for a living. We are not landsmen. Our houses are small; they face the sea and our wealth has been vested in our boats and equipment—an ever increasing cost in these days.

Be it the great mid and deep water fleets of the east coast and the north as they face mountainous seas and freezing conditions way beyond the help of lifeboat crews, or inshore boats such as the ones that I have known, they have commonly worked with an element which is unpredictable. There are days and weeks when they cannot fish which makes them all the more dependent on their catches when they do. Restricted fishing is felt in more ways than one.

As I entered the industry some 30 years ago, science and technology were about suddenly to leap ahead and revolutionise fishing as my family had known it, giving us the ability to take the guesswork, the hunting and the local knowledge out of fishing. There they were on the screen of the echo sounders and the fish finders for all to see, eerie in green on those screens, shoals of fish. It enabled us to rape and pillage those fragile stocks, disrupting breeding cycles, particularly in our area. I refer to pelagic fish local to my waters such as mackerel who swim in a tight shoal, sometimes miles long with the soldiers up the front and mature fish outside protecting the young ones inside. We swallowed them up in cod end nets pulled by big purse seiners down from Scotland. We crushed much of the catch. It was used for Fish meal or dumped at sea, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has so elegantly described.

Attempts by the European Union to limit the damage that we did have so far left the United Kingdom with an ageing inshore fleet and a small in number but hugely efficient mid and deep water fleet bristling with new technology, mortgaged to the hilt and hungry for huge catches. Our boats are limited by the European Union's common fisheries policy's erratic attempts to restrain.

Enforcement by the United Kingdom is vigorous. Certain other member countries, with fleets many times the size of ours, display little appetite for such enforcement and watch in amused amazement as our common law processes are applied to European directives. At present, enforcement is down to member states and we are not all playing by the same rules. Our report urges that the enforcement issue must be addressed. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke eloquently on the issue so I shall say no more.

As our chairman, my noble friend Lord Selborne, vividly outlined to your Lordships, the 17 year-old common fisheries policy has failed totally to achieve its fundamental objective of ensuring that fishing capacity and effort are consistent with self-sustaining fish populations and food chains. Our fishermen, who now share our once plenteous waters with member countries—some of whom have fished out their own waters through need or bad husbandry—are in a desperate state. Stocks in European Community waters are now at critically low levels. International scientists and parliamentary committees have given consistent warnings over the years. Our Government must lead the way for the United Kingdom and the European Community with a degree of political courage which has so far been lacking in all member states.

Our report urges that more Community funding will be needed to ease the transition for our fishing communities facing loss of their traditional activities. Good applications of science and technology are now seeing the growth of sea fish aquaculture. The Sea Fish Industry Authority is having great success with its cod hatchery. The first 10 tonnes of product hit the market in 2000. It was but four years ago that your Lordships were minded to pass my Bill to license lobster ranching at sea. I have now opened the first national lobster hatchery at Padstow in Cornwall which will allow the local fishermen to take up licences and ranch those lobsters breeding with the natural stock. We hope to have replenished the local lobster stock by up to a quarter in four years. Scientists, traditional hunters, commercial producers like me and retailers can save the situation given the right encouragement.

The key objective of the common fisheries policy should be sustainable development to ensure that the exploitation of marine resources takes account not only of ecological processes but also the social and economic consequences. Scientists, fishermen and politicians all know that action must be taken now. This is it—the reform of the common fisheries policy in 2002. It is our last chance. Member countries have their particular agendas and constituencies, as we have seen often to our cost. Small though the British fishing industry may be compared with other member countries, it has never been fought for in those quiet corridors of power where deals are done. To counter that, our Select Committee worked hard to publish this report ahead of the European Union Green Paper publicly to expose the problems that face us and encourage MAFF—it is acknowledged as having the best science in the European Union—to prepare our UK Minister to lead the fight to get the common fisheries policy set fair for the future before the whole fishing industry disappears forever.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton

My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I had no background in fishing until 1995 when I was appointed chairman of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which considered fish stock conservation and management. Since then I have watched what I can only regard as a complete tragedy, and it is still continuing—the over-exploitation of another natural resource, like the over-exploitation of forests and oil.

When considering fish stock conservation, we found that there was gross over-fishing throughout the world. At that time we were told by our expert advisers that only mature fish can spawn and thus contribute to the replenishment of stocks. However, fisheries were increasingly targeting immature fish so that the spawning stock steadily fell. For fish like cod, which take four to five years to reach maturity, the effect is particularly strong. By 1995 the spawning stock of North Sea cod was only 5 per cent of its value 20 years earlier.

At that time we were conscious of the fact that in 1992 one of the world's most productive fisheries, namely, the Canadian Grand Banks cod fishery—it had fished continuously for 500 years—had been closed completely after a total collapse of stocks. Today, a decade later, there is little sign of recovery of that stock.

We concluded our report with this paragraph: In the United Kingdom and throughout the European Union regular supplies of fish are taken for granted, despite clear evidence of over-fishing. Only slowly is public opinion waking up to the fact that other parts of the world have been shaken, too late, from a similar complacency. Too little was done too late to preserve stocks of wholesome fish in the American Georges Bank, and in the Black Sea, and off the Canadian Grand Banks. Year after year, all over the world, the long-term sustainability of fish stocks is being sacrificed in favour of the short-term protection of employment in the fishing industry. But the lesson to be learned from the collapse of the Grand Banks fishery is that ignoring the warning signs year after year can end in the loss of thousands rather than hundreds of jobs. In their heart of hearts, scientists, fishermen, managers and politicians must all know that action must be taken now to prevent a repeat of the Grand Banks fiasco nearer to home. The question is, will they take it?". That was five years ago. When I was co-opted on to the current committee the situation was not better but worse. Many of the dire predictions of 1996 have proved correct. Overall, the situation is worse. Few of our recommendations have been acted upon. If they were, if was only after a long delay. I believe that that indicates the lack of political will which has been referred to.

Our chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has given an admirable summary of the report. I shall comment on only three issues: first, the proposals for zonal management; secondly, enforcement; and, thirdly, the social problems that will inevitably arise.

We recommend that the revised common fisheries policy should establish zonal fishing zones. Proposals for such a change were made jointly by the Scottish Fishermen's Foundation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. They have been widely welcomed.

Within each zone, a committee would be set up drawn only from those member states with existing fishing rights in that zone. It would include representatives of fishermen, fisheries scientists, environmental interests and fisheries managers. The committee would thus have a detailed knowledge of the local situation and would be able to respond rapidly to any crisis.

I should very much like power to be devolved to such committees from the Commission, but we do not think that that can be achieved at the moment, so we envisage the committees as primarily advisory to the Commission. However, we considered that they should be empowered to take immediate action in any emergency to close areas where it seemed necessary to protect spawning stock or to introduce restrictions on fishing gear. Such changes currently take months, or even years, to impose.

The committees would also propose medium-term management strategies for stocks in their zone. We hope that the endorsement of their recommendations by the Commission and the Fisheries Council would be automatic and that in the fullness of time further management powers would be delegated to them.

Such a zonal management system would have various advantages. First, having a reduced number of member states controlling any fishery should make more rapid decision-making easier. Secondly, as all the interested parties would be members of the committee, the squabbles that have been common between fishermen and fisheries scientists over stocks would be resolved before decisions were made.

Enforcement has been mentioned several times. Every member state has always had grave suspicions that it is the only one honouring the national responsibility to enforce the rules. For that reason, we recommend that member states should pool part of their enforcement capacity so that inspections at sea and on the dock can be carried out by a team drawn from at least two member states, appointed by and acting with the authority of the Commission. We also think that the current size of the Commission's inspectorate is woefully inadequate. That point has already been made.

The necessary reductions in fishing effort will mean hardship and unemployment in fishing communities and related trades. There must be much greater expenditure on and investment in those communities throughout Europe. Structural funds should be redirected from providing subsidies for fleet modernisation, which has only increased fishing effort, to mitigating the effects of fishing reductions, which will cause unemployment among fishermen and others.

I finish roughly where I started. The North Sea cod stock is close to collapse. I very much hope that the cod recovery plan that has been adopted will prevent that collapse, but I fear that it may have been left too late.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I was not a member of the committee that produced the report that we are discussing, but I took part in three of the earlier inquiries listed in the box on page 9 of the report, notably that which produced a 300-page review of the common Fisheries policy in 1992 and that of the Science and Technology Committee in 1996. Looking again at those reports, which have been gathering dust in my store room, I am struck by the fact that, despite all that we said, things have evidently got worse, not better, in the past 10 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, has just said.

The 1992 report, nearly nine years ago, said: The fishing industry in the European Community is suffering such acute problems that its very future is threatened. Chronic over-capacity in the Community fleet has led to consistent overfishing … Fishing is becoming ever more intensive, with modern methods causing damage to the whole marine environment … All witnesses agree that the current level of fishing effort is too high and could lead to the collapse of the stocks of some species of fish". Four years later, the 1996 report spoke of the world's fish stocks being in a state of crisis. We said: A substantial reduction in fishing effort is urgently needed". We recommended the replacement of TACs by effort control, urged that scientific advice should be clearer to avoid providing an excuse for political compromise and said that we favoured a ban on all discards.

The present report is clear, cogent and hard-hitting. One would expect that from the distinguished membership of the committee and its admirable Chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I have listened with much interest to the speeches made by members of the committee. I was particularly struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, with whom I very much agreed.

The report makes it clear that the advice and warnings given in the earlier reports have had virtually no effect. Its first two paragraphs are a damning indictment of the common fisheries policy. The report emphasises the irresponsibility of European politicians, including ours, who come back from meetings trumpeting their success in resisting cuts proposed by the scientists. It makes it abundantly clear that if we go on as we are, stocks of sea fish around our coasts, particularly in the North Sea, will very soon collapse, with cod going first and other species following soon after. Cod do not reproduce, I believe, until they are seven years old, so it will be years before there is any prospect of a real recovery. Not only will it be tragic that these great stocks of fish around this country will be wantonly destroyed, but the livelihood of our fishermen will vanish.

Pages 14 and 15 of the report show that the CFP still ignores the effects of fishing on the marine environment and that, inexplicably, there is no liaison between the conservation interests in the commission and those responsible for fisheries. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, on that.

What needs to be done? I was struck by what Professor McIntyre told our 1996 inquiry. He said: We know what the solution to the problem is, and that is simply to reduce fishing effort. If we doubted that at all we had the excellent examples of the two world wars, where for four years fishing effort was practically stopped. Before each of these world wars the stocks were in a poor state. Four years later they were in a first-class state". Despite our calls for a substantial reduction in effort, the EU has utterly failed to bring that about. The Commission's Director-General of Fisheries admitted to the Committee that, despite what it had been trying to do, the Community might have greater capacity now than five or 10 years ago. Boats are being taken out of service, only to be replaced by more modern, more efficient boats, often heavily subsidised by the EU. The evidence quotes ICES experts as saying that there was a need for a 40 to 60 per cent reduction of effort and nothing short of that would do any good.

The 1996 report argued that the dreadful practice of discards—killing all the round fish thrown back—should be banned, but it still continues. As we heard when we went to Bergen in 1995, the Norwegians have a much better system and allow no discards.

Practically nothing has been done to safeguard spawning areas, shown on the maps at pages 153 to 155 of the 1992 report. Probably half the North Sea needs to be closed to fishing for some years if stocks are to be given a chance of recovering. The system of total allowable catches—TACs—which in a mixed fishery leads inevitably to discards, needs to be replaced by effort control. There is no sign of progress on that as yet.

Therefore, controlling fishing on a European basis has failed dismally for the reasons clearly set out in the report. The actions of the Commission have often been irresponsible, providing subsidies for new boats and even ending minimum landing sizes for 11 species, including turbot, lemon sole, brill, dab and flounder—a decision which understandably the committee found shocking.

The EU has had 10 years to put things on a sound basis, but it has done nothing. The situation has worsened under EU management. I see no sign of any determination to take the draconian measures needed to secure the survival of so many fish species around our coasts and to give our fishermen prospects for a decent future.

I do not believe that regional or zonal management to be approved at Community level, as proposed by the statutory conservation agencies—in effect, decentralising the CFP—would solve the problem, attractive though it sounds. It might be rejected by Brussels as implying a degree of discrimination.

I conclude that we must remove the fisheries, or what is left of them, from European control. I do not have much confidence in our own capacity to put things right. The dreadful state of our railways, the fiasco of the Dome, the mess over the proposed partial privatisation of the Tube and of air traffic control do not suggest that this Government are capable of tackling a major problem such as this. But at least we could make a start by doing things differently and doing it ourselves—of course, collaborating with other fishing nations around us—without being swamped by Spanish boats and Danish industrial fishermen and living under the threat of foreign boats fishing right up to our beaches after 2002, when the current derogation comes to an end.

Although popular, the Conservative call for being in Europe but not run by Europe is palpable nonsense. In this area we are at present run by Europe, as the Factortame judgment showed only too plainly. It is not only in relation to fisheries that we are told peremptorily what we can and cannot do. Mr Gordon Brown, for example, has just had a rather dusty answer from the Commission about his welcome plan to reduce VAT on the repair of churches.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, I believe that the time has come when we must take back the whole area of fisheries and place it under the control and responsibility of this Parliament. That is now very urgent if we are to save the North Sea cod and other species such as haddock, turbot and hake. Looking around the world, we can see clearly that the only really successful fisheries policies are those run by one country or one administration, such as Norway, New Zealand or, indeed, Namibia or the Falkland Islands.

If we can repatriate our fisheries, as suggested in some of the evidence to the committee, by a parliamentary Act reclaiming our 200-mile or median line limits, as laid down in the Fishery Limits Act 1976, all well and good. If not, we may need to arrange a new relationship with Europe, as I have often suggested in other contexts in your Lordships' House. That would enable us to break free from the shackles of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.

Such a new relationship with the EU, similar to that enjoyed by Norway, Switzerland and now Mexico, would give us much happier relations with Europe, save us huge amounts of money and give us a much better future. I am not surprised that, according to the polls, 46 per cent of our people now want us to leave the EU. Reading this report on the state of one of the major planks of the EU, one can only conclude that they are right.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I believe that British fishermen can take some comfort from what is a thorough and forthright report. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the Select Committee on its report. The members have been meticulous in their search for a solution to the problems of fishing, as they have been in the past. Unfortunately, little notice seems to have been taken of their previous reports.

I very much welcomed the trenchant remarks of the chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I believe that if I had made the type of remarks that he made, I would have been accused of being an anti-EU zealot. But, of course, the remarks were made by the distinguished noble Earl and I hope that a great deal of notice will be taken of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, mentioned the disclosures under the 30-year rule. He is absolutely right that Britain was swindled out of her national fishing industry with the connivance of the then government, led by Mr Heath. It is quite outrageous that an elected government should have believed that a great industry was expendable and, indeed, that they should have been prepared to take measures and make agreements which would ensure that it was expendable. Even worse, we have continued to expend the British industry while, to add insult to injury, the British taxpayer has helped to build up the Spanish and Portuguese fishing industries, which have then depredated fish in British waters. That was the result of that particular policy at that particular time.

What is worse, this British Parliament is precluded from taking action to safeguard the livelihoods of British fishermen. As we know, if they dared to do so, they would be taken to the European Court of Justice and fined. Thus, we have witnessed the spectacle of the British fishing industry being almost destroyed. The industry has been in decline and fish stocks have sunk, in many cases to crisis proportions, because of the disastrous policy which could have been avoided had we had a decent and courageous government who were not prepared to give away anything in pursuit of their policy of entering Europe.

Like the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy—the only two common policies that we have—has been an absolute disaster. Yet they continue to be supported; indeed, they have to be supported because of the acquis cornmunautaire—the absurd doctrine which insists that a power gained by the European Union must never be relinquished, however absurd and damaging it becomes. Yet something must be done. Many noble Lords have said that we must take back control of our fishing industry, our fisheries and our fishing waters because they are being so mismanaged by the European Union.

Members of another place and of this place, and Ministers in particular, should remember that they are here to protect and further the interests of British people and to give priority to them rather than to those of other countries or the nationals of other countries. They certainly cannot do so under the common fisheries policy. Because of qualified majority voting, under that policy the claims of other countries now appear to take precedence over the best interests of our own with dire results for our fishermen and our fishing industry. As my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside and other noble Lords remarked, that is to the detriment of consumers because it causes shortages and higher prices.

The CFP has certainly not achieved its objectives. Conservation was one objective, but it has certainly not been achieved—indeed, the effect has been positively harmful, because quotas in areas of mixed fishing have resulted in pollution through discards, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, explained. Industrial fishing has also caused a loss of fish stock through over-fishing and by depriving fish of their food.

It is surely evidence of failure when cod, of all fish, is declared an endangered species. Fishing has been banned for a period to allow replenishment of stock. At the same time, industrial fishing goes on apace in the same areas.

Fishing capacity was supposed to have been reduced. British fishing capacity has certainly been reduced, and will be reduced further. However, the Spanish fleet, which is already the biggest, has been allocated large funds to upgrade, modernise and enlarge itself. The British fleet, in contrast, will be reduced by a further 800 vessels.

Even worse, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Judd, who is an expert on these matters, EU funds have been used to buy fishing rights in developing countries. That is to the detriment of very poor indigenous fisherfolk, who depend totally on fishing for their livelihood. That is the new European imperialism—it involves colonisation not by Bible and gun but through bribes, often to corrupt tyrannical governments who misuse the funds provided. Although Britain gets no benefit, we pay thousands—in fact, millions—of pounds towards the cost of that disreputable policy.

As I have already said, the EU takes little note of the findings of Select Committees. Its attitude will doubtless not change with regard to this report, although I sincerely hope that it will. However, it is increasingly clear that all successful fisheries policies are run and enforced by national governments, who are able to make mutually beneficial reciprocal arrangements with other countries.

In paragraph 120 on page 26, the Select Committee report baldly states: "The CFP is failing". Indeed, the report is entitled, Unsustainable Fishing. Paragraph 126 states that the dire predictions that the Select Committee on Science and Technology made in 1996 have "proved accurate".

The committee asked whether the EU Green Paper will at last call for appropriate measures and whether the Council of Ministers will have the will to act. If past experience is anything to go by, it will not have that will. What then? What will happen if the Green Paper is not successful and the political will is not there? Will the Select Committee recommend that whatever the rest of the EU says, we should recover control over our own waters? Even if it did, is there any chance that our supine EU-orientated political leaders will do the right thing by British fishermen and consumers? That involves taking that action, irrespective of what our EU competitors or partners—whatever we choose to call them—say.

8.54 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness on becoming the minister for the horse. We can now say to her, "Gee, Minister". I could not resist making that awful joke, for which I apologise.

This has been one of the most inspiring debates to which I have ever listened, but it has also been one of the most depressing debates to which I have ever listened. That is not because people do not have knowledge—the knowledge is enormous and the intellectual effort has been great—but because this is a story of failed listening.

The noble Lords, Lord. Palmer and Lord Stoddart, talked about discards. I want to add to that debate by discussing sand eels. The Danes have a quota that allows them to catch 1 million tonnes of sand eels a year. They are used to heat Copenhagen, to fertilise the Jutish Plain and to feed livestock on pig, poultry and salmon farms. As a result of that quota, the Danes are entitled to what is called a 20 per cent by-catch. That affects 200,000 tonnes—I stress that figure—of baby cod and other little fish, which simply get destroyed. That is two and a half times the quota allocated to Scottish fishermen, which is for 75,000 tonnes of mature cod for consumption. In fact, the situation is worse than that. The cod that are caught are small arid it takes many more of them to make up a pound or a tonne of cod.

A policy of industrial fishing has applied in the Berents Sea. In due course, the cod vanished and industrial fishing stopped. In 10 years, the cod came back and there is now a plentiful supply of cod in the Berents Sea.

It is hard to over-exaggerate the damage that that approach will do. That is illustrated by the fact that although the Danes have a quota of 1 million tonnes, they cannot catch more than 385,000 tonnes. The more that one hears about such cases, the more ghastly the situation becomes. The other day, someone—not me—was listening to the Danish news in Danish. They heard some cod fishermen from Thorsminde—I hope that I pronounced that correctly—admit to chucking 50 per cent of what they catch over the side. There is a premium on large cod, so the fishermen go on catching until they catch large cod and chuck all the small cod over the side. They admit to a 50 per cent discard, so the real figure is probably much bigger. They also said that their quotas are not sufficient to live on—the Aberdeen fishermen say exactly the same. Throwing mature, edible fish over the side because fishermen want bigger fish involves the most appalling waste.

When the picture on the front of the report was drawn to my attention, I was deeply shocked. It is one of the most depressing but most illustrative pictures I have ever seen. The large fish will be thrown away and the little fish will be eaten. Is it possible to imagine a sillier scheme than that?

During the past year or so, the 44 per cent decrease in Aberdeen's cod quota has already caused four companies to go out of business: Marson and Gerry, Allen and Day, Marine Fisheries and Abacus. It is suspected that a further 10 companies will go out of business as a result of the mismanagement of our stocks. On occasion, the EU admits to 60 per cent discards. Therefore, there are discards of 100,000 tonnes for the 75,000 tonnes which we are allowed in Scotland, plus the 200,000 tonnes which are allowed in relation to the sand eel fishing. That comes to a staggering total of 300,000 tonnes thrown away.

If I have a criticism of the report, it is that insufficient emphasis is placed on the appalling damage which discards do. None of those discards can breed, nor can they be eaten. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, they merely pollute. It is difficult to exaggerate the horror of it.

The Norwegians have a perfectly decent system. You are made to land everything. It has been said in the report, and it is admitted, that it is extremely difficult to police that system. But at least it is worth trying. If people are caught, you can throw the book at them and if the book is heavy and large enough and a couple of guys lose their boats as a result, they will not offend. Surely that is the way to go about it.

If there is a quota of one tonne of cod in Norway and you land one tonne and a quarter, you are paid for a tonne and the other quarter is taken away and sold on the open market. Therefore, there is no benefit to you from over-fishing. There is a direct incentive to you to fish very carefully indeed and to make sure that you are sensible about mesh sizes, square meshes rather than round meshes, and so on. You only catch exactly what you want. Surely that is the way in which we should go.

The cod recovery scheme was announced the other day. A European fisheries official was asked whether industrial fishing would be stopped during the cod recovery scheme. He replied that not to do that would defeat the object of the cod recovery scheme. A very little time later, somebody had obviously got at him because he came back and said that he was sorry, it would be allowed because it was thought that the effects would be marginal. I have asked the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to find out about that. I spoke to her office this morning and I am sure that she will have done everything possible to find out about it. But what caused the change of mind?

Unless we get this right, as everybody has said, there will be no more fishing. Let us remember: Little fish are in the sea For bigger fish to bite 'em, The bigger fish bite other fish, And so ad infinitum". Unless we get it right, the North Sea will be a stagnant pool surrounded by derelict fisheries communities and we shall not be able to have fish and chips. It is possible to get it right if we are sensible. But there is no evidence of anybody being sensible. Let us be honest. The Canadians, the Norwegians, the Icelanders, the Namibians and the New Zealanders all run sensible fisheries policies. I admit that as regards the Grand Banks, the Americans and Canadians learnt the hard way. But in Europe, we seem determined not to learn.

I believe that marginally—just marginally—I should prefer a common European fisheries policy, just. But I am certain that I do not prefer a stupid European fisheries policy. If we are not to have a sensible fisheries policy, we must say, "I am very sorry, 75 per cent of the waters are ours and you are wrecking the whole thing. You do what we say. We shall produce a sensible policy and if you do not like it, we will do it on our own. In other words, you can have our co-operation, which we shall willingly give, but we are not prepared to see our own environment and our own assets ruined and destroyed".

In my 29 years in this House, I do not believe I have ever heard such a damning speech as that made by my noble friend Lord Selborne. That speech alone justified his election to this House. His chairing of this committee has obviously been excellent. I hope that the noble Baroness can give us a good, robust and well thought-out answer. I know that she is capable of it. I hope that she will do it for us.

9.6 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, having saved your Lordships a further four-and-a-half hours of debate considering the delightful prospect of the implications of withdrawal from the European Union, I hope that I may be allowed rather less than the four minutes permitted by the Companion to intervene before the wind-up speeches.

I should like to mention two points which perhaps have not been fully made. One of them is that the common fisheries policy is not yet the fully fledged EU fishing policy, under the Commission's total control, which has been designed. This present policy, which we have been discussing for so many years, consists of a number of derogations to that grand policy which will not come into being until 2002.

Having listened to the whole debate with much respect and fascination, I noticed that all noble Lords have said that something must be done and some noble Lords have said it more forcefully than others. But I suggest that nothing can be done under the common fisheries policy because to change it requires unanimity among all the member states and that unanimity is just not available. It is not realistic to talk about changing that policy. If the Minister disagrees with me, can she say whether the Government think that there is any possibility at all that Spain, for example, would agree to the kind of changes that we require?

That is why several noble Lords have wisely demanded the only solution to this policy, which is the repatriation of the common fisheries policy. But that is not so easy either. We shall be told that it is impossible. Indeed, when the Conservatives, a year ago, said that they were going to make repatriation of the common fisheries policy part of their next manifesto, my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition was taunted by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, who said that that would mean inevitably leaving the European Union altogether.

Of course, some of us think that that is a very pleasant prospect and that the case for leaving the European Union is unanswerable. But I have to admit that our political establishment is not yet ready for that obvious move.

I have a suggestion for Her Majesty's Government which centres around the negotiations that have just taken place at the Inter-Governmental Conference in Nice. It is clear that we need some form of deal to repatriate the common fisheries policy without tearing up the Treaty of Rome into very small pieces and chucking it into the Tiber.

I point out to the Government that we are in the process of giving eight countries in the European Union something that they very much want and something from which we have had nothing in return—that is, the famous enhanced co-operation arrangements in the Treaty of Nice. We have given them that and have received nothing in return.

I suggest that before we sign or ratify that treaty and its related initiatives we should demand back our fisheries and our agricultural policies. If they do not give us those policies, they cannot have enhanced co-operation. That is the sort of deal that they understand. I believe that that is the minimum that we should require for giving them this opportunity that otherwise they could not have.

9.9 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the Select Committee on the European Union for its excellent, thought-provoking, informative report. Reading it made me slightly ashamed that hitherto I had not fully understood the situation. I say that quite openly because the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, used to speak on fishing matters on behalf of our party and on his promotion I have taken up the responsibility.

Noble Lords have said that they feel that the report is hard-hitting and direct and I am delighted that it is. I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for leading the committee and for their excellent report.

It is clear that the current system is not working. The forthcoming Green Paper is of crucial importance in relation to the debate. The report, as all noble Lords have reflected, does not pull its punches. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the gravity of the situation, as has been reflected on all sides of the Chamber.

The common fisheries policy does not help with conservation or with the management of the industry. It certainly does not help British fishermen who, at the moment, are struggling to make ends meet. There has to be a balance between too much capacity and too few stocks. As the report says, we need to look at the fundamental reshaping of EU policy for fishing communities that feel let down. As other noble Lords have said, Europe is not able to react quickly, a point I shall return to later.

Is it feasible that a community of 15 states, two of whom do not even have a fishing fleet, can provide the leadership necessary to cope with the situation, for example, off the west of Scotland or in the Celtic or Irish seas? I suggest that that will be even more difficult following the expansion of the European Union.

In the conclusions and recommendations at paragraph 100 of the report the committee refers to zonal management, which the noble Lord, Lord Perry, mentioned. It concludes that there would be considerable benefit, such as more appropriate management regimes, better communications and improved enforcement of regulations. As they have recognised the need for improvements, like the noble Lord, Lord Perry, I want to touch on the zonal management proposals put forward by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

Those proposals split the European waters into six zones, to which I hope the Minister will refer later. Each of the zones will be managed by a committee of country representatives; 11 for the Baltic, nine for the Celtic and Irish seas; eight for the west of Scotland; seven for each of the North Sea, Biscay and Iberia; and four for the Mediterranean. No one country would be represented on the management committee of all six zones. There would be four EU and five non-EU countries on one; one EU and one non-EU country on two; one EU country on three; five EU countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain and the UK) would be on four; and only France and the Netherlands on five.

Surely that is more likely to succeed as a management arrangement than 15 countries trying to run the whole region. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. The Government have also had discussions on empowering such groups if they are to be established. Again, I ask the Minister to comment on that.

To a certain extent I accept the comment made by many noble Lords that the debate has been informative but depressing, as I believe the report is. The report is realistic and does not duck the issues. Perhaps I may touch on one or two points that have been raised that I believe are extremely important. It is quite clear that the current system has totally failed us and that we need to consider what else we can do—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

I searched in the report for ideas about enforcement. I hope I do not do the report an injustice when I say that it reflects on the difficulties of enforcement rather than considers how the problem can be overcome. I hope that the report will allow us to consider what can be done for the future. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke was slightly depressing in his remarks on enforcement. He said that there is flexibility on controls and that certain countries interpret them in different ways. Those of us who deal with the CAP reforms would reiterate the difficulty. However, the fact that difficulties exist does not mean that we should duck the issue. The important point that has emerged from today's debate is that we must attack certain issues.

Almost every speaker has spoken with dismay about the question of discards, a matter to which I have given a lot of thought. As I have already said, I have no expertise in fishing. However, even if I had, I hope that I would find the practice of discarding dead fish by returning them back to the sea totally reprehensible and unacceptable. Surely it is not beyond the wit of this country to lead the way by devising a set of rules that will stop this appalling practice and criminal waste.

Various suggestions have been made. I mention one or two: the introduction of closed areas; an increase in mesh sizes; the use of square panels and trawler separators; greater selectivity of catch; the tackling of mixed fishery, as opposed to considering the demise of cod stocks alone. There are two particular problems relating to discards—undersized juveniles and over quota fish. We desperately need to reduce the kill of undersized fish. Several noble Lords have referred to the fact that the Norwegians do not allow the practice of discard.

Paragraph 96 of the report refers to Scotland's option of square mesh panels, to which I have briefly referred. It was stated in last week's debate in another place, and repeated here today, that this has already resulted in a reduction of 20 to 40 per cent in the catch of juveniles. I echo the committee's view that the timescale for the adoption of this and other conservation measures needs to be immediate and that they need to be enforced.

With regard to juvenile fish and fish that are too small, sometimes there are real time closures, perhaps followed by a trial trawl. I believe that in some areas the area is closed, a trial trawler is sent in, and, if the fish are still undersized, fishing is not allowed to restart. However, fishing is allowed to recommence when the fish are considered large enough. Perhaps the Minister would respond to that. The noble Lord, Lord Onslow, gave some very sad examples of the discard of cod.

Today's debate has reminded me of a comment made by a friend of mine, an amateur scuba diver on the west coast of Scotland, about trawling vessels culling fish, mooring lines, anchors and rocks, and causing damage in the form of large grooves in the seabed—something about which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would know—in which nothing can then grow. I hope that the matter can be considered. Not all noble Lords have referred to beam trawlers, which perhaps cause severe damage, although others argue that they do not. Whether or not they do, we should surely obtain a clear, scientific opinion on the matter.

In that connection, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to appendix 6 on page 37 of the first part of the report. Mollusc dredgers, which may cause long term environmental damage, should surely be outlawed under the precautionary principle. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us as to whether they are used in the six and 12 mile limits and whether the Government have any thoughts on that matter.

I turn to the question of finance. The report is stinging in its recommendations 92 to 94 on the financial instruments for the fisheries guidance. Restructuring requires resources. Training in new ways of earning a living for those who lose their jobs and investment in marketing and new applications are desperately needed. Support for implementing, monitoring and enforcing new rules is required. When fishing, fishermen are often forced to make decisions in favour of their short-term, economic interests, which are not in the long term interests of stock or the fishermen themselves.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said that we must have the political will to take on these and other issues. Above all, there must be financial support for those who continue in the industry, but perhaps with a new vision which balances environmental issues.

In the context of finance, many speakers in last week's debate in another place pointed out that no other industry must operate on such a short information cycle, even allowing for short-term planning. In education, for example, indicative school budgets are announced at about this time for the next financial year. In the fishing industry, quotas are announced just before Christmas and implemented from January. Is such a system sensible and do the Government want to continue with it?

The point was made in paragraph 94 that not only should support for capacity reduction be made available only when a vessel is scrapped but that all support should be tied to some form of decommissioning. That is necessary to ensure that where it is no longer possible to catch previous levels of, say, white fish the fleet does not turn to the destruction of other fish or move to fish in the areas of third-world countries, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

I want to conclude by endorsing wholeheartedly the point made in paragraph 112 which refers to the inspections at sea and in the dock by multi-national teams. Other noble Lords referred to the 25 inspectors as being totally inadequate. My reading and preparation for the debate has left me much more aware about the ease with which anyone who wants can flout the regulations. We must put in place a new form of regulation which ensures that that does not continue.

I want to make two further comments. The debate has been of great value and noble Lords have spoken with great expertise. Although depressing comments have been made I want to thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox for bringing us hope for the future. I am delighted to hear of the launch of her national lobster hatchery. Perhaps next time we shall hear other such announcements because after this slightly depressing debate we need to hear good news. We are at the crossroads and if we do not take the necessary steps immediately we shall be too late.

Finally, I want to comment on the environmental issue, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Two or three of us in the Chamber took through the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill and were delighted that it included the biodiversity action plan. Indeed, we tried to raise a similar plan in connection with marine life. I wonder whether the lack of understanding about what is happening in our seas is a case of "out of sight, out of mind". The public know what is happening on the land because they see it but they do not see what is happening under the water. I congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and I hope that it has raised awareness of this and other issues.

9.24 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on the report provided under his chairmanship and on his lucid introduction to the debate. It has been a well informed and passionate debate. That is right and proper because, as many noble Lords have pointed out, fisheries are an important area of EU policy and important to the livelihoods and futures of individuals and communities. It is right to recognise that in relation to the more abstruse issues in the technical debates.

I was grateful to the noble Earl for recognising in his introduction that, in replying to a recently published report, it is perhaps inevitable—I am sorry if I disappoint the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—that the Government's response from the Dispatch Box tonight, like the note supplied to the sub-committee prior to the debate, is somewhat tentative. But the real value of the debate lies in considering the matter now and allowing the contributions to inform the final response of the Government in the fullness of time.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I believe that to be very wise. It means that the Government will listen to what people say before they make up their mind, rather than go out on a limb, make idiots of themselves and find that they are unable to withdraw it. That happens when either party is in power.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I thought that earlier he sought to tempt me into making definitive statements of policy.

It is important to take into account the fundamental issues that have been raised in the debate, not only in terms of the Government's response but, perhaps most crucially, the forthcoming Green Paper, to ensure that they are heard at European level. There has been a good deal of debate about the importance of political will. We are dealing with a common fisheries policy—we shall talk later about its appropriateness—where political will is required across the Union, including the United Kingdom.

The forthcoming review of the common fisheries policy provides a mechanism to deal with the real and increasing problem of managing our fisheries internationally. Even though it has fallen short of earlier hopes and expectations in many areas, as eloquently described tonight, that mechanism is there and the forthcoming review in 2002 provides us with an opportunity to make the necessary changes.

It is absolutely clear, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said in introducing the debate, that the common fisheries policy must have at its heart the notion of sustainable development. The committee's report proposes that, the exploitation of marine resources [should] take account not only of ecological processes but also social and economic consequences". That encompasses all the fundamental principles of sustainable development and recognises that fisheries management is not just a question of conserving resources. Decisions on fisheries management have to find a workable equilibrium between all the requirements and must have that comprehensive approach to which my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside and others spoke. In that comprehensive approach over-capacity remains a central problem for the common fisheries policy, which we all accept has so far not been tackled sufficiently effectively by EU structural policy.

The Council of Ministers has already begun to consider the future of the structural policy, and the Government have pressed the council to take more effective measures. We argue for a reversal of the current EU policy because we believe it is wrong to allow subsidies which tend to add to the problems that already exist. In particular, we oppose grant aid for the building of new fishing vessels. The UK does not give such grants and regrets that other member states do.

However, it will not be easy to strengthen EIJ policy in this area. In the past the council has been reluctant to accept sufficiently tough fleet reduction targets. We look forward to effective proposals in the Green Paper, but it is wrong to suggest anything other than difficult negotiations ahead in this area. In that respect, my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside asked about our own national compliance with obligations under the current structural policy MAGP IV. We have already reached our overall tonnage objective set for the end of this year. We are on course to meet our obligations for individual fleet segments. But we agree that these targets will not resolve the over-capacity problem.

Several noble Lords have put the case for giving financial aid to the fishing fleet. The Government appreciate the impact that successive quota restrictions have placed on the fleet, together with the impact of the new recovery plans for cod and hake. Ministers are urgently discussing with the industry the implications of these measures. One possibility is decommissioning to remove surface capacity from the fleet. There are other possibilities of structural measures of various kinds. These issues are being looked at in relation to various parts of the United Kingdom. We are in close contact with the devolved administrations on this issue. The need to have a coherent approach to policy is well appreciated in the light of the points made by the fishing industry.

Several noble Lords emphasised the case for socio-economic restructuring programmes to provide alternative employment opportunities for those leaving the fish industry. The Government agree that there is an important role for such funding, but a substantial programme of grants is already available. There are the DfEE employment and reskilling initiatives. The main EU structural funds include the European Social Fund. Most fisheries-dependent areas in England are within the Objective 2 regions and are thus eligible for European Regional Development Fund support. Regional selective assistance and enterprise grants are also available to help local communities readjust.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and others spoke of the need to focus on the protection of the marine environment. It is clearly the case that there needs to be an improvement in environmental integration within the CFP. That is a Commission priority for the forthcoming review. It is one that we have advocated and MAFF is funding research.

The Swedish presidency is moving the process forward and has produced a paper outlining possible presidency conclusions on the topic. That forms part of the Cardiff process and is due to be submitted to the Gothenburg European Council in June. We will do our utmost to assist the presidency in this area. We have noted the various suggestions that a great deal more should be done environmentally. Progress has been made and we shall certainly be looking to create a much stronger environmental framework for fisheries. We envisage provision to promote environmentally-friendly fishing as part of the structural policy. There are parallels elsewhere of the importance of integrating those two areas of policy.

One cannot talk of environmental issues without also mentioning the problem of discards. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Palmer, raised that issue. The report of the committee noted that a simple discard ban would not be effective. We agree that the most promising way forward must be to adopt a combination of approaches.

The updated technical conservation rules which came into force on 1st January 2000 have attempted to address part of the problem of discards by focusing on the selectivity of fishing gear. The need to do even more has been recognised in the new arrangements for Irish Sea cod which apply from 1st January 2001 and in the North Sea/West of Scotland cod and northern hake recovery plans. Both of these plans include larger minimum mesh sizes and restrictions on twine thickness; measures that improve real selectivity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, suggested a number of technical issues in this area. We have noted the reference to the range of issues that could reduce the levels of discard and environmental impact. All of them are relevant and form part of our approach to conservation.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, specifically raised the question of the provision for the sand eel fishery to continue under the North Sea cod recovery plan. The noble Earl very courteously gave me notice that he would raise the point. My understanding is that it arose because Denmark was keen to provide continued fishing opportunities for its vessels in the light of agreeing to the closure of a significant part of the eastern North Sea. Denmark argued that because the sand eel fishery takes place near the surface, the cod by-catch was very low, at around 2 per cent. The Commission accepted that and the fishery was therefore excluded from the prohibition. The size of the total allowable catch for sand eels in 2001 was set, like all other TACs, at the December Fisheries Council. It remains unchanged at 1 million tonnes, in line with scientific advice. No special deals were cut with the Danes. Moreover, the Danes are open to the possibility of reducing the sand eel TAC and limiting the by-catch provision for white fish. We have agreed that we will discuss this with them and the talks are scheduled to start shortly.

The noble Earl quoted figures for the impact of sand eel fisheries. I am informed that they were interesting but very speculative. The reality is that Denmark catches a great deal less than the total quota. It is also the case that the by-catch of white fish is only a much smaller percentage than the figure implied in the regulations. That is why Denmark has readily agreed to discussions with the UK on changes to the regime.

I turn from the technical to the very general. There were references in the debate to the possibility of our withdrawal from the common fisheries policy and indeed clarion calls for it from the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke, Lord Moran and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. We have to understand that proposition in the context of the undeniable need to co-operate fully with our neighbours on fisheries management, especially when fish stocks are low. The committee itself advised that a common policy of some kind is essential. It is the Government's view that calls for withdrawal from the CFP are not only unrealistic but could also be highly damaging. How would it promote a co-operative approach to conservation, as we have achieved, for example, with the North Sea cod recovery plan? How would it deal with the problem of over-capacity? How would it tackle discards or help with technical conservation measures? How would it lead to more involvement of fishermen in decision-making processes? The answer to each of those questions is that it would not.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on that point. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said that before we were deprived of our fisheries somewhat deceitfully by Mr Heath when he took us into the common fisheries policy in 1972, the United Kingdom controlled some 75 per cent of the fish in what are now EU waters. I thought that the figure was nearly 80 per cent. If we withdrew and took back that 80 per cent, surely at least 80 per cent would be controlled by us and 80 per cent of the environment could be under our control. When the fish stocks had recovered and we had looked after the needs of our own fishermen, we could lease any surplus to others.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Lord makes it sound very simple. When I had my seminar on this subject with my honourable friend Mr Elliot Morley, he assured me that some of the figures and propositions that have just been put forward are not achievable. Perhaps I may make one point about the document relating to the former Conservative administration which was released under the 30-year rule. Whatever might have been the policies then, and whatever are the policies now advocated by the Opposition, we do not regard the fishing industry and fishing communities as expendable. That is why we are addressing the review of the common fisheries policy with great care, thoroughness and firm political will in order to secure the kinds of changes that are necessary.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, if we cannot secure any changes then that is the problem. If, on balance, we agree to a common policy, what happens if they continue to behave like purblind fools? Are we to allow that to happen? That appears to be our option.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we also have an option to cross bridges when we come to them. At the moment we should concentrate our efforts on achieving effective reform of the common fisheries policy. That is what we are doing.

We believe that there is scope for improving the decision-making processes under the CFP and bringing it closer to those affected by it. To that end, the contributions to our debate covering zonal management from my noble friend Lord Judd, the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, all made clear the benefits of a more regional approach. It will offer greater opportunities for greater efficiency in decision making, more ownership of the issues, increased involvement of those directly affected by decisions and the decision-making process, and heightened scope for reacting speedily. Several noble Lords made those points, as well as referring to conservation and other emergencies.

We believe that it will be possible to develop a considerable role for regional management arrangements, while respecting the current institutional and legal framework of the European Union and the need for all member states to retain a role in relation to European legislation. I noted the suggestion put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that a pilot regional management system could be introduced. The Commission has already carried out a series of pilot regional workshops which the UK strongly supported. Those workshops brought together fishermen, administrators and scientists to discuss issues concerning particular fisheries. The feedback from the workshops was very positive and in June last year the Council agreed, in what we consider to be a welcome step, to put such workshops on a more permanent footing. They have provided the starting point from which the present recovery plans have been developed.

However, even extremely local decisions may have wider implications, whether for the environment or for budgets. Thus the Council of Ministers needs to retain a role to monitor the decisions taken and to help ensure coherence across the European Union, while allowing for legitimate variation. We believe that the successful manner in which recent stock recovery plans have been put together demonstrates what can be achieved. We look forward to building on that in the forthcoming review.

However, as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords who have spoken tonight—the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Wilcox, and my noble friend Lord Judd—a key priority is the maintenance of effective and consistent standards of enforcement across the Community. Last year, existing controls were strengthened by the implementation of satellite monitoring for vessels over 24 metres and the requirement for all vessels over 10 metres to keep log books and to record all catches and landings. We have in place more effective enforcement, but a great deal more still needs to be done to instil a culture of compliance with fair and consistent standards across Europe. I would not query that for a moment. We look to the Commission to come forward with proposals to improve levels of co-operation on enforcement between member states

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Judd, noted that there are only 25 European fisheries inspectors. I am sure that this issue will be further examined during the course of the review. However, it is important to make it clear that the purpose of those inspectors is to monitor the effectiveness of national inspectorates. It is not the case that that small number is intended directly to enforce the rules on fishing fleets, although I recognise the issues as regards not having "custodes"—I apologise, I was trying to change the grammar of the Latin this late at night, but I do not think that I shall achieve it. It is important to make sure that those who are monitoring the monitors are sufficiently resourced.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Baroness Hayman

No, my Lords. That bit I know. I was trying to change the grammar to make it fit into the English of my sentence. Now I have lost my place completely.

As to the important issue raised by my noble friend Lord Judd of the CFP's effect on developing nations and the way in which different policy objectives can interact, officials from MAFF, DfID and the FCO have been working closely on fisheries agreements in developing countries to ensure better coherence between EU commercial policies for fisheries and policies for eliminating poverty in developing countries. That work will continue.

As to the aquaculture industry, a matter raised by several noble Lords, the production of farmed salmon and trout complements rather than competes with the traditional catching sector. It is becoming increasingly diverse, with interests in the farming of cod, halibut, turbot and scallops. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, of the possibilities in regard to lobster.

Sustainable development is a clear requirement for aquaculture to be successful and controls are in place to ensure that the interests of consumers, the environment and the fish are protected. This is supported by significant expenditure on research and development, including work on cultivation techniques as well as on the impact of aquaculture on the environment. It is an area where we can apply some of the lessons that we have painfully learnt from not heeding the warnings given in the past.

My noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon made clear—and on this, at least, I agree with him—the importance of the European Commission taking seriously the conclusions of the report. Last year, Commissioner Fischler outlined the Commission's priorities for the review to the European Parliament. We can expect the Green Paper to cover conservation of resources, the CFP's economic and social dimension, external fisheries relations, the Mediterranean and good governance in fisheries policy. That is a wide-ranging set of topics. It broadly covers most of the issues that have been raised today.

It is important that, both in this country and wider, we have an effective debate on the Green Paper and a successful outcome in terms of policy. Today's debate has given us the opportunity—certainly from the Government's viewpoint—to be able to take forward, with additional evidence and support, the kinds of policies that we believe are necessary to change the CFP for the future.

9.48 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, there have been some powerful contributions to the debate from all sides of the House. We have not been in total agreement as to whether the common fisheries policy is capable of reform. But we have been in unanimous agreement that the policy is failing—in part, as a consequence of perverse subsidies.

I shall take away from the debate particularly the ringing words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. They will "hold" in my memory for a long time. The noble Lord said that we owe it to the fishing communities to provide leadership. That is the realisation that we have, having witnessed over the past 17 or 18 years a failing policy which is impacting so severely and unfairly on quite a small minority. We in this House owe it to those people, as do the Government, to try to make sure that the burden is not totally carried by them.

To that extent, while I welcome the Minister's assurances, I felt that her reliance on the availability of Objective 2 areas was just a little too bland. I hope that she will reflect on that carefully. If ever there were a case for a government task force to be set up to examine specifically the inevitable impact on fishing communities, this is it.

It merely remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. It has been distressing, but it has given us some shafts of guidance as to what is implied by "leadership" in this sector.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at ten minutes before ten o'clock.