HL Deb 10 October 2003 vol 653 cc561-84

12.6 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on Progress of Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (25th Report, HL Paper 109).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is tempting to sum up the report quickly by saying, "Too slow; too little; too late". I thank those who have helped the committee to produce the report: our specialist adviser, Professor Shepherd; our clerk, Tom Radice; and our tireless research assistant, Pamela Strigo. We were very well served. It is a great regret that the late Lord Perry of Walton, a co-opted member of the committee, is not with us today. We shall miss his contribution.

Perhaps I may detain your Lordships for a moment. To measure the progress of reform it is necessary to review the past few years. I chaired an inquiry by Sub-Committee D on the mid-term review over 10 years ago. Then it was clear that the failures were already self-evident. That was 10 years into the common fisheries policy. There was too much capacity—too many ships— trying to catch declining stocks. There were multi-annual guidance programmes which were designed to try to deal with the situation, but in a perverse way they achieved an increase in capacity by subsidising modernisation. That takes some achieving—to end up with a policy that results in the opposite of what was intended. There was also an inability to control effort; a lack of enforcement; a failure to adhere to the scientific advice; and total allowable catches were invariably fixed at or beyond the safe limits. There was also what is called technology creep, which means that industry becomes ever-more efficient with modern equipment; and a failure to measure environmental impacts.

All of that produced a sorry story and it compared unfavourably, to say the least, with our neighbours in Europe such as Iceland, Greenland, Norway and the like. Admittedly they have a more simple administration—they administer their own fisheries— but nevertheless they proved that they were more flexible and able to act with great immediacy. That is not to say that they were entirely successful—they were not. But they made the approach of the CFP bureaucratic, slow and ineffective by comparison.

The outcome of the mid-term review 10 years ago or more was that there was clear agreement that a completely different policy would be needed by December 2002, if not before. There was a long period of wide consultation—three years running up to March 2001—and much agreement from everywhere that something quite different would be needed in the second common fisheries policy. Sub-Committee D produced another report. In it we were a little stronger than we were the first time around. We were pleased when the Green Paper from the Commission was published in March 2001 because we reached the same conclusions on the need for a radical reform. We need to cut capacity. That is so obvious. If there are too many vessels in Europe with declining stocks, however one tries to persuade people not to go to sea or to have various technical measure to make life a little harder, such as mesh sizes and so on, the size of the fleet must ultimately be controlled. That is expensive. One has to decommission and do so effectively. It had not been done.

One also has to work with other EU programmes. The EU, from Rio onwards, has had commendable programmes on sustainable development and environmental framework programmes. Yet the common fisheries policy, which, after all, addresses a very large part of the environment, fails to have any obvious linkages to those programmes. Such issues were recognised in the Green Paper. By December 2001 the first proposals for long-term recovery programmes— particularly for cod and hake, which are the two most susceptible stocks with which we are concerned in the United Kingdom—were published for discussion.

I should remind noble Lords—I am sure they do not need reminding—that while the common fisheries policy has totally failed on stocks such as cod and hake, it is not all bad. Herring and mackerel, which went through an appalling period 20 or more years ago, have achieved a sustainable level of catch. The take is usually about 25 per cent of the biomass spawn. I am sorry to use the jargon, but noble Lords will get the drift of what I am saying. That compares with something like a 150 per cent take from the 1970s onwards for cod. Noble Lords can see why we have trouble with cod and hake: if one consistently takes 150 per cent of the biomass spawn, over a period one will run into trouble. Again I compare that figure with Iceland which sets its total allowable catches at 25 per cent of the assessed spawning stock biomass.

We have always failed to grapple with these issues, although of course every December at the Fisheries Council we have had to impose more and more draconian cuts on total allowable catches (TACs), simply because of past failure to address the issues.

A long-term management recovery programme is needed. It needs to be supported by socio-economic programmes which recognise the harsh impact and the adverse consequences on European communities, which, after all, are the ultimate losers of the policy's failure.

I move on to May 2002. The Commission produced what were called the road map proposals. Again they were very welcome but not to everyone. The so-called "Friends of Fishing" countries—we refer to those in paragraph 6—were in denial. They continued to be very critical of what were seen to be extremely uncomfortable proposals.

The road map programme tried to move away from the highly political yearly negotiations on catch limits and to take greater account of eco-systems. It sought to put in place long-term management systems, which are not dependent on last-minute decisions on total allowable catches at the December Council meeting. However, inevitably, last December's Council meeting was a highly political and highly charged debate and the outcome was unsatisfactory for those of us, including Her Majesty's Government, who recognise the wisdom of the Commission's proposals. We state in paragraph 7: The reformed CFP is the result of over four years of analysis and consultation, but it has in our view been emasculated by the back-sliding compromises made by the Council". Box 2 on page 9 sets out the three new regulations which were agreed at that December Council meeting, the most important of which was the new basic regulation. It is described more fully in Box 3 on page 10. That basic regulation, so far as it goes and so far as it has been enacted, is very commendable. It seeks a strong commitment to the protection of the marine environment and a simpler fleet policy that puts responsibility for matching fishing capacity to fishing possibilities on member states. It proposes the establishment of regional advisory councils, which we very much welcome. It also suggests that where stocks are falling below safe biological limits, they must be managed by recovery programmes. All that is needed, and what we and others have asked for, is simple, transparent and bold measures which at last address these fundamental issues.

Since then progress has not been impressive. On the recovery programmes, which are perhaps the brunt of the issues arising from that new basic regulation, proposals for cod and then hake were published in May this year. That is listed in Box 1 on page 6. They are very complicated—a bureaucratic nightmare— and certainly will not win the hearts and minds of the fishing industry.

The proposals were discussed at the July Council meeting. Perhaps not surprisingly they were noted and it was decided that more discussions were needed. At the September Council meeting last month fisheries did not even get a mention. So noble Lords can see that we are not moving very fast.

I am clear in my own mind—perhaps I am naive, but I am sure your Lordships will understand—that what is needed is a very simple solution which people can understand and which is transparent. Therefore, people will recognise that however sharp or draconian the proposals might appear, at least there will be rough justice. Why not, for example, just halve everyone's effort of 2002? We know, after all, what the fishing effort was in the year 2002. Just cut it all by half in each area for all gears and vessel types. At least people would understand that. It may not be possible, but that is the issue that one addresses. Should noble Lords think that the ratcheting up of total allowable catches every year is having the desired effect, I just report from the compliance report on cod and hake stocks, which came with the bundle of documents referring to their recovery programmes. It states: Despite the TACs for these species being reduced by 40% from 2000 to 2001 the services of the Commission concluded on the basis of an analysis made by its inspectors that fishing effort or the catch rates in the fisheries concerned had not been significantly reduced in 2001". In other words, the Ministers sit there making all these brave decisions about cutting TACs and doing this and that, while on the ground, or rather in the sea, it does not have the slightest effect. People continue to catch because of economic pressure. If one has a ship and is trying to make a return and one thinks that the enforcement is uneven, which it clearly is, to say the least, then one will catch beyond the quota or non-targeted species.

The most shabby compromise of all made at that December Council meeting—it was forced on the Council by the blocking minority of six countries, the so-called "Friends of Fishing"—was the concession to continue to give subsidies for the renewal of fishing vessels under conditions set out in Box 6 on page 18 of our report. These subsidies can be paid up to the end of 2004. Just think about that: we recognise that we have a chronic problem and we are still subsidising people to modernise their fishing vessels. No wonder our neighbours around the European Union do not take us seriously. It is unbelievable that we should still be subsidising the modernisation of fishing vessels in some member states—and I hasten to say that our own fishing industry does not benefit from that. We stated in our report: We regard this as further evidence of the continuing lack of political will by the majority of the Council of Ministers to support genuine reform of the CFP". Regional management is seen widely as crucial to solving some of the fundamental problems of the common fisheries policy. We were encouraged by the proposal to have regional advisory councils. That is of vital importance because it will bring fishermen into a degree of involvement in the management of fishery stock. It is urgently needed, but, alas, we can detect no sense of urgency in the setting up of these regional advisory councils or in determining their powers, who will appoint them and so on. It is deeply depressing.

We hoped that the establishment of regional advisory councils would enable the Council of Ministers to focus on medium and long-term strategy, rather than getting bogged down in yearly, highly political negotiations on total allowable catches and quotas. If we consider Australia, New Zealand or the United States, the depoliticising of fisheries management has been a key factor in achieving more sustainable fishing practice. If any management system needs depoliticising, it is that of the European Union.

In Chapter 3, we refer to the economics of fisheries and suggest—this is perhaps a statement of the obvious—that until we address the fundamental economics of fisheries, we will never move away from over-exploitation of a common resource from which each individual fisherman is trying to extract an economic return. Property rights are being used elsewhere and, in the long term, will be an ideal solution. Such property rights could be territorial rights, individual catch quotas or community fishing rights.

However, there is no prospect of agreeing the allocation of such property rights within the European Union—I suspect, even between Scotland and England—at present. To do that, we need much more data than are available. In the Government's response to our report, they agree that there is a dire shortage of economic data. So the first thing we must do is to supplement the rather meagre information provided on a haphazard and voluntary basis to the Sea Fish Industry Authority. Something inexpensive but much more authoritative must be produced.

Incidentally, in the long term, we need much more research on what we mean by ecosystem management. We have to think only of the permanent debates about the predation of seals or the influence of the taking of sand eels to recognise that we know little about the basic facts of what impacts on fish stocks and how fishing impacts on other forms of biodiversity. In the short term, we will not be able to agree on property rights; in the long term we simply must.

The Scottish Executive hopes to remove about 70 vessels under its present decommissioning scheme costing .40 million, to which it is adding another .10 million in transitional support. It remains to be seen whether that will be sufficient in Scotland to make an impact on recovery of cod stocks and, of course, that does not affect the rest of the United Kingdom. The consequences, whether in Scotland or England, of those overdue measures as a result of the failure of the common fisheries policy to reduce capacity are dire for the fishing industry. Whatever euphemism we use about reducing capacity, we are actually talking about removing jobs. The impact is of course on fishing communities around the coast.

That returns me to the EU structural funds. We recognise what a low priority fisheries or coastal society have at present in the distribution of structural funds. We strongly support the Commission's proposals to explore the possibility of decoupling the financial instrument for fisheries guidance from fishing activity in favour of investment in coastal communities. If we are to tackle that problem, there will be considerable European-scale funding implications for those communities.

About two or three years ago, the Commission realised that the common fisheries policy was a failure and came up with far-reaching proposals. A blocking minority of member states, in denial about the scale of that failure, has sought compromises and delays. That is what is happening. Recent Council meetings give me no confidence that there is any sense of urgency. The fishing industry deserves better from its Council representatives, from the Council of Ministers. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Progress of Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (25th Report, HL Paper 109).—(The Earl of Selborne.)

12.24 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in congratulating my noble friend Lord Selbourne and his Committee on the interesting report that they have submitted for our consideration. They have done important work in highlighting a vast range of problems. The content of the report makes rather depressing reading. My noble friend and his Committee produced an earlier report on the subject. I know that the Government had also been hoping for much more advanced action on this front than has been possible. I think that all noble Lords will deeply regret the action of what my noble friend referred to as the blocking minority, which has prevented what should have happened by now.

I want to focus on what may seem to be a somewhat narrow aspect of the Committee's work, but one that is none the less important: the effects of by-catch, especially on cetaceans. The European Commission and the member states have a legal and political obligation to protect cetaceans. Article 11 of the Habitats Directive requires: Member States shall undertake surveillance of the conservation status of cetaceans". Article 12 stipulates: Member States shall take the requisite measures to establish a system of strict protection of those animals, including a system to monitor their incidental capture or killing, so as to ascertain what further research and conservation measures are needed.

On 20th December last year, three new regulations were agreed by the Fisheries Council. Regulation 2371 sets obligations to minimise the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems. Article 3 of COM 185 states clearly that fisheries management shall be based on the principle that, absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take measures to conserve target species, associated or dependent species and non-target species and their environment". As box 2 on page 9 of the report, to which my noble friend has already drawn our attention, shows, the Commission has proposed an action plan. It states: As part of this Action Plan, in the Summer 2003, the Commission will propose measures to minimise by-catches of cetaceans in fishing-gear". Those Council regulations have been welcomed, but effective action has been frankly disappointing. As the Joint Nature Conservation Committee made clear in its valuable written submission and evidence to the Select Committee, there is a weakness in the regulations in the, lack of explicit tie-in to many other relevant EU marine initiatives, including the Biodiversity Action Plan for Fisheries, the 6th Environment Action Plan, the European Marine Strategy and objectives on issues such as cetacean bycatch (regulations on this have been promised for some time)". An early draft of regulations on reduction of small cetacean—dolphin and porpoise—by-catch was available last December. However, small cetacean by-catch remains unsustainable in a number of fisheries. It is estimated that tens of thousands of cetaceans are dying in fishing nets in European waters each year.

I am indebted to Liz Sandeman, the energetic co-founder of The Marine Connection, a charity dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins in the United Kingdom and worldwide, for informing me of the alarming and increasing scale of the slaughter of cetacean animals.

It became apparent earlier this year that small cetacean deaths, nearly all of them common dolphins, in Cornwall and Devon alone were up approximately 33 per cent on the previous year. Nearly 7,000 harbour porpoises are caught annually in Danish North Sea gillnet fisheries and 1,000 in the United Kingdom. Many of the porpoises, whales and dolphins are killed in trawl nets. Up to 50 dolphins may be taken in a single tow. The most destructive of all the pelagic— that is to say, mid-water—trawlers are the pair trawlers. Scottish, English, French and Dutch pair trawlers fishing for sea bass in the Western Approaches tow nets of gigantic proportions. As many as 10 jumbo jets could easily fit inside one net.

The extent of that indiscriminate slaughter is, I know, fully recognised by the Minister for Fisheries, Water and Nature Protection, Mr Elliot Morley MP. In his foreword to the Government's excellent consultation paper, UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy, published in March this year, he stated that he had been concerned, for a number of years about the numbers of dolphin and porpoise casualties". He acknowledged that there is, a commitment on behalf of the European Commission to bring forward measures to reduce cetacean bycatch but"— this is the depressing part— it may be some time before this is translated into action". That gloomy conclusion is now reinforced by the findings of your Lordships’ committee.

It is regrettably the case that the Commission's proposals were fiercely opposed by some EU countries. As my noble friend has already pointed out, paragraph 6 of his committee's report described how: The six so-called 'Friends of Fishing’ countries—Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland—decried the measures as draconian". No wonder the Minister found it all "agonising".

To their credit, it appears that the Government are not prepared to wait on the EU but will press ahead with interim measures of their own. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told me recently in answer to a Written Question that I had tabled, the consultation period on the Government's White Paper concluded on 13th June, and Ministers are analysing the responses with a view to taking decisions on the way forward later this year. Already there are research trials into the use of separator grids and other net modifications. The Government also recommend further trials on the use of acoustic deterrents in pelagic trawl fisheries. I suggest that that needs to be done with some care.

I am sure that the noble Lord will have seen the report in The Times yesterday, headlined: Fatal trauma of whales deceived by navy sonar". The effect of low-frequency activated sonar on cetaceans has been known for some time—certainly since 1996. Dr Caroline Lucas, a Member of the European Parliament, has done valuable work to draw the attention of the public, the European Parliament and the Commission to the appalling damage that low-frequency activated sonar appears to cause. That certainly could be one of the main causes of cetacean death. I know that low-frequency activated sonar (LFAS), as it is known, is of great importance in our defence. It is used for submarine detection. But there is every indication that much more powerful LFASs are being brought into action. That is very dangerous.

However, I readily acknowledge what the Government are doing. They seem to recognise that there is now a need for urgent further action. It is clearly advisable that action should be based upon reliable scientific knowledge and evidence. However, the pursuit of statistics must not become an end in itself. The need for continuing research, which is important, should not become the excuse for inaction. I take some comfort from section 5 of the Government's consultation paper. While accepting the need to support the planned survey to provide updated abundance estimates of those small cetaceans believed to be subject to high levels of bycatch, they recommend, that methods to identify trends in populations of harbour porpoises, common dolphin and bottlenose dolphin be identified and set up as a matter of urgency". I am less sanguine, however, about the suggestions on monitoring. Too much faith is being placed in voluntary action. More robust action is needed. In particular, legal measures should be introduced immediately to require a much higher percentage of the fishing effort to be covered by onboard observers, with penalties imposed where there is obstruction or intimidation.

In conclusion, let me repeat the words that I quoted at the beginning. Article 12 of the habitat directive calls on member states, to establish a system of strict protection of these animals. Since, as the Select Committee found, there is regrettably too much evidence of the lack of any real political will to address the major problems of fisheries management in Europe as a whole, will the British Government now press ahead and do as much as they possibly can, as a matter of urgency, on their own? The cruel and needless slaughter of these fascinating, sensitive and magnificent animals must stop.

12.37 p.m.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, today's debate is entitled "Report of the European Union Committee on Progress of Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy". A cynic might assert that progress is, at best, slow and reform negligible. But common sense tells us that, despite what can only be described as disappointing progress to date, there is potential to avert a real disaster—but only if common sense and a common purpose hold sway.

The problems surrounding the European fishing industry are certainly not new. They are well laid out in the report published in May this year. In brief, there is too much capacity in the European fishing fleet, set against too small and dwindling fish stocks. There is very low profitability within the industry, with meagre income levels, usually in areas of poor employment opportunity. Add to that the traditional pattern of family-based fishing activity and the cycle of deprivation becomes accentuated. The product, fish, is relatively cheap, with low profit margins to fishermen, and appeals only in a very narrow range to the consumer—mainly, in this case, cod and hake.

All in all, it is an equation of decline. To an objective outsider, all that adds up to an impoverished future with little prospect of optimism. In reality, fishermen, in order to make a decent living, are forced to overexploit the fish stocks, even against their better judgment.

Our report says: When many fishermen have access to the same fish stock, each has a reason to grab as large a share of the potential yield as possible lest the other fishermen reap all the benefit". The outcome of this strategy is that the more aggressive fishermen plunge heedlessly for a quick return and quick profit, ignoring all the warning signs. They are frequently aided and abetted by irresponsible media reporting which throws into doubt scientific and expert witness, with a large slice of xenophobia thrown in for good measure.

Unless the existing pattern of over-fishing is heeded, the inevitable outcome will be the reduction or even collapse of fish stocks, little or no net economic benefit and the eventual implosion of the European fishing industry. Yet that doomsday scenario is set against the clearest warning, not only from scientific evidence, but actual examples such as that of the Canadian fishing industry.

For centuries, the Canadian Grand Banks were prime fishing grounds. Atlantic cod fed entire communities. The factory trawlers that moved into the area exacted a dreadful toll. Stocks collapsed and in 1992 the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the fishery. In November 2002, all the remaining cod fisheries were closed down as the stocks showed no sign of recovery. That is still the case today. All the wide-ranging scientific evidence that we took as a committee underlined the growing threat to cod and hake, in both the short and long term. The Minister, Elliot Morley, could not have been more explicit or realistic: If you look at the actual figures in relation to cod stocks, you can see a very clear decline over the past 20 years, and a trend that goes straight down. The recommended safe level or minimum level is about 60,000 tonnes of biomass and scientists would ideally like to achieve 150,000 tonnes of biomass, so you can see how far away we are from that, and how the stocks are very much on the brink. It was an agonising Council— he was referring to the council of December 2002—

with very difficult choices to make. In the end, however, I thought that they were choices that I could not duck in relation to the scientific evidence". The Minister was perfectly correct. The final outcome of the negotiations proved, as has already been said today, extremely disappointing.

If we add to the equation of decline the fact that we currently have a common fisheries policy which subsidises fleet modernisation and even the building of bigger and better fishing vessels, then we are right to blink in disbelief. Thus the Gordian knot grows even more complex. It is a ludicrous situation with member states vying with each other to pressurise the Commission to relax its constraints. The Commission and, indeed, Commissioner Fischler, take an entirely sensible line with this problem. The terms set out by them are realistic and sound. They endorse, indeed promote, the long-term prognosis of decline in the fish stocks, proposing very stern measures to curb over-fishing.

What really disappointed our committee and what is clearly stated in our report is how the Commission was hobbled and seriously compromised when the Council of Ministers bowed to the special pleading by member states. Of course, such poor performance leads to criticism of the EU as a whole and the Commission in particular—an open goal for Eurosceptics. However, just imagine the mayhem of individual countries going it alone. The Commission may not yet have delivered the hoped-for outcome, but without its mediation I suspect that there would be no prospect of a sensible outcome.

Other factors affect the industry. Our Committee deplored the level of allowable catches—TACs—that have been set far too high to achieve stock recovery. Bizarrely, funds will continue to be made available for new and more efficient fishing vessels until the end of 2004. Unless we see a move towards the Commission's original proposals, which, for example, see allowable catches on a multi-annual basis rather than year by year, and unless we institute effort controls—allocation to each member state of kilowatt days measured by the multiplication of engine power by days spent fishing—the outcome will prove disastrous. We must also have the certainty of enforcement, satellite scrutiny and rigorous inspection, which have also been mentioned, in order to underpin the recommendations of the Commission.

It was no surprise when the six so-called friends of fishing countries—France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland—cried, "Foul", against the Commission's proposals, but what was quite shocking was the inability of the council to see beyond the sectorial interest being used to emasculate the proposals. We were heartened by Elliot Morley's responses both orally and in written evidence to the committee. The Minister made plain his support for the Commission's strategy. We also welcomed his support for the strengthening of scientific evidence on marine ecosystems as a basis for advice and action.

During the gathering of evidence for our report, some members of the committee visited the Scottish fisheries to hear the arguments first hand. As a result of their findings, our report stresses the need for transitional aid to the fishing industry as part of the recovery programme. We emphasise that compensation should be time-limited for those fishermen who are forced not to exercise their access rights.

We have some cause for optimism in this area. The European Parliament voted in February 2003 to set up a special 150 million ecus emergency fund to support the white fish sector. The proposal would allocate 50 million ecus to transitional aid for forced tie-up schemes in 2003, and a further 100 million ecus in 2004 for golden handshakes, early retirement and retraining grants. In our conclusion, we welcome the strong commitment in the new basic regulations. However, we deplore the fact that no firm recovery plans for the key stocks of cod and hake are yet in place. We are pessimistic, thinking that the Commission's strong line will continue to be thwarted by some member states, deaf to the evidence before them. We regret the missed opportunity to downsize the European fishing fleet yet again. A summary of our conclusions on pages 28 and 29 of our report makes uncomfortable reading. The prognosis is clear. Unless we take action now, we will see a repeat of the Canadian experience around our own shores.

This is the second report on the common fisheries policy undertaken by Sub-Committee D. Veterans of the first report, of which I am not one, tell me that very little progress has been made in the interim. I very much hope that if I am part of the next report in a few years’ time, we will be able to bring back to the House a more positive picture than the one that we offer noble Lords today. If not, it may well prove to be too late.

Before sitting down, I add my thanks to the people who helped us to produce this report. It was well organised and a very rich experience for someone serving on that committee and dealing with this report for the first time. I also thank all the people who came to us to give evidence. Lastly, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for the way in which he chaired the committee with such skill. He had an adept way of dealing with everything.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, I speak in support of the recommendations in the report of the European Union Sub-Committee D. I congratulate the members of the committee and the noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, for painstakingly and patiently covering the ground— or should that be seabed—yet again. They captured the frustration felt by conservationists and fishermen alike in this country at the Commission's failure to come forward with workable long-term proposals to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who served on the committee, asked me to say how disappointed he is not to be able to be here today to take part in this debate.

The common fisheries policy, after years of failure to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries, was due for a substantial overhaul by December 2002, as we have already heard. Things looked promising for the industry, an industry that has provided my family with its living for over 400 years. In May 2002, as a result of special pleading by some member states, the Commission's proposals were seriously compromised by the outrageous decisions taken by the Council.

What do we do, short of resigning from the common fisheries policy—a thought near the hearts of many in the dwindling fleet of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We heard my noble friend Lord Selborne eloquently outline his committee's conclusions and its sensible and reasonable recommendations. We must urge the Government to press hard for those changes, if the common fisheries policy is not to become complete nonsense.

I want to drive home one of the most fundamental recommendations for change, a change without which the European Union itself will surely founder. It relates to enforcement. In Great Britain, we are so good at enforcement, and we are drowning in a sea of European Union legislation that we enforce when many other member countries do not. There is no punishment for non-enforcement. Our English common law system works well for us. Our laws come from the common demands of our common people. By common consent, we agree to our law and agree that it should be enforced. We are in a union that is essentially based on Roman law. New legislation flutters down from those furthest from its consequences. There are ideas, aspirations and general hopes that may or may not be taken up by the common people.

We cannot continue to run a common fisheries policy like that. It is not fair to our people, who understand fair play. As my noble friend Lord Selborne recommended, we must insist upon a community fisheries control agency, which would ensure equal enforcement on all fishing vessels in European Union waters. The still massive Spanish fleet is in our northern waters for the first time. Will it stick to the rules? Will it stick to its quota? Spain's two fisheries officers—perhaps it is now one or two more—sit in Madrid while our home fleet is policed into oblivion. Without equal enforcement on all fishing vessels of the European Union, the common fisheries policy will cause serious doubt about the possibility of the Union's long-term success. In this country, we are brought up to believe that cheats never prosper. We are brought up to enforce our common law. Will the British Government act to protect our people and our livelihoods by insisting that the creation of the agency be progressed with all haste?

Are quotas to continue as a mechanism? The system does not work in environmental terms. In particular, it does not work in Cornwall, where I live. Successive governments have not put right an early mistake that we made: tradable quotas or quota hopping. I declare that I am patron of the Duchy Fish Quota Company. The company was set up to try to raise money locally to save our Cornish fishing quota. It raises money through charity to buy the quota allocation and lease it back annually to local fishermen. That helps to meet the needs of young fishermen who cannot hope to bid for those precious quotas on the open market.

Over the past five years, Cornwall has lost .4 million worth of fish quota. As boats have been decommissioned, Defra's rules have, in effect, allowed a free trade in the British fish quota. That means that fishermen from outside Cornwall can purchase outright quota that was originally allocated to local fishermen. Spanish-owned boats that have passed the tenuous economic link regulation allowing them to be registered in Britain take advantage of that situation. The boats fish British waters, and the vast majority of the income derived from the quota-hopping boats is realised in Spain, where the catch is generally landed and processed.

In the present climate, UK fishermen find it difficult to fish the year round on their meagre quota. What steps are the Government taking to reverse the trend of selling UK quota to other member states, who will pay anything to get them? It leaves a generation of fishing families with small inshore boats unable to compete and watching their fleets and communities die out. Within 20 years, Cornwall will lose nearly all its inshore fleet. Cornwall is poor enough; it needs its Government's help. I hope that the Minister will reassure me today. Cornwall and I anxiously await his reply.

In the mean time, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selborne. I had the privilege of sitting with him the last time that we examined the policy. I congratulate him and his committee on a thorough job and commend the report to the House.

12.56 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I congratulate the committee on being so tenacious in returning to this issue yet again. I was on Sub-Committee D the last time that we considered the report. At that time, I felt that the report would lead on to some sort of action, so I shared the committee's great frustration that progress had been not only slow but virtually imperceptible and that, meanwhile, the state of the fish stocks had deteriorated so much further. We know that most stocks are close to collapse. We need only look at the fishmonger's slab to see that. The last report had a vivid cover showing a huge fish, which was by-catch and had to be thrown back, and a small fish, which was allowed to be caught. That situation has continued.

In its evidence, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea said that a reduction in fishing levels of between a third and a half was needed now. "Now", I think, means not in two, three, five or 10 years. Yet, experience with the previous report and with this one suggests that the European Union thinks that we have that length of time to take. The common fisheries policy shows the European Union at its worst, which is a great shame. In every other area of environmental action, the European Union has been at the forefront of moves to get member states to do something about their habitat, their water, their air and the pollution of their seas. It is upsetting to see how, in the common fisheries policy, the European Union gives in yet again to member states with a particular interest.

That is understandable, when the economic fragility of coastal communities puts them under such pressure. I was interested to read in the report that catching employment in those communities had fallen, on average, by 22 per cent and employment in processing by 14 per cent. It is not as though the do-nothing attitude maintains the same employment; employment is still falling, and the reasons for that are not being addressed. I urge the Union to produce the sort of policies for fishing that it has so successfully produced in the rest of its environmental agenda.

I turn to some specific matters in the committee's report. I agree with its comments on regional advisory councils, particularly the comment in paragraph 49 that they would be "of vital importance". I agree that the way in which the councils are established should be a matter of "considerable urgency". When the report says "considerable urgency", that phrase should be taken to mean real-world time, not the sort of unreal time in which the common fisheries policy has been conducted to date.

The committee's suggestions on the size and process of regional advisory councils are also helpful. I hope that this Government and the EU will take particular note of that. Regional advisory councils will play a crucial role in bringing together different interest groups, which should have a common aim of sustainable marine ecosystems. The aim should not be for a return to "fishing as usual"; that is, fishing as it was in the last decades of the 20th century.

Chapter 4, paragraph 87(v) of the report refers to the importance of supporting long-term development of alternative employment. It states: It is extremely important to find ways of supporting the development of alternative employment opportunities in areas affected by long-term decline of the fishing industry''. On turning to the Government's response to the report on the common fisheries policy from another place, I found that they think they are doing all right in that type of support. The Government believe that their regional strategy is being implemented through regional development agencies in England and that it, enables focussed support to be provided to fishing dependent communities". That is far too complacent because RDAs have very different targets, which are more concerned with promoting new employment and not alternative employment. The evidence from the South West, where the RDA has a coastal and market towns initiative, does not seem to be addressing the issue of alternative employment with anything like the vigour that the Government—perhaps through their response to that report—assume that the RDAs are doing. I urge the Minister to check on that.

I should like to turn now—incidentally, because; it falls within the Minister's remit—to the issue of the Appledore shipyard in north Devon. It is not an alternative employment to be created; it is an alternative employment which exists but is under threat and is likely not to exist shortly. The Government, in their joined-up thinking role, should consider that the Appledore shipyard is in a prime position to help in their off-shore renewables requirements programme. It has considerable expertise in building the infrastructure— namely, the barges and so forth—needed to implement the programme of off-shore wind farms. As the Government have seen fit to bail out British Energy, surely they could help this shipyard. My honourable friend in another place, John Burnett, raised this subject. I would welcome the Minister's comments.

Finally, I turn to the issue of discards. W hat is the Minister's opinion on this matter raised in evidence given to the committee? It seems that the Norwegians have a scheme that any fish caught and landed on deck must be kept. Fish cannot be thrown back, however small. No matter whether the quota has been filled, the fish must be kept. That forces an attitude of responsible fishing: it is clear what has been caught. Perhaps it might answer some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, in his extremely powerful speech.

Some of those measures would force us, in our home waters, to address fishing with an ecosystem attitude. I know that the Government have said in their Seas of Change intentions that they will regard marine ecosystems in a positive way. However, that remains a wish list. There has been no legislation for an ecosystem approach; there has been a bit-by-bit approach so far. Although I understand the Minister cannot comment on what will be in the Queen's Speech, I hope that there will be something in respect of marine legislation.

In the mean time, I hope that we will not be back here in two years' time discussing yet another report from the excellent Sub-Committee D bewailing the lack of progress. I commend the tenacious attitude of the committee. If there is no progress, I hope that it will readdress the issue in two years’ time and say so. I congratulate the committee on an excellent and hard-hitting report.

1.5 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne and his committee for their detailed work in producing this important report. Like others, as I read through its pages, I became a combination of extremely frustrated and very depressed by the lack of progress on the reform of the common fisheries policy. At a time when, increasingly, some species are so at risk, there appears to be a lack of will to take action— that is, urgent action. There is evidence of the council backing down from such action as recommended by the Commission.

As my noble friend said in his opening remarks, Too slow; too little; too late", which has been reiterated by other noble Lords.

On page 5 of the report, the committee states: A promising package of proposals adopted by the Commission in May 2002 was seriously compromised by decisions taken by the Council in December 2002, as a result of special pleading by Member States. The Committee has no confidence that the new basic CFP Regulation agreed at that meeting, despite some positive features, will meet the objectives of sustainable fisheries and prevent irreversible decline in important stocks unless it is substantially improved". Those are very damning words.

In his opening comments, my noble friend identified several issues, of which I should like to refer to four. First, he clearly stated that there is need for a long-term recovery package and that we should look, particularly, at the amount of biomass spawn taken. Secondly, he reiterated that we should move away from the yearly setting of allowable catches. Thirdly, he said that shabby-deal concessions were being made to continue to pay money to modernise fleets. The noble Lord said that that is "unbelievable"; I say that it is unacceptable. Fourthly, he said that there is a need to continue research, particularly into the hoovering of sand eels and other species in dire straits.

The report reflects the alarming state of fish stocks—in particular, that of cod and haddock—as well as the fishing capacity of the Community fleet, which far exceeds that required for harvesting available fish stocks in a suitable manner. The report continually refers to the improvement of efficient fishing methods as "technology creep". We all want to see improvements, but when attempts are made to take more fish than there are available, we must question whether that is wise. Poor enforcement controls have been insufficient to ensure an equitable approach across the Union. As my noble friend Lady Wilcox said, it is not fair. We urgently need an effective control agency.

These are just a few of the issues highlighted in the report, which is summed up on page 8, paragraph 7. The committee was scathing in its comments. It states: The reformed CFP is the result of over four years of analysis and consultation, but it has in our view been emasculated by the back-sliding compromises made by the Council". It is not acceptable reading. We must do something about it.

However, it is true that some action has taken place. The Minister will be pleased that I am not damning everything. There has been a move to establish fisheries protection zones. Fishing effort has been used as an instrument in fisheries management. There is a plan to eradicate illegal fishing. There are provisions to establish regional advisory councils. I am pleased that that will bring fishermen directly into the negotiations.

There is, too, a plan to move forward towards a reduction in discards of fish, an issue about which all noble Lords feel strongly. Lastly, the creation of a single inspection structure is envisaged to ensure the pooling of Community and national inspection and monitoring resources. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it is no use if we do all this while other states do not. These actions must be undertaken uniformly throughout the Community.

The committee acknowledges that new Regulation 3760/92 is more comprehensive, but it does not deal with three key areas: structural policy, markets and international policy. It calls for better international research and long-term management programmes and concludes by saying: the fatal weakness of the new legislation is that no deadlines are set for when recovery plans must be established". If there has been any change in that position, I should be glad to hear about it from the Minister when he comes to wind up the debate. The report goes on to state that: Without firm deadlines, the negotiations could continue for a very long time, as is suggested by the still on-going negotiations over the cod and hake recovery plans". The Commission promised a "definite cod recovery plan" by the summer. Can the Minister explain what is set out in that plan and how it deals with the recent scientific findings which suggest that fish seem to band together rather than move around in small shoals. Many fishermen maintain that, when they do find fish, they find a great many and so the shortage is being overstated. Further research is needed to clarify the position. However, scientists believe that while individual shoals are large, they are few in number with long distances in between. How does the definitive plan cope with this situation?

The committee suggests that direct conservation measures such as the control of fishing effort coupled with appropriate technical measures such as limiting mesh size, closed areas, closed seasons and so forth, should be introduced: We urge the Government to press the Commission, and to argue in Council, for the implementation as a matter of urgency of a properly designed and well-considered system of effort control, to work alongside the TACs [total allowable catches] and quotas wherever possible, but especially where precautionary TACs are in force". The report records its unanimous view that the generally excellent and widely supported proposals made by the Commission to reform the CFP have been emasculated by the Council of Ministers which, as other noble Lords have already said, was held hostage by some member states acting in the perceived short-term interests of their fishing constituencies. Can I ask the Minister to state the Government's view as it was placed before the Council? Further, what do the Government propose to do now to protect our fishing industry and, more important, our fishing grounds?

I wish to put to the Minister a series of direct and practical questions concerning what the report quite rightly reflects as the loss of jobs that has affected many people in this country. Does the social security system support the way fishermen are currently being forced to work? Does the new working tax credit and children's tax credit cut in and out in line with fishermen's earning patterns? Does housing benefit apply to erratic earners? Lastly, following on the point made by my noble friend Lord Eden, has the Commission published its proposals, promised for summer 2003, to ensure that catches of cetaceans are minimised?

What unilateral steps are the Government prepared to take if, say, by December 2003, the Fisheries Council has still not produced a simple, measurable, appropriate and time-tabled plan? What steps are the Government taking to track down illegal fish landings and to apprehend those responsible? Are those measures common to England, Scotland and Wales, and to the other European states?

The report touched on the possibility of the better utilisation of satellite monitoring. I believe that satellite monitoring should be extended right now. I ask the Minister: are there any reasons why that is not being done immediately? Finally, the most criticised aspect of the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance—FIFG—has been the funding earmarked for the fleet renewal and modernisation programme, mentioned by other speakers in the debate. I believe that the programme should be totally halted right now. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why that cannot be done.

Only a month ago I paid a visit to Billingsgate fish market and had the joy of seeing a wide variety of fish on display and available to us. But I fear for the future of fish stocks more generally, let alone our own cod and hake stocks, if we do not act on the recommendations of this excellent report produced by my noble friend.

Once again I thank my noble friend, the members of the committee and all those who have worked so hard to put together this report. I hope very much that it will receive a positive response, not only from our Government—I realise that the Government can do only so much on their own—but also from the Community as a whole. Again, I ask the Minister to comment on the extremely important points raised by my noble friend Lady Wilcox on the selling of fish quota, which is particularly relevant to Cornwall's inshore fishing fleets.

This is a good report. I took it away with me when I stayed in Wales for a week. However, all I can say is that I found it a depressing read. I should like the Minister to tell us what action he and his Government are going to take in the future.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl, all the members of his committee, its staff and advisers, who have clearly done a very thorough job in producing the report which forms the basis of this debate. I think it is fair to say that all the contributors to the debate, members of the committee and Her Majesty's Government share a general view of the European approach to fisheries. I was glad that a number of speakers referred to the work of my honourable friend Elliot Morley in this respect. Until recently he was the Minister responsible for fisheries for six rather difficult years. The post of fisheries Minister is always an uphill struggle in Europe, given the common fisheries policy structure that we inherited when we joined the European Union and which has yet to be reformed as effectively as all noble Lords in this House would wish.

I think that we all agree that there is an absolutely urgent need to conserve many of the fish stocks in EU waters and to promote the conservation of stocks beyond those boundaries. In relation to some stocks, most particularly those of cod in some of our key fisheries, the situation has become extremely urgent. Far too few young fish are surviving to maturity. The other side of the equation is the need to protect the future of a viable fishing industry and the communities around our coastline still based on fishing activities. It is also important to do that in a way which protects the marine environment more generally.

I turn first to the December deal. Many speakers have expressed serious disappointment with the deal, and I understand and share some of that concern. However, if noble Lords will excuse the maritime pun, the deal does indicate something of a sea change in the approach of the Council of Ministers to fisheries policy. Commissioner Fischler has been working very hard on the proposals to put to the Commission and I endorse the comments that he has presented the Council with some very serious choices. While it is true to say that we did not achieve all that both we and the commissioner would have wished, the December deal marked a change of direction and all the realistic negotiation objectives were achieved; that is, given the views of the other member states, we secured the best deal possible. It is not the best deal that is desired, but it is probably the best possible deal. Furthermore, under the new structure of the CAP, it does place social, economic and environmental sustainability at the heart of its policy, which was not the case over the previous 30-odd years of common fisheries policy. Therefore we have seen a move forward, in particular to respect scientific advice and to manage stocks accordingly on a multi-annual basis.

Regrettably, it is also the case that not all the scientific advice made available has been accepted in the so-called "friends of fishing" group of nations, an ironic title which, as the noble Earl pointed out in his opening remarks, is in a state of denial. The advice is also not wholly accepted by certain elements of the British fishing industry. That is why research statistics and so on are needed in this area to continue to reinforce the evidence which, despite the overwhelming scientific view and, as my noble friend Lady Billingham indicated, the tragic and drastic example of Canada which has been before us for more than a decade, not everyone, by any means, accepts.

There is also a commitment to improved enforcements. Rules must be applied rigorously across the EU. We strongly support the Commission's action plan for improving compliance and co-operation between member states. I shall say more about that and the proposals for the joint inspection structure and fisheries control agency which is to be established next year, the feasibility study for which is due to begin about now. Clearly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, indicated, enforcement is a major issue.

As regards capacity, clearly a great deal of the previous aids to the industry have been perverse in their effects in increasing the capacity while, at the same time, destroying some of the traditional vessels and employment in the industry in Europe. Subsidies for vessel building must be ended by 31st December 2004. While the noble Baroness and others say this is too late and, obviously, the earlier the better, the fact is that until a very late stage in the December negotiations the group of six were blocking such an early commitment and were looking to continue until 2006 and beyond. It was therefore a breakthrough to obtain 2004 as the deadline. This means that most continuing aid for vessel construction will end within a year from now. We have not provided grant aid for vessel construction in the UK for many years and we regret that other member states have not followed our example.

In her closing remarks the noble Baroness asked about the deadlines for recovery plans. There are no specific deadlines in the agreement but the regulation commits the Council to introducing recovery plans whenever stocks are shown to have fallen outside safe biological limits based on the science to which we are now committed. So, as soon as that commitment is triggered, the Commission is under a duty to bring forward proposals promptly and the Council is under a duty to take note of such proposals and to implement them.

There are also measures for dealing with conservation emergencies, which now apply to threats to the environment as well as to the fish stocks. This, again, is a move forward. A number of noble Lords referred to the establishment of the regional advisory councils—again a major step forward. We welcome also some of the action plans under the new framework in regard to discards, improving the science and integrating environmental protection requirements into the CFP. All of these new provisions add up to a major change in direction and intensity of the CFP.

Clearly these new initiatives need to be followed through by Council action and decisions which affect the situation. We needed a much more robust framework in which to argue these decisions. We have now got it and we are now able more effectively to take on those member states which, shall we say, may have a less urgent or robust view on the need for action. Some of these issues will come before the Council this month or next month through to the December Council.

So far as concerns the UK, another significant contribution to planning for the future will be from the No. 10 Strategy Unit's fisheries project announced at the end of March. This will take into account the findings of the Select Committee report. Its terms of reference are to develop a strategy for the sustainable future of the UK marine fishing industry. It will be collecting information and reporting within the next few months.

Returning to the question of enforcement, clearly the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Byford, strongly emphasised the importance of this issue. I agree. The United Kingdom spends .24 million on enforcement, and it has often been remarked that our enforcement is rather better than that in many other areas of the EU. Enforcement co-operation between member states will be much stronger under the new CFP. The Council is to establish a set of sanctions to be applied by member states for serious infringements on the basis of Commission proposals. The joint inspection structure and fisheries control agency will be subject to an immediate feasibility study and it is to be hoped that it will be established next year. So the policing of and sanctions on member states are being tightened up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked about quotas and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, indicated her interest in the situation in Cornwall. We have always attempted to ensure that the economic benefit of quotas which are allocated in the CFP to the UK should benefit the UK and its fishing areas. We now require all vessels benefiting from the quotas to have a demonstrable economic link to the UK. This is a significant change following the previous government going down the wrong road and being overturned in the European courts. There will be a fairly tight regulation of future sales of quotas. Although it will not go as far as discriminating by nationality—which would be contrary to the basic precepts of the EU—it will require economic benefits to accrue in the UK.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, is that system already in being? If not, how advanced is it?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I cannot give the exact date but it has been a good four or five years since it was in being. I shall write to the noble Baroness about the precise point of legal application.

Clearly that does not address all the problems of sales of quotas because quotas have a price and people have to be able to afford that price. But, legally, whoever the buyer is and at whatever price, they have to demonstrate a benefit to the UK.

As regards conservation, the Select Committee pointed to the lack of success in mixed fisheries and in conserving stocks through the use of tax and quotas. Clearly we need to go further. As the noble Earl indicated, cod stocks are the most depleted. For these, we need interim EU measures in place in the North Sea and the West of Scotland which restrict the number of days at sea and the type of gear used. In July, the Commission produced new proposals for the long-term measures to promote recovery. As noble Lords have pointed out, it is true that the Commission was a long time in producing these proposals, but it also true that the interim measures which set out significantly to reduce effort on cod are now in place and need to be followed through.

As we said in our response to the Committee's report, the Government agree that recovery plans should be established for cod and hake. We took that line last year and we continue to do so. We hope to see progress on that issue as rapidly as possible. We must ensure that the new regulations are likely to be effective and properly enforced.

We also need to ensure that the size of the fleet is in balance with the available stocks. We have been very positive in this regard in terms of the decommissioning grants we have made available in England and Scotland. In addition, at the start of this year the department announced further funding of about .50 million to reduce the size of the UK fleet.

That will obviously have implications for the fishing communities. My noble friend Lady Billingham and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, were particularly concerned about the coastal rural communities in which most of our fishermen live. While a smaller fleet is potentially more viable, it will require local communities to adjust to lower levels of employment. This is where the regional policy and the role of RDAs and so on come in. It is important that we ensure that the RDAs are focused on this issue in relation to the relatively few, but nevertheless often quite remote, coastal towns which have historically depended on fishing.

My noble friend Lady Billingham asked why we were not providing the same transitional aid in England as in Scotland. The aid that Scottish authorities have provided was to get over the present difficulties, whereas now we are looking forward. We cannot really talk in terms of transitional aid in respect of a long-term decline in the fisheries sector. The Government have also consulted on the future structural fund policy, and the best way forward seems to be in an EU framework, which provides for help to those areas most hit by the decline of the sector.

The regional advisory councils, to which many noble Lords have referred, will be international bodies. All stakeholders can participate, but they must be regionally based bottom-up organisations developed and run by their own members. It will take a bit of time for those bodies to operate, but we need to give our full backing and ensure in particular that the progress already being made with international groups of stakeholders in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the South West results in effective organisations. The Commission is likely to produce a formal consultation on that matter for a council regulation in the very near future.

One important matter that I need to spell out relates to the environmental aspects of CFP. There has been quite a bit of progress on that front under the new CFP since December. In July, we gained Commission action to take emergency measures to protect the Darwin Mound coral reefs from trawling. Also in July, a regulation to tackle the problem of shark finning was adopted by the EU. To address the central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, the Commission has introduced a draft regulation to address small cetaceans by-catch. That will obviously be a major part of the overall approach to by-catch, which is a very serious problem.

We welcome the draft directive, and the UK is in the vanguard of the member states attempting to deal with the unacceptable dolphin and harbour porpoise death in fishing nets. We need to take action at an EU level, as the measures provide. In the mean time, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said, Defra has successfully run trials for a grid system capable of saving dolphin lives in the sea bass fisheries. We are considering promoting that more widely.

The noble Lord, Lord Eden, also referred to the potential dangers of using sonic technology to deal with that issue. We must bear that in mind in relation to smaller cetaceans, as well as to the larger animals to which the report referred.

It is clear that there is already a growing list of EU measures and proposals that expand on the new framework under the CFP. We look forward to that being intensified and built into a new eco-system-based approach to fisheries management, delivering the environmental objectives as well as the sustaining, and reversal of decline, of stocks.

Fish stock management operates on long timescales, and we need to look well ahead. Long-term sustainability is a key aim for the Government, and the work undertaken by the Committee gives us a basis for approaching that. The work will be taken further by the strategy unit. At European level, we are rapidly approaching this December's Fisheries Council. The UK is far from being alone in seeking a long-term solution in the interests of a healthy fishing industry as well as for a marine environment. However, in order to have a long-term future, we need to preserve and reverse the decline of stocks now, which means that, at the very minimum, the effective enforcement and success of the decisions taken in December needs to be built on, and built on rapidly.

I conclude by thanking again the noble Earl and his committee for the report, and all noble Lords for participating in this informative and worthwhile debate.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I should like to ask a question about an area on which I am totally ignorant. Does the farming of fish have any impact on the preservation of stocks of wild fish? A Member of your Lordships’ House told me recently that, if I went to Billingsgate, almost all the fish I saw would be farmed fish. Presumably, that would exclude fish that were trawled; I was told that the rest of the fish were farmed. Does that have any impact on the problem that we now face?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the bulk of farmed fish will be fresh water fish. There is no significant farming of cod, for example, which is one of the species with which we are most concerned in the context of the debate. With most deep sea fish, there has been some indication that the Norwegians in particular are moving towards substantial cod fish farming, too. However, that requires vast areas to make it successful, and it has had little impact.

One area in which wild sea fish have been affected by farming stocks is one that noble Lords have debated on several occasions, relating to North Sea salmon. There are probably environmental problems affecting North Sea salmon in any case, and we had a debate on that subject only a few weeks ago. Clearly, the vast bulk of salmon sales are now of farmed rather than wild salmon. Therefore, in that area there has been a significant effect. However, most deep sea fish are fished rather than farmed.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in this very depressing debate. I owe an apology to my noble friend, as clearly our report ruined her stay in Wales.

I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response. I have much admiration for the way in which Elliot Morley negotiated. It is a thankless task being a fisheries Minister, for reasons that the Minister has explained, and we all recognise the way in which Elliot Morley tried to bring an element of reality into Fisheries Council meetings.

I wish to pick up on the observation made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, on fish farming. When we considered the matter in a previous report, we were aware of the problem of feeding fish stock that is being cultured. The fish have to be fed on something, and one is unlikely to be able to get the food from a land-based crop. Effectively, one hoovers up sand eels to feed the fish, which ends up making the problem worse. However, long-term research is being done.

The prospects of farming cod did not seem at all realistic to us. Farming salmon is much more common but, as the noble and learned Lord will be aware, there are considerable cultural problems.

The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, referred to veterans of two reports. I admit that I am a veteran of four reports over 11 years, and I fear that I get ever shriller and more exasperated. However, there is an element of urgency. If the report and this debate have persuaded others, particularly the blocking minority referred to so often, that there is a desperate need for the European Union to get its act together with fisheries and act responsibly, perhaps we have not wasted this Friday morning and afternoon, and there will have been some advantage in having depressed ourselves so extensively on the subject.

On Question, Motion agreed to.