HC Deb 17 October 1994 vol 248 cc141-2W
Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what matters were discussed, what decisions taken, and which decisions were taken by vote, at the EU Fisheries Council on 28 September in Brussels.

Mr. Jack

I represented the United Kingdom at the Council of EU Fisheries Ministers in Brussels on 28 September with my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office. No votes were taken at this Council.

The Council discussed the Commission's proposals for future rules of access for all EU fleets to western waters after 1 January 1996. These would provide for the integration of Spanish and Portuguese fishing into the common fisheries policy.

I said that these proposals were not acceptable. They were far too complex, imposing excessive administrative burdens on fishermen, contrary to the commitment at the June Council to reduce bureaucracy. Moreover, they could be operated only at quite excessive cost. They lacked credibility and would be unenforceable. I explained in detail to the Council the united position taken by the British fishing industry in rejecting the proposals. I emphasised the need for an adequate replacement for the Irish box when that expires on 31 December 1995.

The great majority of other member states also felt that the Commission's proposals were not the right way forward.

The Council agreed that a different approach was needed, which should be as simple as possible to administer and control. All member states were asked to make suggestions for alternative ideas so that the November Council could have a developed alternative approach to consider.

The Commission's paper on the state of the Community fisheries market was also considered by the Council. It was agreed that there was a need to tackle problems of structures and marketing at various levels. Many measures are already in place but the Commission will be coming forward with appropriate further measures in the light of the discussion. I emphasised the importance of the European fishing industry making greater efforts to focus on the needs of the market.

The Council also considered the Commission's discussion paper and draft proposals for setting medium term management objectives and strategies for certain fisheries. Most member states recognised the value of taking decisions on fish TACs and quotas in the context of a longer term view of the prospects for stocks. However, more work is needed at technical level before the Council can reach conclusions.

The Commission's proposals to phase out drift netting for most species over four years was also discussed. I took the opportunity to register the United Kingdom's concern about the disturbances in this summer's tuna fishery. No decision was taken on the Commission's proposals, and the discussion showed that there was no consensus on them. There was, however, a clear need to examine the scientific justification for what the Commission had proposed, since this seemed to be deficient, and the Union's scientific, technical and economic committee will undertake this.

The Council also discussed the EU/Morocco agreement, the acquisition of arctic cod, a forthcoming conference on Mediterranean fisheries, the state of the salmon market, a possible increase in the autonomous tariff quota for cod entering the EU and the regime for tuna for the EU canning industry. In addition, the Council adopted a statement urging an orderly conclusion to the fisheries dispute in the Barents sea.