HL Deb 20 June 1995 vol 565 cc8-10WA
Lord Trefgarne

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 15 June.

Earl Howe

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 15 June together with my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Scottish Office, Sir Hector Monro.

The Council agreed unanimously ceilings on fishing effort in Western waters as required by the agreement reached in December on the integration of Spain and Portugal into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The figures agreed reflect actual recent fishing effort and will enable UK fishermen to continue their normal patterns and levels of fishing activity without new restriction, provided effort does not increase. Limitations on the disposition of the Spanish fleet in the Irish Box were also introduced, with the result that a maximum of eight vessels are allowed in the northern part and a maximum of 32 in the south.

The Commission presented to the Council its proposals for monitoring and inspection arrangements in Western waters. These measures are important because they will provide the basis for enforcing effort controls. My honourable friend confirmed to the Council that these proposals must be both practicable and realistic in terms of their application. The Council agreed to consider them urgently so that they can be adopted before the end of this year and come into operation along with the effort controls from 1 January 1996.

Most member states indicated they could agree to a Presidency compromise concerning a proposal for funds from the existing Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) to be used to support national early retirement schemes for fishermen and for compensation payments to crews of decommissioned vessels. The Commission's original proposals relating to bad weather payments and additional support for market price fluctuation were excluded. The United Kingdom continued to argue that such measures should be covered by national social policies and were not an appropriate use of FIFG funds.

There was a discussion of drift net fishing and once again no conclusions were reached on the Commission's proposal, dating from last year, to phase out the use of drift nets. My honourable friend emphasised the importance of drift net fishing to British fishermen. My honourable friend also set out the arrangements which we have in hand to ensure compliance with the rules in this summer's tuna fishery in the North-East Atlantic and to discourage any possible disruption of fishing. The Council noted with satisfaction the measures being implemented by member states and the deployment of a vessel carrying Commission inspectors.

The Council discussed progress in the United Nations Conference on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. This conference is looking at ways of improving co-operation between states in the management of international fisheries. My honourable friend stressed the importance of achieving a binding convention which will lead to more effective conservation of fish stocks in international waters and should reduce the risk of disputes. The Council agreed that the Community should continue to play a constructive role in the negotiations and decided that further work should be clone in defining its position before the next session of the Conference.

The Council confirmed its commitment to the full implementation of the April agreement reached between the Community and Canada on fishing in the North-West Atlantic including the important new provisions to secure effective enforcement. It agreed unanimously to adopt a regulation fixing the 1995 Community quota for Greenland halibut at 5,013 tonnes for the period from 16 April onwards.

The Council unanimously agreed a Presidency compromise setting quotas for imports of fish into the Community at reduced rates of import duty for the remainder of 1995. The quotas on cod and haddock were set lower than proposed by the Commission, reflecting concern about weak market prices.

My honourable friend drew the Council's attention to a Commission proposal to be considered by the Agriculture Council which would introduce harmonisation of inspection charges for fish. He said that in the absence of distortion of the market this is an unnecessary measure which could increase costs. My honourable friend pressed his colleagues to look at the proposal critically, involving fisheries experts to the full.

My honourable friend also took the opportunity of this meeting of the Council to invite Fisheries Ministers to consider a proposal made by the Government's Panel on Sustainable Development that there should be an Intergovernmental Panel on the Oceans. This Panel would be set the task of examining the science, assessing the human impact and putting in place a framework for the responsible management of the world's oceans. It would cover fish stocks, other marine resources and measures to cope with pollution. The Government are currently studying this proposal and wish to take into account the views of other member states before reaching conclusions.