HC Deb 16 October 1996 vol 282 cc936-7W
Mr. Harris

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the European Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. [41157]

Mr. Baldry

I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 14 October together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

The Council discussed the principles underlying Commission proposals for substantial further capacity reductions in Community fishing fleets in the next series of multi-annual guidance programmes to run from 1997–2002. Most member states expressed concern about the rates of reduction proposed, the way these would impact on particular fleet segments and the consequences for employment and the economy of coastal communities. I also made it clear that the UK could not implement further compulsory fleet reductions while the quota-hopping problem remained unresolved and drew attention to the burning sense of injustice which the present situation caused in the British fishing industry.

It was concluded that further detailed examination of all elements of the Commission proposal would be needed before decisions could be taken. There was, however, general recognition of the need for fishing mortality to be reduced to acceptable levels for critical stocks and for this to be done in ways which are appropriate, equitable and soundly based. This would include consideration of policies other than capacity reduction, such as technical conservation and enforcement. It would also include careful assessment of the effects of reductions in fishing activity on the industry and those dependent on it.

The Council also took note of the Commission's report on implementation to date of the existing multi-annual guidance programmes, with the proviso that the figures for a number of member states, including the UK, needed correction, in particular in relation to tonnage measurement.

Ministers had a first exchange of views on the Commission's proposal for new technical conversation measures. There were many reservations about the proposal but general agreement on the need to improve the current measures in order to conserve stocks and reduce discards. It was also accepted that the measures eventually agreed must command the confidence of the industry and therefore be based on sound scientific advice, easily understood and enforceable.

The Council discussed the Commission proposal on satellite monitoring. I pressed for harmonised implementation by all member states and the need to guard against fishermen being unfairly penalised in respect of genuine equipment failures. I also requested that the Commission should explore ways in which satellite monitoring could reduce the regulatory burden on fishermen. In the light of the many detailed concerns raised by member states, it was concluded that the matter should be referred for further detailed examination.

The Council agreed unanimously a proposal consolidating regulations laying down common marketing standards for fish and fisheries products. It makes minor modifications to grading standards. It also provides for the ending of Community financial compensation for lower quality 'B' grade fish with effect from 1 January 2000 and subject to a review after one year.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland reminded the Council of the difficulties that salmon farmers are facing in the critical marketing period before Christmas as a result of low prices. He emphasised the importance of the Commission's investigation of complaints about dumping and unfair subsidies in Norway resolving these recurring difficulties.

The Council also agreed by qualified majority, with Italy and Spain voting against, a measure raising the ceiling on beef intervention purchases for 1996 by 60,000 tonnes and providing new intervention arrangements for store cattle until December.

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