HL Deb 14 January 1997 vol 577 cc22-4WA
Lord Willoughby de Broke

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Brussels on 19th-20th December.

Lord Lucas

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Brussels on 19th-20th December, together with my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office and my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Belgium and Sweden voting against, the total allowable catches and quotas to apply in 1997 in Community waters. The agreement fulfilled the Government's objective of securing the best possible deal for British fishermen consistent with the scientific advice and the conservation of stocks for the future. In the final package the total UK quotas agreed for the stocks of most importance to our fishermen were some 23,000 tonnes higher in cod equivalent terms than the quotas being discussed at the start of the negotiations. The increase is worth approximately £16 million to the industry and leaves our total quotas in cod equivalent terms for these stocks just one half of one per cent. below the 1996 level.

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food invoked the Hague Preference on all the stocks where it was necessary to do so. Quota swaps were agreed immediately after the Council to mitigate the impact arising from use of Hague Preference by the Republic of Ireland, in particular on stocks of importance to the Northern Ireland industry.

The Council agreed unanimously to access and quota arrangements for 1997 with neighbouring non-member states. The United Kingdom has large cod and haddock quotas at North Norway and these were increased by 16 per cent. and 13 per cent. respectively. We have retained our quotas in Faroese, Greenland and Iceland waters at the same levels as in 1996. The Council also agreed unanimously to the allocation of the Community's 1997 quotas in the waters covered by the North-West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation, together with technical conservation and control measures applicable to those waters, and to the allocation of the Community's 1997 redfish quota in the waters covered by the North Atlantic Fisheries Commission, together with management measures for those waters.

The Council continued its discussion of objectives for the next series of Multi-Annual Guidance Programmes (MAGP IV). My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reiterated the need for the quota hopper problem to be resolved before he could contemplate any further reductions in the capacity or effort of the UK fleet. Other member states continued to have substantive concerns on various aspects of the proposals, though there was a broad consensus that the Presidency compromise tabled in November remained the most promising basis for progress. The Council concluded that further work should be pursued as a matter of urgency with a view to reaching decisions by 30th April 1997.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Denmark, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden voting against, a Presidency compromise on the introduction of satellite monitoring arrangements. These will apply from 30th June 1998 for particularly sensitive fisheries, for example industrial fisheries, and from 1st January 2000 for other vessels of over 24 metres overall length. All vessels which operate exclusively within 12 miles of the coast and those which never spend more than 24 hours at sea will be exempt. Where there is a reciprocal access agreement with third countries, satellite monitoring will only apply to Community vessels fishing in those third country waters if the third countries' vessels carry satellite monitoring equipment in Community waters. There was also agreement that concerns about skippers' liability in the event of genuine equipment failures will be addressed in the detailed implementing rules and that the Council and Commission will explore ways of reducing the regulatory burden on the fishing industry, with a Commission report to be submitted by 31st March 1997. The compromise met all the UK's main negotiating objectives and will usefully reinforce existing control measures to ensure compliance with rules intended to conserve fish stocks.

The Council welcomed the progress that had been made in removing many of the problems from the Commission's proposal for new technical conservation measures but noted that further detailed work was necessary before the proposal would be ready for agreement. So far as industrial fisheries are concerned, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food called for the introduction of a precautionary TAC for sandeels in the North Sea and he proposed that a new research programme into the effects of the sandeel fishery off the east coast of Scotland be used to monitor the effects of the fishery on sandeels and other fauna so that any necessary remedial action can be considered urgently.

The Commission introduced its report on the operation of the CFP over the last three years and issues to be addressed for the future. The Council welcomed the report as contributing to the debate leading up to the review of the CFP in 2002.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with Denmark voting against, a 10,000 tonne increase in the 1996 autonomous tariff quota for cod imported for salting and drying.

My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland reminded the Council of the problems of the salmon market, including the extended period of low prices, the prospects for continuing weakness in the early months of 1997 and the loss of jobs now being experienced. He pressed the Commissioner to reconsider her earlier decision not to introduce a further set of minimum import prices for salmon. The Commissioner, however, said that she still saw no case for minimum import prices, on the basis that the continental market showed no sign of instability, that minimum import prices had proved effective earlier in 1996 and that she was unwilling to intervene while investigations were proceeding into the industry's complaints about dumping and unfair subsidies.