HL Deb 15 June 1998 vol 590 cc120-1WA
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 8 June. [HL2236]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

We chaired the meeting of the Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 8 June. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Morley, represented the United Kingdom together with my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, Lord Sewel.

The Council agreed by qualified majority, with France and Ireland voting against and Italy abstaining, a ban on high seas drift nets. The use of drift nets to catch tuna and swordfish will be phased out by 31 December 2001. The UK favoured a shorter phase-out but several delegations were sympathetic to arguments for a longer one. The compromise of 3½ years secured the necessary qualified majority and was accompanied by a commitment that in 1998 the number of vessels licensed to fish with drift nets in each member state will be at least 40 per cent. below the number that fished in 1995, 1996 or 1997 in that member state. In a joint statement, the Council and Commission agreed to decide before the end of 1998 on compensatory measures to help fishermen adapt to the ending of the drift net fishery.

The Commission proposal on drift nets has been on the Council's table since 1994. The UK Presidency made it a priority to reach an agreement in order to protect dolphins in particular and I am delighted that, after a long and hard negotiation, this has now been achieved.

The European Commission introduced a proposal to strengthen fisheries monitoring, inspection and surveillance, together with an action plan for further improving enforcement under the common fisheries policy over the next two to three years. In an orientation debate, the UK welcomed the prospect of more effective and consistent enforcement and called for an annual report from the Commission to enable the Council to review progress. We concluded that there was agreement that the Commission's proposal addressed key areas where enforcement can be enhanced and a decision should be taken at the Council's next meeting in October. The action plan will be used as a framework for improving control standards.

There was also an orientation debate on a communication from the Commission on options for the future of the Community's fisheries market regime. In a wide ranging discussion, delegations, including the UK, generally shared the Commission's view that it is important to maximise the value of scarce fish resources, maintain competitive catching and processing industries in an increasingly global market and take account of consumers' concerns. Many delegations agreed that changes to both the internal and international aspects of the current market organisations are called for. The Commission will now take account of the points made in drawing up detailed proposals for consideration by the Council.

The Council considered a communication from the Commission reporting on steps taken to follow up discussions by North Sea Ministers at a meeting in Bergen in 1997. The Council unanimously agreed conclusions stressing the importance of integrating fisheries and environmental policies and of making further progress in implementing the Bergen commitments. It also invited the Commission to provide a full report on further progress next year.

The European Commission reported on preparations being made for the review of the common fisheries policy in 2002.

The Council had a preliminary discussion of the implications for fisheries of the reform of the structural funds under Agenda 2000.

The Council also adopted a decision providing for ratification by member states and the Community of the UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Species. This will in due course add the 15 EU member states to the list of countries which have ratified the agreement. It will become law when 30 countries have ratified.