Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Thursday 22 July 1993


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Brandreth, Mr. Gyles (City of Chester)

Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Coombs, Mr. Simon (Swindon)

Davies, Mr. Quentin (Stamford and Spalding)

Durant, Sir Anthony (Reading, West)

Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Hannam, Sir John (Exeter)

Hughes, Mr. Kevin (Doncaster, North)

Jack, Mr. Michael (Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)>

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey (Wealden)

Jones, Dr. Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Keen, Mr. Alan (Feltham and Heston)

McAvoy, Mr. Thomas (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)

Michie, Mr. Bill (Sheffield, Heeley)

Miller, Mr. Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Morley, Mr. Elliot (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Nicholson, Miss Emma (Torridge and Devon, West)

Mr. R. G. James, Committee Clerk

3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c. Thursday 22 July 1993

[MRS. ANN WINTERTON in the Chair]

Third Country Fishing (Enforcement) Order 1993

10.30 am

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Third Country Fishing (Enforcement) Order 1992. (S.I.,1993, No. 1197) I welcome you, Mrs. Winterton, to the Committee. This is the first Committee that I have attended when you have been in the Chair and I am pleased to see you in that position. I should like to take the opportunity of this Committee to raise some brief points with the Minister. The Opposition have no objection in general terms to the order. The procedure is a sensible one for laying down mechanisms and fines to ensure that those third countries which have access to our waters under bilateral and European Community agreements abide by EC and United Kingdom law. The Minister is aware, as it is voiced time and again, that one of the most important issues in the British fishing industry is an equality of treatment throughout the European Community. It is only fair to expect such treatment not only within the EC but with third countries that have access to our waters, as well as for our fishing vessels which operate in the waters of countries outside the EC where there is agreed access. The Minister will no doubt discuss third country access and bilateral agreements at the Council of Ministers, but he will agree that it is only fair and reasonable that fishing boats which operate under reciprocal agreements do so, by and large, under similar regulations and enforcement measures. Will the Minister tell the Committee whether there is a mechanism whereby he and his Ministry discuss with the countries involved in this agreement—Norway, Sweden and the Faroes—the operation of the agreement, how their vessels are treated in our waters and how our vessels are treated in their waters? I should welcome some information from him on the structures that exist and how they operate. The regulations on enforcement apply in a fairly normal way. They relate to the 1991 order. The Minister knows that incidents have arisen in which sea fisheries officers have been put in a difficult position. To my knowledge that has not involved any third countries. The Minister knows of the well-documented case of sea fisheries officers who were kidnapped by fishermen who refused to obey their instructions. That involved another EC state and the matter was never dealt with adequately, although the French Government apologised to our Government and gave assurances that they would deal with the matter. As far as I am aware, the countries covered by this Third Country Fishing (Enforcement) Order have not been involved in any such incidents and have complied 4 properly with the law and inspection procedures. Does the Minister believe that the regulations in the order are adequate to protect enforcement officers and to ensure that in difficult situations, adequate recourse is available to deal with the matter at sea, in port or with the Government of the country in which a vessel is registered? If the Minister believes that a review is necessary, I should be interested to hear his comments. My final point is a technical one and it may be premature to discuss such matters. It concerns proposals for fitting transponders to EC fishing vessels. Such a scheme has great merit. As the Minister knows, a pilot scheme is in operation. We are still some way from an EC-wide transponder scheme for enforcement and recording the movement of fishing vessels. Has the Minister considered how third country fishing vessels would fit into such a scheme? As I said, we are some years away from that and I accept that, at this stage, there is no need to include such procedures in regulations. However, the Minister should perhaps give some thought to the matter for the future and I should welcome his comments on that.

10.35 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack): I, too, welcome you to our proceedings, Mrs. Winterton. It is always a pleasure to see you and it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today. In his perceptive comments, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned several issues which affect enforcement matters in general and matters arising from this order in particular. As he knows, there is an annual requirement to renew regulations on enforcement procedures and all other matters connected with the Community's relationship with Norway and its share of total allowable catches. In that context, we can continually raise matters connected with the regulation and enforcement of the agreement with the Community and how it impacts on our fishermen. The Norwegians have a highly disciplined and detailed code of enforcement. We are anxious that it impacts fairly on our fishermen. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in our annual and regular contacts with the Norwegians, such issues are discussed. There is continual dialogue. The Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 Act and the Fisheries Act 1981 deal with enforcement measures and the protection of our fisheries, and they interrelate with Community legislation. Not only are the details in this order available to enforce fishing policies and thus to deal with a breach of them by the three countries mentioned in the order, but the full weight of law is applicable to any boats which may transgress our rules. Thankfully, our minds may at present be concentrated on enforcement matters, perhaps because of the "Cook Report" on television which has centred on the activities of Spanish boats, in the case of Norwegian—

Mr. Morley: I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the "Cook Report". I should not wish to lump together the countries mentioned in this order with some incidents that have involved the activities of Spanish boats. I read the order carefully and did not see a 5 regulation that would allow a detailed inspection of the construction of a boat which might include hidden fish holds. I do not accuse the countries involved in this enforcement order of such a practice. Should there be such a provision or does the Minister consider that the existing measures provide adequate powers?

Mr. Jack: If the hon. Gentleman searches Hansard for my answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), he will see that we propose to close a loophole and that prosecutions might result from the non-appearance on a vessel offish hold plans. I have been on board a trawler in Hull and have seen some of the constructional aspects of fishing vessels. I understand the difficulties experienced by fisheries inspectors in finding hidden fish rooms. As far as I know, that problem has arisen perhaps in relation to Spanish fishermen and not in connection with the three countries to which this order relates. The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter and, as he says, if enforcement is to be even handed, we must not lose sight of that factor. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the inspection work of sea fisheries officers. They have full legal powers to board boats. Inevitably, that is a dangerous business. The order deals with such matters. Vessels are supposed to comply with and enable boarding and searching to take place. Plainly, they transgress the terms of the order if they do not do so. We are aware of that. No one should 6 underestimate the difficulty of boarding a ship on the high seas to make such an inspection. The order deals very well with that. The wider issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are dealt with in discussions on the new control regulation which the Community is introducing and which will come in from 1 January. In that context, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of surveillance. The Community wishes to evaluate the benefits of using satellites, either by way of continuous single transponders or by having automatic position recorders on vessels. We think that the latter proposal is a more cost-effective way of providing the same result. Those points are a matter for the trial. The Community is agreeing to provide the resources for it and, obviously, we shall monitor it very carefully. These matters affect the whole endorsement procedure of fisheries policy. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's willingness to support the re-institution of this particular set of regulations that deal with these three countries.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Third Country Fishing (Enforcement) Order 1993. (S.I., 1993, No. 1197)

Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Chairman)

Brandreth, Mr.

Conway, Mr.

Davies, Mr. Quentin

Durant, Sir Anthony

Jack, Mr.

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

McAvoy, Mr.

Michie, Mr. Bill

Morley, Mr.

Nicholson, Miss Emma